The film attempts to analyze the anti-Western sentiment in China from the official American perspective, covering 170 years of China’s political history, from Boxer Rebellion of the Qing Dynasty to Red Guards of Cultural Revolution. The film focuses on the power struggle between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China, amid heavy political intervention from Moscow, with Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong playing the pivotal role at the center stage.
The documentary film was made for television in 1967, during the Cold War. It was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Theodore H. White, directed by Mel Stuart, edited by William T. Cartwright, and produced by David L. Wolper. Production costs were funded by a donation from John and Paige Curran. The film has been released under Creative Commons license.
White’s access to important political figures of the time allowed him to create some rare footage, which included the wedding of Chang and the funeral of Sun. The film won an Emmy Award in the documentary category.
As evidenced by his commentary throughout the films, White, Time magazine’s China correspondent during World War II, was scathing about the People’s Republic of China. Remarking that Chinese had been suffering in a 100-year tragedy, he added:
There are 700 millions Chinese [in 1967], one quarter of humane kind, who are taught to hate, their growing power is the world’s greatest threat to peace enlightenment. 50 years of torment, bred madness….
For 50 years, Americans have failed to help the Chinese to find “some entry to the modern world”, as the Chinese have “been transformed from our greatest friend into our greatest enemy”, as the Chinese have fallen into the vicious cycle of “from the tyranny of Confucius of the Manchu Emperor to the tyranny of communism and Mao.
While the film won an Emmy Award in the documentary category soon after its release, contemporary critics have criticised his “callous and condescending” portrayal of Chinese. Film Threat remarked that White never attempted to take on board the Chinese viewpoint, and points out there were unconfirmed rumours that the CIA was involved in the film’s making.
By US Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons