• Frontier Films Production
  • 1937
  • 23 minutes
  • Photography by Harry Dunham
  • Edited by Jay Leyda ("Eugene Hill"), Irving Lerner ("Peter Ellis"), and Sidney Meyers ("Robert Stebbins")
  • Script by Ben Maddow ("David Wolff")
  • Narrated by John O'Shaughnessy
  • Musical Score by Alex North

  • China Strikes Back


    In 1936 and 1937 Harry Dunham shot "several hundred feet of film," being the first cameraman to penetrate into the Shensi region and obtain footage of the Communist forces in China. He smuggled his film out and placed it in the hands of Frontier Films. Leyda, Lerner, Meyers and Maddow (they had to use pseudonyms) spent four months preparing the film for publication. "In that time, the Chinese situation altered to such an extent that Frontier had to change the scenario several times in order to keep up with events...the producers had to make a happy change in the theme of China Strikes Back. It was no longer a film showing the Chinese people moving toward unity. It became a pictorial history revealing the how and why behind a realized unity." 1


    China Strikes Back can be divided into six parts. 2 The first offers rapid-fire montage in the newsreel mode announcing the war. The second also uses newsreel footage alternating between China and Japan and finally displaying the fall of Manchuria. The next section shows the Red Army advancing and scenes from the liberated areas. Music plays a large part of the fourth section of the film, with "Song of the Chinese Soldier" accompanying the three stages of the Japanese invasion: the happy life before, the actual take-over, and life under occupation. The fifth section contains several sequences of military life culminating in the final section depicting civilians, troops, and political speakers preparing for the counterattack.

    Section Subject Geographical Level Mode
    Overture: War News   Descriptive/Bracket Syntagma
    Defeat National Alternate/Bracket Syntagma
    Organizing Resistance (civilian) Provincial Ordinary Sequence
    Oppression National Episodic Syntagma
    Organizing Resistance (military) Provincial Scene/Ordinary Sequence
    Preparing Counterattack National Bracket Syntagma

    Structurally the film, like Heart of Spain, has a "dialectical" arrangement. It alternates between the national and local, civilians and the military, America and Asia, Communist and Nationalist. Yet these oppositions form the basis of the film as Campbell eloquently points out: "The core of the film's message is, precisely, the attainment of unity and strength through the overcoming of divisions." 3

    The City Native Land Power and the Land People of the Cumberland Valley Town The Spanish Earth Heart of Spain Return to Life China Strikes Back Films

    1 Campbell, Russell. Cinema Strikes Back: Radical Filmmaking in The United States 1930-1942. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1978. (194).
    2 Campbell. Cinema. (204).
    3 Campbell. Cinema. (205).