120th Rewi Alley Anniversary Commemorations

Bernard Duncan, Chairman
Christchurch China Sister City Committee

2017 is the 120th anniversary of Rewi Alley’s birth, the 90th anniversary of his arrival in China and the 30th anniversary of his death. During the course of this year these anniversaries have been celebrated extensively in China including a function hosted by the Chinese Vice President in the Great Hall of the People last April. New Zealand was represented at this event by two delegations; one from the NZ China Friendship Society and the second composing members of the Alley family.

On the 1st and 2nd of December it was New Zealand’s turn to mark these significant anniversaries of the life of a man who was born in Springfield on the Canterbury Plains and then at the age of 30 years left for China to spend what would turn out to be the next 60 years of his life. China in fact became his home and his passion. He had a ringside seat to what was a tumultuous period in China’s history. He became a great collector of Chinese artifacts and wrote books on the subject. During his 60 years he was variously a fireman, a factory inspector, an organiser of flood relief, the founder of the Industrial co-operative movement, the founder of the Shandan Baillie school and its first Headmaster, an educationalist, the author of over sixty books, a photographer and an activist in the Peace movement.

In the latter part of his life, his influence saw New Zealand being one of the first western countries to establish diplomatic relations with China. He also encouraged the setting up of the NZ China Friendship Society and the establishment of the Sister City link between Christchurch and Gansu, a province in north western China where he spent many years. Both latter organisations are very active today.

The 1st and 2nd of December saw 160 people gather in Christchurch to commemorate and reflect on Rewi Alley the man and his achievements. Making up the gathering were 70 people who had travelled from China for the event and 42 members of the extended Alley family from both New Zealand and China.

Activities included a symposium, a celebration banquet, visiting places important to Rewi as a boy and a young man, particularly to Springfield where he was born and to Amberley where he spent his primary school days.

The Symposium was a major achievement for the local organising committee. Papers were sought for the event from both countries under three headings: Rewi Alley’s Life and Influences, Rewi Alley’s Educational Ideas and the Legacy of Rewi Alley. The papers were published and provided to all attendees while summaries were presented to the Symposium.

In spite of spending two thirds of his life in China, Rewi Alley was the essence of a good kiwi bloke – rugged, independent, self-reliant, determined, and very sure of his beliefs and ability.


Consul General from the Chinese Consulate in Christchurch, and the Governor General, at the opening of the Chinese Friendship bridge in Amberley.

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