Rewi Alley (2 December 1897 - 27 December 1987), was a New Zealand-born writer, educator, social reformer, potter, and member of the Chinese Communist Party.
Rewi Alley probably wrote more than any other foreigner about 20th century China, and especially about the Communist revolution. He dedicated 60 years of his life to the cause of the Chinese Communist Party, and was a key figure in the establishment of "Gung-ho" (industrial cooperatives), and technical training schools, including the Peili Vocational Institute in Beijing.
Early life and influences
Rewi was born in the small town of Springfield in inland Canterbury, New Zealand. He was named after Rewi Maniapoto, a Maori chief famous for his resistance to the British military during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. Alley's father was a teacher, and Rewi attended primary school at Amberley, New Zealand, then at Wharenui School in Christchurch where his father was appointed headmaster in 1905. His mother, Clara, was a leader of the New Zealand suffrage movement.
The parents' keen interest in social reform and education influenced all their children:
brother Geoffrey (born 1905) became an All Black and worked as a travelling WEA (Workers Educational Association)tutor sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation, before becoming New Zealand's first National Librarian in 1947.
sister Gwendolen was a pioneer in primary school education practices.
younger sister Joyce became a prominent nursing administrator, and
brother Philip was a lecturer at the engineering school of the University of Canterbury. He is credited with the idea of moving the university campus from central Christchurch to the suburb of Ilam.
In 1916 Rewi Alley joined the New Zealand Army and was sent to serve in France. While there he met some Chinese men who had been sent to work for the Allied Armies. After the War, Alley tried farming in New Zealand. In 1927 decided to go to China. He moved to Shanghai with thoughts of joining the Shanghai Police, but instead he became a fireman. During this period he gradually became aware of the poverty in the Chinese community and the racism in the Western communities. His politics turned from fairly conventional right-wing pro-Empire sentiments to thoughts of social reform. In particular a famine in 1929 made him aware of the plight of China's peasants. Using his holidays and taking time off work Alley toured rural China helping with relief efforts. He adopted a 14-year-old Chinese boy in 1929 whom he named Alan.
After a brief visit to New Zealand, where his adopted Chinese son experienced public racism, Alley became Chief Factory Inspector for the Shanghai Municipal Council in 1932. By this time he was a secret member of the Chinese Communist Party and was involved in criminal activities on behalf of the Party. At one time he was given the job of washing the blood off money stolen by the Red Army in raids disguised as anti-Japanese protests. He adopted another Chinese son, Mike, in 1932. After the invasion of China proper by Japan in 1937, Alley turned to setting up co-operatives across China in an effort to counter the Japanese blockade of inland China. He also set up a school at Shandan which reflected his keen interest in education.
Following Liberation in 1949 Alley was urged to remain in China and work for the Chinese Communist Party. He agreed to this even though it involved suppressing his homosexuality, which was not tolerated in the new China. He produced many works praising the Chinese Communist Party and the government of the People's Republic of China including Yo Banfa!, Man Against Flood and China's Hinterland in the Great Leap Forward. Some of his published works have historic interest. Alley remained either unaware of China's problems or at least he was uninterested in criticizing the Party. He never mentioned the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese peasants from famine during the Great Leap Forward. This was reflected in his increasing isolation from the mass of China's population as he lived in a special neighborhood and was specially looked after by the Party. Indeed one of his main problems was coping with his increased obesity in this period.
Although imprisoned and "struggled with" during the Cultural Revolution, Alley remained committed to Communism and bore no grudges. Unlike most of the friends of the Chinese Communist Party who remained in Beijing, Alley had little trouble travelling around the world, usually lecturing on the need for nuclear disarmament. The New Zealand government did not strip Alley of his passport and remained proud of his ties to important Party leaders.
There are allegations that Rewi Alley was homosexual and had an inappropriate interest in young boys. Some of his friends have rejected these allegations.
- Peace Through the Ages, Translations from the Poets of China, 1954
- The People Speak Out: Translations Of Poems And Songs Of The People Of China, 1954
- Fragments of Living Peking and Other Poems, 1955
- The Mistake, 1956
- Beyond the Withered Oak Ten Thousand Saplings Grow, 1957
- Human China, 1957
- Journey to Outer Mongolia: A Diary with Poems, 1957
- The People Sing, 1958
- Poems of Protest, 1968
- Over China's Hills of Blue: Unpublished Poems and New Poems, 1974
- Today and Tomorrow, 1975
- Snow over the Pines, 1977
- The Freshening Breeze, 1977
- Folk Poems from China's Minorities, 1982
- Bai Juyi, 1983
- Light and Shadow along a Great Road - An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry, 1984; ISBN 0-8351-1516-X
- In Southeast Asia Today, the United States, Vietnam, China
- Upsurge, Asia and the Pacific
- What Is Sin?
- Who Is the Enemy
- Winds of Change
- A Highway, and an Old Chinese Doctor: A Story of Travel through Unoccupied China during the War of Resistance, and Some Notes on Chinese Medicine
- Gung Ho, 1948
- Leaves from a Sandan Notebook, 1950
- Yo Banfa! We Have a Way!, 1952
- The People Have Strength, 1954/1957
- Buffalo Boys of Viet-Nam, 1956
- Land of the Morning Calm: A Diary of Summer Days in Korea, 1956
- Man Against Flood - A Story of the 1954
- Flood on the Yangtse and of the Reconstruction That Followed It, 1956
- Spring in Vietnam. A Diary of a Journey, 1956
- Children of the Dawn, Stories of Asian Peasant Children, 1957
- Peking Opera: An Introduction Through Pictures by Eva Siao and Text by Rewi Alley, 1957
- Stories out of China, 1958
- Sandan: An Adventure in Creative Education, 1959; Reprint ISBN 9-9912-0016-9
- China's Hinterland - in the Great Leap Forward, 1961
- Land and Folk in Kiangsi - a Chinese Province in 1961, 1962
- Amongst Hills and Streams of Hunan, 1963
- Our Seven - Their Five - A Fragment from the Story of Gung Ho, 1963
- For the Children of the Whole World, 1966
- Travels in China 1966-71
- Chinese Children, 1972
- Taiwan: A Background Study, 1972/1976
- Prisoners: Shanghai 1936, 1973
- The Rebels, 1973
- Refugees from Viet Nam in China, 1980
- Six Americans in China, 1985
- At 90: Memoirs of my china Years, 1986
- Rewi Alley, An Autobiography, 1987; ISBN 0-4770-1350-3
- Fruition: The Story of George Alwin Hogg
- The Influence of the Thought of Mao Tse-tung
- The Mistake