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Historical Context: China and the Treaty of Versailles

On June 28, 1919, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles successfully


ended World War I.[1] Boundaries were drawn, prohibitions were placed, and
soldiers from the Triple Entente and Central Powers alike began the journey
home. When the victorious French troops returned to Paris, a large canvas
depicting France and its allies was exhibited. [2] However, not all contributors to
the effort were included. The Chinese Labourers, who aided France and the
Allied Forces, were wrongfully excluded, as their portion of the canvas painted
over to showcase the United States instead.
Before World War I, the empires of Europe possessed authority over 80%
of Chinese territory, primarily France and Britain, but also Germany, Italy, The
United States, and Japan. Germany obtained the Shandong Province off the
Northeastern Coast of China. Shandong was a very sacred and spiritual place to
the Chinese and was considered to be Chinas holy land, as it was the home to
Daoism and Chinese Buddhism. This religious province was no larger than
England and Wales combined, yet whomever controlled Shandong seemed to
control all of China.[3]
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese remained neutral the first few years of the
war, with portions of itself in the grasp of enemies, battle on Chinese soil was not
of best interest. However, when Japan overthrew Germanys hold on Shandong
and forced the Twenty-One Demands on all of China, the Chinese had to create a
non-violent resolution. Yanzhong Huang, the Senior Fellow for Global Health at
the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of China, Japan, and the 21
Demands said, The Japanese requests included five groups of secret demands
that became known as the Twenty-One Demands. Groups One and Two were
designed to confirm Japans dominant position in Shandong, southern
Manchuria, and Eastern Inner Mongolia. Group Three would acknowledge
Japans special interests in an industrial complex in central China. Group Four
forbade China from giving any further coastal or island concessions to foreign
powers except for Japan. Group Five required China to install Japanese advisors
who could take effective control of Chinese government, economy, and military.
[4]
A once neutral China was now forced to contribute to the war, so the people of
China created the Chinese Labor Corps (CLC) to offer the non-violent
compensation of Chinese workers in order to regain the control of Shandong. If
the Chinese aided the allied forces and Japan in Europe, then Shandong would
return to their possession, foreign concessions would withdraw from China, and
Japan's Twenty-One Demands of 1915 would be cancelled. [3,5] The Japanese,

French, and British accepted these terms and so the CLC workers began the
journey to Europe in 1917.
When being transported to the Western Front, the Chinese had been
crammed onto boats for days on end in poor conditions and shoved into
overstuffed train cars where men were trampled to death. Most of the 96,000
Chinese wartime participants were farmers and commonwealth, as they were
hired by the CLC for just one British pound and just a few pennies for every ten
hour work day. The laborers worked for the French and British forces seven days
a week and were confined by a three year contract. The CLC workers repaired
tanks, built roads, dug trenches, hauled supplies, and unloaded ships and trains.
Even though they did not fight, the Chinese provided more men for the front
lines by excusing them of their other responsibilities. [2,3] When the Chinese
werent working they were kept locked in camps secured in barbed wire in which
they were treated like prisoners; they werent permitted to leave the compounds
even in the event of shelling. The workers, who were called by a number
assigned to them rather than their names, rarely received any recognition or
medal of honor, and in the event this did happen, the medals were bronze instead
of silver and labeled by their number.[2] The workers of the CLC carried shovels
and picks, not grenades and guns, yet their actions are no less considerable.
When the Treaty of Versailles was being signed, none of the requests of
the Chinese were being satisfied. The treaty failed to include every demand the
Chinese made in return for their efforts: Shandong would return to their
possession, foreign concessions would withdraw from China, and Japan's
Twenty-One Demands of 1915 would be cancelled. Because their needs were
ignored and their CLC agreement betrayed, China refused to sign the Treaty of
Versailles, the only country involved to do so. Being denied a place on the
painting in Paris, being betrayed by a fair agreement, being treated poorly and
unfairly, and being forgotten in First World War memorials was how the
labourers were repaid. The refusal to sign the Treaty of Versailles was an
honorable thing for China to do, as it stood up for itself and its people when they
had been invalidated. Despite this mighty stance, the CLC contracts remained
intact until 1920, one year after the war ended, and the Chinese Labourers
remained on the front even as the rest of the soldier went home. After the war, the
CLC was ordered to clean up the warzone; to refill the trenches they once dug, to
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bury bodies left on the battlefield, and find and dig up landmines, a task that
claimed many lives.[2]
This event is important because the Chinese are often excluded from
World War I and it is essential to understand all perspectives and motives to grasp
the full concept of how World War I was achieved. Maev Kennedy, author of
First World War's Forgotten Chinese Labour Corps to Get Recognition at Last
called the CLC workers, "The forgotten of the forgotten. Many of the records of
the CLC workers have been lost or destroyed, so the exact number of workers
and fatalities is unknown, however it is still vital to honor all of the participants
and their contributions. The CLC is often forgotten because the labourers didnt
fight, but that is no such reason to not be recognised for their involvement and
sacrifices. This event is interesting to me because in the article Full Story, it is
said that 43,000 First World War memorials were built in Britain, yet not one
remembered the 96,000 volunteers of the Chinese Labour Corps. 3 This shows
that despite their efforts, the CLC workers contributed the war effort only to be
painted over, to be called by a number, and to be excluded from the War
Memorial. World War I is often seen as a white mans war, but without the aid of
the Chinese, the outcome may have been very different.
A word from the author:
The poem To be Behind was written from the perspective of a Chinese
Labourers hands who remained on the front even after the Treaty of Versailles
was signed. It depicts his hands experience through the senses touch and sight,
using metaphors such as scales and flowers. To be Behind is written in the poetic
form Anaphora. An Anaphora is a rhetorical device that is used to emphasize
certain words or phrases using repetition. In To be Behind the Anaphora is Mine
is or Mine are at the beginning of each stanza, referring to the Chinese
Labourers hands. Anaphoras do not have any set meter or rhyme, but To be
Behind is written in an iambic octameter with an ABABCDCD rhyme scheme,
meaning every other line ends in rhymes. This poem creates images in the
readers mind by using descriptive words and phrases such as, Mine are the
calloused fingers broken, Torn raw by flame and steel. Writing this poem was
challenging because no names or titles were used, signifying the unknowing of
the labourers names and the use of numbers, so I had to use feelings and
metaphors to describe how the hands and labourer felt.
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