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Chinese labour ‘cover-up’ revealed in novel by Clive Harvey

The forgotten story of how thousands of Chinese men were secretly shipped into Britain to help battle efforts in the First World War has been retold in a novel by an Horsmonden author.

Clive Harvey, 62, was inspired to write Yang’s War after discovering the magnitude of the “cover-up”, which lasted almost a century until details recently emerged.

Some 140,000 men from the poorest parts of China were recruited by the British and French forces to provide support for frontline soldiers, but keeping the deal under wraps was deemed essential.

Clive Harvey and his book, Yang's War
Clive Harvey and his book, Yang's War

Mr Harvey, who lives on Goudhurst Road and also works as a musician, said: “They probably made the difference between us winning and losing the war, but the story hasn’t really been covered.

“There are about 60,000 First World War monuments Europe-wide, and while some reference horses and other animals, none mention the Chinese.”

That will change in September, when a memorial is finally set to be erected in London, thanks largely to the efforts of campaigners who have worked tirelessly to ensure the Chinese Labour Corps are commemorated.

But during the conflict, both the Allies and Chinese agreed it was in their best interests to maintain an element of secrecy.

“We were an imperial power, and had our own labour corps but they were not proving adequate enough,” Mr Harvey said.

"The Chinese were terrified if Japan and Germany heard about the pact, they’d be attacked" - Clive Harvey

“We were trying to keep the press happy back in England by feeding through the right information. There would have been a revolt if we were found to be using cheap labour from foreign countries.

“But we needed them for all kinds of things. We’d just introduced the tank but had ran out of technicians.

“Likewise, the Chinese were terrified if Japan and Germany heard about the pact, they’d be attacked.”

Dozens of images revealing a Chinese presence during the conflict were found in a Tunbridge Wells home last year – a number of which feature in the book, which tells the story of the cover-up and life on the battlefield, through the eyes of Yang, the main character.

Mr Harvey said: “It’s the only novel that has historic guidance and it’s being accepted by people in the movement [to get a memorial built] as a plausible illustration of what these people went through.”

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