Wang Jungzhi (Wang Ch'un Ch'ih) was one of the last people to be executed by the British Army in World War I. He was killed by firing squad on 8 May 1919, six months after the Armistice after being convicted of murder.
Wang Jungzhi was a member of the 107th Chinese Labour Corps, which maintained trenches and cleared battlefields and their surrounding areas of debris and destruction. It was harrowing work because of the thousands of dead, dismembered and rotting bodies. They worked close to danger areas, their stress increased by racial hostility within the army and from local residents.
The Chinese were engaged when the Beiyang government agreed on 30 December 1916 to send 140,000 Chinese to work with the British. They were to be labourers rather than soldiers because China, not then part of the war, would not send men to fight. It saw sending men to work in docks and elsewhere as a commercial proposition without political intent.
The Belgian historian Dr Patrick Loodts said: "They found themselves behind the English lines in living conditions they certainly hadn't imagined! They were lodged in camps which they weren't allowed to leave, subjected to military discipline, carrying out the hard work needed to maintain the immense network of trenches." They were contracted to work seven days a week, ten hours a day, for three years. Their only days off were for Chinese national holidays.
The Chinese were repatriated only in February 1920. From the end of the war on 11 November 1918 they remained in camp at De Clijte, near Poperinge, Belgium. They drank, they gambled, they fought, they assaulted women, and they stole. Historian Brian C. Fawcett said: "Invariably gambling was rife and, on pay days, some debts could not be honoured. Fighting ensued and some killed their companions as a result, eventually paying the price by being shot at dawn." Ten members of the corps were executed for murder.
Wang Jungzhi killed another Chinese labourer in the camp in February 1919. He fled but was caught by military police on the French coast at Le Havre, where he was trying to find a ship. The police brought him back to Poperinge, where he was tried on 19 April 1919. He was shot at 4.24am on 8 May 1919. Records say he was executed in the courtyard of the town hall, but the researchers Piet Chielens and Julian Putkowski say it had been returned to civilian use by then.
The execution pole on display in Poperinge is said to have been used only once, for Wang Jungzhi's execution.
- Chielens, Piet and Putkowski, Julian (2000), Unquiet Graves, Francis Boutle, UK, p42
- China declared war against Germany on 14 August 1917
- Fawcett, Brian C., "The Chinese Labour Corps in France, 1917-1921", in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch, Volume 40, 2000, pp. 33-111
- Contracting Chinese workers was pioneered by the French, whose military negotiators wore civilian clothes to avoid offending Chinese neutrality.
- Historian Brian C. Fawcett said: "Because of the strict censorship, members of the Labour Companies were not allowed to mix with others outside their camps. This, in part, can be explained that some nationalities held animosity against others, e.g. the Indian Labour Corps was made up of many tribal groups; the Basutos and Zulus of the South African Native Labour Contingent [SANLC] were mutually hostile and the Chinese and the SANLC were cool towards each other.
- These were standard conditions in China and not thought exceptional by the Chinese.
- Oram, Gerard (1998), Worthless Men, Francis Boutle, UK, p109
- Fawcett, Brian C., "The Chinese Labour Corps in France, 1917-1921", in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch, Volume 40, 2000, p. 62
James, Gregory. The Chinese Labour Corps (1916-1920) (Hong Kong, Bayview Educational, 2013) ISBN 978-988-12686-0-0.
|This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).|