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“China in Revolution, 1911-1949” Critical Essay


The movie, China in Revolution, 1911-1949, is one of three films written by Sue Williams and directed by Kathryn Pierce Dietz. This 1989 masterpiece officially describes the economic and political advancements in China. It also highlights the collapse of the preceding emperorship that was rocked by a series of resistance between two opposing political groupings. China in Revolution covers a turbulent period between 1911 and 1949, where opposing leaders seek to rule the country.

The film is based on first hand information provided by persons who lived at the time and witnessed the unfolding of events. It highlights the differences that existed between the patriots and the reds coupled with the consequences of the conflicts. The director and the writer of the movie pride in a deep understanding of the Chinese history as they give an almost accurate recount of the events that unfolded in China between 1911 and 1949.

The movie revolves around China’s development between the year 1911 and 1949 coupled with the events that unfolded during this period. It takes the audience through a series of warfare that the Chinese engaged in over a period of three decades. A state was officially formed in February 1912 following the Xinhai Revolution that commenced in 1911 by replacing the Qing Dynasty.

This revolution signaled the end of over three thousand years of imperial rule in China with Sun Yat-Sen being elected as the president. However, Sun’s presidency was short-lived as he lacked military support. Therefore, he ultimately surrendered the seat to Yuan Shikai who took over and subverted his predecessor. Yuan introduced dictatorship system of governance and overlooked the various institutions that had been established by his predecessor, which provoked resistance from the public.

In addition, he imposed stiff penalties for anyone opposing his leadership maxims. He then dissolved Kuomintang – the party that sponsored him to power, and he had little or no respect to the country’s constitution. An effort to remove him from power through a democratic election in 1912 resulted in the murder of the elected contender by a man employed by Yuan, and thus he continued leading the country.

Yuan came up with strategies aimed at centralizing the government and attempted to put to an end the provincial system; however, this move annoyed the gentry together with the regional governors – who were generally referred to as ‘military men’. This move stirred opposition and most provinces withdrew their support before becoming warlords. Due to this mounting pressure and desertion by his close allies, Yuan opted to step down in 1916.

In 1927, Chiang Kai-shek, who succeeded Sun, engaged the warlord armies in a war, which he won under the assistance of the Soviet Union, and he managed to centralize the government before introducing his nationalist agendas, thus invoking opposition from the communists.

Japan took advantage of the internal violence that existed in China to invade and occupy some parts of the country especially the coastal areas in order to block the country from accessing its ports. However, Japan bolted in 1945 (immediately after the Second World War), thus surrendering all that it had acquired back to China.

The nationalists overcame the Japanese in a two-month 1944 altercation, albeit military resources were inadequate. With the Japanese unconditional surrender in 1946, the war in China ceased, but started afresh later due to the Cold War going on between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The warring sides reached a ceasefire in 1948 when the communists managed to overthrow the Nationalists, and thus formed the government. However, despite the nationalists’ reduced territory, their government remained as the veritable Chinese government in the eyes of non-Communist states up to the 1960s. However, the legality of this move was in question and it formed another facet of the dubious political situation of Taiwan.

In the movie, both the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party engage in a contention that brought about two influential antagonists, Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. These two leaders were allies at first, but later became bitter rivals and they sustained a great war over the three decades, which the Communists eventually won in the year 1948 under the leadership of Chairman Mao.

The movie demonstrates China’s most brutal period that together with foreign intrusions caused numerous incidents of bloodshed in the quest for power between the two rivals, viz. Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. During the MAO’s reign, there were attempts to revolutionize the warring and poor nation.

This chef-d’oeuvre film chronicles astonishing immediate events of China’s dark past via perceptive and tactful filming from a well-informed source. The plot of the movie is influenced by the inhumane acts and the bloodsheds experienced during the period as rival groups fight to clinch power and authority.

The story itself is incredibly bizarre, tragic, and thought provoking by incorporating socially unacceptable acts that may have driven the director to develop the movie in a bid to expose to the world how an unplanned revolution can affect a country negatively.

Apparently, there existed great hatred between Communists and Nationalists as evidenced by a woman interviewed in the film who explains how she found a young man being beaten up simply because he was a capitalist. She further expresses doubt on whether she would not have participated in beating the man to death if she had arrived at the scene in time. The selection of the characters is somehow realistic as they recount firsthand events and narrate how it felt to be at the middle of it all.

This film takes the audience through the 20th century history of China. The strongest issue that stands out conspicuously in the movie is impunity and misuse of power and authority by leaders who are expected to maintain high dignity and integrity.

The opposition between the Nationalists and Communists is highly evident all through, which is further worsened by the differences in ideas between the two schools of thought. Due to these ideological differences and lack of dialogue, China went through all the mess portrayed in the movie.

On the other hand, leaders tend to put their personal interests ahead of that of the citizens; therefore, they tend to exercise dictatorship in places where dialogue can work best. In addition, the socio-political dogma of the early 20th century in developing countries dictated that one could not rise to a leadership position without violence.

Even though the movie comes out as a reflection of all the facts and events that unfolded in the period, it fails to give the exact number of deaths that were reported. At one time, it gives the figures in thousands while in the real sense the figures should be in millions.

This point is the most critical area that the movie draws criticism, and thus it seems to divert from the truth. This move may be politically instigated as the government may not be willing to release the actual figures to the members of the public or it can be a tactic used by the characters in order to obtain the necessary support and information from the government.

One of the things I loved concerning this movie is its impartiality. In my opinion, both the editor and the producers were not biased and they had no political agenda, but they rather revealed the facts without favor.

Their agenda was not to demonize or praise the Communists. In addition, one can realize why the people readily supported Mao and subsequently accepted his optimistic vision of a Communist state based on equality and fairness. The movie is unbiased and it portrays mixed feelings on the goodness and badness of the leaders as opposed to some writings, which portray Nationalist Chiang as the ‘good-guy’, and Mao as the ‘bad guy’ of the 20th century Chinese history.

The most critical lesson learnt from the movie is that China was the first country to undergo a revolution, which led to shedding of innocent blood perpetuated by disagreements between the Nationalists and the Communists. From the movie, it is clear that for a revolution to be successful, proper planning is necessary.

The leaders who existed at the time used violence to clinch and cling to power at the expense of innocent citizens, but the situation has not changed greatly in developing countries especially after the contemporary Arab spring where Syria is still facing violence.

This Critical Essay on “China in Revolution, 1911-1949” was written and submitted by user Benson L. to help you with your own studies. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

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L., B. (2019, June 13). “China in Revolution, 1911-1949” [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/china-in-revolution-1911-1949/

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L., Benson. "China in Revolution, 1911-1949." IvyPanda, 13 June 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/china-in-revolution-1911-1949/.

1. Benson L. "China in Revolution, 1911-1949." IvyPanda (blog), June 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/china-in-revolution-1911-1949/.


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L., Benson. "China in Revolution, 1911-1949." IvyPanda (blog), June 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/china-in-revolution-1911-1949/.

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L., Benson. 2019. "China in Revolution, 1911-1949." IvyPanda (blog), June 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/china-in-revolution-1911-1949/.

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L., B. (2019) '“China in Revolution, 1911-1949”'. IvyPanda, 13 June.

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