News / Asia

China's WW I Effort Draws New Attention

Members of the Chinese Labour Corps move munitions during World War I
Members of the Chinese Labour Corps move munitions during World War I

World War I drew in people from around the world, including 140,000 Chinese workers who served on the Western Front. A new museum exhibition in Flanders, Belgium, highlights China's role in the war. It appears the curators have had to cancel plans to take it to China.

The little known story of the 140,000 Chinese who served on the Western Front during WW I has drawn new interest in recent years.

The Toiling for War exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium, is the first to detail the pivotal Chinese involvement in the conflict.

Forgotten story

Dominiek Dendooven is the assistant curator and researcher at the museum. He helped put together the exhibition and says it is time for the world to recognize China's war effort - and how the conflict has shaped modern China.

"For decades the story of the Chinese labor cause was entirely forgotten," he said. "But in the last decade, the last five years actually, you see that all over the world people are getting an interest in it, this common history that we share."

The Chinese laborers buried the dead, dug trenches, worked in munitions factories and cleaned up the shells, grenades and bullets after the November 11, 1918 armistice.

One hundred thousand served in the British Chinese Labor Corps between 1917 and 1919, and each received a medal for his service. About 40,000 others served with the French forces, and hundreds of Chinese students served as translators.

Plan A

Originally, the Ypres museum planned to take the exhibition to China in November for five months. But Dendooven says Chinese officials did not guarantee that the exhibition would not be altered, so tour is to be canceled.

"We know the context of the story. So as just to keep the history coherent, it is one of our wishes that we have a say in how the exhibition will be organized in China," he explained.

One historical controversy is the number who died in the war. Some Chinese scholars say the number was as high as 20,000. But records kept by the British and French recruiters show just under 2,000 lost their lives, many from the flu pandemic that swept the world starting in 1919.

Many historians and academics say China's role prevented a German victory, such was the allies' manpower shortage toward the end of the war.

Costly sacrifice

For the laborers, the war was a way to make far more money than they could at home. But their sacrifice became a pivotal point in Chinese history.

After the armistice, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles saw Germany's concession ports in China handed to Japan, despite China's objections. Unhappiness over the treaty led to the May 4 protest movement, which is seen as contributing to the eventual rise of the Communist Party, which has ruled China since 1949.

Years of internal bloodshed, invasion, civil war and revolution all have close links to WW I and the resulting peace treaties.

Brilliant strategy

Xu Guoqi is a professor of history at the University of Hong Kong. His book, Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War, will be published this year. He says that sending as Chinese laborers to the front was a brilliant strategy to link China with the West.

And he underscores the link between the war and the founding of China's Communist Party. During the war, the young interpreters drew up education plans in spare moments away from the dangerous toil on the battlefields. As a result nearly two-thirds of the laborers returned home able to read. He says that effort inspired the men who went on to lead the Communist Party.

"The book status group of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiopang and many others got involved. We literally followed the footprint of Chinese workers in Europe during the first World War," he said. "In other words, the Communist party of Deng Xiaoping and Chou En Lai and many others who became the work study students of that time, they played a very important role in Communist China. But we literally followed the footprint of this group. Mao Zedong himself payed attention to this group."

The exhibition also addresses the way the Chinese were treated once the guns fell silent.

The laborers were made scapegoats by Belgian refugees returning to their shattered homes. The Belgian government soon ordered the Chinese out of country.

Many of the Chinese laborers were recruited from the British and French concession ports in Shandong Province.

Rediscovering history

Researcher Zhang Yan from Shandong University in Weihai has been commissioned to locate relatives of those who served on the Western Front to help China rediscover an important part of its history.

He will accompany some of the relatives at a special ceremony in The Belgium Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo on Friday, September 24.

In May, he traveled to Flanders and the Western Front.

During the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate memorial to the allied war dead, he read out the names of 13 Chinese killed during a German air raid in 1918.

Zhang says the trip to Europe was very moving for him.

He says to pay respect to the Chinese dead and to let their descendants know of their relatives' fate is an important way for the Chinese to find out more about their WW I history and how it has shaped modern China.

You May Like

Australia Knights Prince Philip, Sparking National Outrage

Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment More

SAG Award Boosts 'Birdman' Oscar Hopes

Individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up: SAG awards went to artists who won Golden Globes: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons More

Katy Perry Lights Way for Super Bowl's Girl Power Moment

Pop star's selection to headline US football championship's halftime show extends NFL's trend of selecting artists who appeal to younger viewers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sidesi
X
June Soh
January 23, 2015 10:03 PM
The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid