For many Chinese workers and interpreters their experience with the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) was also their first encounter with Westerners. Although there were Westerners in China, in dedicated European concessions, their number was relatively small. Gu Xingqing, one of the CLC’s interpreters, elaborates upon his encounters with Westerners in his memoirs about this experience. His first encounter with a Westerner happened in Shandong where some of the recruitment drives were organized. An officer, named Sheppard, explained the values that motivated the sending of Chinese workers to Europe: freedom and peace.

During their crossing of the Atlantic Gu and his colleagues struck up a friendship with the captain of the ship to whom they wrote a letter. Gu explained that the latter was delighted to receive a letter, his first from the CLC interpreters. During his stay in Folkestone, in Kent (GB), Gu also explains how a British officer saved his life and those of his dorm mates when the camp was bombed by the Germans. Gu would experience several other raids during his time in Europe and they allowed him to discover a fascinating new invention: aviation.

Gu also shared the tale of the encounter of one of his comrades, Dai, with a European woman. Germaine, who was a young Belgian woman from Ypres, was forced to flee the city which had been heavily bombed in the early months of the conflict. She met Dai in France but he fell ill. In general Gu sought to demonstrate in his memoirs that there was no difference between Westerners and Chinese people.

Gu’s experience ended in 1919 when he returned to China. There is a trace of him at Northwestern University in the United States, where he seems to have obtained a Master's in Arts and Sciences in 1923. Unfortunately he had not received any scholarships in Europe at the end of his involvement in the CLC.

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  • 14 juillet ceremony in the camp of the Chinese workers in Vonges, first quarter of the 20th century, postcard, collection of Jean-François Thomassin, Vonges

  • An encounter between tourists and two Chinese workers, in the company of their officer, 1919, photo, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

    The Chinese workers remained in France and Belgium where they helped clean up the battlefields (recovering unexploded ammunitions and the bodies of soldiers) and contributed to the reconstruction after the conflict. Sometimes they would run into tourists, the first tourists who came to visit the battlefields near the former frontline.

Vonges – le 14 juillet aux baraquements chinois – le diaboloencounter between tourists and two Chinese workers