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Published: 07 October 2022

By Andy Ross

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How low wool prices in New Zealand affected Chinese history

Rewi Alley was an influential figure in Chinese and New Zealand Aotearoa's history.

Rewi - named after the Maori leader Rewi Maniapoto - was born in the last years of the 19th Century, his father a schoolmaster and his mother an activist in the temperance and women's rights movements. After returning, wounded, from the First World War he took up farming with a friend from school. Six years of hardship and struggle followed and low wool prices meant that the venture eventually became unprofitable. When Jack, Rewi's friend, announced that he was going to marry, Rewi left to visit China for a little while but ended up staying in the country and it was here that he made his name. 

Rewi was passionate about improving living and working conditions of Chinese people and in 1937 set about establishing the Industrial Co-operative INDUSCO after returning to visit New Zealand and then going on to see European and North American factories. His work was celebrated in China and the slogan associated with the co-operative "Gung Ho/ Work Together" has become a standard phrase in English. He went on to work with schools, establishing new educational establishments based on the co-operative principles and, after ups and downs associated with the changes in Chinese government and international opinion, he ended up writing about China and co-operative education. His work was celebrated once again when New Zealand began once again to establish links with China in the 1970s, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Victoria University, Wellington in 1972. 

Rewi Alley died in 1987 in Beijing but his memory lives on in New Zealand where he is remembered with plaques at his old school, Christchurch Boys' High, and Amberley Primary School. He is favourably and widely regarded in China where the centenary of his birth and the 110th anniversary of that occasion were celebrated. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Rewi_Alley

This link is to the New Zealand History biography of Rewi Alley. A fascinating figure.