The Chinese Labor Corps (CLC) was a force of workers recruited by the British government in World War I to free troops for frontline duty by performing support work and manual labor. The French government also recruited a significant number of Chinese laborers, and although those laborers working for the French were recruited separately and not part of the CLC, they are often considered to be so. In all, some 140,000 men served for both British and French forces before the war ended, and most of the men were repatriated to China between 1918 and 1920. Below is an example of how an unnamed British war correspondent described his first encounter with these men.
|CLC Workers on the Boulogne Docks
From: War Illustrated, 27 July 1918
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet
The thought embodied in this hackneyed line of Kipling is but one of many accepted conventions which the Great War has challenged. They who talked rather vaguely at first about a "world war" have long since been able to talk definitely. In a way which they could not dimly have visioned, during the earlier months of the struggle, it has truly developed into a world war, wherein East and West have been fated to "meet."
On my first war-time crossing of the Channel, among the ships of the convoy were two steamers from whose upper decks multitudes of strange folk looked across at us. They were all dressed alike in long, loose-fitting cloaks of ruddy brown material, and they wore little caps with cat-flaps not unlike those donned by our airmen when aloft. Their hair was jet black, their strange, expressionless' faces berry brown. They were Manchurians nearing the land of war to give their labor to the cause of Britain – for a sound, commercial consideration be it premised. Figure what it means to sign a contract for three years' work at a place over six thousand miles away from your home! And those Chinamen, when I first saw them at a Channel port, might have been on a day's outing, if one could have judged by the unruffled calm of their faces.
|CLC Workers at a Tank Repair Yard
At that time one had heard vaguely about "Chinese labor," but here was its embodiment in these two shiploads of grinning Orientals, who looked so curiously alike that one seemed to see the same man a hundred times over. It is a success – one of our real war successes. These Chinamen can and do, work well, and thus augmenting the labor power behind the lines, release men for the fighting-front. They are not all mere unskilled laborers. Many of them are craftsmen, and these are carefully sorted out and put to superior work, receiving special pay. Most of all these Chinamen interested me. I felt that East and West had met, and, working as they were to a common end, though differently impelled, there would be some interfusion of thought which would in a future day help towards a kinship of humanity where Kipling saw only a cleavage.
Source: Wikipedia, Relevance