Previous Next 

Times Past | One Fourth of Humanity

New Edgar Snow film tells the China Story

FOLLOWING THE HIGHLY successful premiere of Edgar Snow's One Fourth of Humanity shown by central office of SACU on 26 April, the Camden Branch used the film to open its 1968 China Week. It is no small testimony to the film that the first showing attracted more than 200 people and the second. less than a month later drew an audience of nearly 150, and quite a few of these were seeing it for the second time.

Edgar Snow, the author of the classic Red Star over China needs no introduction and the film has rightly been called a documentary film version of this book and his later The Other Side of the River. The film consists of material shot in two vastly different periods both contemporaneous with the books.

The first period was Snow's pioneering visit to the Red base areas of Yan'an in 1936, the second was one of his return journeys to China in 1965.

Yanan 1945
Red Army (Peoples' Liberation Army) 'exchanging past bitterness' at a meeting in Yannan at the end of the Long March

In the film, as in his books, Snow's treatment of latter-day China falls somewhat flat after his description of the Yan'an days. Snow the journalist shows the depth of his appreciation by his references and emotive reactions to the élan, esprit and ideological purposefulness of the Communist areas of China in the late thirties. He effectively contrasts this with the situation in the Kuomintang areas. Nor does he fail to bring home the startling comparison between the old China and the new: between the abject and hopeless quasi-existence of the sampan dwellers he saw in Shanghai before the war and their children whom he shows today. Questions such as the role of Liu Shaoqi and the 'cult of Mao' can no more be dealt with adequately in a film than can the Cultural Revolution as a whole. Mr Snow's interpretation is highly personal and controversial but somewhat confused. Despite its technical shortcomings One Fourth of Humanity is required viewing for anyone interested in China. It deserves a far wider audience than it is likely to get and it is to be hoped that all SACU branches will make the most strenuous efforts to show it and bring it to the attention of as many people as possible.

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001, reprinted from SACU News July 1968

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
If you have any comments, updates or corrections please let us know via our Contact page.