Chinese man to translate kapa haka festival's te reo Māori into Mandarin

As a show of just how popular the Māori language has become, performances at next week's national kapa haka festival will be translated into Mandarin.

The Chinese national tasked with the job is 64-year-old Lidu Gong. Born and raised in China, he speaks Mandarin and English - but his real passion is te reo Māori.

Mr Gong is a linguist who works as a librarian at Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Auckland. He started learning Māori eight years ago, partly to help with insomnia.

"I thought repeating Māori words would help me like sleeping pills, but it proved to be a miracle," he says.

He says Mandarin is for at home, English is for work and Māori is for spirituality.

"I'm not a religious person but I believe in wairua - that's spirituality - and learning Te Reo has opened my mind to the spiritual world."

It's no exaggeration to say learning the language has transformed his life.

"I use reincarnation or reborn to describe my transformation," he says.

"If I hadn't learned te reo Māori and understood the Māori values I wouldn't be the same person."

He says the language has become more and more popular in the Chinese community.

Mr Gong, who has spoken on many marae, even teaches Māori to a group of Chinese.

"I get a very positive response from my class when I talk about the Chinese version of Tanemahuta separating the sky and the earth, [and] the Chinese version of Maui slowing down the sun - we have Chinese stories exactly like that," he says.

To connect the cultures even more, performances at the national kapa haka festival aired on Māori Television next week will be translated into Mandarin by Mr Gong.

Mr Gong has even performed kapa haka himself. He says te reo Māori could be the key to improving relations between China and New Zealand.

"It's not money that decides everything, we should find something that is more valuable that is from inside out and a cultural exchange can enhance that," he says.

And if you don't speak Mandarin or Māori there'll be an English translation too.