“The last few months have been as fascinating and rewarding as the previous months. The extremely cold weather tended to dominate each day and required more and more planning to keep functioning. My deceptively warm apartment and the bright sunny weather frequently lulled me into a false sense of outside temperatures. Many’s the time I rushed out foolishly in only two layers of thermals, down jacket, boots and woolly hat to quickly realise it was a three-thermal-layer, scarf, gloves and face-wrap day.
“With the arrival of winter, one of my daughters wrote to me, interested in how we acknowledged the event: the first day back at school for the winter term. This began in the pitch dark an hour before dawn in minus 18 degrees C and a face-numbing breeze. The whole school assembled in the courtyard under a brilliant, star-studded sky. With clenched fists raised, we sang the national anthem and declared an oath of allegiance to the Republic as the flag was slowly hoisted under the dawn sky. Not your ordinary start to the working day!
“December was marked by a celebration of Rewi Alley’s birthday. The agriculture students spent the day at the Silipu Forest Research Centre in Shandan, transplanting 10,000 seedlings for next spring’s planting programme. This was a huge contribution to the restoration of severely degraded desert areas and part of a massive national attempt to reverse the erosion and desertification of big areas in Gansu and Inner Mongolia. The very proud assistant director of the research centre was, of course, a former student of Shandan Peili School. I was fortunate to spend the day at the centre with him and his equally proud former teacher, Mr Gou. We all got to star on the local TV news that night. See video:
“With temperatures so low, most school administrators would have been turning the heating up and hunkering down in warm classrooms. In Shandan, however, they organised a 10 kilometre run to the Inner Mongolian border mountains for the entire school – students and staff! Everyone loved the break from the classroom but trying to photograph the event was almost too much for my frozen camera and already-frostbitten fingers. Check out the running outfits required for a mountain run in this climate (see photos). The run/walk was well worth the effort. The view from the back of the Dragon (Dragon Head Mountain) was timeless. It was very easy to imagine Mongol horsemen ranging over this seemingly endless desert landscape. Our ‘army’ of students had the very realistic look of a border patrol on a mountain pass (see photos).
“One of the things I wanted to do in Shandan was to share the story of the link between Rewi Alley and his namesake, Rewi Maniapoto, the Maori gueurilla leader of the resistance forces in the 1863-64 Land Wars. This year  being the 150th commemoration of the NZ Land Wars, I thought it would be a fitting tribute to Rewi Maniapoto to recognise his contribution to the international struggle against Imperialism.
“Rewi Maniapoto gave us the inspirational call to continual struggle: ‘ka whawhai tonu matou, ake, ake, ake’ (“We will fight on forever and ever and ever”). The Alley family showed their respect of and support for the Maori struggle for justice by naming their newborn child Rewi, shortly after the death of Rewi Maniapoto [Editor’s note: Maniapoto died 1894, Rewi Alley was born 1897]. Rewi carried in his heart the fighting spirit of his famous namesake. A similar struggle was carried on in a different country but against another Imperial enemy. Ngati Maniapoto should be immensely proud that the spirit of their ancestor was so wonderfully represented in the struggle to build the Peoples Republic of China.
I produced an article about this aspect of New Zealand history and each student produced a design for a large display board on the wall of the Sino-New Zealand Friendship Hall (see photos).
Principal Peng really supported this article and had it posted all around the school. He particularly liked the wall mural/tribute that the students drew. He didn’t believe it was their work at first despite my reassurances. I left the completion / installation of the art work as a homework project for Ma Guo Hua (director of international affairs).
“When the weather warms sufficiently for the concrete and plaster work to be done, the project will be completed.
“The New Zealand commemoration of Rewi’s famous speech will be held at the site of the Battle of Orakau near Kihikihi, in April. I think the NZCFS should consider attending the event and sharing the legacy of Rewi Maniapoto as it played out in China.
“The year has come to an end and my time in Shandan likewise. The experience of nearly 5 months in this fascinating part of the world has left so many wonderful memories, that my heart is now etched beyond recognition.
“Wonderful people, wonderful place! Thank you Shandan and thank you NZCFS for your continuing efforts to keep this important relationship in good health.”
Ben (Brendan Corbett), February 2014