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World War I Chinese laborers thanked

By Nigel Collett | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-09-03 09:45
Chinese Embassy Memorial, Poperinge. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

In the summer of 1915, at the start of the second year of the first World War, Liang Shiyi, senior adviser to President Yuan Shikai, suggested sending 300,000 laborers to work for Britain and France behind the Western Front and for Russia behind the Eastern Front. China would not declare war on Germany until Aug 14, 1917, but even at this stage there was probably a hope, sadly a vain one, that China would gain concessions from the Allies if they won the war.

Russia was first to hire Chinese laborers, and about 200,000 men were recruited by Russian private contractors to work there during the war. France, in contrast, signed up workers using a government contract, with its first recruits sailing from Tianjin in July 1916; France would eventually recruit 40,000 men. The British followed the French example and began recruitment in 1917; by the end of the war, they had employed 96,000 Chinese laborers in Europe in an organization they designated the Chinese Labor Corps, which was led by British officers and NCOs. All the laborers recruited came from North China, 80,000 of them from Shandong alone.

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