Chinese labour on the home front to be explored at Conference in September.


The Ensuring We Remember Campaign is delighted to be contributing to Dissenting Voices and the Everyday in the First World War Conference to be held at the National Archives over three days, starting on September 8, 2016. An outline of our presentation is given below.

Trade Unionism and the Yellow Peril: The use of Chinese labour on the home front.

When Queen Victoria took the throne the popular image (inasmuch as there was one) of the Chinese by the British was generally positive. By the end of her reign the Chinese were perceived as dirty, dishonest and diseased. The notion of the Yellow Peril became the dominant narrative across Europe, North America, Australasia and Southern Africa. Anti-Chinese laws were introduced around the world. In the UK Trade Unions blocked Chinese employment and introduced regulations favouring British workers over Chinese.

The idea to bring Chinese labour to the UK to release men to fight on the Western Front was rejected by the British government before in saw the light of day on the basis that it would not be accepted by the unions. Britain did recruit the labourers, but deployed them in France. However, regulations making it difficult for Chinese to get work resulted in over 2,000 Chinese sailors being stranded in the UK during the Great War. About 1500 worked on aerodromes across the country whilst around 500 were employed in munitions manufacturing in Birmingham.

This talk will explore the political context to the use of Chinese labour for the war effort, Trade Union opposition to such, and the resultant efforts by the British government to maximise the utility of these stranded Chinese sailors while minimising their social impact.


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