Chinese Labour Corps

While working on another blog, I was drawn towards two unlikely countries that were directly involved in The Great War, but rarely talked of. These are Persia (Iran) and China. For now, Persia will have to wait for its own blog post.

My knowledge of China in The Great War is limited to Siege of Tsingtao, a battle fought on Chinese soil, and the 21 Demands made by Japan. Both were humiliations against China. One by Japan invading a neutral country to get at the German naval base, the second if accepted was to make China an economic dependency of Japan.

And yet, there was another part of the story that I found recently that surprised me. Even before the Chinese government, a very lose term, entered the war officially a commitment was made to support the war going on in Europe.

With an initial contract to supply 50,000 laborers in 1916. This was to grow to over 140,000 in the Chinese Labour Corps.  They did the non-military work that freed up combat soldiers in England, France and Belgium. Their duties included off loading ships, repairing roads and railroads, digging trenches and reinforcing defensive works. They also worked in shipyards and munitions factories in skilled and semi skilled jobs.

While they official were not combat troops, they worked in the combat areas. And they took over 2,000 casualties, some due to combat and other to the Spanish Flu. These men were buried in forty plus cemeteries in three different countries.

As late as 1920, the Chinese Labour Corps was helping to rebuild war torn France and Belgium by clearing minefields and filling in shell holes across the moonscape of France and Belgium.

They lived in camps under military guard and were paid one franc for their daily work of ten hours. Six-day workweeks were the norm with little communications outside of the work groups. Communication was difficult as a number of dialects were spoken that varied differently from the official Mandarin.

While a few remained and started the original Chinatown outside Paris most were shipped home with little fanfare.  They were often blamed for crimes in the areas were they lived and often distrusted by the xenophobic locals, their contribution should not be over looked to the war effort.

I wanted to give credit to this source that I found very interesting.


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One Response to Chinese Labour Corps

  1. Interesting article. My great uncle, a Liverpudlian, is buried in Le Fermont Military Cemetery, Riviere near Arras.. I noticed when looking at his records on the CWGC website that there is a Chinese plot.

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