International Affairs
24 June 2014 , Volume 70, Number 3

Almost 140,000 Chinese were shipped to the Western Front to help the allied war effort. These workers had a lasting impact on China's development. Watch the showing of Helen Fitzwilliam's film on the subject below

China sent 140,000 labourers to France and Belgium to help the Allied war effort during the First World War.  Under French and British command, they dug trenches, carried ammunition, worked in docks, railway yards and arms factories. More than 2,000 died. Of those that survived, some were newly educated and politicized, and returned to China to add to the revolutionary ferment which led in time to the triumph of the Communist Party.

After years of neglect in China and Europe, their part in the war is now attracting a flurry of academic attention.

Following the screening of a short documentary, China on the Western Front, directed by filmmaker Helen Fitzwilliam in collaboration with The World Today, the panel will discuss the wartime role of the Chinese Labour Corps and assess their legacy in China’s modern history. They will discuss why this has sparked particular interest in both China and France and what this means for their relationship today.

- See more at:


Helen Fitzwilliam, documentary filmmaker.

To read this article, you need to be a Chatham House member

Find out more about Chatham House membership