First world war’s Chinese labour corps remembered by British young people

British young people learn and practice the ancient customs of Qingming to honour the fallen heroes of First World War’s Chinese Labour Corps. 

  • The Unremembered: World War One’s Army of Workers, is a year-long project funded by the British government to honour the courage and sacrifice of labourers from China, South Africa, UK and many other lands.
  • The Unremembered Project brought together young people from Liverpool FC and Everton FC to explore the forgotten story of the Chinese Labour Corps ahead of derby match on 1 April and Qingming on 4 April.
  • Event enjoyed the full support of the Chinese community in Liverpool, which is the oldest Chinese community in Europe.
Everton and Liverpool youth teams. Credit: James Bennett

There is no surprise that people the word over enjoy Chinese food, or even that Chinese New Year is celebrated in many European and American cities. But to imagine that young people in England would learn about and observe some of the ancient customs of Qingming is very surprising.

But this is exactly what happened on Tuesday 21 March 2017, when 15 young people from Everton FC Academy and 15 from Liverpool FC Academy were brought together by the project, The Unremembered: World War One’s Army of Workers, to remember the sacrifice of the Chinese Labour Corps. Liverpool Chinese community, the oldest in Europe, actively supported the innovative initiative.

With both football teams located in Liverpool, these young men more usually meet as rivals on the football pitch. But on this day they came together to lean about the Chinese in Britain, and especially about the Chinese contribution to Britain’s First World War effort. Steve Lau from The Unremembered introduced the students to the history of the Chinese Labour Corps using both video and photographs. The students then tried their hand at Chinese calligraphy, an exercise which they approached enthusiastically.

The two teams then went  to visit five Chinese Labour Corps graves at Liveropool’s Anfield Cemetery. They were met by Mr Tam from See Yep Association, to learn about Chinese customs.  At the graves the young people performed the Chinese custom of paying respects by bowing three times.  Team representatives then laid white flowers at the graves, then each student lit a white candle embossed with both club emblems and placed them at the graves. Whilst this was taking place Ms Liao of Pagoda Arts performed a moving rendition of the Last Post on the Chinese flute.

Following the visit to the cemetery, the two Academy teams visited Chinatown where Liverpool’s Chinese community’s support for the day’s events continued, providing a tour of Chinatown in which team members learned about the history of the Chinese in the UK and of Chinatown in Liverpool – the oldest Chinatown in the UK, and home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe.

LFC & EFC ACADEMIES RESPECT CHINESE WHO SERVED IN WW1, 21/03/17.
Photo: Nick Taylor/LFC

The Unremembered Project is funded by the British government and operated by the Big Ideas Company. It is a year-long project to honour the courage and sacrifice of labourers from China, South Africa, UK and many other lands, who came to Britain’s aid during the First World War.

The event is part of The Unremembered: World War One’s Army of Workers, which is running for the duration of 2017 – 100 years after the Labour Corps were recruited. Big Ideas Company are calling for local community groups and schools across the UK to join the project. They can receive a resource pack in which there will be opportunities to learn about the history of the Labour Corps, find local stories and participate in activities. The resource pack will be accompanied by monthly releases about Labour Corps from different countries around the world. The Unremembered is funded by Department for Communities and Local Government.

Join the project at www.theunremembered.org or email [email protected]

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