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Recommended: Western Front – Eastern Promises

October 1, 2020 - December 12, 2020


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Trench Art and the Story of the Chinese Labour Corps in the Great War
The Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London
1 October 2020 to 12 December 2020

Information from SOAS University:
Trench Art and the Story of the Chinese Labour Corps in the Great War
SOAS’s Brunei Gallery is pleased to host an exhibition to commemorate the remarkable but largely overlooked contribution and experiences of the Chinese Labour Corps in the First World War, in this the centenary year of their disbandment, alongside their trench art legacy, made out of shell cases and decorated with a distinctly Chinese flavour.

140,000 Chinese men travelled 10,000 miles to war-torn Europe to assist the British and French armies after 1916. 100,000 of these volunteers formed the British Army’s Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), taking on all manner of work behind the lines and for almost two years after the war the CLC worked to clear the battlefields of debris and bodies.

The exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the people who made up the CLC. On display is material drawn from the unique collection of photographs taken by Lt W J Hawkings during his time as an officer with the CLC in China and France from 1917 to 1919, many previously unseen, alongside a ‘never before displayed’ collection of 80 museum-quality trench art pieces, sculpted and engraved shell cases, hand-made by the men. The ancient symbolism and iconography applied in these distinctively Chinese trench art designs is also explored.

As part of the exhibition, visitors can view ‘Forgotten Faces of the Great War: The Chinese Labour Corps’, a collection of oral histories by descendants of Chinese labourers and their Western commanding officers. The film was produced by documentary filmmaker Peng Wenlan for The Meridian Society for their project on the Chinese Labour Corps.


Bilingual press release hereRecommended exhibition_Western Front Eastern Promises _ bilingual press release




Shell Case engraved with a phoenix-type bird and the phrase ‘The riverbank at Yingde’, © J Gordon-Cumming, courtesy of the Brunei Gallery website;


CLC men at a dump of empty shell cases in France, W J Hawkings, courtesy John de Lucy, courtesy of the Brunei Gallery website.



October 1, 2020
December 12, 2020
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Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London
Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
London, England WC1H 0XG United Kingdom
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