A local playwright, Ian Henery, has been commissioned to write a trilogy of plays for China West Midlands which strengthens connections in business, education, culture, art and sports for deeper understanding, greater collaboration and mutual prosperity between the West Midlands and China.
The first in the trilogy, The Chinese Labour Corps, is being performed between 1 – 5th February at Blue Orange Theatre and has been included as part of the West Midlands` Chinese New Year Festival online for year of the Tiger. The play is supported by Andy street, mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority and cultural partners Birmingham Chinese Society, Chinese Active Citizens UK and the Chinese Community Centre Birmingham.
“The first play in the trilogy is one of the least known stories of the First World War” explained Ian. “It`s the moving and surprising story of the Chinese Labour Corps who volunteered to travel thousands of miles to help in a war they knew little about”.
Loyalty, colonialism and romance combine in this new play based on true events.
As the First World War pressed on the British Government became more acutely aware of their need for manpower to maintain the logistics of such a large scale campaign.
The Chinese government, wishing to establish themselves as an international power, recommended “the labour plan” which would alleviate the labour shortages being suffered by the Allies. From 1917 onwards the British alone recruited close to 100,000 Chinese men from the northern Chinese provinces.
The majority of the number travelled via Canada, finally arriving in Noyelles-sur-Mer in France.
“Some of the more capable men carried out skilled labour such as engineering” said Ian “riveting and working for the Tank Corps but the majority worked as unskilled labourers – digging trenches, filling sandbags and repairing roads”.
Whilst officially non-combatants the labour corps were often malnourished and worked in dangerous conditions such as near shell fire. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 had died by the end of the war.
“They came to help” explained Ian “and they stayed to die. There are over 60,000 war memorials to the First World War in the UK including memorials to animals and Germans but none to the Chinese Labour Corps. They have been whitewashed from history books.
Their contribution is forgotten”.
Further information: www.blueorangetheatre.co.uk