Chinese Trench Art



Chinese Trench Art


Unknown Chinese Labour Corps member


A large (9") German shell casing decorated with Chinese characters


This piece of trench art is made from a German artillery shell by a member of the Chinese Labour Corps. Chinese characters and other designs have been etched on to the surface. It is a very unusual artefact and offers us a rare glimpse of the First World War through non-Western eyes.

The characters on one side read ‘Chinese Republic’ (top to bottom) and ‘Eighth Year, Seventh Month’ (right to left); ie, the year 1919. Here the creator explicitly identifies himself with the newly formed Chinese Republic.

The characters on the other side read ‘White man’s culture is in decline, but the women of the Western countries are as fierce as the men of the East’. The creator was shocked that his first encounter with Western culture was the mass destruction of the Western Front, but was equally intrigued to find that women were educated and did men’s jobs. Returning Chinese veterans founded some of the first schools for girls in China.

The Chinese Labour Corps were volunteers employed by the British Army to dig trenches, move munitions and supplies and other hard labour tasks. This shell s a German one, probably picked up by a labourer clearing the battlefields after the war. Of approximately 90,000 members of the Chinese Labour Corps, only about 80 pieces of trench art like this have been documented, making this a very rare find. The contributor found it in an antique shop in the UK.




The Western Front


Stanley Kaye

Item sets

This item was submitted on June 14, 2019