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WWI Chinese Labourers Museum, a must see of Weihai, China’s Shandong

Opened in 2020, the World War I Chinese Labourers Museum, Weihai, China’s Shandong province receives more than 200,000 visitors every year.

It houses a collection of remains that can show how the contribution of over 140,000 Chinese labourers to settling the world conflict truly deserves recognition.

The World War I Chinese Labourers Museum is located in the coastal area, at the former site of Chinese workers’ training and boarding in Weihai Haiyuan Park, Weihai district, Shandong province.

Most of the museum’s space is underground which comprises an exhibition hall, a projection room, a café, a cultural product shop, an office, and so on.

Around five to six metres from the entry, you will see a narrow alley with a width of around three metres, sloping toward the sea. This alley was used by the Chinese workers to board for a journey to Europe over 100 years ago.

Inside the museum, there are exhibited more than 200 objects including copper bracelets, hat badges, documents, diaries, commemorative medals, tools, including shovels, saws, and wrenches, among others.

In 1914, World War I broke out. More than 140,000 Chinese men were recruited for physical work in European allies, both in frontline and rear. Of them, over 44,000 were from Weihai Port.

They were recruited through CLC – Chinese Labour Corps – which was established under the Sino-British agreement to do supporting work and manual work for allied forces after France and Britain realized that the war against Nazi would prolong than expected and was taking a toll on their armies.

As it was hard to deploy ships during the war, Chinese labourers had to wait for a period of time, or even more than 20 days, at the recruitment place. Depending on the ship type, the number of each batch of Chinese labourers going to sea ranged from several hundreds to several thousands.

Chinese labourers had to board a ship via a barge to start a multi-month voyage across the ocean because Koryo Dock wasn’t deep enough for large ships. Many of them died of diseases or hardships and were buried in the sea.

During World War I, living conditions in China were hard. Many Chinese people decided to register for doing supporting work for allied forces in Europe because they wanted to escape from hardship and poverty in their homeland.

They did heavy and arduous works including digging trenches, building fortifications, battlefield rescue, communications, burying dead bodies, demining, building bridges and roads, transporting food, medicines, loading and unloading supplies, manufacturing ammunitions, logging, and mining. Whenever there was hard and arduous work in the battlefield, there were Chinese labourers.

Their employers paid wages in two equal amounts with the first one paid directly to them and the second one to their relatives back in China.

After World War I, about 20,000 Chinese labourers were repatriated quickly and the rest stayed in the Europe to participate in the post-war reconstruction, clean the battlefields and bury the skeletons. Some of them even lost their lives. About 3,000 Chinese labourers continued to stay in France due to various reasons, becoming the first generation of immigrants.

“Chinese Labourers were the best labourers in the world and had the potential to become good soldiers. They can endure any hardship to accomplish various tasks with quality and quantity under the fire of modern weapons,” Foch, Commander in Chief, Entente Powers, said in 1917.

The Chinese labourers’ contribution to World War I helped raise China’s role in international arena and made China realised as a winner of World War I along with England, France, Soviet, America, Japan, Greece, Serbia, among others.

“We have been celebrating the lives of all the soldiers who lost their lives but the Chinese labourers were not remembered and were not talked about until three or four years ago,” John de Lucy, a retired property manager who inherited valuable photos of the CLC from his grandfather William James Hawkings, a British officer at the time, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

For decades, countries like Britain, France and Belgium attached little importance to the CLC. Few war memorials mentioned China, and history books erased the Chinese labourers from the war, said a Hong Kong-based British writer Mark O’Neil, whose grandfather served as a British officer in the CLC.

“Chinese Labourers museum gave me insight about how China’s Laborers had written history in WW-I with their blood and sweat. It also shows that China in every testing time has made all efforts to maintain peace in the world. Museum shows how Chinese Labourers at that time helped Europeans in their difficult times,” said Rahul Basharat, a journalist from Pakistan.

“It was an amazing and a life changing experience for me. It changes how I view people especially my elders who have sacrificed their lives for me. Visiting the museum, I can see how the Chinese have maintained the sacrifices that their hardworking forefathers have invested to the person they are today. The great developments that China is known throughout the world today begin from the hardworking labourers who once dedicated their lives for the benefit of their future generation. In that museum, I see courage, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, hard work of the Chinese labourers during their period of time,” said Mereleki Nai, Senior Journalist, Fiji Sun Newspaper.

Source: Lao News Agency