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A Chronology of Rewi Alley’s Life

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Rewi Alley with Chinese boys. Oil painting by Deng Bangzhen (one of Rewi's boys.  Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand
Rewi Alley with Chinese boys. Oil painting by Deng Bangzhen (one of Rewi’s adopted boys), located in Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.  Photo by Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, NLNZ, Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand

Based mainly on the chronology in “Rewi Alley – An Autobiography”, Second edition 1987 (New Zealand). Published and printed by New World Press, Beijing.

Early Years in New Zealand 1897-1927

1897, December 2nd:   Born, the third of a seven-child family, in Springfield, Canterbury, New Zealand

1902-1905:   Attended Primary School in Amberley

1906:   Moved to Lower Riccarton, Christchurch (near Wharenui School, which Rewi attended and where his father taught) 

1912:   Entered Christchurch Boys’ High School

Christchurch Boy's High School rowing four  Back row from left - D N Waghorn. W M Stewart (Coach). Middle row from left - Rewi Alley. W A Fraser. A F McArthur Front - A S Haines (Cox).  Ref: PA1-q-662-11-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22523965
Christchurch Boy’s High School rowing four 1915.  Back row from left – D N Waghorn. W M Stewart (Coach). Middle row, from left – Rewi Alley, W A Fraser, A F McArthur. Front – A S Haines (Cox).  Ref: PA1-q-662-11-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22523965

1916:   Enrolled in the First NZ Expeditionary Force, understating his age (as 19, when he was 18).  

1917:  On the way to Europe, in Cape Town he was involved with the New Zealand soldiers tipping trams over in protest at the ‘colour-bar’ treatment of fellow Maoris. (Rewi only watching as he had a broken arm in a sling).

Rewi Alley in military uniform.  Ref: PA1-q-662-11-2. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23064002
Rewi Alley in military uniform. Ref: PA1-q-662-11-2.  Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23064002

1918, January:  Despatched from England to fight with the 12th Nelson Company of the First Canterbury Regiment in the Ypres Salient.  Rewi had an object lesson in that, having been persuaded to rescue a seemingly dead soldier, the spot where the soldier had been lying received a direct artillery hit..

March:  Sent down to Gommecourt, where he received a shrapnel wound to the shoulder.  

August:  On to the Somme, where Rewi, as acting NCO, performed effective information-gathering under fire.  For this he was awarded the Military Medal.  At Cambrai, while occupying enemy positions, was hit in the thigh by tank-fire shrapnel that passed through his hip and out near the backbone causing severe urogenital damage and likely impotency (ref: article by Maurice Alley, his nephew).

November:  Returned to New Zealand after the First World War

1920: Worked on Taranaki Farm, near  Waverley, North Island, New Zealand, until economy forced him to walk off the land.

1926, November:   Returned to Christchurch

December:   Left NZ for China via Australia

1927,  January-March:  Worked at a fertiliser factory in Sydney

In Shanghai – 1927-38

1927, April 12:  Chiang Kai-shek started the ‘White Terror’, a purge of Communists and sympathisers, in Shanghai

April 21:   Rewi arrived in Shanghai, via Hong Kong 

Worked for the municipal council of the International Settlement as fire inspector and, later, chief factory inspector

Sinza Fire Station HQ staff, Shanghai, China. Wright, Kathleen Mary, d 1992 :Photographs of Rewi Alley. Ref: PA1-f-148-208-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22795281
Sinza Fire Station HQ staff, Shanghai, China. [Rewi is right in second row].  Ref: PA1-f-148-208-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22795281

1929, Summer:  Helped the work of China International Famine Relief Commission in Suiyuan during annual leave; met Edgar Snow on the way to Salaqi, Inner Mongolia.   Adopted Alan (Duan Simou) in Shanghai

1928-31: Travelled to Korea, Japan and many parts of East China during holidays

1932, Spring:  Went to Hubei during home leave to help flood relief work; brought wheat loan to Honghu Lake region.  Adopted Mike (Li Xue).

March:  Home visit to NZ with Alan

September:  Back to Shanghai via Vietnam.

Year’s end:   Met Agnes Smedley and began contacts with progressives.

1933:  Met Mme Soong Chingling and Dr George Hatem (Ma Haide).

1934:  Joined the first International Study Group in Shanghai and took part in clandestine work.

An ‘underground’ radio was installed in his house on Yuyuan Road to link with the Red Army.

1936:  Began to contribute articles to the fortnightly Voice of China (the organ of the League for National Salvation, headed by Mme. Soong Chingling, widow of Sun Yat Sen) published by Max Granich.

September: Went to Taiyuan to help exchange Shanxi local bank notes captured by the Red Army.

1937,  Early months: Went to New Zealand and then made a round-the-world trip for inspection of factory security conditions.

October:  Returned to Shanghai after the outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japan [Battle of Shanghai: August 13, 1937 – November 26, 1937] .

November: Supported Alan and Mike to go to Yan’an.

China’s Gung Ho (Industrial Co-operatives) 1938-1942

1938:  Together with Edgar Snow and and his wife Peg Snow initiated the Gung Ho Movement for industrial co-operatives in unoccupied China.

April:  Joined in setting up the Committee for the Promotion of Industrial Co-operatives in Shanghai.

May:  Resigned from the Shanghai Municipal Council and went to Wuhan via Hong Kong for organising Gung Ho.  Exchanged views with Zhao Enlai and Bo Gu, who supported the idea; met Chiang Kai-shek’s wife, Soong Meiling and got permission from the Kuomintang Government to start Gung Ho work.

Newspaper cutting about “Rewi Alley, factory problem expert to work in Hankou [Hankow]”, July 1938.
Newspaper cutting about “Rewi Alley, factory problem expert to work in Hankou [Hankow]”, July 1938.

August: Served as Acting Secretary General when the Association of Chinese Industrial Co-operatives was officially set up in Wuhan;  was appointed Technical Adviser to the Executive Yuan [Cabinet].

December:  Travelled to Guangxi, Hunan, then to Chiang Kai-shek’s war capital in Chongqing.

1939, January:  Was made Field Secretary of the International Committee for Promotion of Gung Ho in Hong Kong, headed by Mme Soong Chingling; went to Hong Kong after its founding meeting for funds to start work in S.E. China; returned to Ganxian.

January-February:  Travelled with the Indian Medical Team from Chongqing to Yan’an; met Mao Zedong; set up the Gung Ho office in Yulin, Shaanxi province.

May:  Inspected Gung Ho work in Fujian, Anhui and Zhejiang; caught typhoid and malaria and returned to Ganzhou,  sick in bed for two months.

July:  Hiked to Songpan from Chongqing to organise wool buying with the One Million Army Blanket Project.

1940, January – February:  Attended the Second Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition of the Border Region in Yan’an; met Mao Zedong and talked about aid to He Long’s guerrillas in Shanxi.

Spring:  Inspected Gung Ho work in the South West.

July:  In Chongching for the Gung Ho Products Exhibition. Went to Hong Kong for the second Gung Ho International Committtee meeting;  was hospitalised after an attack of malaria.

Autumn:  To Manila to speak on Gung Ho; met the Snows and returned with Evans Carlson for a long journey to the new Fourth Army area, passing through Guangdong, Fujian, Jianxi and Zhejiang; continued the inspection tour to Guilin, Liuzhou, Guiyang and Chongching.

Rewi with Mr and Mrs Edgar Snow and reporter, James Bertram in the Philippines, raising donations for CIC in 1940
Rewi with Mr and Mrs Edgar Snow and reporter, James Bertram in the Philippines, raising donations for CIC in 1940.  Photo donated by Shanghai Archives (http://nzchinasociety.org.nz/17096/rewi-alley-in-china/)

1941:  Went to Singapore en route to Burma to bring back trucks shipped from the US; returned to China by way of Burma Road.

November:   Attended the Gung Ho Products Exhibition and Carnival in Hong Kong; back to Chongxin, Gansu province, on the eve of the Pearl Harbour Incident.

1942:   Spent more and more time on Bailie School projects to train young Gung Ho cadres;  worked together with George Hogg who became Dean of the now-defunct Bailie School in Shuangshipu, Shaanxi.

September: Was discharged by the Executive Yuan from the post of Gung Ho Technical Adviser but continued to work as Field Secretary of the International Committee.

1943, Autumn:   Met Joseph Needham in Shuangshipu and travelled with him to explore West Gansu;  found a new site in the Gobi Desert County of Shandan for the proposed relocation of the Shuanshipu School.

December:  Led the advanced party to Shandan to arrange housing for the new school.

1944, February:  Completed the move of the Shuangshipu School and started building up the Bailie School in Shandan with George Hogg as headmaster.

Went to Chongqing to win financial support from the Gung Ho International Committee for the school.

Map of Shandan Bailie School by students on cloth. Rhodes, Harold Winston, 1905-1987. [Various artists] :[Cloth printed by Shandan boys of the machine shops, etc., at the Shandan Bailie school in Gansu, China, which was founded and directed by Rewi Alley]. Ref: D-014-001. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23103266
Map of Shandan Bailie School printed on cloth by Shandan boys of the machine shops, etc., at the Shandan Bailie school in Gansu, China, which was founded and directed by Rewi Alley. 1960s? [Rhodes, Harold Winston, 1905-1987.  Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, Ref: D-014-001. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23103266]

1945, July:   Became headmaster after George Hogg died of tentanus; remained in Shandan till after the Liberation [September 9, 1945], except for a 10-day visit in mid-1947 to Shanghai to discuss schoolwork.

1949,  September:  Was asked immediately after the Liberation of Shandan to organise school trucks and transport boys to bring PLA troops to liberate the Yumen Oil Field.

October 1:  People’s Republic of China established

Mid-November:  Met Peng Dehuai in Jiuquan, Gansu, who expressed appreciation for the support given to PLA, and the work done for training young technicians at Shandan.

1951, January: Went to Beijing to attend the first Gung Ho meeting after Liberation; remained in Beijing for six months.

June: Attended the wind-up meeting of the Gung Ho International Committee.  Both CIC and the Shandan Bailie School were taken over by the All-China Federation of Artisans’ Co-operatives.

1952, June: Attended the preparatory meeting of the Peace Conference of the Asian and Pacific Regions in Beijing.

October:  Participated in the Peace Conference itself as Deputy Leader of the NZ Delegation then travelled with fellow delegates in China. Yo Banfa, Rewi’s first book on China experiences written after Liberation, was published in Shanghai.

December: Back to Shandan.

1953:  Was made headmaster of the Lanzhou Oil and Technical School, of which the Shandan Bailie School was the predecessor. Called to Beijing to sit on the Peace Liaison Committee of the Asian and Pacific Regions, representing the NZ Peace Council. Made his home in Beijing from then on.

1954:  The People have Strength, Peace through the Ages and The People Speak Out, published.

1955:  Attended the Helsinki Peace Congress called by the World Peace Council as a representative of the Peace Liaison Committee.  Fragments of Living Peking, a selection of poems from earlier publications, published in New Zealand.

1956: Journeyed across SW China to Vietnam and Korea, then to the Mongolian Peoples Republic; consequently published four books entitled Land of the Morning Calm, Journey to Outer Mongolia, Spring in Vietnam and Buffalo Boys of Vietnam.

1957:  Human China – a book in diary form recording visits to remote areas in China, published in New Zealand.

1958-59:  Attended a meeting of the World Peace Council in Stockholm. Toured China through 15 provinces covering about 40,000 kms. Shandan: An Adventure in Creative Education, published in Christchurch, New Zealand.

1960:  Returned to New Zealand for first time after 23 years.

1961:  Attended the Annual World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs in Japan and its following sessions until 1965.

Attended a meeting of the World Peace Council in Delhi and the Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference in Bandung.

1962:  Visited Cuba at the invitation of Che Guevara.

 Rewi addressing 8th annual World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, 1962 (in 'Rewi Alley' book by Youxie

Rewi addressing 8th annual World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, 1962 (in ‘Rewi Alley’ book by Youxie)

1964:  Attended the Afro-Asian Economic Conference in Pyongyang and the Conference for Solidarity with the Vietnamese People against Us Imperialist Aggression in Hanoi.

1965:  Participated in the Asian and African Writers’ Conference in Beijing and the International Conference Against Foreign Military Bases in Djakarta.

1967-71:  Visited cities and the countryside in Hunan and Hebei, Shandong, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Heilongjiang, Zhejang, Jiangsu, etc. , for reportage.

Rewi Alley with Zhou Enlai
Rewi Alley with Zhou Enlai in the Workers’ Stadium, 1970 ((in ‘Rewi Alley’ book by Youxie)

 1971, October: Home trip to New Zealand and stayed for four months; was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Literature by the University of Victoria in Wellington.

1973, February:  Went to Australia for a speaking tour.

1972-75:  Several poetical and prose works: Winds of Change, Poems for Aotearoa [New Zealand], Prisoners, Walkabout, A Highway and an Old Chinese Doctor, Travels in China, Over China’s Hills of Blue, and Today and Tomorrow, published in New Zealand or Australia.

1973:   Travels in China (1966-1971) published.

1976:  Made tours to Shandong, Guangdong, Hainan and Xinjiang besides visits to flood and earthquake-stricken areas in Henan and Liaoning.

1977:  Toured Sichuan, Heilongjiang, Henan and autonomous counties inhabited by the Minority Peoples in Guangxi.  Visited Zhumadian in Henan to report on the rehabilitation work after flood.  Selected poems Snow over the Pines and Freshening Breeze published respectively in New Zealand and China.

80th birthday celebrated in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing at a banquet attended by Deng Xiaoping.

1978:  Visited the Sanmen Gorge Project (Three Gorges Project) and many counties in Henan and Shanxi.

Went to Wuhan and Honghu in Hubei, revisited old places and saw new developments.

1979:  Visited Vietnamese refugees in Guangxi and Guangdong, later published Refugees from Vietnam in China.  Travelled to various places with the NZ Film Team which had come for producing the documentary Rewi Alley of China. The biography of the same name by Geoff Chapple, published in New Zealand.

1980:  Two books, Struggle Around the Central Plains (a story of Henan Province) and A Highland Province –Shansi published.

1980-82:   Published translations of ancient Chinese poetry: Selected Poems of the Tang and Song Dynasties, Folk Poems of China’s Minorities, Li Bai 200 selected poems and Bai Juyi 200 selected poems.

1982,  June:  Went to Lanzhou to the 40th Anniversary Celebrations of the Oil and Technical School; revisited Shandan with old students to attend the opening ceremony of the Exhibition of Cultural Relics which had been donated by himself.

December 2:  85th birthday celebrated together with Deng Yingchao  (wife of Zhou Enlai) and other State leaders; was conferred the title of Honorary Citizen of Beijing

1983, November:  Was made honorary Adviser to the Association of Chinese Industrial Co-operatives (ACIC) which was revived after a National Conference of Gung Ho workers. China: Ancient Kilns and Modern Ceramics, co-authored with Wanda Garnsey, published in Australia.

1984, January:  Was honoured at a poetry recital sponsored by the Independent Chinese PEN Centre of which he became the first foreign member.

September:  Visited Shandan to attend the opening ceremony of the Shandan Bailie Library built in memory of George Hogg. Was made adviser to the Smedley Strong Snow Society of China. Attended the symposium on Agnes Smedley held in Wuhan.

December:  Light and Shadow along a Great Road, the first English anthology of modern Chinese poetry compiled and translated by him, published in Beijing.

1985, May:  Made honorary president of the Bailie University Vocational Training in Beijing.

July:  Attended the symposium on Edgar Snow held in Huhhot.

December 2:  Granted the title of ‘Honorary Citizen of Gansu Province’ on his 88th birthday.

December 21:  Was made Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for Community Service (QSO) by the New Zealand Government (in the 1985 New Year’s Honours), at a ceremony held at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing.

1986, May:  Attended the unveiling ceremony of Soong Chingling’s monument in Shanghai to mark the 5th Anniversary of her death.

1987, December 2: Rewi celebrated his 90th birthday in his home.  He was visited by General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and Premier Li Peng.  In New Zealand, Prime Minister David Lange narrated Greg Chappel’s documentary on NZ national TV.

December 27:  Rewi Alley died of a cerebral embolism, in Beijing with his friend George Hatem at his side.  The Chinese laid his body in State and Chinese leaders bowed in farewell.

Eternal Glory to an Internationalist
Eternal Glory to an Internationalist

 His ashes were scattered in Gansu province, near Shandan.

Crowd at Rewi Alley's funeral service, China. People are gathered around a dias backed by a triangular monument. On one side of the dias is the grave of English born school teacher, George Hogg with whom Rewi had worked from 1942 until Hogg's death at the age of 29 in 1945. On the right hand side of the dias is the grave of Rewi Alley. Photographed by an unknown photographer in December 1987.   Ref: PA1-f-148-449-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22716450
Crowd at Rewi Alley’s funeral service, Shandan, Gansu provice, China. People are gathered around a dais backed by a triangular monument. On one side of the dias is the grave of English born school teacher, George Hogg with whom Rewi had worked from 1942 until Hogg’s death at the age of 29 in 1945. On the right hand side of the dais is the grave of Rewi Alley. Photographed by an unknown photographer in December 1987. Ref: PA1-f-148-449-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22716450

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See also the biography of Rewi Alley in Teara – the official New Zealand online Encyclopedia.