A World Gone Wrong

Rebecca Karl

  • Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War by Xu Guoqi
    Harvard, 336 pp, £26.95, February 2011, ISBN 978 0 674 04999 4

In late 1936, two workers from the Renault car factory in the Paris suburb of Billancourt, Tchang Jaui Sau and Liou Kin Tien, travelled to Albacete to join the International Brigades. Already in their mid-forties, they were rejected for active battlefield service and sent instead to act as stretcher-bearers behind the front lines. Their 14-hour days of back-breaking, often emotionally wrenching work earned them the praise of their comrades as ‘heroes’ of the Civil War. They had originally been brought to France from rural China during the Great War to serve as trench-diggers or to fill in at factories whose regular workforce was at the front, so were used to hard manual labour. Well over a hundred thousand Chinese men were dispatched to France, but it is thanks to this pair’s involvement in Spain that their stories have been tracked down.

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