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Remembering the Chinese Labour Corp

In Club News, Homepage, Homepage Top 3, News, News & Commentary by the48groupclub_whpe1p

Dr George Lee, PhD & MA (Cantab)
Board Member 48 Group
Author of:

  • Police Corruption in Comparative Perspective – Building Trust in the Police in India & China, Routledge Publishers.
  • Causes & Consequences of Chinese Organized Crime – The Triads. In Organized Crime Causes & Consequences edited by Robert Lombardo, Nova Science Publishers.

As we approach Remembrance Day, it is worth remembering that 140,000 patriotic Chinese volunteered to go to the Western Front in World War 1 to help the British and the French dig trenches and perform other manual work. This was because they thought that Western style liberal democracy was the model for China’s development. Moreover, they thought that these democracies would appreciate their sacrifices and reward China justly after the war for her effort and contributions.

China had been the richest and most powerful nation on earth for many centuries. However, by the time of the later Qing Dynasty China had lost two Opium wars against the British, leading to a downhill slide into semi-colonialism for the country. This period saw China being “carved up like a melon” by western powers and suffering “one hundred years of humiliation”. Japan, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany forced China to agree to a series of treaties creating European concessions like Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Qingdao. Foreigners were not subject to Chinese laws and Chinese were second class citizens in foreign concessions on China soil – e.g. in Shanghai, parks were reserved for Westerners with signs erected saying “No Chinese or Dogs allowed”.

By 1912 China threw off the feudal dynastic yoke and declared itself a republic with the desire to modernise along western lines. However, with the threat of Warlordism and the continued colonial desires of the Western Powers (including Japan) the Chinese people suffered political chaos, economic weakness, and social misery. But this was also a period of excitement, hope, and high expectations – because China believed it could use the war to reshape the geopolitical balance of power and attain equality with European nations.

This dream was to be dashed at the end of WW1 as China was isolated at the Versailles conference and Shandong Province (a German concession) was awarded to the Japanese rather than handed back to China. This deeply angered the Chinese, especially its student population and the country’s intellectuals. Feeling betrayed and questioning the equity of democracies, the May Fourth (intellectual and political) Movement was formed.

This movement saw Chinese intellectuals questioning the wisdom of adopting western-style democracy in China. How can western democratic countries have engaged in such a destructive world war where so much was sacrificed, and for what purpose? If democracies lead to such destruction, does China really want to follow this development path? This questioning led directly to the rise of socialism and the Communist Movement in China which saw its first congress in July 1921 with 6 representatives (including Mao) out of a total membership of only 60. The consequence of this repulse towards democracies still holds significance for China and the world today. For, this was the beginning of the CPC’s mantra of doing things (capitalism, communism, rule of law, etc.) with Chinese characteristics based on scientific methods rather than unquestioningly copy and paste Western methods and orthodoxy.

In the current anti-China political atmosphere here in the west. It is more important than ever for us to maintain a balanced perspective and strive to understand China from her standpoint to prevent the damaging West verses China schism from becoming even wider. This is the role of organisations such as The 48 Group Club.