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Tricks on the Dead

Tricks on the Dead: The Story of the Chinese Labour Corps in WWI

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Tricks on the Dead: The Story of the Chinese Labour Corps in WWI

Documentary, 70 Minutes

In the years following the 1911 Xinhai revolution in China, the country was rapidly emerging into international affairs for the first time. The First World War erupted in 1914 and by 1916 British, French and Chinese states had signed agreements to send almost 140,000 indentured Chinese labourers to the battlefields of Europe. 85,000 of this newly formed 'Chinese Labour Corps' were secretly transported across Canada in locked CPR trains on the very railway built by their countrymen. They were then shipped to Europe where thousands died but until recently remained largely unacknowledged. So the question of this unusual journey still remains today: 'What were the Chinese doing in an imperialist war in Europe?'

Zhang Yan, a young Chinese history student who is from the same Shandong villages as the Chinese labourers in 1916, sets out to answer this question and find out what really happened to the men of the Chinese Labour Corps. Discovering clues from the diary of Chinese interpreter Gu Xingqing, Zhang Yan travels across three continents to uncover Gu's journey with the British controlled Chinese labourers. Entering a world and history cloaked in politics, confusion and misinformation about the Chinese experience in WWI. Zhang Yan must piece together this history in order to restore the collective memory of those in his Shandong community and around the world who have largely forgotten about the men who made this journey nearly 100 years ago.

Jordan Paterson
Ying Wang 

Pieter Stathis

Jordan Paterson

Natasha Damiano
Jordan Paterson

Norm Li
Jordan Paterson

Project Partners
Rare Earth Media