A friend betrayed

By Tom Clifford | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-02-17 07:31

China played a vital role in the Allied victory in World War I, only to be snubbed in the aftermath, a new book explains

One hundred years ago, Europe was convulsed. Its young men were fighting war on an industrial scale. The carnage was meant to end the war to end all wars. It led, in fact, to Versailles - the peace to end all peace, a great betrayal made up of lesser betrayals.

Betrayed Ally: China in the Great War by Frances Wood and Christopher Arnander, superbly written and informative, shows how China played a critical, though unheralded, role in securing victory for the Allies. But instead of gratitude and appreciation, its efforts were scorned, derided and ignored.

The peace conference of 1918-19 may have had high ideals, but it was undermined by subterfuge, intrigue and - that word again - betrayal.

 A friend betrayed

Betrayed Ally: China in the Great War was co-authored by Frances Wood and Christopher Arnander. Photos Provided to China Daily

 A friend betrayed

In an illustration from the book, (left), a French cartoonist shows France and Russia watching Britain "again betraying Europe" and plotting to carve up the Chinese cake with Japan.

The Chinese delegates refused to sign the Versailles treaty, and with good reason. It gave Japan a foothold in China that would lead to outright invasion.

The book provides an invaluable insight. Both authors are well equipped to chisel out this rich seam of history.

Wood is a Sinologist who has written more than 12 books on Chinese themes. She was born in London in 1948. After art school in Liverpool, she studied Chinese at Newnham College, Cambridge and the universities of Peking and London, where she got a doctorate in philosophy in Chinese. In 1977, she joined the British Library and became curator of the Chinese collections.

Arnander was educated at Harrow School and Oriel College, Oxford, where he studied classics. He taught classics at a school in Scarborough and at the University of Minnesota. From 1957, he pursued a banking career in the City of London, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. His Pavilions in the Air is an illustrated collection of Chinese and English proverbs, co-authored with Wood.

China was on the cusp of change, and this was accelerated by Versailles.

A friend betrayed

When news arrived that Japan's imperial wishes had prevailed over China, riots led by students broke out outside the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing.

One of the first battles was fought on Chinese soil, after a violation of sovereignty.

Japan, which threw in its lot with the Allies early on, landed its soldiers near Qingdao, a German concession, on Sept 18, 1914.

The Japanese were outside the area designated as the concession and, like the Germans in Belgium, violated China's neutrality by marching an army across neutral territory.

Great Britain was not jingoistic about the campaign, to say the least.

General Barnardiston's small body of men was officially sent in order to "show cooperation", and Barnardiston was informed that he was to take orders from the Japanese, a fact kept conveniently quiet in London.

The joint Anglo-Japanese force took Qingdao on Nov 7, 1914.

At face value the Versailles peace conference should have made an inspirational example of China's situation, with pockets of foreign occupation dotted down its coast.

The betrayal concerns China's dashed hopes.

Point 5 of United States President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points, or principles for peace, called for settling colonial claims such that the interests of the populations concerned "have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined".

This was interpreted, rightly, by China as covering its claim to Qingdao and even the other treaty ports. So, the Chinese delegation to Versailles claimed that secret agreements and arrangements were an insult to Wilson's 14 Points.

But Wilson was deeply compromised.

To make his League of Nations work, he needed Japan. This was a fatal design flaw.

A friend betrayed

The irony, of course, was that it was the US Senate, in November 1919, that voted against joining the league.

China joined the Allies the same year as the United States, but China stands accused, in some quarters, of opportunism - a harsh judgment that is not as frequently passed on the US.

Almost 140,000 Chinese served in France as laborers, doing essential maintenance work on roads, trenches, railways and tanks and making up for the drastic manpower shortage by working in French factories and fields.

They were mostly from the north, as it was presumed by the Allies that they would be better able to deal with the cold.

The Chinese offered to dispatch 340,000 men to France and Russia, along with 100,000 rifles.

Their work efficiency was renowned. Trenches were dug faster than by British troops and they carried the heaviest objects with the greatest of ease, earning the praise of Lloyd George, the wartime UK prime minister, in 1916.

The Chinese Labour Corps was pivotal to the Allied war effort. Whether filling in for French industrial jobs, helping to dig trenches and dugouts - often within range of enemy artillery - and crucially, in manning the workshops of the Tank Corps, the CLC became an indispensable element and an essential prerequisite of tank deployment in 1918.

At least 5,000 - perhaps as many as 10,000 - lost their lives, some at sea. Others served in Russia and were caught up in the Russian Revolution. Their fate is mostly unknown.

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(China Daily European Weekly 02/17/2017 page19)

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