In 1905, white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered the Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung to draw attention to his crusade to rid New Zealand of Chinese and other East Asian immigrants. Chris Tse uses this story - and its reenactment for a documentary a hundred years later - to reflect on the experiences of Chinese migrants of the period, their wishes and hopes, their estrangement and alienation, their ghostly reverberation through a white-majority culture. Along the way we visit the gold fields of the south, a shipwreck in the Hokianga that left the spirits of 500 Chinese goldminers in an unmemorialised limbo for a hundred years and the streets of Newtown, Wellington, where Lionel Terry went out one night 'looking for a Chinaman'. Chris Tse's flickering use of imagery, resonant language and flexible pronouns are particularly suited to the historic events he describes and the viewpoints he shifts through. How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes is a welcome poetic addition to New Zealand literature.