British politician Lord Michael Bates talks about his 71-day charity walk through China

By Huang Tingting Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/9 17:23:39

Lord Michael Bates walks through Zaozhuang, East China's Shandong Province, in 2015. Photo: Courtesy of New World Press

Looking back on his 71-day charity walk of some 1,700 kilometers through China in 2015, Lord Michael Bates, minister of the British State Department for International Development and a member of the House of Lords, said that the country's people and the rural landscape impressed him the most.

"The enduring memories of my walk in China were first, the warmth and generosity of the ordinary Chinese people whom I met along the way and secondly, the beauty of the natural landscape in the rural areas outside of the major cities," the 56-year-old British politician wrote in an e-mail interview with the Global Times on Friday. Bates was in Beijing for a TEDx talk about his charity walk, which helped raise 90,000 pounds ($118,000) for the Red Cross in China - a deed that was mentioned by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his speech at the UK Parliament in 2015.

Bates has walked more than 11,952 kilometers in 25 countries and regions for the Walk for Peace Foundation, which Bates and his wife Li Xuelin set up in 2012 on the day of their wedding. The foundation aims to promote peace and raise money for charities through walking. So far, the philanthropist couple have raised  500,000 pounds ($650,000) for charities including UNICEF, Save the Children and The Red Cross.

Pilgrimage for peace

Fundraising, however, was by no means the sole purpose of Bate's walk across China.

Starting on a hot summer day in 2015 from the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and ending in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang Province and the birthplace of his wife, the trip was also undertaken to mark the first China-UK Year of Cultural Exchange and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and, most importantly, to promote peace.

"Some people may see it as strange to be walking for peace through a country which is not currently at war, I don't," wrote Bates.

"We need to value peace and talk about the immense benefits which it brings so that we never forget the cost of war. One of the most moving parts of my entire walk was when I visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall: It was a painful reminder of the evil and destruction of war," he wrote.

"It was an opportunity to reflect that to comprehend the true value of peace we must first remind ourselves of the true cost of war."

Many such thoughts are included in the book Walk for Peace, a collection of diary entries in which Bates discusses everything from the Chinese landscapes and the people he encountered during his walk to his reflections on China's economic development and traditions. The book, published by New World Press in the Chinese mainland in late 2016, also includes Chinese translations of the entries translated by his wife.

As for why he chose walking as a means to support charities, Bates explained that "Walking through a country or a community gives a unique perspective as you become vulnerable, you meet ordinary people, you notice details that you would never notice if you were in a car, a train or even on a bike."

"They are walks but they could also be pilgrimages," he wrote.

Walking day after day under the burning sun across six provinces with only a walking stick for support would not be an easy task for someone young, let alone a middle-aged politician. Physical challenges such as leg cramps and blisters, the hot weather and moreover, the mental stress involved, all required a strong will and determination to be overcome. With support from his wife, local volunteers and the Red Cross in China, Bates managed to reach his destination at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou on October 5, 2015.

"All the costs associated with our walks are paid for by ourselves, so 100 percent of the funds donated go to the causes and organizations for which they were given," wrote Bates.

Chinese hospitality

During his time walking in 25 countries and regions, Bates has met numerous warm and generous people. However, the generosity of the Chinese people in particular amazed him.

"In China, especially in the rural communities that were often very poor in material terms, they were so generous with sharing water and fruit as we walked along in the heat of August and all they would ask in return was a photo to share on WeChat," Bates wrote.

Bates said they're planning to organize a number of short-distance Walks for Peace in China in the coming years, which he hopes will get more people involved in the charity.

"The biggest lesson we have learned is from a Chinese proverb which states, 'If you want to travel fast, travel alone, but if you want to travel far, travel together,'" he wrote.

"Most of our walks have been solo-walks, but as I get older and physically not as strong I realize that it is better for peace and understanding if 1,000 people walk one mile together than if I walk 1,000 miles alone."

Newspaper headline: Travel together, travel far

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