Ho Sue Shee 何蕭氏 1901 – 1992
In 2007 Peter David Lee (Gin Wing Siu 甄永笑) film documentary maker (born 1979), made a short filmm1 on the intriguing and influential life story of his grandmother Ho Sue Shee 何蕭氏. Peter believed the documentary would preserve a visual record of the life of Ho Sue Shee of Nam Mun 南文, Zhongshan a Chinese woman who contributed to the building of the Zhongshan community in Auckland, particularly in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It would show that she maintained her Chinese identity and inculcated Chinese values, language and cultural practices within her family. It would also impart insight and understanding on the sense of loss through separation from the homeland.
The story of Sue Shee
The Pearl River Delta area of Guangdong was invaded by Japanese troops in 1938. At 37 years of age Ho Sue Shee with her eleven-year-old daughter Rita (Ho Bick Wun 何 碧 雲) fled from their village in Gum Kei, Zhong Shan to the safety of Macau, then Hong Kong and finally New Zealand.
Her husband Ho Chew Chong (a poll tax payer), a greengrocer of Jang Hing, Broadway, Newmarket was able to borrow money for the bond and pay the fare to enable his family to come to New Zealand. On 27 November 1939, Ho Sue Shee and Rita (along with other Chinese women and children) arrived in Auckland on the Aorangi from Hong Kong via Sydney.
They were reunited as a family, lived in Newmarket and began to build a new and rather uncertain life during the war years when her residence status along with those of her children and other war refugee families was of a temporary nature. Sue Shee was granted permanent residence in 1947. Much to her regret in later years, she allowed her daughter to be married and return to Hong Kong before she was aware that residency was to be granted. She had also anticipated that the whole family would return to China in a matter of a few years. Due to political events in China, this did not happen.
Unable to speak English and nor to read and write in her own language, Ho Sue Shee through her determination, strength and business acumen built strong networks with Chinese market gardeners from many districts of Guangdong. She was a woman pioneer in the market-gardening business becoming successful with no initial resources or assets.
She was an influential person in the Zhong Shan clan; her home was a focal point for weekly get-togethers and celebrations. She provided assistance in money and advice to old-timers and new arrivals. She home-birthed and raised four children; ran a successful roadside fruit and vegetable shop and market garden. She instilled a strong sense of ‘being Chinese’ in her children and grandchildren. She died at the age of 91 after 53 years in New Zealand.
We invite you to view the video which is a more comprehensive portrait of Ho Sue Shee.
It is a powerful and inspiring story of one Zhongshan woman punching above her weight, making good of the situation and opportunity in moving to another country as war refugees and rebuilding a new life here.