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Major new exhibition on the Chinese Labour Corps

Posted  3 April 2017 in News  
By Pamela Linden
Smiling for the Camera - WJ Hawkings Collection, courtsey of John de Lucy

Durham University Oriental Museum
Oriental Museum, Elvet Hill, Durham, DH1 3TH
7th April until 24th September 2017

A Good Reputation Endures Forever:
The Chinese Labour Corps on the Western Front

  • Durham University’s Oriental Museum stages UK’s first ever exhibition on the Great War’s Chinese Labour Corps.
  • Draws on official and private collections – including diaries; rare photographs; trench art; medals; newspapers; ephemera; and original equipment.
  • Recently rediscovered WJ Hawkings Photographic Collection on public display for first time.
  • Exhibition challenges common narrative of strained relationships between British Officers and their Chinese charges.

The Ensuring We Remember Campaign has had the pleasure of working with Durham University’s Oriental Museum for almost three years, supporting the museum to stage a major new exhibition, A Good Reputation Endures Forever: The Chinese Labour Corps on the Western Front, opening on 7th April.  It explores the role of the thousands of Chinese who risked their lives alongside the British armed forces during the First World War.

During the First World War 96,000 Chinese men volunteered to work for Britain as part of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC). Although officially non-combatant, the CLC served on the Western Front and was commanded by British army officers and NCOs. They undertook essential and often dangerous work behind the lines on the Western Front and many lost their lives, whilst others won awards for courage.

Exhibition Curator, Dr Craig Barclay, said:

“The exhibition’s title – A Good Reputation Endures Forever – recalls one of the inscriptions to be found on the gravestones of the men of the CLC who now rest beneath Flanders Fields.”

“Although there has been a considerable rise in interest in the story of the CLC in China, there remains little awareness in the West of the contribution of China during World War I.  Since 2010, a small number of academic publications have explored the lives of the men of the CLC.  No exhibition devoted to the subject has ever been staged in Britain however and the members of the CLC have rightly been described as the ‘forgotten of the forgotten’.”

Drawing on official and private collections – including diaries; rare photographs; trench art; medals; newspapers; ephemera; and original equipment – this exhibition seeks to right an historic wrong and increase public awareness of the contributions made by these Chinese volunteers to the campaigns in France and Flanders.

Steve Lau, Chair of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign, observed:

“This is a truly ground-breaking exhibition, not only because it is the first such exhibition in the UK, but also because the wide range of items on display, including numerous personal items of British Officers, challenge the traditional narrative of strained relationships between British Officers and their Chinese charges.”

A large selection of the WJ Hawkings Photographic Collection, rediscovered in 2014 by his grandson, John De Lucy, will be publically displayed for the first time. Unlike the set piece propaganda photographs taken by official photographers, the WJ Hawkings Collection gives a unique insight into the day-to-day lives of the Chinese Labour Corps; many of the photographs are believed to be unique in the subject matter they cover, including the only known extant photographs of the burial of a member f the Chinese Labour Corps.

A Good Reputation Endures Forever opens to the public on Friday 7th April 2017 and runs until 24th September.   For more details visit the museum website.

The Oriental Museum is open Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm and Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 12pm – 5pm. Entry to the museum is £1.50 for adults, 75p for children (five-16) and Over 60s, and free for children under five and students.

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