People of Western China: A documentary about life in Chengdu in 1940
Great find of the week: a short film of Chengdu and surrounding areas in 1940.
With plenty of footage of the Sichuan basin (called "the valley" in the film) and some city scenes shot in Chengdu, the film is a rare example of motion picture shot in the first half of the 20th century in China.
Click here for a Youtube version
As the footage of farmland rolls, the narrator describes the Sichuanese as "people who in time of peace have pursued their placid ways close to the friendly earth."
The city, buzzing with rickshaws and workers toting shoulder poles, is shown next to the ancient city wall, which was torn down during the Cultural Revolution. "For centuries, the flow of seasons and the tides of growth have led a mellow rhythm to their days," explains the narrator, confirming that the reputation of Sichuanese as leading slow-paced lives is long-standing.
Li Bing, who is credited with engineering the ingenius irrigation system more than two millennia ago at Dujiangyan, is mentioned early on with footage of what is presumably Dujiangyan.
While numerous locations shown in the film are totally unrecognizable compared to today's sites, many of the scenes look familiar to today's viewer. Markets that don't look all that different from today's sell vegetables "in seemingly endless variety," according to the narrator. Also still frequently seen today are the bamboo chairs that are shown in production in the film.
In addition to production of bamboo objects, including handmade chopsticks, the film shows other handcrafts, including clay pottery, silversmithing, and silk weaving. Today, the same types of looms are on display at the Shu Brocade Museum.
Late in the film, a classroom of students is shown, and finally, the film shows technologies that had recently arrived in Chengdu, including electricity, automobiles, medical technology, and airplanes.
The film runs just over 10 minutes and appears to be one in a series of educational videos produced by Electrical Research Products, Inc., a licensing division of AT&T/Western Electric, in conjunction with Encyclopedia Britannica Films and an O. J. Caldwell of Nanjing University.
Another Youku version with some music and original sound recodording instead of the narration.