The ‘extraordinary’ untold stories of the Chinese Labour Corps will be unearthed in Liverpool as part of an ongoing campaign to shed light on a forgotten part of British and Chinese history. Project New Earth includes digital artworks, dance and live music theatre performances exploring the vital contribution of the CLC during WWI, when the British and French armies recruited 140,000 men from the poorest provinces of China to work behind the Western Front.
The hour long piece takes place at the Black-E on October 11, as part of a tour of British port cities the men of the CLC passed through on their way to the Front.
Although the CLC did not officially take part in combat, thousands died from illnesses through difficulty in adapting to the climate of northern Europe, shelling, landmines, accidents and the Spanish Flu pandemic. It is estimated that anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 people were killed.
After the war their contribution was barely recognised and they were all but forgotten, with no tribute to them amongst Britain’s 40,000 war memorials. Arts organisation Chinese Art Space has commissioned Project New Earth to remind audiences of the sacrifices made by the Chinese during WWI. It is part of a trilogy of work that started with Project New Moon, inspired by the Chinese lunar landing in 2013.
The comprising four pieces will be presented as an evening of performances and short films in three places with rich historical connections to the CLC – Liverpool, Folkestone, and Plymouth, before London.
The commissions include Song Unsung from British East Asian theatre company Yellow Earth, a live music theatre performance weaving together Chinese folk and English World War I songs, with a moving drama focused on two men separated from family, lovers and friends by the war.
Exploring humanity and machinery in Missing Parts by Pangea Art, contemporary dancers explore distant journeys, monotony, hard work and nostalgia in homage to the CLC, who became essential cogs in the war effort. Specially composed music creates a soundscape via recordings and live performance on pipa, the four-stringed Chinese lute.
The celebration is completed by two pieces of digital artwork: Lunar Corps is described as “a vivid music-dance film… a sensorial awakening to remember the forgotten”. In Heroes Within, an evocative music-dance-spoken word film, a young Chinese woman discovers her ancestral contribution to Allied success through a famous WWI painting, Panthéon de la Guerre. Animation peels back the layers of the historic painting, when the CLC were literally ‘painted out’ of history to make room for American soldiers.
David KS Tse, writer/director of Song Unsung and creative director of CAS, said: “The artists are creatively celebrating the memory of these forgotten heroes. The Chinese Labour Corps did backbreaking work to help the Allies defeat the forces of aggression. They were the largest overseas labour force and we owe them a huge debt of thanks for bringing peace much earlier to war-torn Europe. Thousands of them paid the ultimate sacrifice and are buried across France, Belgium, and England in Folkestone, Plymouth and Liverpool.
“Project New Earth reminds us that in our current turbulent world, we need to remember and celebrate friendship between nations. Three thousand CLC settled in Europe and they started the first Chinatowns in Paris and Brussels. Many fell in love and had Eurasian children. Their enterprising legacy and conscientious spirit lives on in British Chinese communities today.”
Tickets for the Liverpool event are available from the Unity Theatre’s box office.