Carry Forward Rewi Alley’s Spirit, Work Together to Create a Brighter Future for China-New Zealand Relationship

Remarks by HE Ambassador Wang Xiaolong at the Symposium to Commemorate Rewi Alley’s Spirit and Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between China and New Zealand
2022-10-21 10:31

Sir David,

Ambassador Fearnley,

President Lin Songtian,

Ambassador McKinnon,

Ambassador Browne,

Members of the Rewi Alley Whanau,

Consul-General He,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

Tēnā kotou! Good Afternoon!

We are here today to honour the memory of Rewi Alley, a well-known and beloved name in China, one of the Top Ten International Friends of China voted by the Chinese people. For 60 years, Mr Alley worked together with the Chinese people, through thick and thin, weal and woe, and made outstanding contribution to China’s revolution and development, and also the friendship between China and New Zealand. This year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries and the 125th anniversary of Rewi Alley’s birth here in Christchurch, which is a golden opportunity for us to celebrate the rich legacy he left behind, build on his spirit, and promote the further development of our bilateral relations.

Since my arrival in New Zealand as ambassador, I have read some literature on Rewi Alley, and a number of friends here have shared stories about him with me. The more I learn about him, the more deeply I am touched by Rewi Alley’s wisdom, courage, perseverance, and above all, his humanity and his big heart. 

Ninety-five years ago, Rewi Alley arrived in China at one of the most turbulent and darkest times in the contemporary history of the country, when its people were suffering widespread destitution and misery and the Chinese revolution was still at an early and difficult stage. During that time, although enjoying a rather privileged life in Shanghai, Mr Alley got to know first hand and sympathize with the abject conditions of the working masses. He worked for improvements on his job as a fire sub-officer and then a factory inspector. He even spent his holidays volunteering to participate in disaster relief in different parts of China. After witnessing the brutal repression and exploitation of the underprivileged in the country, Mr Alley made up his mind to dedicate himself to joining the Chinese people in the struggle for social change and eventually, building a new China.

After the outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, Rewi Alley, together with Mr and Mrs Snow, launched the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, known as Gung Ho, or “Work Together.” They engaged the unemployed Chinese workers, displaced refugees, and poor peasants to set up small industries to manufacture goods for daily life and wartime needs. They mobilized more than 300,000 people to set up 3,000 plus factories of different sizes across China, providing enormous support for the front line against Japan. In order to mobilize as many people and resources as possible, Mr Alley travelled 30,000 kilometers across all non-enemy-occupied areas of China, which is equivalent to 10 times the length of New Zealand.

After 1942, with helping to prepare technical talents for the Chinese revolution in mind, Rewi Alley shifted his focus to the establishment of the Bailie School, or “培黎” in Chinese, literally meaning “Training for the Dawn.” Against all odds, Mr Alley successfully enrolled many kids of poor local peasants, inspiring them to create and analyze, and developed the school to a scale of nearly 600 people, with almost 20 production groups for student internships, some 30 foreign teachers, and a small hospital which cared for the poor for free. Starting from scratch, the teachers and students irrigated farms, mined coal, smelted ore, made pottery, wove textiles, and produced all sorts of daily necessities by themselves. It is fair to say that Rewi Alley pioneered vocational education in China and trained a large number of people for the building of the New China.

After the founding of the People’s Republic, Rewi Alley chose to continue his career in China, promoting world peace and friendship among nations. He actively participated in various international meetings, including the Asia and Pacific Rim Peace Conference. Meanwhile, he wrote many books and articles about China and its development, largely based on his own experience, presenting an accurate description of the new China to the world, many of which were published and distributed in New Zealand. He also studied Chinese classical and contemporary poetry in depth and published several widely-acclaimed translations, doing his best to show the splendour of Chinese culture to the Western world.

In retrospect, Rewi 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. There are a few qualities he had that stand out particularly:

First, his deep love for the people. Rewi Alley had a heartfelt concern for the toiling masses in China and devoted everything to them. When he was a factory inspector in Shanghai, he made every effort to improve the working and living conditions of some of the worst exploited people at the time in the country. When he was the Headmaster of the Bailie School, he taught the children to “do more good to the people.” He never married. But he adopted several orphans and took many more kids into his loving care. He was happiest among ordinary working people, trying to make a difference in their lives, always seeing and bringing out the best in them, particularly the value, initiative and creativity of the common man and woman.

Second, his belief in the choice of the Chinese people and his unwavering support for the cause of China’s liberation and development. During the course of China’s struggles to seek national independence and liberation, Rewi Alley came into encounters with Das Kapital and other Marxist works and got to know and began to work with the Communist Party of China. He saw the hope and potential in the CPC to oppose imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism and to build a new China. He supported the development path chosen by the Chinese people under the leadership of the CPC and stood firmly with them in all periods of history through the last years in his life. In many ways, Rewi Alley was ahead of his time. What he did and said about China was not always understood by his peers. Despite the political correctness in western countries at the time and the consequent misunderstanding he was subjected to, he was never afraid to speak his mind.

Third, his tireless pursuit of peace and harmony in the world. Seeing the imperative and the possibility for different cultures to coexist, and the contribution that could be made thereby to peace and friendly relations between countries, Rewi Alley was committed to promoting intercultural exchanges and mutual appreciation and mutual learning. He opened a window, through his writings and speeches, for Kiwis to understand China. He also inspired and initiated the establishment and development of the New Zealand-China Friendship Society, an essential platform for friendly exchanges between our two peoples, soon after the founding of the People’s Republic, and way before the official diplomatic ties. 

In the words of one commentator on his achievements and their impact, Rewi 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. For 35 years after his passing, the world has come to yet another crossroads, where the greatest challenge is to rise above the gulf of differences, the veil of misinformation and misunderstanding, and in some cases deliberate walls of exclusion and animosity, to co-exist and cooperate for the common good. And this time around, even more is involved. At stake is the future of not only individual countries, but also the future of our entire world. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Currently, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is convening its 20th National Congress in Beijing, which has caught the attention of countries worldwide. The Congress takes place at a crucial juncture in the development of China. We have eradicated absolute poverty and achieved the historic mission of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, namely the First Centenary Goal, and are starting off on the journey towards the Second Centenary Goal, which is building China into a comprehensively modern socialist country by mid-century. In his report to the Congress, General-Secretary Xi Jinping thanked all international friends for their support over the years for the cause of China’s reform, opening up and development. That includes Rewi Alley, who, should he be still with us today, would definitely be gratified by and proud of the dramatic transformations that have taken place in China, particularly the lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and the improvement in ordinary people’s lives. 

Coming back to the Congress, it will elect the new leadership of the Party. It will also, on the basis of reflections on the progress we have made and the lessons we can draw from that progress, and scrutiny of the current international and domestic situation, to chart the road-map forward for the next five years and beyond, centering on meeting the aspirations of the people for progressively better lives and realizing the Chinese Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Nation. 

Again, in his report to the Congress, General-Secretary Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s commitment to the independent foreign policy of peace, promoting friendship and cooperation with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, adhering to the basic state policy of reform and opening up in pursuit of mutual benefit, and actively participating in the reform of the global governance system. He also reiterated that China is willing to work with the international community to implement the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, and promote the shared values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom, with the view to creating a brighter common future for humankind. The Congress will bring new opportunities not only for China’s own development, but also for China’s cooperation with partners like New Zealand, adding, at the same time, new impetus to peace and prosperity across the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

50 years ago, China and New Zealand established diplomatic relations. Our relationship, however, dates back much earlier. Recent research shows that the first Chinese set their foot on New Zealand soil as early as 180 years ago, followed by Chinese immigrants into New Zealand, who gradually integrated into local communities. What we have achieved in the bilateral relations are not possible without the joint efforts of generations of Chinese and Kiwis, and the contribution made by friends like Rewi Alley. Looking back, China-New Zealand relations have created many “firsts,” standing at the forefront of China’s relations with developed countries, generating huge tangible benefits to our two peoples, making our relationship exemplary of win-win cooperation between countries that differ in social system, history, culture, and stage of development.

Despite the profound and complex changes taking place in the international environment and the significant progress both countries have made respectively, China’s expectation for the development of China-New Zealand relations has not, and will not change; China’s firm commitment to deepening friendship between our two countries has not, and will not change; and China’s sincere aspiration to work with New Zealand to promote peace, stability, and development in the world has not, and will not change.  

Going forward, we need to bear in mind that the development of our bilateral relations is not a matter of course, but rather the result of painstaking efforts across generations from both sides. Looking ahead, we should draw inspiration from Rewi Alley’s legacy and his spirit, and work together to implement the consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, comply with the aspirations of the two peoples, and deepen the friendship between the two countries, to create a common brighter future for both of us. 

First, we need to enhance mutual trust. The half-century of cooperation between China and New Zealand has amply demonstrated that what we have in common far outweighs our differences and divergences. We both put people center and front, pursue high-quality sustainable development, and strive to maintain world peace and stability. Therefore, we should take a long-term and holistic approach, transcend our differences, and join hands in steering our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to the next level.

Second, we need to break new ground in practical cooperation. China and New Zealand are mutually important trading partners, and our economies are mutually complementary. While maintaining the current positive momentum of bilateral economic and trade cooperation, we should work together to grow the pie of common interests even bigger by tapping the full potential of new areas of collaboration, including climate change, sustainable agriculture, bio-medicine, and broad scientific and technological innovation, to bring even more benefits to our two peoples.

Third, we need to promote people-to-people exchanges. China-New Zealand friendship has taken deep and extensive roots, and the interactions between the two sides in education, tourism, culture, sports, and local communities have played a critical role in building up mutual understanding. We shall continue to facilitate communications and engagements at all levels, encourage Chinese tourists and students to come back to New Zealand after COVID, and look forward to more Kiwi friends visiting China.

Fourth, we need to strengthen coordination on global and regional affairs. Both China and New Zealand hold major stakes in preserving peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and the world as our common home. Thus, we should together uphold multilateralism by safeguarding the international order based on international law and conforming to the norms governing international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. We should pursue fairness and justice, promote common development, and work together, as Rewi Alley said, to rise to the challenges facing the international community.  

In concluding, the man is gone, but his legacy and spirit live on. For the friendship between our two countries to grow further, we need more Rewi Alleys. Let us pay tribute to, and above all, follow the footsteps of Rewi Alley as a towering internationalist, a true humanitarian, an old friend of the Chinese people, a remarkable human being, and a great son of New Zealand and of China! Let us also acknowledge all those friends who have contributed to the deepening of China-New Zealand friendship. May the spirit of Rewi Alley be kept alive and passed on from generation to generation, and may the friendship between China and New Zealand thrive forever!

Thank you!