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Chinese workers' roles in WWI take to the stage

By CECILY LIU (China Daily UK) Updated: 2016-09-08 17:19

Chinese workers who served on the Western Front during World War I are to be remembered through a new performance production in London that opens on Thursday.

The one-hour show, Project New Earth, is being presented by the London-based British East Asian performance company Chinese Arts Space and consists of two short films, a dance and a play.

It seeks to celebrate the history of the Chinese Labour Corps within the context of World War I.

The show is being staged against the backdrop of Britain's huge war centenary art commissions, collectively known as 14-18NOW. These are a collective effort to remember the war through various artworks and are being staged until 2018.

David Tse, creative director of Chinese Arts Space, said, "I came up with the production idea because so many other ethnic groups' contributions to World War I are being remembered through projects in 14-18 NOW. I want British Chinese culture to be remembered, as it shapes the roots of the UK's Chinese community."

During World War I, 140,000 Chinese workers served on the Western Front. Most were volunteers-often farmers looking for better wages.

The Chinese Labour Corps was formed by 100,000 Chinese workers operating under British forces, and 40,000 were employed by French factories and farms.

After the war, their contributions were largely forgotten by both Chinese and Europeans. However, in recent years academic interest in the Chinese Labour Corps has grown, with Project New Earth becoming the latest artwork to highlight the workers in a series of lectures, films and exhibitions.

The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium, organized an exhibition in 2010 that told the story of the Chinese workers' arrival in Europe, their lives there and what happened to them after the war. The exhibition space spanned 450 square meters and it attracted 70,000 visitors.

Independent film producer Helen Fitzwilliam wrote an article and made a short film on the topic, which was presented at London think tank Chatham House in 2014.

After the show is staged at London's China Exchange, it will visit Liverpool, Plymouth and Folkestone before returning to London at the South bank Centre in December.

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