Rewi Alley

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Rewi Alley, 路易•艾黎, Lùyì Àilí, QSO, (2 December 1897 – 27 December 1987), was a New Zealand-born writer, educator, social reformer, potter, and member of the Communist Party of China.

Portrait of Rewi Alley by Deng Bangzhen. Located in CPAFFC offices, Factory Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing. Used to be the Italian Embassy, later Rewi Alley's residence

Rewi Alley was a prolific western writer about 20th century China, and especially about the Communist revolution. He dedicated 60 years of his life to the cause of the Communist Party of China, and was a key figure in the establishment of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, and technical training schools, including the Peili Vocational Institute in Beijing.

Early life and influences

Memorial plaque at Christchurch Boys' High School, commemorating Alley's 100th birthday

Rewi was born in the small town of Springfield in inland Canterbury, New Zealand. He was named after Rewi Maniapoto, a Māori 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; then Wharenui School in Christchurch, where his father was appointed headmaster in 1905; and finally Christchurch Boys' High School. His mother, Clara, was a leader of the New Zealand women's suffrage movement.

The parents' keen interest in social reform and education influenced all their children:

  • brother Geoffrey (1903–1986) 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 1964;[1]
  • sister Gwendolen (1894–1988) was a pioneer in primary school education practices, and first president of the New Zealand Federation;[2]
  • younger sister Joyce (1908–2000) became a prominent nursing administrator; and
  • brother Philip (1901–1978) 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.[3]

In 1916 Alley joined the New Zealand Army and was sent to serve in France where he won the MM. While there he met some Chinese men who had been sent to work for the Allied Armies. During the war he was injured and caught in no man's land. Lyall McCallum and another man rescued him and took him back to safety. After the war, Alley tried farming in New Zealand. In 1927 he decided to go to China. He moved to Shanghai with thoughts of joining the Shanghai Municipal 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, Duan Si Mou, in 1929, whom he named Alan. He also adopted another Chinese boy, Li Xue, whom he named Mike.

After a brief visit to New Zealand, where Alan 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 Communist Party of China and was involved in anti-criminal activities on behalf of the Party. At one time he was given the job of washing the blood off criminals' money confisticated by the Red Army in raids. He adopted another Chinese son, Mike, in 1932. After the outbreak of war with Japan in 1937, Alley set up the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives. He also set up schools, calling them Bailie Schools after his American friend Joseph Bailie. Edgar Snow wrote of Alley's work in CIC: "Where Lawrence brought to the Arabs the distinctive technique of guerilla war, Alley was to bring China the constructive technique of guerilla industry...." [4] In 1945, he became headmaster of the Shandan Bailie School following the death of George Hogg.[1]

After the Communist victory

Following the Communist victory over the Nationalists in 1949 Alley was urged to remain in China and work for the Communist Party of China. He produced many works praising the 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. Although imprisoned and "struggled with" during the Cultural Revolution, Alley remained committed to communism and bore no grudges. [citation needed]

In 1973 New Zealand civil servant Gerald Hensley and the new New Zealand Ambassador to China, Bryce Harland, called on Alley.[5] He was in his seventies, a bald, pink-faced man with bright blue eyes, and an inexhaustible flow of conversation. We sat and talked for most of an afternoon, with Rewi occasionally jumping up to fetch a book or check a point. He had, he said, lost the best of two libraries, once to the Japanese and again to the Red Guards, who had thrown out his collections and torn up his pictures in front of him. He was still bitter over their behaviour. He was living in the old Italian Legation which had been converted into flats for the leading foreign friends, which were allocated on the bleak basis of seniority. On the death of the previous occupant Anna Louise Strong, Rewi moved downstairs into the best front apartment and everyone else moved on one place.

Unlike most of the friends of the Communist Party of China 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. In the 1950s he was offered a knighthood but turned the honour down.[6]

His house in Beijing is now the offices of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Memorial at Springfield

An extensive memorial to Rewi Alley has been erected at Springfield, Canterbury, New Zealand. It contains a large stone carving and a number of panels giving details of his life.

Private life

Anne-Marie Brady in Friend of China claims that Rewi Alley was a practicing homosexual. This is highly controversial, with people who knew him well saying they would have noticed.[7]



  • 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 Revolt, 1962
  • Tu Fu: Selected Poems, 1962
  • Not a Dog,1962
  • The Eighteen Laments, 1963
  • Poems of Protest, 1968
  • POEMS FOR AOTEAROA, 1972 (collection)
  • 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
  • Li Pai:200 Selected Poems, 1980
  • Folk Poems from China's Minorities, 1982
  • Pai Chu-i:Selected Poems, 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

Other works

  • 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 99912-0-016-9
  • 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
  • Chinese Children, 1972
  • Taiwan: A Background Study, 1972/1976
  • Prisoners: Shanghai 1936, 1973
  • The Rebels, 1973
  • Travels in China: 1966-71, 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 0-477-01350-3
  • Fruition: The Story of George Alwin Hogg
  • The Influence of the Thought of Mao Tse-tung
  • The Mistake
  • Towards a People's Japan: Account of a Journey to Tokyo and speech given by Rewi Alley
  • Oceania: An outline for Study, 1969 (1st edition); 1971 (2nd edition)

See also


  1. McEldowney, W. J. (2006). Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work. Retrieved on 24 June 2011. 
  2. McDonald, Geraldine (1 September 2010). "Somerset, Gwendolen Lucy". Somerset, Gwendolen Lucy. Retrieved 24 June 2011. 
  3. McEldowney, W. J. (2006). Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work, 440. Retrieved on 24 June 2011. 
  4. Brady, Anne-Marie: Friend of China: The Myth of Rewi Alley (London; New York: Routledge Curzon, 2002): 30-33.
  5. Hensley, Gerald: Final Approaches: A Memoir, page 171 (2006, Auckland University Press) ISBN 1-86940-378-9
  6. Stockwell, Foster: Westerners in China: A History of Exploration and Trade, Ancient Times Through the Present pg 187. McFarland, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7864-1404-8
  7. Rewi Alley Postscript


  • Anne-Marie Brady: Friend of China, The Myth of Rewi Alley (RoutledgeCurzon 2002), ISBN 0-7007-1493-6.
  • Willis Airey: A Learner in China, A Life of Rewi Alley (Christchurch, Caxton Press & Monthly Review Society, 1970),
  • Geoff Chapple: Rewi Alley of China.

External links