The British Lord who walked through China
It was only days after Lord Bates completed his long walk across the UK when we met in early September, and he is already thinking about plans for the next charity walk.
His "solidarity walk" across the UK raised 50,000 pounds in aid of those affected by the recent terror attacks in the country.
The mission of this walk was not too different from his previous endeavors - Lord Bates hoped his walk would bring people together. In July of 2015, he embarked on a similar journey across China.
"A famous Chinese philosopher once said: "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.' So this is my step!"
Lord Bates's China walk covered six provinces between Beijing and Hangzhou, where his wife Li Xuelin was born.
"The inspiration is to try and build friendship, build peace, build understanding between peoples. The idea then was that 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II in which China and the UK had been important allies against fascism and also we marked the first UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange."
It took him more than two months to complete the walk which raised over 90,000 pounds for the Red Cross Society of China. But fundraising is by no means the sole purpose of the walk. By engaging with local people, Lord Bates was amazed to find how much Chinese people know about his home country.
"When we walked through China, you would think that people we met would struggle to think about things related to the UK, but it turned out that they even knew about Downton Abbey, the TV series, and they knew about Benedict Cumberbatch, they knew about David Beckham, they knew about our football teams, so all these things are cultural things that connected us."
He was also overwhelmed by the drastic landscapes and the rich variety of rural life in China.
"What struck me was that the scenery was spectacularly beautiful. Most people kind of imagine if you walk through China, you are going to be walking through a large trading estate. But actually the rural area is vast. We've walked through chestnut farms, garlic farms, pineapple farms, and the rich variety of the rural life was incredible. And the mountains as well, we walked cross the Tai'an Mountain down to Qufu where Confucius was born, spent some time there, walking in his footsteps, it was amazing. Such rich history and we Brits love history so China is a natural home for us."
Lord Bates's China walk did not pass unnoticed. In addition to wide media coverage following every step of his way, it was also highlighted in President Xi Jinping's speech to the UK Parliament in 2015.
"Recently, Lord Bates – a British peer - went on a charity walk for over two months in China. He covered about 1,700 kilometres on foot under the scorching sun in order to raise money for charity in China, and call on the people to cherish peace."
Before that, his walk across China was barely known among his peers in parliament. And even he himself was surprised to hear his name mentioned by the Chinese President.
"I was sitting next to Xuelin and we were in the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster. I was listening through translation and I kind of got this little lag, so when President Xi said that someone walked through China, I was thinking to myself: 'Oh did somebody else walked through China too this year?' And then only when Xuelin gave me a nudge did I realize he was actually, very generously mentioning me."
In his reflections on the walk, Lord Bates said that walking has a special way of connecting people from different cultures and he and his wife are looking forward to going on the next charity walk.
"There was a special thing about walking. And we really want to do more of this. Because with walking, you are forced to engage with people every minute of the day, even if it was just to ask for directions, or talking to people who were just curious about what you were doing, so I find walking has a very special place in building relations."
The couple has been on a number of long distance walks since 2011, which included a 300-day journey from Olympia, Greece to London, across 15 European countries in honor of the Olympic spirit.