We Remember them All

Chinese Labourers at the Western Front, 1917

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, Britain will respectfully remember and honour those who fought in and those who sacrificed their lives in the two world wars. This is personal to me, as it is to many of you. My maternal grandmother risked her life nightly with the artillery teams defending Southampton from bombing raids. My maternal grandfather was in the Royal Hampshire’s in North Africa and in Italy including the carnage of Monte Cassino. My paternal grandfather was a pilot in the RAF during the Battle of Britain.

Both 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were world wars. Millions struggled and lost their lives around the globe. This includes China which supported the Allies in both conflicts. In this article I’ll remind us of the scale of that Chinese contribution.

China’s Contribution to World War 1

China first offered military support to the Allies in 1915, but the British government turned the offer down. China had every reason to oppose Germany, which was then occupying areas of China’s Shandong Province and virtually running it as a colony.

Chinese labourers support the Allies

Starting in late 1916, China began sending thousands of men to support Britain, France and Russia. These labourers repaired tanks, assembled shells, worked on transport supplies and munitions, and helped to dig the trenches. By the end of the war, Chinese workers would rank as the largest and longest serving non-European contingent in World War I. France recruited 37,000 Chinese workers, while the United Kingdom took in 94,500. Altogether 3,000 of these men lost their lives. A notorious incident took place in February 1917 when a German submarine sank a French ship called the Athos, leading to the death of 500 Chinese workers on their way to support the war effort in Europe.

China and the Versailles Treaty

Shamefully, China was very badly treated at the Versailles Peace Treaty. China was only allowed two representatives at the conference. The Chinese request for the restoration of Shandong to Chinese rule was ignored and an integral part of China was placed in Japanese hands. The Chinese people were outraged by this injustice, an anger which found expression in the famous May Fourth movement.

China’s Contribution to World War Two

Although the story of Chinese resistance during World War Two is little known in the West, it was possibly only the Chinese peoples’ refusal to submit to Japanese forces that prevented the victory of Fascism, especially in Asia.

The war in China broke out in 1937, although hostilities had already started. The Communist armies led by Mao Zedong and the Nationalist armies led by Chang Kai Shek fought against the odds, tooth and nail, to defend every inch of Chinese soil. From 1941 to 1945 Yunnan Province in south-west China was one of the most vital theatres of the whole war. The Japanese Army threatened to advance up from Myanmar and overrun the whole of China. This in turn would have meant the Soviet Union having to send vital troops and resources, then locked in the struggle against the Nazi advance into Russia, eastwards to protect the border.

It’s at this point that our own Joseph Needham got involved, helping to ensure vital supplies of equipment and scientific knowledge to the Chinese war effort. It’s the point at which American and British pilots formed the famous Flying Tigers along with Chinese comrades to keep the skies over Yunnan safe for supplies to be thrown in.

On a visit to Tengchong, a large city in Yunnan, near the Myanmar border, I had the privilege to meet the gentleman here. His name is 卢彩文 , Lu Caiwen. He is a veteran of that war. In 1944, almost exactly as my grandfather was inching up the mountainside at Monte Cassino under murderous fire, he was crawling up another mountain near Tengchong, with the China Expeditionary Force, determined to dislodge the Japanese army from this strategic stronghold. At the foot of the mountain is a 53,000 square metre cemetery where rest the 10,000 CEF soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Even now, decades later, Lu’s voice shakes with emotion, as he remembers the comrades who fell around him. Every few days, veteran Lu Caiwen visits the graveyard to lay chrysanthemums in memory of his fallen comrades.

China endured one of the longest and bloodiest campaigns of any nation fighting in World War II, with 30 million Chinese citizens dying, including 2.2 million soldiers, a war which 100 million more Chinese finished as refugees.

The War to end all wars

My grandfather died after a well deserved full and happy life. When I sat next to Mr Lu in his Tengchong home in 2019 I knew my grandfather was there in the room, listening to his stories as attentively and appreciatively as I was. They shared the same slightly mischievous twinkle in their eyes, maybe the light in the eyes of those who have looked on the brutality of war and know better than us, the precious everyday beauty of peace.

Old comrades across the world, we, to whom you gave the gifts of life and love, salute you and thank you for your sacrifices, brothers and sisters in arms!

Chris Nash and 卢彩文, Lu Caiwen, 2019.

A Journey Through Civilisations

SACU members Iris Yau, Richard Poxton, Ros Wong (membership secretary), Zoe Reed (former Chair) and Frances Wood at the ‘Journey through Civilisations’ event.

SACU is very proud to have been one of the sponsors of a recent event in London hosted by the China Media Group. The event was held to mark the launch of a new on-line exhibition. Through immersive and digital technological innovations overseas audiences can immerse themselves in a digital scroll of time spanning ancient and modern times. This allows the audience a virtual experience of the early stages of Chinese civilisation and an appreciation of the source of China’s 5,000 years of history.

The event was jointly organised by SACU, CGTN Europe, China Media Group Europe and the Cambridge Asian Culture Association. The event is part of a global roadshow which was launched at the United Nations in June this year. The UN venue was chosen to represent China’s strong support for cultural diversity and the UN’s work.

A number of influential guests spoke at the event. Yang Xiaoguang, China’s Charge d’Affaires, told the audience that ‘China is willing to strengthen  exchanges and mutual learning among civilisations with other countries in the world to promote common development.’

CMG’s president Shen Haixiong told the audience in a video speech that he saw the mission of the broadcasting group as communicating the values of Chinese civilisation internationally “to encourage people from across the world to understand each other and build a shared future.”

There was a panel discussion hosted by Jamie Owen of CGTN. During the discussion John Hobson, Professor of International Relations at Sheffield University and author of ‘The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation’, reminded the audience that industrialisation in the West could never have happened without building on Chinese innovations, for example in metallurgy.  His message of course builds on the pioneering work of SACU founder Professor Joseph Needham in ‘Science and Civilisation in China’.

The event was attended by a modern generation of SACU bridge-builders to China, former chair Zoe Reed, Frances Wood, Iris Yau, Ros Wong and Richard  Poxton.  SACU is working towards a future where deeper understandings of China and her people are an everyday reality across Britain.

China, Climate Change, COP26 – What Comes Next? SACU Panel Discussion

SACU has assembled an excellent speaker panel to discuss China and the post COP26 period.
This is a free online event on Wednesday 8th December, 5.30pm-7.00pm (GMT)

About this event

SACU’s Expert Panel will discuss what comes next for China and the world following COP26, with a focus on addressing the following questions:

  • How should China’s involvement in COP26 be assessed and what role will it play in tackling climate change post COP26?
  • What opportunities or challenges does China face in adhering to its green pledges? Is it doing enough in terms of policymaking and implementation, and grass roots mobilisation?
  • How should countries around the world, and the developed West in particular, engage with China for the benefit of tackling the climate crisis?


Professor Astrid Nordin is Chair of Chinese International Relations in the Lau China Institute KCL, prior to which she was Professor of World Politics and Founding Director of Lancaster University China Centre. She is also Senior Fellow of the Institute for Social Futures, and Associate Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. Astrid’s research draws on Chinese and other global traditions of thought to understand global challenges as they relate to China’s growing global role.

Dr Joy Zhang is an Associate Professor and Director of Studies in Sociology, at the University of Kent. A Chinese-born British sociologist with a first degree in medicine, her research concerns the transnational governance of scientific uncertainty, with a focus on Sino-European contexts. Joy has previously headed the ESRC-funded project ‘Governing Accountability in China’s Life Sciences: A Comparative Study of Stem Cell and GM Food Governance’.

Denis Fernando is a Climate Change Activist. He has been part of the Occupy London movement and an Officer for the National Union of Students representing African, Arabs Asian and Caribbean students, as well as being a student union officer at Goldsmith College and University of London Union. Denis is also a songwriter and musician whose work has featured across BBC Radio and RTE Lyric.

Sam Geall is Executive Director of China Dialogue and associate faculty at the University of Sussex. His research focuses on climate policy and politics, energy transition, and environmental governance in China, as well as the impact of Chinese investment through the Belt and Road Initiative. He has authored several books including China and the Environment: The Green Revolution (2013).


Carlos Martinez is an author and activist, as well as a SACU member. He writes regularly for the Morning Star and is a co-founder of No Cold War.

There will be some time for Q&A. You are invited to submit questions in advance to events@sacu.org.uk

Event access

  1. Reserve your place on Eventbrite: https://sacu-china-climatechange-cop26_publicevent.eventbrite.co.uk/
  2. One day before the event, you will be sent an invitation email link to register in advance on Zoom
  3. If you register within one day of the event you will receive the invitation email one hour before the event starts