Chinese Labour Corps Database


 About the Project

CLC BadgeThe project is an extension of Ming-Ai’s British Chinese Armed Forces Heritage project as we discovered the importance of the Chinese Labour Corps (hereafter CLC) contribution to the international military history during our BCAFH research. The aim of the project is to commemorate the great work of a body of unsung heroes of the large-scale multinational war.

The project objectives are to collect and compile existing resources about CLC for education, future research and academic use. The database consists of academic bibliography, news/events for CLC commemoration, articles, electronic books and academic conferences. 

We are honoured to have Prof Xu Guoqi on board to advise on the selection of materials. Prof Xu is the leading academic on the study of Chinese Labour Corps (please refer to below for full information). This is a project supported by volunteers, and readers are welcome to cite and use these information.

Please visit our website from time to time for updated information.

Brief History of Chinese Labour Corps

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Image courtesy of John de Lucy, Photographer JW Hawkings.

Chinese Labour Corps was a group of Chinese workers who were recruited by the British and French government in the First World War to perform support work and manual labour. The first wave of 50,000 Chinese men joined the war in 1916 as the first group of the CLC. Both British and French forces recruited these labour and a number of 140,000 Chinese men served before the war ended (around 100,000 reserved for the British contingent and of whom around 2,000 were buried by the Imperial War Graves Commission). Most of these men are sent back to China during 1918 and 1920.

Seeing the manpower shortage due to causalities in the First World War, British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig suggested recruiting 21,000 labourers to fill in the shortage. China was not a belligerent nation, not till 14 August 1917 when she declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. From then onwards, recruitment began officially. The CLC comprised Chinese men who came mostly from Shandong Province, but also from Liaoning, Jilin, Jiangsu, Hebei, Hubei, Hunan, Anhui and Gansu Provinces.

According to the British and French recruitment records, despite of not having direct combat, around 2,000 men from the CLC died during the First World War, most due to the 1918 flu pandemic and some because of wounds received when performing their duties.

Members of CLC who died in the First World War were classified as war causalities and were buried in about 40 French and Belgian graveyards, with a total of about 2000 tombs and a few tombs in one cemetery in Belgium. The largest number of graves are at Noyelles-sur-Mer on the Somme in France, where more than 800 members were buried. One of the four epitaphs were inscribed on the standard Commonwealth War Grave Portland stone gravestones for members of the CLC: "Faithful unto death (鞠躬盡瘁 jūgōng jìncuì)", "A good reputation endures forever (流芳百世 liúfāng bǎishì)", "A noble duty bravely done (勇往直前 yǒngwǎng zhíqián)" and "Though dead he still liveth (雖死猶生 suī sǐ yóu shēng)".

Though playing an important supportive role in the First World War, the CLC is not widely mentioned in the First World War history and is not known to the public. To further promote the work and history of the CLC, this online database for the CLC is launched in commemoration to these unsung heroes during the First World War Centenary (28 July 2014 - 11 November 2018).


Image courtesy of John de Lucy, Photographer JW Hawkings.

Project Team

Professor XU Guoqi 徐國琦, Project Advisor

Professor Xu is Kerry Group Professor in Globalization History at the University of Hong Kong. He received Ph.D in history from Harvard University and is a world renowned authority of modern Chinese history and international relations. He is the author of the following books: China and the Great War (Cambridge University Press), Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War (Harvard University Press), Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 18945-2008 (Harvard University Press), Asia and the Great War: A Shared History (Oxford University Press), Chinese and Americans: A Shared History (Harvard University Press). He is currently writing a new book titled "Idea of China: A Shared History" which is under contract for Harvard University Press. Professor Xu has also published widely in Chinese language and his Chinese books include 個人回憶錄《邊緣人偶記》, 《為文明出征:第一次世界大戰期間西線戰場華工的故事》, 《難問西東集》《美國外交政策史》(合著)etc.

Chungwen LI 李中文, Project Investigator, Dean of Ming-Ai (London) Institute.

Charlotte CHAN 陳倩寧, Project Coordinator of the British Chinese Heritage Centre, Ming-Ai (London) Institute.

The CLC Database project is looking for volunteers to assist in the on-going data collection, translation and content update!  Should you be interested in the history of the CLC and would like to contribute to this meaningful project, please do not hesitate to email for more information.