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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Chinese Labour Corps name tag


Aurel Sercu

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Some time ago someone I know found what looked like a dog tag (name tag) in the Poperinge area. And since there were Chinese characters on it, we both thought these characters were the name and / or unit. On the other side was a number : 1294.

I was about to ask our Chinese characters reading Forum members - there must be a lot I suppose ! :D - if they could decipher these characters. But an acquaintance offered me his services a few days ago (actually, his wife's), and so I no longer need the help of the huge numbers of Chinese reading Forum members anymore (but I used that string in the Topic title, to attract attention... Though it may just as well have a counter-productive effect of course :P

So I know what these characters stand for now. And it is : 1294 (!!!) In other words : nothing but the Chinese 'translation' of the number (or vice versa).

This leaves me with a few questions.

- Is it normal that on the tag of a man of the Chinese Labour Corps there was no name, only a number ?

- Actually, we are not even sure this is a 'name' (or : 'number' tag). Maybe it is not at all related to the identity of a man. Has anybody ever seen a tag of a Chinese Labour Corps man, and does it look like the one below ?

I have not seen the tag itself, and was in no position to scan it or take a photo. I and the members will have to do with a pencil rubbing I'm afraid.

Aurel

post-92-1127754297.jpg

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My solitary medal to the Chinese Labour Corps is a bronze BWM named to (or rather, not named to) NO.32231 CHINESE L.C. Whilst names to the Indian, Malay, Nepalese and the like can be Anglicised, converting Chinese names must have been a step too far. But the number alone would have been enough to identify a casualty providing the records were kept safe. I assume that the records would be maintained by a Chinese scribe with the name written in Cantonese next to the number. Only speculating but it seems to make sense.

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Thanks, Jim.

So the one you have has "Chinese L.C." on it. The one that I am referring to does not have that. Which leaves some doubt as to whether it is a man's 'name' tag indeed. Though I think it is. (By the way, the diameter appears to be 4 cm ( (1.6 inch). Yours too ?)

And of course, you're right : as to identification, a number should be enough, provided that a list with numbers + names is kept safe somewhere.

Quite possible that contrary to Nepalese, Indian and Malay names Chinese names cannot be anglicised, but even then that makes me wonder why the name was not even in Chinese characters.

A friend of mine advanced the thought that the fact that there is no name on it, only a number, may be explained by the fact (?) that the Chinese are less 'individualistic', that they are considered in a way as 'only a number'. Don't know ...

Aurel

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So the one you have has "Chinese L.C." on it. The one that I am referring to does not have that. Which leaves some doubt as to whether it is a man's 'name' tag indeed. Though I think it is. (By the way, the diameter appears to be 4 cm ( (1.6 inch). Yours too ?)

Aurel, I was referring to a medal that I have not a name tag. I was just remarking that the medal does not have a name on it either so I feel that yours is a name tag as you suspected.

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Sorry, Jim, my eyes must have read "medal", but my lazy brain must have interpreted it as "tag".

But interesting to learn that a medal (all ? some ? exceptionally ?) does not have a name. Even, as Terry said, the Medal Roll has or can have both name + number.

Aurel

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Some time ago someone I know found what looked like a dog tag (name tag) in the Poperinge area. And since there were Chinese characters on it, we both thought these characters were the name and / or unit. On the other side was a number : 1294.

So I know what these characters stand for now. And it is : 1294 (!!!) In other words : nothing but the Chinese 'translation' of the number (or vice versa).

Aurel

Aurel;

I am on shaky ground here, possibly, but I think that your characters do not form "1294". I speak a very small bit of Cantonese and "Mandrin" (usually called "national speak" or "Bejing tongue", I think), but can make sense in a couple of limited areas (mostly polite noises like greetings, and getting a good meal), but only read three characters for sure, although I might know a few more.

However, the three that I know for sure are "one", "two", and "three". And I can assure you that the five characters that you have are not any of these three numerals. The three are very simple and not to be confused with other symbols. The various spoken "dialects" are often very different, allowed by the almost complete absence of any phonetic content in the characters. For example, the Cantonese word for two is pronounced (to me) exactly like the "Mandrin" word for one. (Ain't that great!)

However, the various dialects are all written all the same, although the words often sound very different. So the discrepancy I am suggesating is not due to a dialectical difference.

I have just thought of an angle that might prove me incorrect here. Perhaps the characters do not form 1-2-x-y, but possibly "1294" might be formed by characters for "one thousand" "two hundred" "ninty" "four", and do not contain the characters for "one" and "two". But the Chinese dialects are very simple, almost grammar-free, and I would guess a very simple way of forming numbers as well.

Bob Lembke

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This is intriging., so I decided to find a web site with the Chinese numbering system and found this........

Eleven in Chinese is "ten one". Twelve is "ten two", and so on. Twenty is "Two ten", twenty-one is "two ten one" (2*10 + 1), and so on up to 99. One-hundred is "one hundred". One-hundred and one is "one hundred zero one". One hundred and eleven is "one hundred one ten one". Notice that for eleven alone, you only need "ten one" and not "one ten one", but when used in a larger number (such as 111), you must add the extra "one". One thousand and above is done in a similar fashion, where you say how many thousands you have, then how many hundreds, tens, and ones.

From this I've worked out that the middle "digit" is 100 ( the one that looks like a square 8 and line above). The next one down is 9 and the one below is 10.

It's all Greek to me... or is it Double Dutch?!? :blink:

Les

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Les and Bob,

What you write is quite interesting, but actually I am quite confident that the Chinese characters (very probably) stand for 1294. And this is why.

My information comes from a lady in Taiwan (the wife of an acquaintance) who appears to be familiar with Chinese.But that is not the main reason I am pretty confident.

When I sent her my email I had NOT mentioned the number 1294. (I just forgot, thinking that this number was irrelevant to the Chinese characters, which I was sure were the name of the man.)

I had simply asked : "This must be the name of the man. Can you read it ?" So when she replied : this is not a name, it is a number, and the number is 1294, she did NOT know that this number was on the other side of the tag.

So I think this is a powerful argument, isn't it. Otherwise it would be an unbelievable coincidence. (I mean that she misread the Chinese characters and that this wrong result would be identical with the numberon the back side.)

But thanks for your interest !

Aurel

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Aurel;

First of all, the circumstance you recount is irrefutable. It must be 1294.

Secondly, using Les' neat table and information on constructing Chinese numerals, I can make out "1294" on the disk rubbing. If you note the "simplified" 1, 2, 3; you can see how I remembered them, and the disk was so badly written that the 1 and 2 were not obvious, but blended into other characters. I don't think the traditional form is used, only read, it may be 1000's of years old. It is an interesting exercise to figure this numbering system out. It reminds me of my work reading Roman coins, which I used to collect, which use highly abbreviated Latin without punctuation, and sometimes slips in Greek written in Latin letters, a real "curve ball".

Interestingly, the "pinyin" provides the Cantonese numbers, not the Mandrin or "National Tongue" that I would expect. Pinyin was a phonetic Chinese writing system developed in the Soviet Union in the 1920s to help their agents communize China. It is still used in China to teach Chinese kids to learn Chinese.

Thanks. Very interesting.

Bob Lembke

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Bob,

You mean I might have done something right? :o The only Chinese I know are the couple that run the local takeaway :P

Seriously though, they have helped me out once before. Being a member of HOG (Harley Owners Group) I'm collecting different chapter patches from around the world. One I managed to get my hands on was "Hong Kong Chapter" - 2 patches, one in English, the other Cantonese. They advised that the Cantonese one doesn't read "Hong Kong", but something to do with a "new army" - something to do with HK being taken back by China.

Les

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  • 1 month later...

On the subject of CLC tags, names, numbers etc.

1. The inscription on the rubbing illustrated is definitely the number "1294". The CLC Labourer with this number was called Chang Shao I.

2. Labourers' names were not inscribed on their tags, only their numbers "Their names are of no importance" reads one WO document. This was possibly because of the perceived difficulty of distinguishing Chinese names (and, the fact that many recruits did not know their own names, having been addressed by nicknames all their lives). In addition, recruitment was in a fairly restricted area of Shandong and Hebei, many men came from small family villages, where all the inhabitants shared the same surname, and there was also a great deal of overlap of given names, too. Luckily, however, the medal roll contains all the names in full, in Wade-Giles romanisation, the form of Latin-script spelling mandated by the WO. (Because this rule was not followed properly, the discrepancies in spellings between the medal roll and other sources, including the CWGC records, are legion.)

3. Actually, CLC Labourers did not have tags, but were issued with metal bracelets, riveted around their wrists. A long FP1 and mulcting of pay followed any removal of the bracelet! (This didn't stop some, though.) On the other hand, in the published photos that I have seen of CLC personnel at work, the bracelets are not discernable.

4. Some young men of "the better class" (I quote!) were recruited not as Labourers, but as Interpreters or Medical Orderlies. The Interpreters, in particular, complained bitterly of being treated on the same basis as the Labourers, and didn't want to wear the bracelets. I think they may have been given tags instead. If the tag illustrated is, indeed, from a CLC man, then it is possible that he was an Interpreter - and, because of the low registered number 1294, among the first batches to leave Weihaiwei in 1917. Tbe medal roll does not indicate that he died in service, so he will have been repatriated at the end of the hostilities.

5. There are five CLC men with three- or four-digit numbers buried in Belgium (1 in Croonaert Chapel Cemetery, and 4 in Kortrijk St. Jan Cemetery) - in late 1918/early 1919, indicating that the companies of early recruits were posted in there, most probably engaged in battlefield clearance. The Croonaert Chapel casualty has number 1301. I think that it is highly probable, therefore, that the tag (or bracelet?) illustrated, found in the Poperinge area, and numbered 1294, belonged to a member of the CLC.

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Thanks, Gregory, for all this, which is extremely interesting !

Also on behalf of the person who contacted me to try to find out about this tag/bracelet.

Just this : how did you find out about the name ? Medal Roll ?

Aurel

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