WELLINGTON, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's just-concluded visit to New Zealand has charted the future of the two countries' "special" relations, and one man will be guiding them towards an even stronger friendship.
Three decades after he died, the spirit of Rewi Alley is still felt in the halls of power whenever Chinese and New Zealand leaders get together.
While much of the news coverage is focused on the burgeoning economic and trade links between China and New Zealand, Alley will serve as a reminder that the ties run much deeper.
Honoring the memory of the New Zealander who helped to pioneer China's industrial cooperative movement during the war against the Japanese was high on Li's agenda during his four-day visit to the Oceanian country, which ended Wednesday.
Alley's influence will be heightened as three key anniversaries are marked: 120 years since his birth, 90 years since his arrival in China, and 30 years since his death.
The New Zealander is remembered in China for his efforts in building China's industrial base in wartime, and for educating hundreds of young Chinese students before and after the founding of the New China in 1949.
Alley is also accredited with helping New Zealand and China build ties, such as the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972.
"I remember when (Chinese President) Xi Jinping came to New Zealand in 2014, he spent several minutes remembering the contribution that Rewi Alley made to the relationship and that continues today," said Dave Bromwich, president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society.
The society, formed by Alley's followers in 1952 to maintain links with China, helped to organize some of the commemorative events during Li's visit, including an exhibition of photos of Alley's life in China.
Bromwich told Xinhua by phone that next month he will accompany a delegation of 20 of Alley's relatives and their associates to visit China, culminating in an event in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
"In China, if anything, his importance is increasing," said Bromwich. "In the last decade there's been an increasing amount of commemorative acknowledgement of Rewi Alley's contribution to China."
Trade Minister Todd McClay, a key player in talks during Li's visit, also paid tribute to Alley.
"The fact the relationship between our two countries is moving from strength to strength shows just how significant and relevant his contribution remains today," McClay said in an e-mail to Xinhua.
"Rewi Alley's proud legacy also underlines the importance both China and New Zealand place on old friends. The fact he is regarded by the Chinese people as one of the most influential foreigners in China in the 20th Century speaks volumes about the affection with which he is still held."
Alley, born in 1897 in the small town of Springfield in Canterbury, New Zealand, was a great internationalist fighter and a famous socialist.
As one of seven siblings in a socially active family, Alley left home to fight in France in the First World War.
He was twice wounded in battle. After a few years, Alley bought a ticket to Shanghai, China, where he arrived in 1927.
As a factory inspector, Alley witnessed the poverty of Chinese workers and peasants first-hand, and started to work with progressive organizations and sometimes secretly with the Red Army.
During the Japanese invasion, he became one of the founders of the Gong He (Gung Ho) movement of industrial cooperatives on unoccupied Chinese territories.
In 1942, he set up a cooperative Bailie School in northwest China's Shaanxi Province. The school, which was moved later to Shandan, Gansu Province, had trained engineers for the reconstruction of post-war China.
As a friend of writers such as Edgar Snow and Agnes Smedley, Alley became renowned for his work as an educator, a humanitarian and a peace activist, living the rest of his life in China.
Alley died in Beijing on Dec. 27, 1987. Late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping wrote an inscription in his memory: "Eternal Glory to the Great Internationalist Fighter."
In 2009, Alley won a posthumous award as one of "China's Top Ten International Friends."
While he always loved his home New Zealand, Alley described China as family.
"This place (China) is a great case study of humanity; one of the biggest examples of humanity's struggle," he reportedly told a fellow New Zealander.
"If you can't feel for these people, you can't feel anything for the world."