Sunday 17 July 2016

The Chinese in the First World War

In “The Times” of Saturday, 16th July 2016, Allan Mallinson, author of books about the First World War (“Too Important for the Generals:  Losing and Winning the First World War”.- Penguin Random House, London), reviews several very interesting books about WW1.   Among them I noticed “Betrayed Ally China in the Great War”.

Having tried to include as many countries of the war in my commemorative exhibition project, I managed to find Bing Xin, a Chinese poet who is included in Volume 1 of Female Poets of the First World War.  I only recently became aware of the important contribution of the Chinese to the Allied Cause in WW1 – when I read about Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton who lived for three years from May 1919 among the Chinese Labour Corps workers who cleared away the debris after the conflict.

The entry in my list of Female Poets of the First World War (see weblog :


Initially neutral, sent a large contingent of men - Chinese Labour Force - to help the Allies behind the lines.  Declared war on Germany on 14th August 1917.   Chinese Labour Force workers cleared away the debris left by the war.

Bing XIN (1900 – 1999) - Chinese poet.

I understand that there is a special Cemetery on the Western Front in France dedicated to the memory of the Chinese who died during that time -

Mallinson says: “While the fighting in Africa and the Middle East generally receives attention, the contributions of British and French imperial troops, the war in China and the part played by the Chinese in Europe are not.  British troops skirmished with German troops on the Chinese mainland and in 1917 Cjhina, like the United States of America, declared war on the Central Powers.  An army of Chinese labourers the size of the original British Expeditionary Force (some 140,000) on the Western Front maintained roads and railways, dug reserve trenches and worked in French factories, 10,000 of them dying in the process.  Another 200,000 served in Russia, most of them caught up subsequently in the Revolution, of whose individual fate little is known.” 

“Betrayed Ally”  by Frances Wood and Christopher Arnander is published by Pen & Sword, Barnsley and is available via Amazon and the Pen & Sword website. 

“The Times” Saturday, July 16 2016, page 85.