Week 7

This week, we learned about how the Qing Empire collapsed after nearly three hundred years in power, and it was replaced by a republic. For Wednesday’s class, I used Exploration Pack 2: The Chinese Labor Force at the European Front. The Chinese Labor Corps was a noncombatant unit that served in Europe during World War I. China was working for the Allied Powers, mainly France and Britain. Chinese laborers dug trenches and suffered many challenges, including not having enough food or heavy clothing in the cold, and their shelters being destroyed by bombings (Xu 131-132). Similarly to their experiences in the US, Chinese laborers experienced racism from white people.

An example of racist attitudes that Europeans had towards the Chinese was this excerpt from a Belgian priest’s journal: “They are strange fellows and have very childish manners, not any better than our boys from 10-11 years old…Yellow of color, with a flat nose and oblique eyes, they have nearly a constant foolish grin on their face… they are not lazy and work at least as hard as our civilians or as English soldiers” (quoted in Xu 135).

This quote shows how some Europeans dehumanized Chinese people and treated them like aliens because they had a different background. There are several examples from this book chapter where Europeans described the Chinese as happy but used words like “childish” or “foolish” to degrade them. Racist Europeans seemed to generally dislike the Chinese and only valued the hard work they contributed to the war effort. 

However, in some ways, the Chinese in Europe did not have it as bad as they did in the US. The chapter we read of Xu’s book does not mention racist violence between Europeans and Chinese, but I remember learning about violent race riots that broke out in California between white and Chinese Americans in the Chinese Exclusion Act documentary. There was also some cultural exchange between Europeans and Chinese. For instance, some European shopkeepers learned Chinese to draw in customers (Xu 136).

For Friday, I used Exploration Pack 2: May Fourth Movement and beginnings of Communism in China. Sun Yat-sen’s “Three People’s Principles” laid out his main goals for the early nationalist movement. What I found most interesting about this document was Sun’s plan for five branches of government. He wanted China to have a democratic government with an executive, legislative, and judicial branch similar to the US, and the other two branches would be the censorate and the civil service examination system (Sun 325). I think that Sun wanted to radically change Chinese society and adopt Western politics while keeping what he thought was positive about the ancient Chinese monarchies.

Black and white photograph of Sun Yat-sen sitting at a table and writing.
Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen


Sun Yatsen. “The Three People’s Principles” in Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 through the Twentieth Century, Vol. 2, 202-205. Edited by Wm. Th. de Bary and R. Lufrano. Columbia Univ. Press, 2001.

Xu, Guoqi. Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011.






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