All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

WW1 Centenary – China on the Western Front Documentary

Posted: April 6th, 2015 | No Comments »

To chime with the ongoing remembrances of the centenary of the First World War here’s a link to a short documentary from the screenwriter and documentary maker Helen Fitzwilliam regarding Chinese labours (the Chinese Labour Corps) on the Western Front. Background for the documentary and some commentary from various authors in the Penguin China World War One series (more on that here). The documentary has some good, and rare, footage….


China sent 140,000 labourers to France and Belgium to help the Allied war effort during the First World War.  Under French and British command, they dug trenches, carried ammunition, worked in docks, railway yards and arms factories. More than 2,000 died. Of those that survived, some were newly educated and politicized, and returned to China to add to the revolutionary ferment which led in time to the triumph of the Communist Party.

After years of neglect in China and Europe, their part in the war is now attracting a flurry of academic attention.

Following the screening of a short documentary, China on the Western Front, directed by filmmaker Helen Fitzwilliam in collaboration with The World Today, the panel will discuss the wartime role of the Chinese Labour Corps and assess their legacy in China’s modern history. They will discuss why this has sparked particular interest in both China and France and what this means for their relationship today.

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