First World War shaped modern Chinese history


Ng Weng Hoong illuminates the crucial role China played in the Allied victory in the First World War [“ Chinese labourers’ secret role in WWI”, November 28–December 5].

The trenches of the Western Front required much digging and maintenance, which was very dangerous; thousands of Chinese volunteers died from artillery fire and disease. They were buried separately from Europeans in the cimetières chinois.

Just getting to Europe was hazardous. In one incident, more than 500 Chinese drowned when their ship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean by a German submarine. But by providing vital logistical work, the Chinese freed up Allied soldiers to train and execute attacks that eventually forced Germany to sue for an armistice.

A common lament in Chinese literature focuses on the suffering that war inflicts on civilians, and the Great War was no different.

Later at the Paris Peace Conference, insult would be added to injury as the Chinese watched, appalled, as German concessions in China, like Tsingtao (now known as Qingdao), were handed over to the Japanese. The Treaty of Versailles betrayal led directly to the emergence of the Chinese nationalist movement, and a bitter feeling that still lingers on in Chinese memory.

> Bob Burgel / Surrey

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