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Mayor visits Rewi Alley’s Lanzhou

15 April 2008

From Diane Keenan who is with the Mayor's delegation in China

The inspiration of a humble man from Christchurch 66 years ago lives on for thousands of young people in Lanzhou, a city of more than 3 million people in Gansu, a province in the North-West of China.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker yesterday visited Lanzhou City University, which with a roll of 17,000 students, has evolved from a small school founded in 1942 by Rewi Alley, one of Christchurch’s most famous sons and a legend in China.

Gansu Province was Christchurch’s first sister city relationship in China – a partnership signed 20 years ago and built on Rewi Alley’s association with the area. Mr Parker and his delegation, which includes representatives of the University of Canterbury, were reminded of Rewi Alley everywhere they went on their official visit this week to Gansu. Nowhere is the reminder more evident than at the University that has educated many of today’s business leaders and trained workforce in the Gansu province.

“It is extremely moving to visit the institution started by Rewi Alley, a man who went to the same school as my mother. I never dreamt that one day I would have the privilege of visiting the school founded by this remarkable man from our city,” Mr Parker said.

In addition to a large statue of Rewi Alley at the entrance, a library at the University is devoted to its history. It boasts many pictures of and manuscripts and books owned by Alley, which are displayed alongside photographs of prominent New Zealanders including politicians Helen Clark, Jim Bolger, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Sir Hamish Hay along with former Christchurch teachers and students who have worked at the university.

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology has a sister-school relationship with the University and for the past 12 years have been exchanging teaching staff and students. Mr Parker and his delegation, which includes representatives from the University of Canterbury, are in Gansu exploring opportunities to strengthen existing ties with its educational institutions, and to form new relationships, including developing further cultural and educational exchanges.

“The commitment of Christchurch to Gansu is stronger than ever. The two areas are strongly linked through the magnificent spirit of one great man,” Mr Parker said.

The delegation also visited two agricultural universities, the Gansu Agricultural University which has an agreement with Lincoln University and Lanzhou University’s College of Pastoral Agriculture Science and Technology.

Gansu Agricultural University staff briefed Mr Parker on a proposal where students would spend two years at both Lincoln and Gansu to achieve dual degree. The university’s Professor in Veterinary Medicine, Zhao Xing-Xu said Gansu Agricultural University told the delegation he wanted to establish undergraduate programmes with more universities and in a wider range of subjects, including postgraduate programmes at the University of Canterbury in forestry.

Both universities are keen to send their students on study exchanges to New Zealand, but identified the cost and the high standard of English required for overseas students as current obstacles. After this week’s visit, both Universities will continue to explore the possibilities of building a relationship with the University of Canterbury for their post graduate students.

Overseas training is extremely important for our young scientists, Professor Nan Zhibiao, who spent three years in New Zealand studying for his PhD, told the delegation. The university has collaborated with Massey and Lincoln universities, and the two Crown Research Institutes, Ag Research and Crop and Food Research, for the past 20 years.

Mr Parker and his delegation leave Gansu Monday to return to Beijing for two conferences, one of doing business in China and the second on bringing products from science to market. Lincoln University and Canterbury University will give presentations at one of the conferences. Later this week the delegation will visit Wuhan, Christchurch’s which has a Friendship Relationship with Christchurch

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