It is over two years since the Campaign was launched. Our expectation was that we would achieve our primary objective of building a national memorial to the 96,000 volunteers of the Chinese Labour Corps within three years, boldly announcing our intention to unveil the memorial on the 14 August, 2017, the centennary of China’s declaration of war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The timetable was ambitious as indeed were the plans we had. However, the complexity of the process was underestimated. Memorials sit within a context or narrative, and the story of China and Chinese labourers’ involvement in the Great War is extremely complex, as history it is highly contested. Working our way through that story with the Campaign’s many stakeholders has taken time, and in truth many areas remain contested.
Our journey so far has been one of engagement, connecting with community leaders, academics, politicians, the public. We’ve made friends with people in high places at some of our leading institutions, often surprised at how open they have been to us. On the odd occaision it’s been tough with reasonable requests met with clear irritation by parts of the Establishment, but generally, even in the position of critical friend we have been received with openess and genuine goodwill.
Our greatest issue has been securing a location for the memorial. In this we’ve not made things easy for ourselves, adamant on a central London location, aspirational in our hope that the memorial would be stumbled upon as much as visited. A location microsite was produced which until now has not been made public. We still have to secure a site for the memorial.
So how confident are we of unveiling the memorial on the 14th August 2017? In truth, if we are to do so, then a seemingly impossible amount needs to happen between now and August. And although we have no doubt whatsoever that a memorial will be unveiled, we are realistic enough to accept the fact that it may not be on August 14th.
Missing the date would be disappointing, yet at the same time we’d rather be a little late having done the job properly than be on schedule having cut corners.
I don’t want to end on that slightly somber note, so let me finish with some news of a few exciting things to come in 2017. In February the critically acclaimed film, Tricks on the Dead, will be screened at the BFI, Southbank Centre, London. We’ll announce details as they are finalised. Later that month there will be a nationwide campaign that will raise the profile of the Chinese Labour Corps – again, we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as details are available.
In April the major New exhibition on the Chinese Labour Corps will be opening at Durham University’s Oriental Museum. This will arguably be the most comprehensive exhibition on the CLC and will include publication of a new book of photographs from the WJ Hawkings Collection – a unique collection of photographs which, unlike the official propaganda photographs, contain images which would never have passed the censors in their day – such as the only known photographs of the burial of a member of the CLC.
There’s lot’s more to come in the year ahead, and as you can see, the Campaign will be moving up a gear. Thank you for your support and best wishes for 2017 from us all.
Ensuring We Remember Campaign