Foot Soldier

Updated: 2016-10-12 07:31

By Xing Yi(China Daily USA)

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Michael Bates has walked 12,000 kilometers in 23 countries to spread the word of peace. Xing Yi meets the former British minister in Beijing.

Lord Michael Bates claims he isn't a person who enjoys walking, because one needs to stay absolutely fit to do so regularly.

But in the past five years, the former junior home minister of Britain has visited 23 countries, covering more than 12,000 kilometers on foot.

He walks for peace so that understanding among different nations can grow.

"If I have a purpose, then I can go incredible distance," Bates, 55, says during a recent interview in Beijing.

Since 2011, he has used the summer recess in the British parliament, of which he is a member, to walk long distances, raising public awareness on various issues and collecting funds for various charities.

 Foot Soldier

Bates' new book is based on his walking journey in China in 2015.

In March, Bates resigned from the British government to undertake a 115-day journey from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro, calling on countries to implement the Olympic truce ahead of the Games in Rio in August.

His book Walk for Peace, based on a 71-day journey from Beijing to Hangzhou in 2015, will be published in China by the end of the month.

It will be partly in English and partly in Chinese. The walk was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and to highlight the first UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange.

Setting off from the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on July 27, 2015, Bates hiked some 1,700 km to the eastern city of Hangzhou and raised $110,000 for the Red Cross in China.

In the book he writes about the kindness of the local people, his observations in different cities on the way, the beauty of the countryside and his thoughts on the cultural differences between China and his home country.

President Xi Jinping praised Bates for trying to spread the word of peace through his walking, during his speech to the British parliament last year.

"Originally, the walk in China was planned from Beijing to Nanjing, but we arrived in Nanjing a little bit earlier. So my wife, Xuelin, asked: 'Can you just walk down to my hometown in Hangzhou?'" recalls Bates.

"So I walk from Beijing to Nanjing for peace and Nanjing to Hangzhou for love."

His wife, Li Xuelin, was born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and went to Britain in 1989 to study architecture. Now, her real estate business there is successful and she is also involved with charity work.

The couple met during a charity event in 2011, when Bates was preparing for his first major hike from Olympia in Greece to London, campaigning for peace ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.

Li decided to help him with the walk and the journey brought the two hearts together.

In a previous interview with Beijing-based magazine Women of China, Li said she was attracted to Bates by his perseverance during the walk and his commitment to world peace.

"On New Year's Eve, he took a day off from the walk and we went to Paris," Li said of the time Bates proposed to her. "Under the Eiffel Tower when the New Year bells rang, he knelt down."

During their wedding in 2012, they set up Walk for Peace foundation, and those invited to their party came with donations for the foundation rather than personal gifts for the couple.

The next year, they planned a walk from London to Derry in Northern Ireland and raised $61,000 for Save the Children's work in Syria. In 2014, they also planned one from London to Berlin for the First World War Centenary and raised $49,000 for the German charity Peace Village International.

"She goes ahead and plans the way, and stays behind and pays the bills," Bates says of Li. "For all the walks we do ... everything that we raise goes to the charity."

Their effort was recognized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, head of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach and Queen Elizabeth II.

Through his words and deeds, Bates wants to encourage young people to go with their dreams and become the change they want to see in the world.

"People say that certain things are impossible", he told an audience of young people at a speech during his recent Beijing visit. "But if you really believe in something and you are doing it for the right motives, then you can achieve it."

He says he has had more success in advancing the Olympic truce through his walks than with his speeches, meetings or letters as a member of parliament.

"The great thing about walking is that I may not be able to do 1,000 miles every year, but I could do 10 or 100 miles."

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 Foot Soldier

Michael Bates and his wife, Li Xuelin, on their journey in China in 2015. The 1,700-kilometer walk from Beijing to Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and to highlight the first UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange.Photos Provided To China Daily

 Foot Soldier

Michael Bates meets UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva in October 2011. Bates was halfway through a 4,800-kilometer walk from Greece to London, calling upon countries to implement the Olympic truce.

(China Daily USA 10/12/2016 page10)