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Uncanny embodiments: the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax' and Syd Stevens's The Image of Ju Lye.

Carson: You know, if you went to a bit of trouble you could rig up a pretty convincing chinaman [sic] out of a sheep. A sheepskin with the wool plucked off would be just about the right colour for a Chinaman. (1)

Syd Stevens, The Image of Ju Lye

Although it sounds farcical, the passage above is based on a real-life incident in Central Otago which took place in 1895. The Image of Ju Lye (first performed in 1958; published in 1961) is a little-known musical comedy that recounts the audacious prank played by three Pakeha miners who had learnt about the mysterious disappearance of a Chinese storekeeper in Alexandra. The miners modified a sheep's carcass to look like the decomposing corpse of the missing Ah Fook Hu and planted their effigy in a place where it was soon discovered. Incredibly, it was not until the official post-mortem that authorities discovered the effigy to be a sheep. The body of Ah Fook Hu was never found and his fate remains a mystery today.

Known as the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax', this bizarre incident has the status of a colourful but obscure footnote in the annals of New Zealand history. On one hand, the hoax appears to be nothing more significant than a foolhardy prank; on the other, it is arresting because it raises a shockingly racist notion: namely, that the physical distinction between Chinese people and animals is not particularly evident. Such a suggestion seems downright outrageous today, yet the failure of witnesses in 1895 to tell the difference between a sheep's carcass and the body of a Chinese man was a genuine mistake, not a deliberate act of racism. So does this incident embody, so to speak, the way in which Pakeha New Zealanders saw Chinese people in the late nineteenth century? Were Chinese bodies truly perceived as monstrous?

This essay locates the singular events of the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax' within the broader context of New Zealand sinophobia in the late nineteenth century. I trace the shifts in New Zealand racial sentiments since the 1890s by analysing how a 1950s musical comedy recounts the story of the hoax. Written by Syd Stevens and with a musical score composed by Ewen Cameron, The Image of Ju Lye was first performed in 1958 and revived in the following two decades. (2) Produced in a period of easing sinophobia, the play makes striking revisions to the original incident. I am interested in accounting for these, and in unpacking the deeper implications of the hoax itself: while the use of animal remains to impersonate a 'Chinaman' is obviously irreverent, it also enacts the ontological ambiguity that surrounded Chinese bodies within the Pakeha imagination. The Image of Ju Lye literally fleshes out this uncertainty in several scenes, making the play a more ambivalent text than it would initially seem. Like the actual prank, which had provoked varied responses in its contemporary society, the play both deploys and unsettles racial stereotypes. Indeed, nineteenth century suspicions about the abnormal disposition of Chinese bodies encompassed a host of anxieties beyond an outright belief in white racial superiority, and I begin by teasing out these undercurrents.

An Indeterminate Species

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the physical bodies of Chinese migrants assumed a variety of menacing forms in popular New Zealand representations. Typically depicted as a massive human wave which threatened to swamp the Pakeha presence in New Zealand, Chinese bodies were also portrayed as filthy, disease-ridden, mindless beings stupefied by opium. Often, they were envisaged as not wholly human; Charles Ferrall notes that newspaper cartoons regularly represented the Chinese as 'a hybrid or indeterminate species, part human but also part ape, octopus, or insect. The prominent teeth drawn by cartoonists of the nineteenth century suggested something rodent-like'. (3) Such monstrous images reflected a prevailing belief that Chinese migrants posed a grave danger to New Zealand. The first group of Chinese had arrived in New Zealand as a party of twelve in 1866, but their numbers had swelled to 5004 by 1881, constituting roughly one percent of the colony's population. (4) The New Zealand government subsequently sought to curtail Chinese immigration by imposing a poll-tax and a restriction on the number of Chinese passengers a ship, depending on its tonnage, could carry. (5) Though the number of Chinese in New Zealand soon dropped, however, these measures did little to quell the elaborate fears and fantasies surrounding the Chinese who were already in New Zealand.

Pakeha perceptions of Chinese migrants as only part-human derived from Darwinian assumptions that the Chinese 'race' had 'petrified' in its development. Future New Zealand Prime Minister Richard Seddon declared in 1880: 'To compare the Irish with the Chinese was an insult to every Irishman in the colony [...]. There is as much distinction between a European and a Chinaman as that between a Chinaman and a monkey'. (6) Representations of the Chinese as subhuman creatures served to suggest their unassimilability in New Zealand, but they also reflected anxieties about the colony's progress; in the 1870s, growing rates of urbanisation were believed to be 'sapping' the vitality- of Britons, and this in turn led to concerns in New Zealand that subsequent generations of immigrants would fail to maintain the momentum and progressive spirit of its first white settlers. Amidst these fears, the desperate efforts of Chinese migrants to earn a living appeared threatening to alarmed Pakeha observers; Chinese labourers, on average, earned smaller wages than their Pakeha counterparts, compelling them to work for longer hours. This utter disregard for the labour laws that had given New Zealand a reputation for being the 'the working man's paradise' was, however, taken as proof of their 'natural' indefatigability. The Chinese were accused of lowering working conditions in New Zealand, even as the patient industry they demonstrated was being urged among Pakeha workers.

Chinese bodies generally incited revulsion in the New Zealand popular imagination, but they also aroused a sense of awe. The poor living conditions of most Chinese migrants reinforced beliefs that they were an 'uncivilised' and 'subhuman' race, yet it also appeared to be an ominous sign that the Chinese could survive anything. The well-worn cliche about the Chinese ability to subsist on 'the smell of an oily rag' only worked to strengthen fears that in times of adversity, their talent for survival would triumph over white civilisation. Rhetoric about the abnormal disposition of Chinese bodies thus encompassed more than white supremacist beliefs: in certain instances, it was underpinned by a contrary fear that the Chinese were capable of outdoing Pakeha settlers, and of achieving seemingly superhuman feats. The sinophobic fantasies which attributed extraordinary qualities to Chinese bodies generated disturbing implications: if the Chinese were, indeed, not quite human, who was to say what they were actually capable of?. It is not surprising that one of the most persistent descriptions of the Chinese to emerge from this period involved their 'inscrutable' faces; this notion embodied a fear that the Chinese--and their 'Oriental minds'--lay beyond the limits of Western knowledge and mastery.

The 'Lost Chinaman Hoax' occurred in 1895, a time when Chinese bodies were still widely regarded as peculiarities. The hoax was the brainchild of John Magnus, who had a history of physical violence against the Chinese, (7) and who published a first hand account of the incident, describing it as 'The World's Best Practical Joke'. (8) In Magnus's account which has been disputed by the historian James Ng (9)--Ah Fook Hu had won a fortune in a gambling den on the day he disappeared. A suspicion of foul play thus hung in the air, but nevertheless, Magnus was evidently inspired to play the prank once he read the description of the missing Chinese man and learned that a reward of twenty-five pounds was offered for information: 'I said that we could make a good imitation of him and set the other Chinamen running for the reward'. (10) Magnus makes it clear that the hoax was not an attempt to claim the reward for himself, but that it was designed to trick the local Chinese into making a fraudulent claim. He describes how he and his cohorts, John Rainham and Harry Redman, constructed the effigy using the carcasses of two sheep and a goat; by tying the nose of one of the sheep to its throat and covering it with the skin of the other sheep, the trio made 'a fine bald head' and fashioned human-looking limbs by binding the legs of the sheep to poplar sticks. (11) The trio planted their effigy in a conspicuous location, but their plans took an unexpected turn: rather than the Chinese, another Pakeha miner stumbled upon their 'Chinaman' and alerted authorities. Ah Fook Hu's brother was brought to inspect the effigy but indicated that it was not the right man. The effigy was then subject to a post-mortem where the hoax was finally uncovered. No charge was laid against the pranksters nor was Ah Fook Hu's fate ever discovered.

Not surprisingly, the hoax attracted immediate and widespread attention. In an article entitled 'A Ghastly Joke', a Tuapeka Times reporter noted the prank: 'the mysterious disappearance of a Chinaman has provided a rare opportunity to the festive larrikin to distinguish himself'. (12) The reporter conceded that the joke was 'rough', but concluded that 'it just hits the public estimate of humor up here and it has gone off like a house on fire'. (13) The Evening Post also made light of the episode, describing the effigy as an innovative feat: 'A set of goat's teeth gleamed in the mouth, and altogether the make-up was perfect'. (14) In contrast, an initial report of the incident in an earlier issue of the Tuapeka Times condemned the prank as an exploit by 'some idiot who hasn't yet learned to distinguish humor from blackguardism' . (15) In spite of occurring in a period of intense sinophobia, the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax' generated a variety of responses, revealing that not all Pakeha saw Chinese bodies as objects of ridicule.

Refurbishing the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax'

As a mid-twentieth century account of the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax', The Image of Ju Lye indicates how racial sentiments in New Zealand have changed since 1895. Published in 1961, the play was first written and performed for the 1958 Alexandra Blossom Festival, an annual community gala that had begun in the previous year and which still runs today. According to playwright Syd Stevens, the committee for the festival wanted to provide theatrical entertainment and '[w]e decided that something with a local flavour was needed'. (16) The first Blossom Festival thus featured Bendigo Hotel, a musical by Stevens set during the goldrush in Central Otago. In the years following The Image of Ju Lye, Stevens wrote three more musicals for the festival, each one drawn from local gold-rush anecdotes. (17) Peter Harcourt describes Stevens's musicals as 'unique. They represent a sequence of original works developed from regional history without parallel in New Zealand'. (18) Stevens indicates that the availability of local amateur talent ensured the success of his shows; The Image of Ju Lye was revived for the 1961 and 1972 Blossom Festivals and it was also performed in the nearby towns of Omakau and Roxburgh. (19) The play's enduring local popularity derives from the unique events it recounts and the provincial spirit it embodies; in retelling a tale that has become legendary in Alexandra, The Image of Ju Lye is effectively a show about the community, for the community, and performed by the community.

In the face of changing racial sentiments, however, the racist overtone of the prank makes it a risky thing to continually extol. By the 1950s, sinophobia was slowly waning in New Zealand, even though the prevailing rhetoric of the Cold War maintained a level of suspicion against the local Chinese population. Stevens's introductory note to the published script suggests some sympathy for the Chinese; his outline of the gold-rush era includes the remark that Pakeha resentment 'sometimes found expression in escapades that were by no means pleasant for the Chinese'. (20) Stevens implies that the hoax is one of these escapades, but he goes on to describe it as 'one of the few diversions possible to relieve the drudgery of hard work on the gold claims' (p.3). From this comment, it appears that Stevens endorses the prank, but it is telling that his play should also make substantial revisions to the original tale; his modifications reveal the ideological shifts that had transpired over the course of sixty years, and which precluded the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax' from being publicly commemorated in its original form.

The Image of Ju Lye presents the hoax as an incident which unites the town of Alexandra and halts the crumbling morale of its Pakeha residents. The play opens by portraying a community disintegrating under the leadership of the Mayor, a fictitious character. The Mayor, who owns the main store in town, sells goods to Pakeha and Chinese customers alike, but this causes Pakeha customers to be deprived of their necessary supplies. The Mayor's willingness to sell to the Chinese signals to audiences that he is, in fact, a sell-out: his acceptance of bribes have enabled Chinese people to 'swamp' the community: 'A man can't even walk down the street without getting his feet tangled up with Chinamen' (p. 12). Disgruntled with this state of affairs, Carson, the hero of the story, decides to play a prank on the Chinese after learning that a local Chinese grocer, Ju Lye, has mysteriously disappeared. The ironically tiffed musical number, 'A Most Respected Citizen', informs audiences that Ju Lye's disappearance is no great loss to the community:
 And if the change he gave was wrong--you couldn't call it guile!

 He had to make a profit--and he did it with a smile (p. 16).

With the help of his friends Harry and Yorkie, Carson creates an effigy using a sheep's carcass. The effigy is soon discovered by the Constable, who asks Ju Lye's brother to identify it. Meanwhile, in another scene set in the stables of a hotel, Ju Lye loiters around, unaware of the fuss his disappearance has caused. Having inspected the effigy, Ju Lye's brother indicates that it is not the right man. Nevertheless, the effigy is subject to a public inquest where Carson, known for his loathing of the Chinese, is interrogated as the prime suspect for Ju Lye's 'murder'. Cheered on by the whole town, Carson responds impudently to the authorities and makes offensive remarks about the Chinese all the while. Once the inquest uncovers the hoax, the shocked Mayor collapses to the floor amidst the laughter and jeers of the community.

The Image of Ju Lye inflates the significance of the hoax by depicting it as a central moment in Alexandra's history; what was originally a prank by three individuals is transformed into an episode that has significance for the entire town. The hoax has the effect of reviving and reuniting a formerly dejected community; locals, whose interests have been forsaken by the mercenary Mayor, rally together to support Carson during his interrogation. Carson, in turn, takes the opportunity to expose the Mayor and other authority figures as fools:

Sergeant: Is it a fact, Mr Carson, that the body of the deceased Chinaman was found on a beach near your claim?

Carson: You mean that carcass over there?

Mayor: There's no need to be disrespectful. May I remind you that the deceased was a respected member of this community.

Carson: (Nodding affirmatively.) You mean he always paid his bills (pp. 40-41).

Carson claims a moral victory for the Pakeha community by truly pulling the wool over the eyes of men who have sanctioned the Chinese influx into Alexandra. It is significant that the community--which, at this stage, is also unaware of the veiled truthfulness of Carson's sinophobic remarks--cheers him on. Encouraging shouts like 'Keep it up Johnny, you're doing famous' (p. 41) indicate that far from being alone in his sinophobic views, Carson is merely the mouthpiece for the entire town. His racially offensive prank and undermining of authority figures make him a local hero.

Another significant alteration made by Stevens concerns the fate of the missing Chinese man. In reality, the storekeeper's disappearance remains unsolved, but in the play, he is alive and well: Ju Lye has just been so stupefied by opium, he loiters in the stables of the local hotel, unaware that he has been missed. Stage directions note 'the decrepit features of a hopelessly befuddled Chinaman, who puts aside an opium pipe' (p. 32). True to nineteenth century stereotypes, Ju Lye's body appears inert and enfeebled by opium; he is a corrupted, half-alive being that is of no use to society. His appearance, however, is crucial to the script since it assures audiences that the hoax does not actually ridicule a dead man and is all in good fun. The play takes creative license with the historical facts in an attempt to diminish the moral contentiousness of the hoax. By indicating that Ju Lye disappears because of his overindulgence in opium, the play implies that the pranksters' mockery of his body is not undeserved.

Given that Stevens wrote his play in a climate of easing sinophobia in New Zealand, his revisions of the original incident may initially seem surprising: the play constructs the prank as a worthy venture and makes little attempt to critique it or to consider its effects on the Chinese. Does The Image of Ju Lye then indicate that sinophobia in mid-twentieth century New Zealand was perhaps more overt than is generally believed, and that racist sentiments from the nineteenth century had continued to linger decades later? The play's depiction of the Chinese as an invasive presence in Alexandra certainly deploys old stereotypes, but this trope is not so much designed to revive traditional fears as it is to justify the hoax. By portraying the Chinese as a threat to the identity and constitution of the local Pakeha community, Stevens frames the hoax as an act of retaliation rather than that of unprovoked hostility. In showing the Chinese that they are unwelcome in Alexandra, the prank reads like a heroic attempt on Carson's part to preserve the character of a town that is fast crumbling under the corrupt leadership of the Mayor. Stevens's very efforts to redefine the hoax as a morally justifiable, community-building enterprise indicate that racial ideologies had changed by the 1950s and 1960s; had the hoax continued to be seen as a gratuitous and racially offensive prank, it would struggle to survive in modern times as an iconic tale of Alexandra.

Constructing the Quintessential Chinese Body

Certain aspects of the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax' are substantially revised by The Image of Ju Lye, but the play remains relatively faithful to the known facts of the pranksters' execution of the hoax. Midway through the play, Carson, Harry and Yorkie discuss the feasibility of the prank and reveal an unflattering view of Chinese bodies. Their checklist of the 'Chinese' physiognomical features that they must recreate--pigtail, flat nose, slit eyes, yellow skin and buck teeth--is an inventory of nineteenth-century Western stereotypes. Deemed to signify Chineseness, it is unsurprising that these features should assume a larger-than-life quality in the Pakeha imagination. Like the distorted reflection of a funhouse mirror, there always seems to be something peculiar and remark-able about 'Chinese' features: the teeth are invariably 'buck', the eyes are always 'slit', and so on. The hyper-visible nature of these features, however, yields contradictory effects in the play: although they are imitable and allow the effigy to be genuinely mistaken for Ju Lye's body, the pranksters' assumption that every Chinese body should have these features creates chaos in a later scene.

The 'Chinese' physical features that the pranksters attempt to mimic function as a series of challenges which showcases the ingenuity of Carson, Harry and Yorkie. The trio resort to the most unlikely and foul materials to construct their 'Chinaman'; from a sheep's carcass for the main body to a billy-goat's beard for the pigtail, the macabre humour of this scene gains momentum as the materials become more outrageous:

Harry: Looks alright to me. Damned if he isn't the image of old Ju Lye. That old billy-goat had just the right teeth. They've even got Ju Lye's tobacco juice stains on them.

Carson: Yeah! And you've got to admit a goat's kidney makes an ideal nose--pure Mongolian (p. 24).

The bizarre materials that are used to impersonate Ju Lye's body give this scene a farcical quality, even though audiences know that it is based on actual events. Indeed, the tension between the ludicrous drama on stage and the audience's realisation of its factual basis infuses this scene with an unsettling, parodic tone to the stereotypes it articulates; audiences may laugh over the pranksters' crass remarks about 'Chinese' features, but their laughter is also an implicit testament to the excessiveness of sinophobic stereotypes, which enable absurdities to be seen as racial realities. The scene, in effect, demonstrates how the bodies of racial others are constructed in ways which consolidate hegemonic notions of national identity; by using highly improbable materials to fashion their 'Chinaman', Carson and his cohorts exhibit the trait that is mythologized as a quintessential part of being 'Kiwi': resourcefulness. It is precisely the stereotype of monstrous, repulsive Chinese bodies which enables the men to prove their credentials as 'genuine' New Zealanders: the more unlikely the material they use, the more 'Kiwi ingenuity' they show.

The Image of Ju Lye contains many remarks about the foul odour of Chinese bodies and while these instances of toilet humour work to provide comic relief, they implicitly expose the overstated nature of sinophobic stereotypes. Of the play's twenty-odd references to 'Chinese' smells, the most striking is the suggestion that live Chinese people smell no differently from a rotting sheep carcass. In Act Two, the Constable spots the effigy but does not realise yet that it is inanimate. Unprepared for the Constable's unexpected appearance, Carson babbles in panic, creating the opportunity for a punch-line:

Carson: Well he's not made--er--exactly like the rest of us and--er he stinks a bit--I think.

Constable: And what's so extraordinary about that? He's a Chinaman isn't he? (p. 28)

Such gags serve to elicit cheap laughs, but they simultaneously raise the disconcerting notion that Chinese bodies are indeterminate and straddle the divisions between animal and human, and the living and the inanimate. Moreover, the title of one of the key musical numbers of the play, 'Ju Lye Merino', frames the effigy as if it were indeed a hybrid of human and sheep. In this song, which is performed four times in the course of the play, Carson, Harry and Yorkie exude confidence that the stench of the sheep carcass will convince people that it really is a Chinese body:

Carson: We'll fool the lot, (Yorkie): You crazy clot!

All: With our aromatic character, Ju Lye Merino (p. 23).

Once again, the play's articulation and enactment of sinophobic stereotypes produces some disquieting effects: the audience is confronted with the full-blown illogicalities of racism, which dictate in this instance that an animal carcass will be verified as a Chinese body because it smells like a rotting animal. Stevens deploys a racial stereotype and exaggerates it to such an extent that it appears entirely ludicrous; although his play seems to be simply reiterating populist beliefs, its farcical quality inflects these with contrary nuances.

Paradoxically, the process of constructing a 'Chinaman' is that which enables The Image of Ju Lye to dismantle hegemonic concepts of Chinese bodies. As with the original incident, the play hinges on the idea that Chinese bodies are imitable: according to Carson, all it takes to achieve the illusion of a 'Chinaman' is the recreation of specific physiognomical features like slit eyes, a pigtail and yellowish skin. This checklist of racial stereotypes, however, is shown to be oversubscribed. Such is their dominance in the Pakeha imagination that their presence on an animal carcass leads people to see this carcass as the body of a Chinese man; in their role of signifying Chineseness, these features have become more than just components of Chinese bodies: they are the total sum of 'the Chinese body' as far as Pakeha perceptions go. The original hoax and Stevens's play thus suggest the extent to which Pakeha notions of Chinese bodies are entrenched in stereotypes. Of course, for the hoax to work at all, it must first rely on the currency of these stereotypes, but its success simultaneously indicates the disproportionate role they assume in Pakeha images and imaginings of Chinese bodies.

Embedded within The Image of Ju Lye is the suggestion that Pakeha people see Chinese bodies not as they are but through a distorted lens. It is significant that Carson, Harry and Yorkie are not actually concerned with imitating the specific features of Ju Lye the individual, but with recreating the characteristics they believe are essential components of a generic Chinese body. There is an irony about the play's rifle: the effigy is not so much 'the image of Ju Lye' as it is a tangible repository of Pakeha ideas about the 'typical' appearance of Chinese bodies. At the same time, however, the trio genuinely see a resemblance of Ju Lye in the effigy: Harry even thinks he sees Ju Lye's tobacco juice stains on the teeth of the billy-goat. Their perception derives from their fixation on racial features: unable to see beyond the 'Chinese' markings of a body, Carson, Harry and Yorkie are certain that all Chinese people look the same. Such is the strength of their belief that they create the effigy with the intention of fooling the Chinese, convinced that Chinese people also cannot tell themselves apart and will fail to discern the difference between an animal carcass and one of their own. The play, however, undercuts this racist idea in the final scene. Having inspected the effigy, Wun Lye, Ju Lye's brother, declares that it has the 'Wrong face' (p. 38), indicating that even if the pranksters fail to see the difference between individual Chinese, he is capable of this. The discrepancy between what is respectively seen by Wun Lye and the pranksters raises further questions about the trio's observations of Chinese bodies, but it is a preceding scene which truly undermines their credibility.

After completing their effigy, Carson, Harry and Yorkie plant it in a conspicuous location and fail to notice that Wun Lye, who is dressed similarly to the effigy, lurks in the background. The pranksters consequently mistake Wun Lye for the effigy coming back to life:

Carson: What the blazes are we going to do with him now?

Harry: Don't ask me--you made him.

Carson: Yes--but I hardly thought he'd come to life (p. 28).

The trio's terror creates a hilarious and ironic moment: they have been duped by their own prank. This gag, of course, hinges on the idea that all Chinese people look the same, but it also articulates elementary fears about the seemingly indeterminate, uncanny nature of Chinese bodies. The men's inability to distinguish between individual Chinese people plunges them into a moment of ontological crisis where the distinction between human and not-human, the living and the dead, and the real and the supernatural appear to have collapsed. For the trio, the suspicion that Chinese bodies are uncanny and monstrous becomes all too real. This scene undermines the authority of the pranksters, who had initially seen themselves as experts on Chinese bodies; although they succeed in creating a 'Chinaman', their creation exceeds the limits of their knowledge and control. For a brief if farcical moment, the Chinese body of the Western imagination overrides all logic; Pakeha sinophobia is shown to feed on itself with its own invented fears.

On first impression, the tale of the 'Lost Chinaman Hoax' has the appearance of a fanciful yarn. The idea that an animal carcass could be truly mistaken for a human body sounds farfetched and, in a manner of speaking, a bad joke. However, the hoax was a real-life incident which tapped into nineteenth century Pakeha beliefs about the abnormal, not-quite-human constitution of Chinese bodies. Questions surrounding the ontological make-up of Chinese bodies emerged out of racist assumptions that the Chinese were an inferior people and even a subhuman race, but they also reflected anxieties about the state of New Zealand's progress as an emerging white settler colony. Chinese bodies became a site onto which deep-seated Pakeha fears were projected and realised; the various and extraordinary shapes Chinese bodies assumed in popular representations from this period offer clues to the extent and intensity of these insecurities.

An example of mid-twentieth century regional amateur theatre in New Zealand, The Image of Ju Lye does not present Chinese bodies as menacing, even though it recounts an event that suggests their uncanny, monstrous nature. Instead, Chinese bodies are made the object of crude jokes and remarks, but the musical comedy's excessive, farcical nature also produces inflections that unravel the veracity of the sinophobic sentiments it seems to be espousing. This, of course, is not to ignore the derogatory overtones of the play or to suggest that Syd Stevens wrote it in an attempt to condemn the hoax. Indeed, Stevens's substantial revisions of the original incident indicate his interest in justifying the prank and ensuring that it continues to be fondly regarded by locals, in spite of changing racial sentiments. The fact that the play was produced for a community event like the Alexandra Blossom Festival, and that it was revived twice, indicates the uses to which racially othered bodies may be put in the interests of engendering a parochial sense of community. At the same time, the comic, farcical disposition of the play gives a parodic twist to the populist beliefs it enacts. Audiences effectively face serious questions about the racial stereotypes they hold, since these stereotypes appear increasingly absurd when they are performed to the hilt.


(1) Syd Stevens and Ewen Cameron (musical score), The Image of Ju Lye: A Musical Comedy of the Central Otago Goldfields in Three Acts (Alexandra: Stevens, 1961), p. 21.

(2) The Image of Ju Lye was first performed for the 1958 Alexandra Blossom Festival and revived in 1961 and 1972 for the same festival. It was also performed in Omakau and Roxburgh in its first year. There were over twenty performances of the play altogether.

(3) Charles Ferrall, 'An Introduction to Australasian Orientalism', in East by South: China in the Australasian Imagination, ed. by Charles Ferrall, Paul Millar and Keren Smith (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2005), pp. 9-25 (p. 9).

(4) P.S. O'Connor, 'Keeping New Zealand White, 1908-1920', New Zealand Journal of History, 2 (1968), 41-65 (p. 42).

(5) The first legislation against Chinese immigration in 1881 implemented a ten pound poll-tax on all Chinese immigrants and a tonnage restriction of one Chinese passenger for every ten tons of a ship's cargo. In 1896, the poll-tax was raised to a hundred pounds and the tonnage ratio increased to one Chinese passenger for every two hundred tons. Nigel Murphy, The Poll-tax in New Zealand: A Research Paper, 2nd edn (Wellington: Office of Ethnic Affairs, 2002), pp. 28-29.

(6) Richard Seddon, cited by Brook Thomas, 'Civic Multiculturalism and the Myth of Liberal Consent: A Comparative Analysis', New Centennial Review, 1 (2001), 1-35 (p. 1).

(7) Prior to the hoax, Magnus was twice convicted of violence against the Chinese: in the first incident, Magnus poured a bucket of urine over a Chinese storekeeper, and in the second, Magnus and three other men bound up a Chinese man in his cave. For a detailed account of Magnus's exploits, see James Ng, Windows On A Chinese Past, 4 vols (Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books, 1993), III, pp. 11-20.

(8) John Magnus, The Lost Chinaman: A Complete Stop (Alexandra: Alexandra Herald, 1927).

(9) Ng contends that Magnus's claim of being present at the gambling den on the day Ah Fook Hu allegedly won his fortune is highly improbable, given that the Chinese would not have tolerated Magnus's presence. Ng, p. 19.

(10) Magnus, p. 2

(11) Magnus, p. 2.

(12) 'A Ghastly Joke', Tuapeka Times (23 Oct 1895), p. 3.

(13) 'A Ghasdy Joke', p. 3.

(14) 'A Gruesome Hoax in Otago', Evening Post (21 Oct 1895), p. 2.

(15) 'Local and General News', Tuapeka Times (19 Oct 1895), p. 2.

(16) Syd Stevens, quoted by Peter Harcourt in A Dramatic Appearance: New Zealand theatre 1920-1970 (Wellington: Methuen Publications New Zealand Ltd, 1978), p. 106.

(17) The three other musicals written by Stevens were No Roads to Arrow (1959), Coach Bolts (1960), and Hell Bent for Dunstan (1962).

(18) Harcourt, p. 106.

(19) Stevens, I'll Be Damned! Stories of Central Otago (Rotorua: Stevens, 1991), pp. 48-50.

(20) Stevens, The Image Ju Lye, p. 3. Further references appear in brackets in the text.
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Author:Ooi, Kathy
Publication:JNZL: Journal of New Zealand Literature
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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