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History is nothing but a pack of tricks we play on the dead. – Voltaire
Among China first steps into international affairs on its road to becoming a world power occur in the First World War. The country’s emergence occurred through the forgotten story of an unlikely group of 140 000 Chinese peasants who were sent to an imperialist war they did not understand.
In 1917, in an attempt to participate in world affairs, the Chinese government sent these men to Europe where thousands died in labour on the Western Front: working in shipping yards, digging trenches and clearing the dead.
Zhang Yan, a Chinese history student from the same Shandong villages as the Chinese laborers in WWI, travels three continents to restore the collective memory of those in China and around the world who have forgotten about the 140,000 men who made this journey with British, Canadian and French forces.