History curator Kirstie Ross writes about the impact that a New Zealander, Rewi Alley, had on China and spoken English, 90 years after his arrival there.
‘Gung-ho’ is a phrase that I use quite often, to describe a ‘boots-and-all’ attitude. According to the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary:
What I didn’t know is that it made its way into everyday English thanks to one of New Zealand’s most famous expatriates, Rewi Alley (1907–1987), who made China his home for six decades.
Canterbury-born and raised Alley – named for the Ngāti Maniapoto rangatira Rewi Maniapoto – arrived in Shanghai on 21 April 1927.
So where and how does the Mandarin Chinese phrase ‘gung-ho’ fit in the story of a New Zealand ‘farmer, teacher, social, reformer, peace activist and writer’? 
In 1927, after he left an uneconomic farm in Taranaki, Alley travelled out of sheer curiosity to China. This portrait (below) was taken around the time he left New Zealand.
He initially worked in Shanghai as a fire officer and a municipal factory inspector. The latter took him to places where he witnessed child labour and appalling work conditions.
Alley also travelled extensively as a relief worker, working with Chinese who experienced poverty and hardship due to famine and floods.
Getting to gung-ho
In 1938, Alley was involved in the formation of the Association of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (INDUSCO). These collectives became known by the slogan that Alley came up with: ‘Gung Ho/Work Together’.
The photograph below shows a banner with the Chinese characters that represent ‘gung-ho’, which also featured on a badge designed for members of the collectives.
The collectives were a response to the economic and industrial decimation caused by the Japanese invasion of 1937. The collectives were bi-partisan ‘small-scale self-supporting cooperatives which created employment for workers, while continuing to support resistance against the Japanese’. 
INDUSCO set up ‘several hundred small factories, workshop, power plants, transports, and mines….[It] became a reasonably sound prototype of a democratic, co-operative society, producing a wide range of goods of war value’. 
In 1941, one friend reported on this work, writing that: ‘Rewi Alley is unique because he has achieved greatness in a country where few foreigners ever managed to create an authentic ripple.’
He went on to note the extent of Alley’s influence in China:
[Alley] means to China to-day at least as much as Colonel Lawrence meant to the Arabs and perhaps more. Where Lawrence brought Arabia the destructive technique of guerrilla warfare, Alley is teaching China the constructive organisation of guerrilla industry. 
Create and analyse
Another initiative dear to Rewi Alley was education and the school he helped run, which was arranged on industrial co-operative principles.
The school eventually moved, in 1944, to Shandan, in Gansu province (above). Known as the Shandan Bailie School, its guiding principle was ‘create and analyse’. The idea behind it was to prepare young Chinese for the Gung Ho co-operatives.
Mission for peace
Alley was able to remain in China after the Communist Party assumed control of the country in 1945 – somewhat unusual for a foreigner.
In 1953, he moved to Beijing, but his sphere of influence and activity was increasingly international, as he travelled around the world on behalf of peace organisations.
Alley also authored over 50 books, many of which were about his adopted home. Ron Meggett, a New Zealand pacifist, kept this 1951 pamphlet (below) which was circulated by the Wellington District Peace Council.
However, in the context of the Cold War, Alley’s association with a Communist-ruled country generated ambivalence amongst some New Zealanders. This became more entrenched due to his stance on peace and his public opposition to the Korean War.
Towards the end of his long life, both the Chinese and New Zealand governments recognised Alley’s contributions to their respective countries.
In 1982, he became an honorary Chinese citizen. A few years later, he was made Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for Community Service (QSO) by the New Zealand Government (a ceremony was held at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing in 1985).
‘Something of the greatness’
In his autobiography, published in the year of his death, Alley summed up his personal feelings about his long-life connection to China:
Little as I knew when I arrived from New Zealand, I had come to learn something of the greatness of the Chinese civilization and of its potential for the future.
I realised China was a crucible where a new kind of people was being forged….It was my privilege to have close contact with the working folk, to live with them and join in their struggle. 
 Roderic Alley, ‘Alley, Rewi’
 Roderic Alley, ‘Alley, Rewi’
 ‘Edgar Snow on Indusco (Gung Ho)’, from Edgar Snow’s China, New York, 1981
 Press, 13 March 1941, p.6
 Cited in Rhonda Bartle, ‘A Life of Deeds and Some Little Fame – Rewi Alley’.
- Roderic Alley, ‘Alley, Rewi’
- Rhonda Bartle, ‘A Life of Deeds and Some Little fame – Rewi Alley’
- ‘A Chronology of Rewi Alley’s Life’
- ‘Edgar Snow on Indusco (Gung Ho)’
- ‘Rewi Alley’
Thanks for this Kirstie! Just checking that you knew about the project between the University of Canterbury, University of Waikato and Canterbury Museum, which is looking at Rewi’s diplomatic ties and the amazing objects he had brought to NZ. The objects are all available to view here http://www.rewialleyart.nz/
Thanks very much for alerting me to this interesting and useful website and database. I knew that Canterbury Museum had collected material related to Rewi Alley – and now I know where to find out more about it!
All the best