1840-1842 The First Opium War erupts when Britain’s Royal Navy launches attacks in southern China in retaliation for the confiscation of opium imported by the British East India Company to pay for purchases of Chinese tea, silk and porcelain
1856-1860 Chinese resistance to Britain’s attempt to legalise opium in China results in the Second Opium War, in which Britain is supported militarily by France
1884-1885 In a bid to replace Chinese influence over northern Vietnam, France goes to war with China in the Sino-French War
1894-1895 With China now seriously weakened, Japan supplants Chinese suzerainty over Korea in the First Sino-Japanese War
1899-1901 The Eight-Nation Alliance of Japan, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austro-Hungary and US march into Beijing to quell anti-foreign sentiment demonstrated in the Boxer Uprising
30 Jan 1902 Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance is signed, promising mutual military aid in the event of Britain or Japan going to war with a third nation. Renewed in 1905 and 1911, the alliance is used by Japan in 1914 to force Britain into accepting Japanese military support against Germany in Jiaozhou Bay in return for the transfer of German concessions in Shandong to Japan
1911-1912 Domestic discontent with the Chinese government’s weakness and incompetence culminates in the Xinhai Revolution, which eventually leads to the collapse of the Qing, China’s last imperial dynasty
Jan 1912 Establishment of the Republic of China. Sun Yat-sen is sworn in as its first president, but soon hands over to Yuan Shikai, who tries to reinstate the monarchy between late 1915 and early 1916 but is forced to resign owing to popular unrest. A period of infighting between rival warlords ensues from 1916 to 1928, known as the Warlord Era
25 Aug 1912 Founding of China’s Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang
28 Jul 1914 Outbreak of World War I following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary
Aug 1914 In an attempt to regain Shandong from German control by siding with the Allies, China offers Britain 50,000 Chinese troops for a joint attack on Jiaozhou Bay against the Germans, but is turned away
Nov 1914 Japan attacks and captures the port city of Qingdao, on the Shandong coast, from the Germans in the Siege of Qingdao
18 Jan 1915 Japan issues the Twenty-One Demands imposing its rights and privileges in China; four months later, President Yuan Shikai signs a slimmed down ‘Thirteen Demands’
Early 1915 China proposes sending a cohort of soldiers and workers to help the Western Allies, but is rebuffed by Britain owing to pressure from British trade unions
Jun 1915 China offers to send 300,000 workers to Britain and France to perform non-combatant duties; France accepts China’s offer
Jan 1916 A French delegation headed by retired Lt-Gen Georges Truptil arrives in Beijing to recruit men through the Huimin Company, set up specifically to manage the hiring of labourers in order to avoid violating Chinese neutrality; Truptil signs a contract in May 1916 to hire 50,000 workers. Germany is alarmed at the numbers being recruited and protests to the Chinese government, at the same time circulating leaflets at hiring stations warning the Chinese of dangers and threatening to sink Allied vessels
1 Jul 1916 Start of Battle of the Somme, in which Britain suffers 60,000 casualties on the first day alone, prompting British fears that they will lose the war
Jul 1916 First batch of French recruits sets sail for Europe via Tianjin - Indian Ocean - Suez Canal - Mediterranean
28 Jul 1916 The British army accepts China’s offer and sets up a recruiting centre in Weihaiwei, a port leased by Britain since 1898
24 Aug 1916 First batch of French recruits arrives in Marseilles
Oct 1916 Thomas Bourne arrives in Weihaiwei to set up the Chinese Labour Corps recruitment office
15 Nov 1916 Public announcement of the appointment of Lt Col Bryan Fairfax of the Liverpool Regiment as Commander of the Chinese Labour Corps
18 Jan 1917 First contingent of 1083 CLC recruits departs Qingdao
17 Feb 1917 French transport ship SS Athos is torpedoed by German U-boat off the coast of Malta resulting in the death of over 700, including 543 Chinese labourers. The sea route is accordingly changed to the Pacific – Canada - Atlantic – Liverpool/Plymouth - Channel - northern France, a journey lasting three months
14 Mar 1917 China breaks diplomatic relations with Germany
Apr 1917 British army establishes CLC headquarters in Noyelles-sur-Mer in northern France, 100 km from the site of the Battle of the Somme. Temporary camps are put up for 3000 workers in barracks and tents, including four hospitals
19 Apr 1917 First CLC recruits arrive in Le Havre, France
14 Aug 1917 China declares war on Germany and Austro-Hungary
10 Mar 1918 Last contingent of 2000 CLC departs China for Europe, totalling nearly 95,000 recruits; the lack of ships makes the British target of 150,000 impossible
16 May 1918 An impoverished China signs the Sino-Japanese Military Alliance granting Japan the right to station troops in Shandong and control its railway in return for a loan of 20 million yen
11 Nov 1918 Germany signs armistice, ending the world war; members of CLC remain to clear ordnance, dig up and bury the dead and restore battlefields to agricultural land
18 Jan 1919 Paris Peace Conference begins, attended by delegations from 26 countries
4 May 1919 Chinese students take to the streets of Beijing on learning that the Allies have agreed to transfer German concessions in Shandong to Japan; their demonstrations spark a nationwide movement called the May Fourth Movement. The Treaty of Versailles is finally signed on 28 June but China refuses to be a signatory
Sep 1919 China declares end of war with Germany
Sep 1920 Britain repatriates remaining members of CLC
1 Jul 1921 Founding of Communist Party of China
4 Feb 1922 Sovereignty of Shandong is finally returned to China at the Washington Naval Conference, with the US mediating
End of 1922 France repatriates its remaining Chinese workers; 3,000 choose and are allowed to stay behind
1927-1950 Factional fighting between the Nationalists and Communists leads to the Chinese Civil War that will last 23 years
Sep 1931 Japan invades Manchuria, covering the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang in north-east China, and establishes the puppet state of Manchukuo
1937-1945 Japan’s imperialist policy to expand its influence in China creates tension between the two countries, which escalates into the Second Sino-Japanese War, claiming at least 20 million Chinese civilian and military casualties and ending only with Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies of World War II
1939-1945 World War II
1 Oct 1949 Founding of People’s Republic of China