The Chan Family Residency at Wai-te-ata Press

On Friday 4th March, Wai-te-ata Press hosted a gift signing ceremony to acknowledge an amazing endowment that will further the studio's work.

A group photo of the Chan family and University representatives
Some guests at the ceremony: (front, from left) Virginia, Keith, and Christina Chan (back, from left) Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Jennifer Windsor, FHSS Development Manager Corinne Barnard, Lynette Shum, Duncan Campbell, and Dr. Sydney Shep. Yvonne Chan attended online from New York. Image courtesy of Robert Cross.

The gift signing ceremony was attended by Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Jennifer Windsor, Director of Development Sue O’Donnell (in absentia) and her colleagues Ros Fogel and Corinne Barnard, Wai-te-ata Press staff and long-time supporters, Esther Fung, Duncan Campbell, Lynette Shum, and Jason Young. And, of course, special guests, the Chan Family: Keith, Virginia and Christina as well as Yvonne joining via Zoom and Selwyn in Melbourne who was with us in spirit.

About the Residency

The Dan and Una Chan & Laywood and Joyce Chan Residency at Wai-te-ata Press will focus on projects that enhance understandings of and engagement with Chinese Aotearoa, whether historical, social, cultural, literary or, more broadly, the fabrics of life such as gardens, buildings, foodways, etc.

Open by application to individuals or groups of postgraduate students, artistic or creative practitioners, community members, visiting scholars, and other interested parties, the successful recipient will make use of the rich Wellington-based archives of relevant materials and /or expertise and participate in public-facing events whether lecture, exhibition, workshop, screening, etc.

Honouring legacies

This endowment honours the legacy of Dan Chan, the founding editor of The Growers Journal for the Dominion Federation of NZ Chinese Commercial Growers. Founded in 1949, the Journal was an important vehicle for the expression of Chinese NZ identity until 1972. Dan had the vision to move from a hand-calligraphed newsletter to a fully-fledged lead type set and printed newspaper. When asked by an Evening Post reporter in 1953 how he knew the location of each of the 7,500 characters for the type-setting work, he grinned cheerfully and said, “Memory.” He also understood the value of history and presented to the Alexander Turnbull Library a considerable archive of materials related to the Growers and other organisations with which he was involved.

Keith Chan shakes hands with Dr. Sydney Shep at the gift signing ceremony
Keith Chan shakes hands with Dr. Sydney Shep at the gift signing ceremony. Image courtesy of Robert Cross.

Scholar Duncan Campbell warmly thanked the family: “What better way might there be for the Press to mark the completion of this full Chinese sexagenary cycle of life than to celebrate the continuing and extraordinary generosity of the Chan family with their endowment of a residency at Wai-te-ata Press’s Chinese Scholars Studio. Having so many years ago now had the privilege of looking through Laywood’s Majoribanks Street book collection, I did not then imagine that the family would still be so engaged in the timely task of bringing greater visibility and understanding to the storied history of Chinese Aotearoa, and I would like to extend my personal thanks to Yvonne and Hettie (distantly), and to Keith, Virginia and Christina here with us today.”

three people look at letterpress type in a studio
Collection curator Ya-Wen Ho shows Christina and Virginia Chan the type collection. Image courtesy of Robert Cross.

Dr. Sydney Shep further reflected “When Wai-te-ata Press accepted the kaitiakitanga reponsibility for the Chinese Heritage Type collection in 2016, we were aware of its potential in catalysing new understandings of Chinese NZ history, identity and culture for both existing and future generations. To this end, we established the Chinese Scholars Studio, a physical place to house the types, as well as a site for research, teaching, and publishing. The Chan family supported this endeavour with generosity and humility, supplemented by the Chinese Heritage Poll Tax Trust and the New Zealand Chinese Friendship Society. As our collection curator Ya-Wen Ho knows, cleaning, cataloguing, conserving, and preparing the types for contemporary printing projects has been a long and intensive process. We’ve made haste slowly with Chinese New Year and Moon Festival keepsakes, which are on display today.”

Looking forward to a studio-naming ceremony

Later in 2022, Wai-te-ata Press will host a separate naming ceremony for the Chinese Scholars’ Studio. It was felt that the studio deserved a new and specific name that might in some way embody the generosity that has made it possible. Scholar Duncan Campbell shares some insights into how he met this challenging task: “Whereas both of [Dan Chan] Laywood’s father’s names, his formal name and his assumed named (zi Yuedian 岳典; hao Zhongyue 中岳), reference the sacred mountains of China, Laywood’s name, (in Mandarin) Lihuo (or in Cantonese, Lai-wat) 澧活, is decidedly riverine, both characters containing the water radical and meaning something like “The Life-giving Waters of the River Li.” The protective waters of both Laywood’s name and that of the Press suggested that an appropriate name for the studio might be the Studio of the Waters of Dawn or Xiaoshui zhai 曉水齋, bringing together and acknowledging the mana of both the Press and the Chan family as donors. As I understand it from Sydney, the Chan family have been gracious enough to agree to this name as a way of honouring their parents, Laywood and Joyce, and grandparents Dan and Una.”

He further adds “There was no more sacred place in the traditional Chinese world that the studio or zhai 齋, but we need immediately to cast from our minds the idea of a dry and dusty room inhabited by a solitary figure crouched over the most arcane of texts. In China, the studio was a far livelier and more inviting place, embodying as it did the indivisibility, in a traditional Chinese context, of the humanistic arts of prose and poetry, painting and calligraphy, historical or philosophic inquiry, the playing of music or of chess, the drinking of wine or tea, accompanied always by laughter or by tears as groups of guests enjoyed with their host the finest products of humankind’s endeavours. And on the 6th day of the 6th month of each lunar year (六月初六) any self-respecting owner of a studio would undertake the rituals associated with the “Day for the Airing of One’s Books” or Pushu ri 曝書日. Let us all hope that if circumstances permit, we may all gather again later in the year to give distant antipodean expression to this most charming of traditional Chinese customs.”

Get involved

If you would like to help restore the Chinese heritage types, join one of our weekly Wednesday 2-4pm working-bees.

Find out more event details