Four descendants of men who enlisted in the Chinese Labour Corps at the Meridian Society's CLC Project launch in London. Relatives also visited France to pay tribute at Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery in the Somme (Photo: Centenary News)

Centenary project to honour the Chinese Labour Corps

Posted on on 20 April 2017
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Centenary News reports from the launch of a project in the UK, commemorating almost 100,000 Chinese workers who supported British forces on the Western Front.

The 18-month programme announced by the Meridian Society aims 'to raise awareness of the vital role played by the Chinese Labour Corps' in the Great War, and leave a lasting legacy of remembrance.

The centrepiece is a series of interviews with descendants, woven into an engaging film, entitled 'Forgotten Faces of the First World War'.

Some of those who took part were guests at the launch event in London on 19 April 2017, the centenary of the first CLC contingent arriving in France.

"Our purpose is to honour this vast body of men who went to the Front and contributed to the cause," said Peng Wenlan, CLC Project Director. "A labourer with his shovel is no less a man, no less a hero, than a soldier with his gun. And his work is no less a contribution to the cause."

Members of the Chinese Labour Corps (Photo: W J Hawkings Collection, courtesy of John de Lucy)

From 1917 until the end of WW1, the Chinese Labour Corps dug trenches, built roads and railways, unloaded munitions and carried out many other tasks essential for keeping the British Army supplied with troops and equipment.

Most were recruited from Shandong Province, on the eastern coast of China, where Japanese forces allied to the Entente had captured the port of Qingdao (Tsingtao) from the Germans in 1914.

After the Armistice, the CLC was retained in France and Flanders to clear the battlefields of munitions, recover the dead and lay out cemeteries.

But the Meridian Society, a charity dedicated to promoting Chinese culture, says the 96,000 men of the CLC have never been officially recognised for their part in the Allied war effort. The Centenary Project intends to 'correct this oversight by telling their story' through events, activities and the creation of a virtual memorial in perpetuity.

CLC project events, May 2017-December 2018
*Film screenings of the oral histories - the film will also feature in a commemorative website.
*Educational workshops in schools and community centres.
*A touring mini-exhibition of CLC photos, documents and other memorabilia.
*Commemorative events at CLC burial sites in Liverpool, Plymouth and Folkestone.
*A stall at London's 2017 Dragonboat Festival on June 25.

CLC Project Director Peng Wenlan: "The Chinese Labour Corps is a story that does not belong to China only. It also belongs to Britain because it was the world war that brought these two peoples together and therefore it is a shared history, a shared story."

The French Ambassador to the UK, Sylvie Berman, attended the Centenary event, a reminder that France also enlisted Chinese labour in the First World War, recruiting 40,000 workers.

Support for the programme was expressed by Lu Haitian, Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in London. Speakers included Dominiek Dendooven, Curator of In Flanders Fields Museum, Ieper (Ypres); and Colin Kerr, Director of External Relations at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Also among the guests was Diane Lees, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum. 

The Chinese Labour Corps Project is funded with a £99,700 grant from the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund - for more information, visit The Meridian Society. A campaign for a permanent memorial to the CLC in London is also under way, led by Ensuring We Remember

Also in Centenary News:

Arrival of the Chinese Labour Corps, 100 years ago.

Photos from the WJ Hawkings Collection, an archive rediscovered by John de Lucy, grandson of a British CLC officer, are featured in 'A Good Reputation Endures Forever' - a UK centenary exhibition commemorating the Chinese Labour Corps, at Durham University's Oriental Museum until 24 September 2017. John de Lucy is also among the interviewees - Chinese, British and Canadian - filmed for the Meridian Society's oral histories.

Centenary News attended the CLC Project launch at SOAS, University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) on April 19.

Posted by: CN Editor