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George Hawkins Ethnic Affairs

DOO, UNUI 1873-1875? - 1940
Founding mother, storekeeper

The matriarch of the Wong Doo clan in Auckland, New Zealand,
was born sometime between 1873 and 1875 in Xinhui county, Guangdong province,
China. Her given name was Chan Yau-nui, which was later simplified to Unui. She
was the daughter of She Hoo Tai and her husband, Chan Doon Tai, a farmer. The
fact that Unui had tiny bound feet suggests that she was expected to lead a
comparatively secluded and leisurely life. She had no formal education but her
business acumen and social skills were highly developed.

In Canton (Guangzhou), probably on 20 September 1898, she married Thomas Wong
Doo, a young man who had recently returned from Sun Kum Shan, the 'New Gold
Mountain' of New Zealand. In 1883 or 1884 Thomas had migrated there to join his
elder brothers who were market gardeners in Auckland. By the time he returned to
China to find a wife he was an eligible bachelor with good prospects. After
their marriage Unui stayed in China and Thomas went back to New Zealand to work;
their separation was necessitated by New Zealand's restrictive anti-Chinese
immigration laws. Thomas visited China once every few years. A daughter and two
sons were born to the couple before Unui came to New Zealand.

Meanwhile Thomas Wong Doo prospered, acquiring market gardens and
establishing his own general store in central Auckland around 1912. He had the
foresight to become naturalised in 1904, three years before naturalisation of
Chinese was suspended. Once Thomas had achieved financial security it was
possible for his family to join him. Unui Doo and her two sons arrived on 24 May
1915; the eldest daughter, who was betrothed, remained in China, emigrating to
New Zealand during the Second World War. Soon after her arrival in Auckland, on
14 June 1915, Unui and Thomas Doo were married according to New Zealand law. Two
more children, a girl and a boy, were born in Auckland.

Unui Doo lived and worked at the family's Chinese grocery store, located
first in Wakefield Street, then in Victoria Street West. The Doos imported
Chinese foodstuffs, rice, soya sauce and herbal medicine, and exported edible
fungus to China. The shop also functioned as a community centre, social club,
bank, post office and immigration advice centre. Unui always presided over the
shop and was a gracious hostess to Chinese clients. Most were single men, who
travelled to Auckland from as far north as Whangarei and as far south as
Ohakune. Unui Doo was a mother figure to these bachelor workers, cooking for
them and helping with their sewing and darning needs. Her generosity extended
beyond the Chinese community. During the influenza epidemic of 1918 she used her
knowledge of folk remedies to make quantities of tonic herbal medicine, which
was freely available outside the shop to any passer-by. She died in Auckland on
18 August 1940, survived by her husband and five children.

Unui Doo was one of a small group of Chinese women who emigrated to New
Zealand before the late 1930s. Because they were so few in number these women
were heavily burdened with social and family duties. They played an important
leadership role in the Chinese community and in particular helped maintain and
nurture kinship ties in their adopted country.

Source:

  • Ip, Manying. 'Doo, Unui 1873-1875? - 1940'. Dictionary of New Zealand
    Biography, December 2001 URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
  • The original version of this biography was published in the Dictionary of
    New Zealand Biography Volume Three (1901-1920), 1996 © Crown Copyright
    1996-2001, Published by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Wellington, New
    Zealand. All rights reserved.