A hundred years after they were recruited, the long forgotten contribution of the Chinese Labour Corps during World War One is brought back into the light at The Black-E from October 11th to October 15th.
Through four specially commissioned pieces, the extraordinary untold stories of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) will be unearthed as part of an ongoing campaign to shed light on this 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 World War One, when the British and French armies recruited 140,000 men from the poorest provinces of China to work behind the Western Front, freeing troops for front-line duty.
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. The exact number is unknown, but it is estimated that about 5,000+ CLC were killed. When the Chinese labourers at the Russian Front and elsewhere are taken into account, then figure rises to about 10,000+. Some Chinese academics have estimated total figures of 20,000.
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. A century later, talk of a new “golden age” of Sino-British co-operation has prompted CAS to commission these artists, to remind audiences of the sacrifices made by the Chinese during that period of time. Project New Earth is part of a trilogy of work that started with Project New Moon, inspired by the Chinese lunar landing in 2013, heralding a shift in global geo-politics.
The 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 coming to Southbank Centre as part of a new festival exploring contemporary China. The festival will launch with a day of activity on 16th December. A local community choir, set up especially for this event by Southbank Centre’s vocal initiative Voicelab, will be involved in a special one-off concert at the venue, to perform English and Chinese songs sung by and inspired by the CLC. The three British port cities are places the men of the CLC passed through on their way to the Front. Some of them are buried in the local cemeteries, having died en route to England.
The evening includes four pieces commissioned by CAS, including Song Unsung from British East Asian theatre company Yellow Earth, a live music theatre performance by singer-actors, who weave together Chinese folk and English First World War songs, with a moving drama focused on two men separated from family, lovers and friends by the war. A local community choir, set up by Southbank Centre’s vocal initiative Voicelab in collaboration with the U.K. Chinese Choir, will be involved as part of the performance at the Southbank.
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. A local community dance ensemble will be involved as part ofthe performance at the Southbank.
The celebration is completed by two pieces of digital artwork: Lunar Corps excavates the stories of the CLC and brings them into blazing light from the labyrinthine warrens of lost memory. This vivid music-dance film is 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 World War One 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 K.S. 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 (Folkestone, Plymouth and Liverpool).
Project New Earth reminds us that in our current turbulent world, we need to remember and celebrate friendship between nations. 3,000 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.”
Running Time:60mins | Suitable for ages12+
Choreographer/Dancer Julia Cheng Composer/Sound Designer Andy Leung
Director Lavin Lee Vocalist/Spoken Word Lula Xyz
Cinematographer/Animator Ricky Payne
Choreographer Lucia Tong Musician Cheng Yu
Composer Angelus Squid Marr Video maker Charlie Taillard
Choreographer/Dancer Quang Kien Van Composer/Sound Designer Ruth Chan
Filmmaker Suki Mok
Writer/DirectorDavid K.S. Tse Music Director Chris Chan
Dramaturge Kumiko Mendl Music Supervisor Beibei Wang
Tickets are available from The Black-E on 0151 7095109 or from the Unity Theatre Box office on 0151 709 4988. Tickets are priced at £12 with concessions available at £8.