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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
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Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

May 4th and the First World War

With Dr Frances Wood

Series:  LSE Seminar on Chinese Worlds in Comparative Perspective

Date: Thursday 25 May from 6–8pm

Venue: Seligman Library, 6th Floor, Old Building, LSE

Chair:  Dr Fang-long Shih (LSE Taiwan Research Programme)

Discussants: Stuart Thompson (SOAS)


China’s role in the First World War is little known. In the last few years, scholars have published on the role of the Chinese Labour Corps, the 150,000 or so workers who performed essential tasks supporting the Allied troops on the Western Front and replaced French workers in factories throughout France. Churchill was convinced that such support was essential, fearing that the War was being lost due to the lack of man-power, and he encouraged Parliament to accept Chinese workers.

Though their role was essential, the Chinese Labour Corps workers were only part of China’s contribution to the Allied cause. From the first days of the War, when Japan attacked Qingdao, Yuan Shikai offered military support to the British to re-take the German concession. This offer was rebuffed but in the following years, China made several further offers of military and naval help. These attempts to aid the Allies were constantly blocked by Japan which, though officially part of the Alliance, had its own ideas about how the War might affect the Far East (to Japan’s advantage). They were further complicated by the fact that the Western Allies were still pursuing territorial interests in China, ‘carving her up’ to their own advantage.

China finally managed to join the Allies and declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1917. By so doing, she hoped to be accorded equal status with the other Allies at the end of the War and thus to recover the ex-German concessions recently seized by Japan. However, during negotiations at Versailles, China was virtually excluded and the Japanese delegation, partly by threatening the proposed League of Nations (dear to the heart of US President Wilson) and partly because of reliance on ‘secret treaties’, was accorded sovereignty over Qingdao.

The effect on China was electric, provoking the May 4th demonstrations which stimulated real reform and modernisation.

About the Speaker

Frances Wood followed a pre-diploma course at Liverpool College of Art 1966-7 and studied Chinese at Newnham College, Cambridge, 1967-1971. She spent 1975-6 at Peking University following a worker-peasant-soldier student course in Chinese history and wrote her PhD on traditional domestic architecture in Peking 1860-1930 (Percival David Foundation, 1984).

She worked for a year in the Department of Printed Books in the British Museum before moving to SOAS in 1972 to work in the Chinese section of the Library with John Lust until 1977. She joined the British Library and worked in the Chinese section there until 2013. She taught Chinese language classes in the Polytechnic of Central London, gave lectures in the British Museum on the Chinese collections and on contemporary China for the SOAS extra-mural department. In recent years she has lectured on Chinese architecture and book history in the V&A, the British Museum,  the Royal Academy of Arts, Sotheby’s and Christie’s education departments and for the SOAS Asian Fine Arts diploma course.

She has written a number of books on Chinese history and culture, including Stones of the Wall 1986 (a translation of a novel by Dai Houying), Chinese Illustration (1986), A Companion to China (1989), The Blue Guide to China (1990, 2002), Did Marco Polo Go To China? (1995), No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port life in China 1843-1943, (1998), Hand Grenade Practice in China: my part in the Cultural Revolution (2000), The Silk Road (2002), The Forbidden City (2005), The First Emperor (2007), The Lure of China: writers on China from Marco polo to J.G.Ballard (2009), The Diamond Sutra: the story of the world’s earliest dated printed book (2010), Picnics Prohibited: diplomacy in a chaotic China during the First World War (2014), Betrayed Ally: China in the Great War (2016), Great Books of China (2017) and contributed to other works including (with Andrew Lo, Wang Tz’u-cheng and Song Jiayu) Export Paintings in the British Library (2011).