YCW LN: Forgotten Faces of World War I: Who were the Chinese Labour Corps?
with Wenlan Peng (Co-founder, The Meridian Society) and Caroline Chu (independent filmmaker)
• Date: Thursday 9 November 2023
• Start time: 6:15pm
• Venue: Nash Lecture Theatre, King’s College London Strand Campus, Strand, WC2R 2LS United Kingdom
• RSVP required: RSVP here
• ID is required for sign-in on arrival
Remembrance Day is coming. As the UK falls silent to remember those who died in World War I, YCW invites you to a discussion on the Chinese Labour Corps: an often-overlooked group of 140,000 volunteers who were a vital part of the UK’s effort in the Great War. Who were they? What were they doing so far from China?
The Chinese Labour Corps were recruited by the British and French governments, which realised they were short of the necessary labour and logistical support to wage WWI. Volunteers in the Corps were non-combatants but served on the front lines: providing crucial support such as trench construction, building transportation infrastructure, handling supplies, producing armaments and clearing mines. After the armistice, some settled in France – forming the first generation of China’s migrant and diaspora community.
Although non-combatant, there was always a risk to working near the battlefields and nearly 2,000 members of the CLC died during WWI, many during the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918-19. Yet, their sacrifices and contributions have largely remained unrecognised.
YCW is delighted to host filmmakers Wenlan Peng and Caroline Chu in conversation.
Peng Wenlan is an independent documentary filmmaker.
In 2016, she headed a three-year project on the Chinese Labour Corps with a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of their nationwide drive to commemorate the centenary of World War 1. This project resulted in one of only a handful of documentaries on the CLC ever made: Forgotten Faces of the Great War: The Chinese Labour Corps. It can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFpawm9vdm8
She is also co-founder of The Meridian Society, a London-based charitable organisation committed to the promotion of Chinese culture with the aim of fostering greater East-West understanding.
Caroline Chu is a British & French screenwriter, translator, film director and film editor. Her two films on the Chinese Labour Corps have each won awards.
• Her film The Boatwomen of The Forgotten Souls – incorporating interviews of descendants of Chinese workers in France – won the 2023 Hong Kong Independent Film Festival.
• Meanwhile, Let There Be Light – which details the life of W. J. Hawkings with his library of historic CLC photographs as a WW1 recruiter/translator – won the 2023 Korea Short Film Festival.
Both documentary films will be screened at the National Institute of Oriental languages and civilizations in Paris on the 14th of November 2023. Aside from her filmmaking pursuits, Caroline is co-writing a book with the British author, Clive Harvey, the story of Chinese workers during the First World War, based on true events and true people.