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Who are the WW1 Chinese Labourers?


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#1 Liang Jieming

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Posted 19 November 2004 - 03:46 AM

Overseas Chinese

Who are the WW1 Chinese Labourers?

The 140,000 Forgotten Chinese who helped win World War I
Agence France Presse

France has rediscovered 140,000 forgotten Chinese labourers who helped win World War One for the Allies by clearing mines, repairing roads, unloading ships, but whose contribution went unsung for decades.

Ten thousand never went home. Their remains lie in 30 French graveyards, each headstone marked in Chinese characters, silent witnesses to a shamefully neglected sacrifice.

Between 1915 and 1916, with the conflict at its height between the Allies and the Central Powers Germany and Austro-Hungary, the British recruited more than 100,000 Chinese and their French allies some 38,000, and shipped them to the western front as desperately needed labour to relieve an acute manpower shortage.

Aged between 20 and 35 and hailing from the southeastern Chinese provinces of Hebei, Jiangsu and particularly Shandong, they served as labour in the rear echelons or helped build munitions depots, repair railways and roads, and unloaded ships at Allied ports.

Some worked in armaments factories, others in naval shipyards, for a pittance of three to five 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.

"They were despised," said Alfred Duparcq, an elderly local resident of the northern French community of Loos-en-Gohelle near what was then the western front.

"Their work was hard, but they were not even allowed out of their camps to mix with local people.

"My mother was 15 at the time and she told me she was scared of them and even went out of her way to avoid going past the 'Chinese camp,'" said Mr Duparcq, now in his seventies and chairman of a local association to keep alive memories of the Great War, much of whose carnage occurred in France.

After the Armistice, the Chinese, each identified only by an impersonal reference number, were shipped home.

Only about 5,000 to 7,000 stayed on, forming the nucleus of the later Chinese community in Paris, said French China specialist Pierre Picquart.

An estimated 10,000 did not survive, victims of either shelling, landmines, poor treatment or the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.

They lie in some 30 graveyards, the largest at Noyelles-sur-Mer on the Somme, where some of the fiercest battles occurred.

The cemetery contains 842 gravestones each engraved with Chinese characters, guarded by two stone lions, gifts from China.

After decades of neglect, the Chinese World War I labourers have again aroused interest in France.

An annual ceremony of tribute has taken place since 2002 at the cemetery at Noyelles-sur-Mer each April to coincide with the Chinese Festival of Qingming, the Festival of the Dead, attended by representatives of the French veterans' associations, the Chinese ambassador to France and members of Chinese associations in France.

A new documentary film, "Journey With no Return," (Voyage sans retour) was shown this month on French television.

And a book, "The Chinese Empire" (L'Empire chinois) by Mr Picquart, contains a description of the fate of the Chinese workers.

Mr Picquart says their story, overlooked for so long, should be writ large in the collective memory.

Speaking ahead of the annual World War I armistice commemoration on November 11, the Paris academic told AFP:

"These men contributed to France's war effort and have a right to be recognised as heroes of the conflict."

#2 tattoo

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Posted 22 February 2005 - 07:23 AM

Aged between 20 and 35 and hailing from the southeastern Chinese provinces of Hebei, Jiangsu and particularly Shandong,


Interesting Shandong was a German colony.

#3 Moose

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Posted 22 February 2005 - 08:19 AM

Interesting Shandong was a German colony.

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QingDao was german controlled too,right?
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#4 Fishbed

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Posted 27 July 2006 - 04:41 AM

yes, but soon invaded by the japanese in November 1914, 3 months after their initial declaration of war. But apparently the german rule only applied to Qingdao area, not to the whole Shandong.

#5 yvanfrance

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Posted 08 September 2008 - 10:20 AM

the largest at Noyelles-sur-Mer on the Somme, where some of the fiercest battles occurred.

The cemetery contains 842 gravestones each engraved with Chinese characters, guarded by two stone lions, gifts from China.


Here a link (a panoramic view 360°) about Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery & Memorial.

#6 William O'Chee

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Posted 08 September 2008 - 11:16 AM

Actually, although the contribution of the Chinese servicemen may have been obscured by the prevailing attitudes, it was not quite as bad as the newspaper article suggests. At least those who fell were properly recorded, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to this day maintains this and other cemeteries.

For the names of those buried at Noyelles-sur-Mer, see:

Noyelles-sur-Mer roll

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can provide details on the locations of those buried in the cemetery, as well as details of any citations they received, and what is inscribed on their headstones.

#7 Sujan

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 12:37 AM

180,000 Chinese peasants were hired by the Allied Forces in WW1 as laborers in the war effort. Most of them had no idea-not a clue-where England, Germany or France was, they didn't know what they were being hired to do, and didn't even know what a war was!

#8 William O'Chee

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 08:15 AM

180,000 Chinese peasants were hired by the Allied Forces in WW1 as laborers in the war effort. Most of them had no idea-not a clue-where England, Germany or France was, they didn't know what they were being hired to do, and didn't even know what a war was!

This may be, but do you have some sources for this? A number of us are very interested, and are trying to track down primary sources.

#9 changsham

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 03:34 PM

Heres the oginal source of this topic.

http://forum.axishis...p...01&t=139363
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#10 William O'Chee

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Posted 06 February 2009 - 04:36 AM

Heres the oginal source of this topic.

http://forum.axishis...p...01&t=139363

Thanks. I was aware of that one, but I was looking for the source that said there were 180,000 Chinese labourers rather than 140,000, and also that they didn't know where they were going.

Actually, what i would like for either number is an official source, such as an official war history, an enlistment roll, or such.




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