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.
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
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).