SOAS’s Brunei Gallery is pleased to host an exhibition to commemorate the remarkable but largely overlooked contribution and experiences of the Chinese Labour Corps in the First World War, in this the centenary year of their disbandment, alongside their trench art legacy, made out of shell cases and decorated with a distinctly Chinese flavour.
140,000 Chinese men travelled 10,000 miles to war-torn Europe to assist the British and French armies after 1916. 100,000 of these volunteers formed the British Army’s Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), taking on all manner of work behind the lines and for almost two years after the war the CLC worked to clear the battlefields of debris and bodies.
The exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the people who made up the CLC. On display is material drawn from the unique collection of photographs taken by Lt W J Hawkings during his time as an officer with the CLC in China and France from 1917 to 1919, many previously unseen, alongside a ‘never before displayed’ collection of 80 museum-quality trench art pieces, sculpted and engraved shell cases, hand-made by the men. The ancient symbolism and iconography applied in these distinctively Chinese trench art designs is also explored.