Photo exhibition in Belgium pays tribute to Chinese labour corps of WWI

In the run-up to the centenary of the end of the First World War, an exhibition paying tribute to Chinese labour corps was held Friday in the Belgian city of Bruges, 100 km northwest of Brussels.

There were around 140,000 Chinese laborers serving for the Allies during WWI. Most of them were recruited by Britain and France from May 1916 to early 1918.

Chinese workers were assigned to arduous work such as digging trenches, building docks, laying tracks, unloading ships, repairing tanks and clearing battlefields. Their logistic support was critical to the Allied armies in the west front.

Christophe Dejaegher, a provincial councilor of Belgium’s West Flanders province and mayor of the Belgian city of Popringe, hailed in his remarks at the opening ceremony that the Chinese laborers had become bridges between war and peace.

The title of the exhibition –“Cherishing Peace through Remembering History of War”– conveyed the same message of peace, he underlined.

Zhang Chi, minister-counselor of Chinese Embassy in Belgium, said the photo exhibition, jointly organized by the Chinese and Belgian side, “will enable our peoples, particularly the younger generation to remember this shared memory, so that they will cherish peace and carry forward China-Belgium friendship.”

A local resident of Bruges, after viewing the exhibition, told Xinhua that he got a better grasp of this history and was quite touched.

As the exhibition showed, out of the 140,000 Chinese laborers, nearly 20,000 were dead or missing.

Many Chinese laborers lost their lives even before arriving at the destination in Europe. One of the most harrowing stories happened in February 1917 when the French ship Athos carrying Chinese laborers was torpedoed by a German submarine, causing the loss of 543 lives.

At present, there are 69 cemeteries in France and Belgium where 1,874 Chinese laborers were laid to rest.