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Wednesday, June 29, 2016, 10:21

A generation of real pioneers

By Yang Yang

A generation of real pioneers

Rewi Alley pictured in 1945 with a group of Chinese orphans he adopted. (Xinhua)

During periods of war and conflict, foreign visitors such as physicians Norman Bethune, Richard Frey, Dwarkanath S. Kotnis and Jacob Rosenfeld treated Chinese soldiers injured in battle, despite being hampered by a dire shortage of medicine, medical equipment and the outbreak of disease.

Other visitors, such as journalists Edgar Snow, Agnes Smedley, Israel Epstein and Hans Shippe, wrote dispatches about the communist troops during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) and the fight against the forces of the nationalist Kuomintang. Kobayashi Kancho, a Japanese veteran who was captured by the Chinese Red Army in 1941, became a passionate anti-war advocate.

A generation of real pioneersRewi Alley, from New Zealand, was another foreign friend of the CPC. Born in 1897, Alley fought alongside soldiers from East China's Shandong province during World War I. It was during this period in Europe that he got to know Chinese people for the first time.

Having read in the New Zealand press about the fighting between Chinese warlords, Alley decided to visit China in 1927. His first job in the country was as a firefighter in Shanghai, but in 1932 he was promoted to the post of Chief Inspector of Industries.

Finding an answer

Alley said it pained him to see young children working in mills for 12 hours a day and facing severe punishments if they made a mistake. He worked with George Hatem, a physician from the United States, and called for working hours in Shanghai's factories to be reduced. He finally found an answer in Das Kapital by Karl Marx: the old system must be overthrown.

At the end of 1932, Alley became acquainted with Smedley, a US journalist. She introduced Alley to Madame Soong Ching-ling, the wife of the Nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen, writer Lu Xun and many other progressive figures in China at the time. He often read Marxist works and discussed the world, China and Shanghai with them.

In 1937, when war broke out in China, Alley quit his job in Shanghai to go to Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, where he became chief consultant to the China Industrial Cooperation Association. Two years later, he arrived at the communist revolutionary base at Yan'an, Shaanxi province, in the northwest.

In 1940, Alley started a school for poor children in Shuangshipu, a town in Shaanxi, because most of them were unable to afford the tuition fees in schools run by the local Kuomintang government. Eventually, he had to move the school to Shandan in nearby Gansu province.

He worked at the school until 1952 when it was taken over by the local CPC government.

After 1950, Alley wrote his memoirs – his experiences in old China and how he saw a new nation being created. In Shanghai, his diaries were published in English as a set under the title Yo Banfa!: We Have a Way, and were later reprinted three times in New Zealand. Encouraged by the good reception, including in his home country, Alley continued to write, producing works such as Stories out of China, People Have Strength and The People Sing.

In 1953, Alley moved from Shandan to live permanently in Beijing. Although he never married or had children, those he adopted earlier in China often brought their own children to visit him and accompany him to social occasions, making his later life a busy time.

At a banquet for Alley's 80th birthday on Dec 2, 1977, China's then-leader Deng Xiaoping said: "Thousands upon thousands of foreign friends have helped the cause of the Chinese revolution. It is no easy thing to have done as much for the Chinese people as Comrade Rewi Alley has done constantly for half a century."

In 1987, Alley died in Beijing at age 90. He once wrote: "China gave me an aim to life, a cause to fight for, each year more richly; a place in the ranks of the advancing millions; how great a thing this has been, what bigger reward could one imagine than that which has come to me, and now sustains!"

Nearly three decades after Alley's death, the Chinese people still applaud his contribution to the construction of New China and his support of the Party.

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