Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Xiaolong (L) and David Carter (R), former speaker of the New Zealand Parliament, visit a photo exhibition of Rewi Alley during a symposium to commemorate Alley’s spirit and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between China and New Zealand, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Oct. 20, 2022.
An old friend of the Chinese people, Rewi Alley, a New Zealand-born writer, social reformer and educator, had spent 60 years living and working in China before he died in 1987 in Beijing. He was the one who opened the door for New Zealand-China diplomatic ties.
by Li Huizi, Lu Huaiqian
Recalling her second trip to China in 2017, Jocelyn Alley-Watkin was bubbling with excitement.
“I remember the day when we were in Shandan, Gansu Province, almost the whole people of Shandan came out to support us. It was very emotional. People were so friendly,” said Watkin, cousin of Rewi Alley, a New Zealand-born writer, social reformer and educator.
An old friend of the Chinese people, Alley had spent 60 years living and working in China before he died in 1987 in Beijing. He was the one who opened the door for New Zealand-China diplomatic ties.
Watkin told Xinhua she could feel the strong love and support the Chinese people showed towards Alley.
“As a family member, it was overwhelming. He would have hated all the fuss. He was the kind of guy who just want to get things done,” Watkin said.
In 2017, the Alley family visited Gansu’s Shandan County where Alley spent 10 years between 1942 and 1951. As an internationalist fighter and a socialist, he built a school there and worked with local people to grow crops and sustain a community.
Watkin had very fond memories of her trip to Gansu Province and was excited to meet young people from Gansu at Thursday’s symposium in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and Alley’s hometown, to commemorate Alley’s spirit and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between China and New Zealand.
Through Alley’s help, local farmers in Gansu learned industrial skills such as driving and maintaining trucks in the 1940s, a critical time for the liberation of China. Alley also trained early oil workers for Gansu’s Yumen Oilfield, the earliest oilfield exploited in China.
When he died in 1987 in Beijing, his ashes were, under his will, brought back to Gansu and scattered over the Shandan countryside.
The Christchurch-Gansu link was initiated in 1984 by Alley, who likened the landscape of the northwestern Chinese county to his hometown.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of China-New Zealand diplomatic relations and the 125th anniversary of Rewi Alley’s birth, which is “a golden opportunity” to celebrate the rich legacy he left behind and to uphold his spirit and promote the growth of bilateral ties, Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Xiaolong told Thursday’s Rewi Alley symposium.
“Alley has lived a noble and selfless life. His decades of dedication won him not only love and acclamation from Chinese people but also respect worldwide,” Wang said, adding Alley opened a window, through his writings and speeches, for Kiwis to understand China.
“We need more Rewi Alleys,” Wang said, calling for drawing inspiration from his legacy, passing on the spirit from generation to generation, and making the China-New Zealand friendship thrive.
John McKinnon, chair of the New Zealand China Council, said Alley made important contributions to the Chinese people’s fight against the fascist invasion, the economic development of the new China, and the friendship between China and New Zealand.
“As we all know, relationships take time to build. He was doing his work in China and building that relationship,” Michelle MacWilliam, chair of the Christchurch China Sister Cities Committee, told Xinhua.
Alley worked in some Chinese provinces and cities including Shanghai, Wuhan, Gansu and Hong Kong on humanitarian work, MacWilliam said, adding he also provided the initiative of the Gung Ho (“work together”) Movement, where people worked together, and that actually provided a micro economy for local villagers who were being displaced by war.
“The 50 years of relationship between New Zealand and China is very successful,” said David Carter, former speaker of the New Zealand Parliament, who also expressed optimism for the next 50 years.
Applauding people-to-people exchanges, Carter said, “Many people from China have made New Zealand their home.” His own daughter Laura Carter went to China many times and even refused to come back to New Zealand during her first six-month stay in China. Laura Carter used to be an English teacher in a high school in China’s coastal city of Xiamen.
“Having respect for different points of view, we will keep it in mind that (difference) will help the relationship,” said David Carter.
“I should say the rest of the world should wake up to this — China has been so successful during my lifetime … that deserves recognition by the world,” said Carter, who commended China’s “remarkable achievement” of poverty reduction.
Tony Browne, former New Zealand Ambassador to China, has encouraged more young Kiwis to learn the Chinese language and culture and promote people-to-people exchanges so that future generations could carry forward the successful relationship.
Dave Bromwich, former national president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society (NZCFS), has made more than 50 visits to China and witnessed China’s economic and social development over the past decades.
The Rewi Alley spirit should be passed on to the younger generation of both countries, Bromwich said.
Sylvia Yang, president of the NZCFS Youth Club and elected member of Auckland’s Upper Harbour Local Board, proposed creating a virtual Rewi Alley in the metaverse.
“That was kind of cool. What a great idea! It is so inspiring and gives us hope for the future,” Watkin said. “The future is in the youth, whether to China or Aotearoa (New Zealand). We need younger people working out the best ways to talk to each other.”
“Alley’s life was a meeting of edges, a bridge between East and West. In that sense, what he embodied, his legacy and his spirit, has never been more relevant today,” said the Chinese ambassador, citing the remarks of a commentator on Alley’s achievements and spiritual legacy. ■
Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Xiaolong addresses a symposium to commemorate Rewi Alley’s spirit and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between China and New Zealand, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Oct. 20, 2022. (Photo by Kevin Zeng/Xinhua)