One hundred years ago today the fighting in Europe stopped and the guns fell silent. Like people the world over, the Chinese celebrated the arrival of peace: a three day national holiday was announced in China. As the sounds of the last gunfire faded, it is hard to imagine what thoughts ran through the minds of the Chinese labourers across France and Belgium. Joy, sorrow, confusion. But at least they were the lucky ones, they had served the war, they soon they would see their loved ones and their beloved homeland again. This was not to be for many hundreds of men of the Chinese Labour Corps. Although there contracts were for three years, or up to six months after the war ended, they would eventually come to realise that the end of fighting was not to be taken as the end of the war, and it was deemed the war would only be over after the peace treaty was signed. As a result the last of the Chinese labourers did not leave France until 1920. In the meantime, the dangerous task of battlefield clearance and reclamation claimed many lives, even more were claimed following the onset of the Spanish flu. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month proved to be a false dawn, the patience and endurance of the labourers was to be pushed to the limit.
In some ways the progress of the campaign to build a national memorial mirrors that experience in as much as we had hoped to have unveiled the memorial by this point at ABPs Royal Albert Docks development. Sadly that was not to be, though we are pleased to see ABP’s development is taking shape and looking fantastic.
It has been a long journey so far, and we still have some distance to go. We should not loose sight of just how far we have travelled. The Chinese Labour Corps is still not widely known about, but compared to when we started the campaign in 2013, the number of people who are aware of the Corps has increased many times over. This is particularly true within the Chinese community, and we feel very strongly the responsibility to fulfil the dreams and wishes of the community to complete the memorial, and be assured that we will, sometime in 2019.
Centenary of the Armistice
To commemorate the centenary of the Armistice we are pleased to release today a new tribute video by musician and author Clive Harvey. We are also publishing a second video which shows for the first time elements of the Memorial Huabiao. We are pleased to report that the Huabiao’s construction has now been completed by our strategic suppliers, JSBS in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province.
We are also launching a WeChat group for donors to the campaign. This will give more regular updates to those who have donated money, small or large. We are exploring demand for a similar WhatsApp group, To request membership of the WeChat group please scan the QR code and state the name in which the donation was made and the amount.
The search for a location goes on
The search for a location to build the Memorial Huabiao in central London continues. We welcome any suggestions from supporters for a site to consider. We have built a micro-site that explains the social, cultural and economic benefits the Huabiao will bring to the location in which it is built.
Ensuring We Remember
Wednesday 27 February, 1-4.45pm
Heritage Learning Space, Library of Birmingham
Between 1917-1920, 140,000 Chinese men travelled from Shandong on China’s East coast to the other side of the world to support the British, French and Russian armies with manual labour during WWI, remaining in Europe until 1920 clearing battlefields.
Who were these men and why did they do it? Come and hear the largely unknown story of the WWI Chinese Labour Corps, and the British Army Aid Group that later operated in Hong Kong in WWII. The presentation will look at
- the political and historical context of the Chinese Labour Corps
- life on the ground for the labourers and what happened to them after Armistice
- the ongoing story of British Chinese armed forces heritage through a look at the WWII British Army Aid Group
The presentation will be jointly delivered by Chungwen Li, Dean of the Ming Ai Institute; Steve Lau, Chair of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign; and Peng Wenlan, Documentary filmmaker & lead officer for the Meridian Society’s Chinese Labour Corps research project. It will be chaired by Dr Nicola Gauld, Coordinator of the Voices of War & Peace WWI Engagement Centre based in the Library of Birmingham.
The talk is FREE but booking is required due to limited places: email@example.com
It was only at the end of last September that we announced plans to take our message out in a road show that would cover all four nations of the UnitedKingdom, and continue to raise awareness of the Chinese Labour Corps within local communities.
Material is still being developed, but we are working to realise our Road Show vision.
Steve Lau, Chair of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign reflects on the challenges of the general public’s extremely low level of awareness of the contribution made by the Chinese to Britain’s war effort.
In my role I share my passion (some may say obsession) with anyone willing to listen really. It’s not too difficult to become skilled in quickly identifying those who are listening but really they are just being polite. I usually describe knowing whether someone is genuinely interested in what I’m saying, not out of any need to find positives when sometimes there are very few to be found, but because the response is feedback to what I want to know… what difference, or impact might come out of what I’ve said.
There is a real challenge posed when trying to engage people in a subject for which there is a very low level o public awareness in our respective fields of interest.We’re not the only group by any means, particularly as we share It’s great to raise that level of awareness, even if by one person a time. But quite often the response given can (unwittingly) oil the conversation. It was something which, when first encountered, had me thinking of some way to resuscitate the conversation before tumbleweed rolls past.
The response? One word, “really?” I hear it so often. The tone varies from wide-eyed surprise to incomplete reflection. Those with knowledge of the Great War may be thinking, “How could over 100,000 Chinese labourers serve in the British army in Europe, Africa and Mesopotamia, and I’m hearing it for the first time from you?” Those with nothing but a limited general knowledge of the war may be thinking, “From China? 100,000?” In both cases the thought is distilled into just, “really?” a word I have come to appreciate and if the tumbleweed threatens I give a parting recommendation for one of our campaign videos on our website.
I can’t help mentioning one case where ‘really” could have been uttered, though it wasn’t, but if it had, it would have been shorthand for, “How stupid do you think I am, I’m not falling for that. Chinese. Yeah, good one.” He refused to believe it even when others told him it was true. Clearly we were all in on the prank!.
Through funding from the fabulous Big Ideas Company’s Unremembered Project, Steve Lau, Chair of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign has been invited to speak at the Chinese Welfare Association in Belfast.
Organised by The Meridian Society and The British Library
Date: Saturday, 17th November 2018
Venue: Knowledge Centre, British Library,
96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
On 11th November 1918, streets throughout Western Europe were filled with jubilant crowds. Armistice had been declared and weary soldiers were able at last to go home. Yet, there were some who had to stay behind at the Front – amongst them, the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), who had to clear the land of ordnance and dig up and bury the dead.
Almost 140,000 Chinese labourers had been recruited by the British and French armies to fill the void resulting from the disastrous losses at the Battle of the Somme. They provided desperately needed manpower by digging trenches, building railroads and repairing tanks. China, hoping it might be rewarded with the return of Shandong Province from German control, was keen to assist the Western Allies. But this was not to be.
In this fourth and final year of the centenary of the Great War, as we remember all those who took up arms, we must also commemorate those who helped behind the lines.
The Meridian Society invites the general public to join us in an afternoon of remembrance in honour of the Chinese Labour Corps, to pay tribute to these invisible men who, to date, have not been formally recognised for their contribution.
The event, co-hosted by the British Library, will consist of the following:
“The Shandong Problem”: Talk on the historical backdrop to China’s involvement in WWI and the political agenda of each of the major players in the war – by Dr Frances Wood, former Curator of Chinese Collections at the British Library and co-author of Betrayed Ally – China in the Great War
“Some Paradoxes of the Chinese Labour Corps Recruitment”: Talk on the challenges and contradictions within the British Army’s recruitment of the CLC – by Dr Gregory James, author of The Chinese Labour Corps 1916-1920
“Expectation versus Reality”: Talk on the social and cultural disparities between what Chinese labourers thought they would experience and what they were actually faced with on arrival at the Front – by Prof Philip Vanhaelemeersch, translator of two diaries written by Chinese labourers
Screening of “Forgotten Faces of the Great War: The Chinese Labour Corps”, an oral history by descendants of Chinese labourers and Western officers of the CLC Introduction to The Meridian Society’s project webpage on The Chinese Labour Corps
“Cherry Blossom” and other pieces: Music on the erhu (Chinese two-stringed fiddle) by Charlie Tienyi-Waddle
There will be a short break, during which light refreshments will be served free of charge
Entry: Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve complimentary places
By Yellow Earth Theatre and Moongate Productions
Sun, November 11, 2018
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM GMT
Arcola Theatre Studio 2
24 Ashwin Street
To commemorate Armistice Day and the legacy of the Chinese Labour Corps there will be a panel discussion chaired by Dr Diana Yeh with Steve Lau (Founder of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign), Peng Wenlan (Meridan Society) and Daniel York Loh ( actor and writer of ‘Forgotten 遗忘 ‘).
There will also be an exhibition outside Studio 2 at the Arcola, featuring art pieces created by members of the public in Plymouth and London who participated in community art workshops facilitated by British figurative artist Ben Summers, a curator and art entrepreneur with work currently held in private collections in Ghana, UK, France and the US. The workshops used the provocation of the erasure of the Chinese Labour Corps from the Pantheon de la Guerre painting to explore the expression of what it means to be a migrant through art.
In addition, a special website created by Yellow Earth Theatre and website designer Jess Woo to tell the story of the Chinese Labour Corps will be available for browsing on a computer in the foyer area. Follow the journeys of the Chinese Labour Corps members and learn about their experiences of the war.
Tickets are free but places must be booked in advance.
Presented by Moongate Productions and Yellow Earth Theatre as part of Forgotten CLC, an HLF funded project.
Photo from the WJ Hawkings Collection courtesy of his grandson John de Lucy.
Thursday, 1st November, 2018.
At today’s City Hall Plenary meeting, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM called for recognition of WW1 Chinese Labour Corps, when speaking in the debate to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.
After the debate Mr Dismore said:
‘The Chinese Labour Corps made a long forgotten but tremendous contribution to the allies’ cause on the Western Front.
‘A total of about 140,000 Chinese workers served on the Western Front during and after the War. Among them, 100,000 served in the British Chinese Labour Corps. About 40,000 served with the French forces, and hundreds of Chinese students served as translators.
‘The workers, mainly aged between 20 and 35, served as labour in the rear echelons or helped build munitions depots. They were tasked with carrying out essential work to support the frontline troops, such as unloading ships, building dugouts, repairing roads and railways, digging trenches and filling sandbags. Some worked in armaments factories, others in naval shipyards, for a pittance of one to three francs a day. At the time they were seen just as cheap labour, not even allowed out of camp to fraternise locally, dismissed as mere coolies. When the war ended some were used for mine clearance, or to recover the bodies of soldiers and fill in miles of trenches. Men fell ill from the poor diet and the intense damp and cold.
‘After the Armistice, the Chinese labourers, each identified only by an impersonal reference number, were shipped home.
‘The number of deaths could be as high as 20,000, victims of shelling, landmines, poor treatment or the worldwide flu epidemic.
‘Their contribution went forgotten for decades until military ceremonies resumed in 2002 at the Chinese cemetery of Noyelles-sur-Mer.
‘These men deserve better and our nation’s promise never to forget should apply to them as to any other. That is why I support the campaign for a national memorial to these men from China who gave so much.’
The number of 96,000 is, as best we can estimate, the correct number of Chinese recruited into the Chinese Labour Corps. It is a number we have agreed with Dr Gregory James, the world’s foremost authority on the Chinese Labour Corps.
The figure of 140,000 is sometimes used. This figure is the approximate figure (perhaps slightly overstated) of the number of Chinese recruited by both Britain and France, to work on the Western Front.
As the Ensuring We Remember Campaign specifically seeks to redress the historical relegation of British Chinese labour units to a footnote in the narrative of the Great War the figure of 96,000 is correct.
That said, that we refer to the Chinese Labour Corps and the figure of 96,000 is actually out of convenience and a wish to avoid confusing people as in actual fact the memorial we have commissioned is dedicated to the Chinese labour units of the Great War, and so includes a further 5,000 Chinese labourers who were recruited in the south of China, Hong Kong and Singapore to work in Mesopotamia (at Basra in modern day Iraq) and known as the Chinese Porter Corps; and a further 1,000 who were recruited form those same places and who supported the British war effort in East Africa, known as the Chinese Contingent.
It is also worth noting that the memorial is deliberately inclusive in referencing the Chinese labour units, and not just Chinese labourers. In doing so the memorial also stands for hundreds of British officers who served in those units.
We will remember them.
17 October -20 October
23 October–17 November 2018
“The foreign devils will be entranced by our performance and line our path back to Shandong with gold and cherry blossoms…”
1917. Shandong Province, Northern China. Times are tough in Horse Shoe Village. Old Six and Second Moon struggle to earn enough to feed their young child. Big dog struggles to overcome opium addiction and for Eunuch Lin, the fall of the Imperial Dynasty couldn’t have come at a worse time. Could a fierce war away in Europe present an opportunity to put both themselves and their struggling nation on its feet?
遗忘 means ‘Forgotten’. ‘Left behind’. ‘Erased’.
Forgotten 遗忘 is inspired by the little-known story of the 140,000-strong Chinese Labour Corps who left everything and travelled halfway around the world to work for Britain and the Allies behind the front lines during World War One.
Written by Daniel York Loh.
Directed by Kim Pearce.
Photography by Suki Mok. Graphic design by Émilie Chen
Running time: 2hrs (approx.)
Age guidance: 14+