What did the Chinese do on the battlefield during WWI? The foundation of the joint lab for history research across the continents

joint lab WO1

joint lab WO1

The agreement was officially signed in China by Ghent University, Shanghai University & In Flanders Fields Museum, in the presence of Princess Astrid of Belgium.

Chinese labourers actively provided logistical support during WWI to British and French troops, and cleared the battlefields after the end of the war. The were called ’war labourers’.

Around 40,000 Chinese labourers worked under a French contract and circa 95,000 under a British contract. For the Chinese labourers in Belgium and France it was usually the poverty in China at the time that spurred them on to make the long trip to Europe.

They hoped to earn enough money to have a better life in China after the war.

Until recently, apart from 100 Chinese gravestones in Westhoek, there were few signs of their presence during World War I.  The First World War Centenary formed the rationale in China to explore this forgotten piece of Chinese history in more detail.

Ghent University en Shanghai University work together

Several departments at Ghent University have maintained good links with the University of Shanghai for a number of years. They jointly organised a workshop in Shanghai and a Summer school in Ypres related to WWI. Chinese students attended lectures in Ypres last summer and researched the origin of a number of Chinese labourers buried there.

Due to the development of different research lines, the two universities have now opted to set up a joint laboratory for research into the history of World War I in association with In Flanders Fields Museum.

It offers researchers on both continents the possibility of bundling and coordinating their knowledge and expertise related to history, archaeology and the Chinese language and culture, not only scientifically, but also institutionally and structurally.

This will enable the joint lab to be further developed, also with external funding if possible.

Photo caption: In 2017, near Poperinge, where around 12,000 labourers lived, the Chinese memorial site of Busseboom was inaugurated to commemorate and honour the contribution made by Chinese labourers to World War I.  

More info

Tine Dezeure, press office Ghent University.  China is 7 hours ahead in time!
+32 494 88 24 26

Bart.dessein [at] ugent (p) be


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