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The 400 Million (1939)

The 400 Million 720 DVD

The 400 million people of China are heirs to a great civilization, as their pagodas and stone lions can attest. But they are under attack from the Japanese. Civilian refugees walk, stumble, crawl to escape the destruction of their cities… While in the China of tradition, water buffalo still work the paddies and camels cross the desert, modern China is now a republic founded by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, with modern schools, heavy industry, large engineering projects…

The government of Chiang Kai-shek resists the Japanese invasion from the coast. Madame Chiang receives a cheque from the U.S.A. for war relief. War production continues in distant villages safe from the grasp of the Japanese. With modern weapons the Chinese are pursuing their struggle behind enemy lines. And still their opponent persists in his reprisal bombings of civilian targets. “Will these people win?”

The 1937 Japanese invasion of Manchuria provides the background for Joris Ivens’s film, begun in 1938, documenting one of the few aspects of resistance where the Chinese, the “four hundred million” of the title, prevailed against their aggressors. Narrated by Fredric March, it was financed by March, Dudley Nichols, who had written the commentary that March read, Ernest Hemingway and Luise Rainer, among others. With bitter irony, it was released a month prior to the disastrous outcome, in April 1939, of the Spanish Civil War, which Ivens had optimistically documented in his previous The Spanish Earth (1937).

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