Today marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, an event that would trigger what we know today as World War I. One of the little known stories from the war is the role of 140,000 Chinese laborers on the Western Front.
On August 24, 1916, in the middle of the battle of the Somme, a contingent of Chinese workers arrived in France to help the Allied war effort. By the time the war ended in 1918, their numbers had grown to more than 140,000. They dug trenches, unloaded military cargoes in the docks, worked in railway yards and factories, and collected corpses for burial from no man’s land. More than 2,000 paid with their lives.
The story of the Chinese at the Western Front is largely forgotten by Britain and France, both preoccupied with their own suffering, and by successive Chinese governments, which have seen the labourers as victims of colonial exploitation.
Yet, as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War approaches, scholars in Europe and China are studying their history and reassessing their role in China’s modern history. The Chinese republic’s decision to send non-combatants to the mud and barbed wire of the Western Front is now seen as a first, hesitant step away from centuries of imperial isolationism.
It was a gamble by the republican government, which had only a shaky hold on power three years after the overthrow of the Ch’ing dynasty.
The film was recently shown at Chatham House House as part of a panel discussion on the Chinese contribution to World War I. The video an be viewed on the Chatham House site, or on YouTube.
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Thanks to record rainfalls this month, many rivers in Minnesota are spilling their banks. The Mississippi River is still two days away from cresting in the Twin Cities and Harriet Island, across from downtown St. Paul already looks like this:
Even though my dad has been gone for 13+ years now, I still miss him and think about him EVERY DAY, especially on Father’s Day! Here he is enjoying some delicious food at the Roast Meat Shop ( a Korean BBQ) in Changchun, 1994.
I always knew him simply as Cousin Del, even though he was actually my mom’s cousin, not mine. He never married and took care of his mother until her death. After my family moved to Minnesota (in the 1970’s) he would turn up at various family functions. He was a pleasant (but quiet) man, with a witty sense of humor.
After his mother died, he stopped coming to family events and became a bit of a recluse. At first he would take phone calls from his cousins, but in recent years had even stopped doing that. Dropping by his home to say hi was definitely not appreciated. The cousins would occassionally drive by his house to see if the lights were on and the lawn mowed, 2 things that would indicate he was OK.
Cousin Del passed away last fall, and the few remaining relatives and friends gathered at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery last month for an interment ceremony.
In the last visit my mom, her sister, and a cousin had with him he told them (for the first time ever) that he had been captain of a landing craft on D-Day. All day long he transported soldiers from the ships to the beaches, back and forth, knowing that many of them were disembarking to their deaths, and knowing that he could be shot as well. This would have been his view.