The March Toward War: The <em>March of Time</em> as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
The Shadow of War
Germany's Rising Power
The World Prepares for War
America Prepares for War
American Neutrality
Failure of the League
Failure of Versailles
England's Failures
Ambiguous Russia
Plight of the Jews
Humanizing Dictators
Americans All
War Zones
Italy Seizes Ethiopia
Japanese Conquests
Chinese Resistance
Spain's Civil War
The Mediterranean
Austria
Czechoslovakia
Poland
Pearl Harbor
 Japanese Soldiers

Chinese Resistance

July 29, 1937: Peiping Play audio

The Chinese resistance is cast as brave and clever in this clip, the opening scenes of which Americans are warned in Peiping to be ready to evacuate when the alarm sounds—fighting is creeping nearer the Manchu capital.

When the Japanese army approaches the town's gate, the Chinese sentry says he has strict orders not to open the gate. It's a ploy; another Chinese soldier enters the picture and says the order was misunderstood—the gate should be opened. He whispers to the gatekeeper to close the gate when half of the Japanese are through. With the Japanese trapped between the two walls below, the Chinese shower them with hand grenades and machine gun fire. In reprisal, the narrator notes, Japan wipes out a 500-person regiment east of Peiping. Japan and China exchange ultimatums.

The next night in an American household in Peiping, a child wakes up her mother—she hears thunder but no lightning; the signal to evacuate has been given. At dawn Japan opens a general offensive outside Peiping walls. An Embassy soldier is wounded as he helps bring the last of 1,300 Americans to safety. The Americans consider evacuating the town as Peiping abandons hope for Chinese Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek's support.

 War in China title
(1) The title shot with the dead woman who has appeared in similar repose in other March of Time films (2) a wounded civilian (real or fake?)
wounded civilian
Chiang Kai-Shek and wife
(3) Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife. (4) The new public housing and (5) Chinese visit an art museum. Presumably March of Time takes this as a sign of progress (although the shot may be staged)
public housing
art gallery
swimming pool shot
(6) Although March of Time rarely used trick shots, there seems to be something blocking the view of the swimmers jumping off the diving board; as a result it looks a lot like looking down a gun barrel from the point of view of the bullet. The scene transitions to a shot of Japanese soldiers marching (7)
Japanese soldiers
Dead Japanese navy men
(8) This staged shot dramatizes the "incident" that Japan uses to justify an attack on Shanghai. (9) A Chinese official angrily refuses to withdraw soldiers from Shanghai. The shot also is a rare extreme close-up (the immediate preceding shot shows the man's entire face)
China's angry refusal
Evacuated American
The Americans evacuated from China look like a slice of Americana—a grandmotherly figure (10) and a father and son (11). Perhaps they were cast because Americans at home could better identify with them.
Evacuated family
 

"War in China " Sept. 10, 1937 Play movie

The March of Time portrays China as a nation on the brink of becoming modernized when the aggressor nation Japan interrupts its progress. The title shot of the film shows a Chinese woman lying dead on the ground—only she's an actor. The Voice of Time announced that for the third consecutive year the biggest news of the world is war, this year the "gory chronicle of Japan's war to crush all China." In China there are mounting losses to U.S. properties; an American was killed on a flagship (March of Time shows a coffin draped with flag), and a British ambassador is killed. "For in a war of today there is a new element. A fearsome, haphazard modern fighting that takes its toll on peaceful cities and their non-government population."

President Roosevelt has the difficult task of maintaining equal relations with Japan and China. "When the President orders more ships and men to aid endangered U.S. citizens in China, America's traditional policy in the Far East in questioned by anxious U.S. senators." One Missouri senator says Americans may have to choose between peace and profits; if America is not careful, the United States could get "unnecessarily involved." The film recounts the strong commercial ties the United States has to China, which reach back to the 19th century. An intertitle further outlines the history of trade there: "Then in 1927, the rise to power of China's heroic leader, Chiang Kai-shek, gives U.S. and Western business new opportunities." Kai-Shek is "counseled by his American-educated wife," the Voice of Time notes, and he lays the foundations of a modern nation. China turns to industrialization to secure its economic future.

Intertitle: "By 1937, Chiang Kai-Shek's dream of welding his 400,000,000 people into a modern nation takes visible form in China's 'New Life' movement."

The Chinese government establishes public housing to better the lives of the underprivileged and schools to educate children. Stereotypically Chinese music plays over happy scenes of Chinese life: "Thus a new generation acquires a deepening sense of national unity, and a newborn happiness spreads through the land. [sounds better than a fairy tale] And in mid-summer 1937, China's transition to a progressive reorganized nation is in full swing." Happy Chinese are swimming, but the music suddenly turns ominous as the intertitle cues the transition: "Suddenly, before Chiang can complete his modernization and become too strong, China's most dreaded enemy, Japan, once more goes on the march.

"Out of the north rose Japan's formidable war machine. Behind it lies a Korea, assimilated in 1910." Japan's first objective is Peiping—and in one month has a puppet state there.

Next up is Shanghai: Japanese war vessels close in on the city. An "incident" wherein the bodies of two Japanese naval men are found riddled in bullets offers the excuse for a Japanese admiral to order Chinese soldiers to withdraw immediately from their Shanghai barracks (7). The Chinese angrily refuse, and Kai-Shek orders mobilization of the army. The army is "determined to make the strength of new China felt by the ever-aggressive war machine of their neighbor—that same neighbor who 15 years ago guaranteed China her territorial integrity, only nine years ago renounced war as an instrument of national policy."

Marines and Blue Jackets warn 4,500 American citizens ashore they must evacuate, "For as long as Japan uses neutral territory as a base for her newest attack on China, their lives and property are in danger." China's new fighting planes launch attacks on Japanese flagships. "Within a few hours Shanghai tastes war at its worst....today's conflict respects no nationalities, no treaties.

"Within a week, the proud symbols of the China that was to be are in ruins. The coolie tenants of Shanghai's model homes are dead. All this, Japan's Premier Prince Hanoi boasts, is but a foretaste of the punishment planned for the China that dared resist."

The U.S. contingent evacuates Americans, "many who leave behind a lifetime of work. Those who know China best wonder gloomily if the end has come, not only to U.S. hopes in China, but to the 10 most brilliant years in China's long struggle to achieve her national integrity. Time marches on!"

November 25, 1937: Nanking Falls Play audio

This clip has a mournful tone concerning China's losses in war. Despite the fact that Kai-Shek is a dictator, he is presented as a devout, good Christian and humble man, with an even humbler wife. The Chinese central government has evacuated the capital of Nanking, which will be abandoned without a struggle. Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife visit China's most revered shrine to pray. The father of the Chinese republic is buried there. The clip reenacts a conversation between him and Chiang 13 years ago.

  Chiangs
Selling Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife to Americans as Time's "Man and Wife of the Year." (photo from Time website)

Nanking is a symbol of the past, but also a symbol of the new China—"Never abandon it Chiang, as long as even part of the government remains here, remember China is unconquerable."

The scene returns to Kai-Shek, who recites a Christian prayer; he prays that "as long as one part of the government remains, as long as even I remain, China is unconquered."

In Brussels the Nine-Powers Conference abandons China to its fate, the Voice of Time says. This week China is reversed on three fronts. The conquest of north China is all but achieved. The only goals remaining are the conquest of Nanking and the overthrow of Chiang Kai-Shek.

December 30, 1937: Woman of the year Play audio

Kai-Shek excerpt

The Japanese war on China is a struggle that has brought 4 million men to arms and threatens to cast a pall over 1938, the Voice of Time says. The woman of the year—the Christian wife of China's Christian dictator—is Madam Chiang Kai-Shek. "Japan denies the poor people of China even the hard lives that are theirs," she says. "But China is not afraid. Japan may be a fighting machine, but China has found her foe." China is thus again shown as a brave but helpless victim of Japan's aggression.

January 6, 1938: Rockefeller of China Assasinated/Chinese Plan Play audio

In Shanghai, the Rockefeller of China is approached by a fruit vendor and assassinated. He is a "traitor" because he traded with the Japanese. "All China will be destroyed before it comes under the heel of the invader," the assassin says before firing the gun.

General Yu says he will follow a policy in defending against Japan that was determined far in advance—the "scorched earth" policy. The general explains that if they are forced to abandon Canton "the entire city will be burned to the ground.

"China will never be conquered until every inch of it is under the sword of the invader, and that will never happen," he concludes. Kai-Shek has resigned his premiership to organize a guerilla army. He will fight with a manmade holocaust not seen since Russia burned its lands when Napoleon tried to conquer it, the Voice of Time explains. In the coming winter they will face diseases—and famine because of the scorched earth. Describing the desperate means of fighting the Chinese resorted to likely invoked sympathy from listeners and dislike, if not hatred, of the Japanese.