The Second Sino-Japanese War in Film

City of Life and Death Poster

I have settled on the topic of the Second Sino-Japanese War in Chinese film as my topic for the semester. It seems I will likely be focusing on the events and aftermath of the Battle of Nanjing using the film City of Life and Death. I have been able to find some firsthand accounts online relating to the Nanjing Massacre that can be used to examine the accuracy of the film. One of the more interesting accounts I have found are journal excerpts by John Rabe, a German businessman and Nazi official, whose actions are actually depicted in parts of the film. A number of the accounts I have found seem to be from interviews done years later so I will hopefully find more that were recorded closer to the events depicted in the film. The film’s portrayal of the individuals and groups involved can also be examined to see cultural trends in China.


An alternative to focusing on this film that I have considered is to examine Devils on the Doorstep which is not based on specific events.  The advantage of examining this film is that it’s portrayal of the relationship between Chinese villagers and Japanese soldiers differs from other Chinese films based on the war. This portrayal and the reaction of Chinese officials to the film can be used as an examination of what the appropriate presentation of the war is in Chinese culture.

“Study the fine work style of the People’s Liberation Army.”

“Study the fine work style of the People’s Liberation Army.” Sheet 1
“Study the fine work style of the People’s Liberation Army.” Sheet 2
“Study the fine work style of the People’s Liberation Army.” Sheet 2

The poster I selected is “Study the fine work style of the People’s Liberation Army.” The poster was made by Chen Shizhen, Wu Min, and Wang Shupei in November 1964 and consists of two sheets portraying scenes involving China’s military in various tasks accompanied by poems.

The first sheet contains an image that portrays members of the People’s Liberation Army as they work through a winter storm as well as another showing a parade of military personnel in the spring as they wave red banners, an image of Mao, and a poster that may be Mao’s teachings. The emotions shown vary between the two images with the winter scene showing the soldiers working with determination while the parade scene shows them with smiles on their faces with some exuberant outbursts. The sheet suggests that the people should follow the example of the military and work through tough times such as the storm, to achieve something greater as seen in the parade bearing Mao’s image.

The second sheet of the poster contains an image of PLA soldiers working together to scale a mountain while another of sailors storming a beach sits alongside it. The images on this sheet encourage the people to emulate the PLA by working together to achieve a greater goal and by showing courage in pursuing a task. The images also contain a common theme in the red banners carried by the soldiers as they carry out their tasks which most likely represents the Communist ideology they fight to protect and advance.

The two sheet poster was part of a national campaign called “Learn from the PLA” that started in 1964 and used the PLA as the image to present the ideals Mao felt China should take to overcome what had occurred during the Great Leap Forward. Although the poster was made two years before the Cultural Revolution, its call for the people to follow the example of the military seems to foreshadow later posters that called for the Red Guards to crush China’s internal enemies.

“Study the fine work style of the People’s Liberation Army” by Chen Shizhen, Wu Min, and Wang Shupei, November 1964.

Young and Restless in China

One dynamic that I noticed during the documentary was the subject of corruption in regards to Chinese businesses. What struck me most about the corruption was how Xu Weiman stated that while it was a sensitive issue for those people who had been abroad, that for most Chinese there is no clear definition of corruption or bribery because it is ingrained in Chinese culture. One thing that I found particularly interesting was how the businessmen seemed to accept that corruption was just part of the price of business in China. Ben Wu for example acknowledged that to get help for a business relationships had to be built with officials because officials gain nothing from helping someone they don’t know and don’t come to any harm from not doing so. Meanwhile, Xu Weiman saw buying dinner for officials and other actions along those lines as a way to keep his hotel business alive as seven or eight different agencies all had power over if it continued. Lu Dong’s statement that “fish have to live in water. If the water isn’t clean you have to get used to it,” seems to summarize these feelings


The second dynamic that struck me was the emphasis on modernization in China regardless of any consequences. The case of the pollution of the river water villagers drink from and gather water for their crops due to the expansion of the government-owned mining industry in Shaoguan is rather prominent later in the documentary. It’s stated that the issue was brushed aside for around thirty years despite efforts by the villagers to get help. Another example can be seen with the opening of chapter 9 of the documentary where Wang Xiaolei rapping about how all of Beijing’s old neighborhoods had been torn down and replaced with highrises and business districts in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. Zhang Jingjing’s pollution case from earlier in the documentary, where a powerline was built without proper environmental approval, presents the concept that citizens are expected to sacrifice their rights to further the national interest in the projects for the Olympics. It seemed to me that all of these cases where the interests of the people were brushed aside could be tied to the government’s focus of modernizing the country to look great on the world stage. Lu Dong made a metaphor regarding beliefs and role models of China that really summed up my impression of China’s modernization in that he compared China to a kid from a poor family going into a candy store in that the poor kid would take everything he could while a rich kid would take only what he wanted.


Hello everyone, my name is John and I’m a senior history major. I am mostly interested in the complexities of conflicts between different cultures and countries around the world throughout history, but I am also drawn to how cultural pieces reflect historical events.

National Library of Norway

Olympic Rifle Shooting

Namdaemun, Seoul


Universitetsbiblioteket 1850-1913: søndre del av langsalen til Fredriksgate. 1913. National Library of Norway, Oslo.  January 2016.

Army rifle shooting, Olympic games. 1912. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Washington D.C. January 2016.

Namdaemun, Seoul. 1904. Willard Dickerman Straight Early U.S.-Korea Relations, Cornell University Libary, Ithaca. January 2016.