'An Army of Workers': The story of Chinese Labour in World War One France
Lecture by Professor Paul Bailey of Durham University. This lecture is hosted by the Friends of the Oriental Museum, as part of the 2016/17 series.
The recruitment of nearly 135,000 Chinese labourers by the French and British governments is one of the lesser-known episodes of World War One.
Beginning in 1916, Chinese workers recruited by France were employed in government-run munitions plants and privately-owned metallurgical and construction enterprises in northern and central France, while those recruited by Britain unloaded cargo in the ports of north-western France as well as being deployed in transportation, road repairs, and machinery maintenance. Towards the end of the war Chinese labourers were also involved in tasks nearer the battlefield front lines such as digging trenches and burying the war dead.
The talk will explore why and how these Chinese labourers were recruited, and the significance of the episode in terms of Chinese foreign policy and China’s labour history.
In conclusion, the ‘afterlives’ of these Chinese labourers will be discussed - for much of the twentieth century largely forgotten or overlooked before making a ‘comeback’ in Chinese and French official and public consciousness during the last years of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries.
This lecture is held in lecture room EH103, adjacent to the Oriental Museum). Open to all (there is a small charge for visitors).