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The 400 Million
March 20, 2008 1:13 PM   Subscribe

The 400 Million 四萬萬人民 - China, 1938 (53 minutes / sound / black&white / 35mm) Directed: Joris Ivens. Camera: ROBERT CAPA. Parts: 1 2 3 4 5 6 "The Japanese aggression against China in 1937 forced the Chinese communists and Chiang Kai-shek's Kwomintang to take up the joint battle against their common enemy. With modern weapons the Chinese are pursuing their struggle behind enemy lines. This film shows all aspects of a war: the battle, the preparations, refugees, casualties and victims, the fear and distress, the human misery and the courage, and the land under fire."
posted by vronsky (8 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting.
Joris Ivens was known as a life long communist propagandist. This article in Dutch contains more information on the making of the film. It maintains btw that the cameraman was Fernhout and Capa was along as a photographer.
posted by jouke at 1:30 PM on March 20, 2008


Fascinating. I just watched the first segment, and I've bookmarked the post to save for when I have time to watch the rest. The war footage is riveting (I was surprised to see the Japanese were still using biplanes in the late '30s), but I got a little impatient when they went into the ancient-civilization shtick, with "poetic" descriptions of "artists who could paint the wind and emperors taller than any living man..." But hey, they needed to make an indifferent Western public care, so if it worked, great.

Yeah, Ivens was a commie, but it's easy to see why people were attracted to Communism in the '30s, when it seemed to be the only significant force opposing fascism and racism. If the fucking Nationalist government hadn't been so useless and corrupt, the Chinese wouldn't have felt impelled to go along with Mao et al. (Same goes, of course, for the fucking tsarist government in Russia.)

Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've read various accounts on how much involvement Capa had with the cinematography Jouke. The title sequence lists him seperately as "assistant in China." (and notice Sydney Lumet listed as a voice actor!)

LH - check out link 3. I love those radio Tokyo graphics.
posted by vronsky at 3:04 PM on March 20, 2008


Yeah, Ivens was a commie, but it's easy to see why people were attracted to Communism in the '30s, when it seemed to be the only significant force opposing fascism and racism. If the fucking Nationalist government hadn't been so useless and corrupt, the Chinese wouldn't have felt impelled to go along with Mao et al. (Same goes, of course, for the fucking tsarist government in Russia.)

It wasn't just the Chinese people who were attracted to the Communists, many of the American experts on China were strongly attracted to the Communists for very equal reasons. That said, I've never really interpreted any type of great popular groundswell support for the Communists, so much as the Nationalists simply lost in the end. One thing the Communists did when they captured territory (from the Japanese or the Nationalists) was quickly setup a communist infrastructure to organize the town along party lines and indeed, establish reforms which made for a better quality of life than under the Nationalists. In fact, the Communists actually did this while infiltrating Japanese territory to support their guerrilla warfare. However, the level in which they did this was not great compared to later when they captured great swathes of territory on their way to driving out the Nationalists to Formosa and coastal islands. Of course, later on, the Communist way was spread far and wide.

One noted difference between Communist and Nationalist territory was banditry. The Communist dealt very harshly with bandits, while the Nationalists had other pressing concerns.

The Communists also educated, educated, educated. They had mandatory meetings for folks to gather and discuss Communism and what have you. They even established a "school" for Japanese prisoners during the war (some of who which were later sent back to Japan as post-war Communist leaders).

But going back to my original point, there were many examples during the Civil War, where soldiers were captured by one side, and simply told to switch uniforms and begin fighting against the army they had just been a part of. They really didn't understand the vast differences initially between the two opposing forces. Just that you had two Chinese armies, and when told to fight (or die), they fought.

Anyhoots, not to talk on too long, thanks for the videos, I'm eager to check them out and compare them to other documentation I've seen or read about 1930's China. I scanned in a booklet with photos published by Pro-Communist supporters that I ran across at the National Archives, and perhaps later this evening, I'll upload it and post the link here.
posted by Atreides at 3:36 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry Jouke - meant to add that imdb has him listed as "cinematographer".

and re "the indifferent west". Clip 3 shows Madame Chiang Kai-shek opening war relief checks from America and the Chinese flag being paraded down Broadway.
posted by vronsky at 4:27 PM on March 20, 2008


But going back to my original point, there were many examples during the Civil War, where soldiers were captured by one side, and simply told to switch uniforms and begin fighting against the army they had just been a part of. They really didn't understand the vast differences initially between the two opposing forces. Just that you had two Chinese armies, and when told to fight (or die), they fought.

Exactly the same thing happened in the Russian Civil War (1918-21). The country folks who made up the vast majority of the population (and hence the armies) had only the haziest idea of the issues involved; many of them were for the Bolsheviks and against the Communists, because the "Bolsheviks" had given them land and the "Communists" were taking it away. If you tried to tell them the Bolsheviks and the Communists were the same thing, they'd have looked at you as if you came from Mars.

and re "the indifferent west". Clip 3 shows Madame Chiang Kai-shek opening war relief checks from America and the Chinese flag being paraded down Broadway.

Sorry, I didn't mean the West was actually indifferent to what was going on—Americans in particular were wildly excited about it (for reasons having to do with decades of missionary propaganda and Henry Luce's drumbeating as well as reportage like this). I meant that the West was in principle indifferent to whatever was happening in strange foreign countries, and it took concerted effort on the part of interested individuals to overcome that indifference.
posted by languagehat at 5:29 PM on March 20, 2008


Auden and his boyfriend Isherwood toured China around this time. Their book about it, Journey to a War, is worth a read, and the "Sonnets From China" which Auden contributed to it are kind of famous (though I can only find one on the web at the moment.) It's been a few years since I read it, but I think they meet with Madame Chiang Kai-Shek at one point.
posted by Coventry at 8:01 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


When researching a related topic at the National Archives, I came across this booklet in one dusty box. Its a plea by supporters of the Chinese Communists during the Second World War describing the state of the Communists in China. Its titled, Guerrilla War.
posted by Atreides at 6:58 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


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