British Pathé recently posted its trove of 85,000 historical newsreels, cinemagazines, and documentaries on YouTube. Included are 1- 5 minute videos from China, Taiwan (aka Formosa), and Hong Kong that span from the 1920s to the 1960s that present incredible footage of the times. Some of the videos are silent, either because of when they were made or because they are raw footage. Those with sound typically have a musical pomp and narration often tinged with Anglo-centric political commentary or humor typical of newsreels of the era.
The majority of videos relate to the Chinese Civil War and the political situations in and the conflict between the PRC and the ROC, referred to as “Red China” and “Free China”, respectively, to highlight the threat of communism. The wartime and political footage can be tedious, but there are gems like Madame Chiang Kai-shek (宋美齡 /宋美龄) talking about the establishment of the People’s Republic.
A handful offer glimpses into life and contemporary culture but are not without British commentary:
“A Mechanized Chinese Dinner!” from 1961 – “Gourmet news hot from Red China!” “Mission accomplished, honorable missile returns to launching pad.”
“Chinese Fashions” from 1938 – “And then she puts on her Western evening gown. Well, this British-controlled Hong Kong. And only here, under the protection of the Union Jack, does Miss China feel completely free.”
“Farewell to Hong Kong” from 1961 – “If it were to be forbidden to dry fish or washing outside the window, there’d be a revolution…They’re raising a healthy new generation, heirs to a freedom they’ll learn to cherish when they grow up.”
If you find any interesting videos or amusing lines, share them in the comments below.
Be sure to explore the rest of the British Pathé channel.
Image: Screenshot of “Free China Harvests Rich Sugar Crop (1958)”