Chinese Labour in World War I France and the Fluctuations of Historical Memory
By Paul J. Bailey
Volume 14, Issue 2, pages 362-382
Just outside the small village of Noyelles-sur-mer in Picardy (at the mouth of the River Somme in western France) is located the Cimetière chinoise (Chinese Cemetery). Scrupulously maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and set amongst the bucolic surroundings of farmfields, the Chinese Cemetery – fronted by a Chinese-style ceremonial arch and enclosed by a four-foot wall beyond which cows contentedly graze – contains the graves of 877 Chinese workers who died in France between 1917 and 1919. Other World War I cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission near Calais, Dieppe, Boulogne in northwestern France, as well as across the border near the Belgian town of Ypres (Flanders), also contain the graves of Chinese workers.
These Chinese workers had been recruited by the British government from 1917 to 1918 to compensate for labour shortages in France, as well as to replace British dockworkers in France so that they could return home and enlist in the army…
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