This film is part of Free

China Fights Back

ABCD stands for America, Britain, China and Democracy: a young Chinese boy learns to write English in one of the striking images in this dispatch from the Sino-Japanese War.

1941 17 mins


Japan invaded China in 1937: by 1941 millions of people had been killed by the advancing army and millions more had lost their homes. Film of the devastation of Chungking and some harrowing photographs are intercut with footage of Chinese resilience: Chiang Kai-shek and the Soong sisters rallying the people, women labouring at spinning wheels in open air workshops, and children happily playing wargames show a country on a knife edge: resilient but in dire need of allied help.

The gunboat Tutuila features in this March of Time film as a symbol of American commitment to China. The US was yet to enter the war - Pearl Harbour was still six months away - but gunboat patrols on the Yangtse River had been running since 1854. Initially designed to safeguard American commercial interests in Chinese ports open to foreign trade, the patrol was drawn into the arena of conflict with the sinking of the USS Panay by the Japanese in 1937. The Tutuila was the final gunboat to remain in action on the Yangtze Patrol up until its decommissioning in 1942. For all its limitless natural resources, China was at this stage in the war desperately waiting for the military hardware promised under Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease scheme.