Most readers will know that the New Zealand China Friendship Society — created originally as the New Zealand China Society through the coming together of a number of regional societies — was formed at the instigation of Rewi Alley and CORSO worker Shirley Barton. A group of New Zealanders who had been in China and understood at first hand the struggles of the Chinese people for self-determination responded to the call by establishing the Auckland society in 1952. Other regional societies quickly followed suit. Together these societies provided a solid foundation for raising money and building support amongst New Zealanders for the ‘New China’.
Through the dark days of the Korean War, when Rewi Alley was derided as a ‘traitor’, and later through the 1960s when he was an outspoken advocate of the Cuban regime, the New Zealand China Friendship Society continued to stand with Rewi for friendship with China. New Zealanders raised money for the Shandan and Lanzhou Bailie Schools and Gung Ho cooperative projects, and campaigned for diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, finally granted in 1972.
Today, there is an increased interest in the life and work of this remarkable man. New Zealanders should be proud of Rewi’s accomplishments and his recognition by the Chinese government as one of ten international ‘old friends’ (lao pengyou). New Zealanders should be equally wary of efforts others might make to use his name for their own ends. Rewi himself wrote in 1986 that the only organisation he trusted to take his name was the New Zealand China Society.
As we approach the anniversary of Rewi Alley’s birth on December 2nd, Rewi’s legacy is more important than ever. With geopolitical tensions flaring into open warfare in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, we should remember that Rewi Alley was a spokesperson for peace and understanding between countries. Talk of ‘decoupling’ and the militarisation of world affairs are directly opposed to Rewi’s vision of friendship linking together the countries and people of New Zealand and China.
The New Zealand China Friendship Society continues in Rewi’s name to help New Zealanders connect with and better understand China. Click here For further information on Rewi Alley and his links with the New Zealand China Friendship Society. You can also explore the life and legacy of Rewi Alley through a collection of online resources gathered together in 2017 to celebrate the 120th anniversary of his birth. These resources are available here.