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China: A Century of Revolution (Three Disc Set)
China A Century of Revolution
Three Disc Set
Actor: Will Lyman
Director: Sue Williams
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2007     6hr 0min

China: A Century of Revolution is a six-hour tour de force journey through the country's most tumultuous period. First televised on PBS, this award-winning documentary series presents an astonishingly candid view of a once...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Will Lyman
Director: Sue Williams
Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, History
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 07/10/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 6hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaDVD Credits: 3
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: Chinese

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Movie Reviews

Clarifying Why This Superb Exploration of China Is Must-See
David Crumm | Canton, Michigan | 02/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The basic Amazon description of this DVD is confusing -- and that's unfortunate because this is a terrific selection of three of Susan Williams' four PBS documentaries on China.

Contained in this set are "China in Revolution," shown on PBS in 1989; "The Mao Years," shown in 1994 -- and "Born Under the Red Flag," aired in 1997. However, if you're a PBS-and-China watcher, you should know that Williams' more recent documentary, "China in the Red," is not in this set. Personally, as a longtime journalist myself, I don't think this set suffers from its abrupt end with the decline of Deng Xiaoping. Williams' 2003 film, "China in the Red," examined the lives of a handful of Chinese workers -- but China is evolving so rapidly that I would think Susan Williams herself would want to make a completely different "Part 4" to her series in 2008 than she did six years ago when she was assembling "China in the Red."

Nevertheless -- this set is not, as the cover claims, "Definitive," about China. After six hours, the history comes to a screeching halt with Deng's decline. Plus, China watchers are likely to quibble over a whole series of points in the course of the six hours. For instance, the U.S. decision to establish full diplomatic ties with Beijing in the late 1970s is presented with a former U.S. ambassador saying, "All the Chinese were happy." Well, that certainly wasn't the case with the ethnic Chinese living in Taiwan. They were stunned and disgusted at that news. Perhaps Williams could have at least touched on that point.

Also -- if you watch this documentary at the same time you view "Manufactured Landscapes," a much more contemporary visual meditation on industrial development in China, your head will snap around at Williams' footage of workers in newer factories. She presents this as essentially good news for smiling workers. "Manufactured Landscapes" is an absolutely haunting vision of those same workers.

Having said all of that -- in an effort to clarify what this six-hour series is (and what it is not) -- my strong recommendation is: Terrific. Five stars. I've collected all sorts of books, films and other media about Asia -- especially about China -- and I can't find anything else that's this good and this encyclopedic in its documentary footage.

Americans who want to know more about China -- and can hardly put current news into perspective, because we simply don't know the background -- buy a copy of this set, watch it with a small group and find out about a global power that we're all going to know a whole lot more about in the years ahead."
Excellent Overview!
C. Jaskiewicz | Ann Arbor, MI USA | 08/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I bought this set for my husband, who has been doing a lot of business in China recently. He wanted to understand the background of the people he is getting to know; what motivates them and why; how their history affects their outlook and attitudes. China: A Century of Revolution definitely fit the bill! It's fascinating - lots of descriptions of events by people who were there when they happened help the viewer understand why China's relatively recent history has unfolded the way it has. You get the opportunity to hear many sides of each story: both leaders and common soldiers on both Communist and Nationalist sides; common people living in villages whose daily lives were impacted by change, etc. We would recommend this DVD set as a good overview for Americans looking for a basic understanding of twentieth-century Chinese history."
Excellent video footage and interviews, and gives time to bo
andy | Vienna, VA | 01/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I'm relatively new to Chinese history and am watching to get an overview of the last century. Right now I'm at about the halfway point and so far it's been extremely interesting. The content is primarily video and interviews with people who lived at the time. They've done a very impressive job of finding former politicians and party members, as well as ordinary citizens to give testimony. They also do an excellent job of giving time to members of both the Communists and the Nationalists, so neither side is cast as the good guys or bad guys.

I only have a few criticisms. They did skip through the early part of the 20th century a little more quickly than I would have liked. I expect there just weren't many people who remembered that time well enough to give much commentary. However, starting with the Northern Expedition they have covered everything in very good detail, considering that it's only a 6 hour series.

They do at times tend to go through the events without always giving a date or reference point for what is going on, so it's easy to lose track of whats going on in reference to the rest of the world at a given time.

One other thing is that if you know Chinese pronunciations of names, then you may be mildly annoyed by the narrator's pronunciations of Chinese names. For instance the narrator pronounces Chiang as "Jang" Kai-shek (the correct pronunciation is more like Jiang).

Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives and it is very much worth watching for anyone interested in Chinese history. Even if you already know about most of the events the video footage and interviews make it worthwhile.

Excellent Overview, But Sometimes Lacking Detail
Loyd E. Eskildson | Phoenix, AZ. | 02/07/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

""China: A Century of Revolution" is a six-hour video that covers its history during the 20th century - beginning while it was still ruled by an emperor and looked much like it had hundreds of years ago, and ending with the economic revolution initiated by Deng Xiaoping. Much of that period was consumed by fighting - starting with the emperor's overthrow, then Sun Yat Sen's coalition (supported by Russia) to oust foreigners and the warlords drawing support from them, followed by combat between Mao's Red Army and Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalists while also fighting the Japanese invasion, and finally ending with the resumption of the Civil War.

Disc #1 takes viewers through the end of the Civil War. Russia's condition for supporting Sun Yat Sen was that he allow Communists to join. Accepting, Sun Yat Sen then appointed Chiang in charge of the military academy, with Chou En Lai his assistant. Sun died in 1925, leading to a struggle over leadership. In six months he defeated 34 warlords, and planned to purge the Communists upon taking Shanghai. Thousands were executed across the nation in the unexpected action; at that point Chiang's forces controlled China's heartland. He then led modernization programs in technology, medicine, transportation, and education, while the Communists rebuilt support in the cities based on the brutal labor conditions - 17-hour work-days and child labor, holding out Russia as the example of Utopia. Meanwhile Mao lead a group in southern China's rural areas - peasants there were upset about high rents, taxes being collected decades in advance, landlords taking the peasants' children as brides and slaves. Mao encouraged the peasants to rise up and expropriate landlords' property, formed the Red Army, and ended the practice of women being second-class citizens (bound feet, arranged marriages). Chiang's efforts to defeat the Red Army and its guerrilla tactics (lure the Nationalists in, then surround) were defeated four times before winning with a change of tactics and one million soldiers aided by planes and cannon.

1934 saw the Communists losing badly in the south; Mao then led 87,000 to break out of the area on the 'Long March' (6,000 miles) - en route Mao was declared head of the army, replacing a Russian advisor who was blamed for their defeats. Only 6-7,000 survived the march. Meanwhile, Japan began taking over parts of northern China, without opposition from Chiang - he saw the Japanese forces as far superior. This angered many Chinese. Mao wanted the two sides to unify against the Japanese - Chiang refused until his #2 kidnapped him and he was forced to agree. In 1941 Chiang broke the unity by attacking Red Army units, declaring them a bigger menace than the Japanese. U.S. leaders tried to re-unite, but favored Chiang despite obvious concerns about corruption. After WWII the Civil War continued full throttle, and Chiang made the error of overextending his forces. Many deserted to the Reds (with their new U.S. equipment), and Mao built support through land reform. Chiang retreated to Taiwan in 1949, and on 10/1/1949 the People's Republic of China was formed.

Disc #2 is taken up by the Mao years, beginning with the civil war victory in October of 1949. People looked forward to a different type of revolution - one that would create a strong, industrialized China. The emphasis was on equality, with granting women's' rights one of the government's first actions. No more arranged marriages.

Work units were set up, giving the Chinese Communist Part (CCP) direct control over everyone's lives. Peasants were given the land held by landlords, and an estimated hundreds of thousands died in the transition. Seeking assistance, China undertook a pact with the U.S.S.R., and soon after 250,000 thousands swarmed into North Korea to fight against the Americans. An estimated one million plus Chinese died. After the war, the government encouraged informers to report capitalists, those with ties to the prior regime or foreigners. Those reported were often led away, and many executed. Nonetheless, life was better for most Chinese.

However, payment for the Soviet advisers and new industrial projects created an expectation for the rural farmers to increase production. Socialized farming and the collectivization of everything, including homes, followed. Farmers were only allowed to keep minimal amounts for themselves, production didn't increase, and there was wide-scale resentment.

Responding to the resentment, Mao in 1956 called for constructive criticism ("Let 100 Flowers Bloom") to assist improvement. Criticism did follow, but the intensity of reaction to corruption and the poorly performing economy was far more intense than anticipated. Reacting to rumblings within the government assembly, Mao reversed course and condemned the critics in 1957. A misunderstanding of his speech created an unofficial drive to identify and punish the assumed 10% who were 'rightists,' prison camps for about one million, and the silencing of intellectuals.

Mao's 'Great Leap Forward' began in 1958 with the goal of doubling output in 15 years; the previous five years had already accomplished this. Children were placed in community care centers so their parents could work day and night. Local steel-making was a major component of the program - the furnaces eventually had to be fueled by reclaimed wooden coffins, and metallic home possessions. The resulting steel was mostly poor quality and useless, due to the primitive methods used.

The CCP then returned to farming, and inflated expectations of production. The false expectations were met with false production reports, leading to even higher expectations. Meanwhile, about 30 million starved to death. Eventually Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution in 1966 in which 'Red Guard' brigades went out into the countryside to attack capitalists, western ideas, and old ways - the presumed causes of China's problems. About 400,000 were killed, including many officials. Mao ended this purge by calling out the army in 1968.

At about the same time China had a fallout vs. Russia, Russia withdrew its advisers, and there was a armed brief conflict on the China-Russia border. Seeking a counterbalance, China encouraged rapprochement with the U.S., and President Nixon arrived in 1972. After Mao's death, the people slowly realized he had been a disaster. Yet, for a time his followers continued to lead.

Disc #3 begins with China turning away from Mao - the Red Guards were shelved and sent out to the fields to work, and the 'Gang of Four,' led by Mao's wife, were arrested. However, Mao's thoughts still dominated. Deng Xiaoping maneuvered to the leadership role, and started his pragmatic leadership by exonerating those the Red Guards had sent to labor camps. The 'Democracy Wall' was established in 1978 Beijing, intended to support Deng's moves and the suppression of the Gang of Four - however, criticisms of the CCP led to its closure in 1979. Meanwhile, the 1978 drought led to experimentation, experimenting with the 'Household Responsibility System,' and soon afterwards, the end of commune farming. That same year also brought the 'one child' proclamation.

Four Special Economic Zones were established and provided roads, electricity, and worker apartments - most importantly, foreigners were welcomed. At first the 'outsiders' were from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 was the outgrowth of weeks of unrest protesting corruption, economic problems, and lack of Democracy. An estimated 200 died. The involved students were retaliated against when they received their work assignments."