History of China: The Roots of Madness – CIA Cold War Documentary Film (1967)
China: The Roots of Madness is a 1967 Cold War era, made-for-TV documentary film produced by David L. Wolper, written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Theodore H. White with production cost funded by a donation from John and Paige Curran. It won an Emmy Award in the documentary category.
The film attempts to analyze the Anti-Western sentiment in China from the official American’s perspective, covering 170 years of China’s political history, from Boxer Rebellion of the Qing Dynasty to Red Guards of Cultural Revolution. The film focuses on the power struggle between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China, amid heavy political intervention from Moscow, with Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong playing the pivotal role at the center stage.
The documentary film was made for television in 1967 — during the Cold War era. It was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Theodore H. White, directed by Mel Stuart, edited by William T. Cartwright and produced by David L. Wolper. Production costs were funded by a donation from John and Paige Curran. The film has been released under Creative Commons license. White’s access to important political figures of the time allowed him to create some rare footage, which included the wedding of Chang Kai-shek and the funeral of Sun Yat-sen. The film won an Emmy Award in the documentary category.
As evidenced by his commentary throughout the films, White, Time magazine’s China correspondent during World War II, was scathing about the People’s Republic of China. Remarking that Chinese had been suffering in a 100-year tragedy, he added:
“There are 700 millions Chinese [in 1967], one quarter of humane kind, who are taught to hate, their growing power is the world’s greatest threat to peace enlightenment. 50 years of torment, bred madness…”
For 50 years, Americans have failed to help the Chinese to find “some entry to the modern world”, as the Chinese have “been transformed from our greatest friend into our greatest enemy”, as the Chinese have fallen into the vicious cycle of “from the tyranny of Confucius of the Manchu Emperor to the tyranny of communism and Mao”.
White referred to Empress Dowager Cixi as “China’s evil spirit… a Manchu concubine…said to have poisoned her own son upon his throne, install her infant nephew as the emperor, killed his mother, and then imprisoned him in 1898″.
Pearl Buck on the Boxer Rebellion:”Empress Dowager had issued an decree that all white people are to be killed, and many have been killed, especially in the north of Shandong, men, women and children of the missionary.”
White’s impression on the downfall of Qing Dynasty: “…and then it vanished, simply vanished, the Manchu Dynasty disappeared overnight, nothing like that had ever happen in all the history, 2000 years of tradition, the whole structure of the imperial confucianism, political thought, dissolving to dust…”
White’s impression on post-Manchu Empire China:”…out of this turbulence, there appeared two types of Asian leaders, arch symbols, the the man of gun, and the man of idea, and these two types of gunman and the dreamer, have perplexed all our efforts in Asia for 50 years since, and they still perplexed and haunted all our policy, even today…”
White’s impression on Sun Yat-sen:”…was a man of dream, the dream of China, powerful, free of emperors and foreigners, made him from his youth a revolutionary…Slowly from the early 1920, Sun Yatsen had somehow built a government, a tiny southern foothold at Canton, ringed by hostile warlords. By 1924 the ageing revolutionary had learned, idea and gun must go together…in 1923 he tells the New York Times: We have lost hope of help from America, England, France, the only country that show any sign of helping us in the south is the Soviet government of Russia…”
White on Kuomingtang left wing: “[they] no longer trust their army leader at the front. Borodin is urging: ‘Get rid of Chiang Kaishek.’ In four short years, the communist had grown 60,000 members. To hear the left wing Nationalist: ‘No revolution is completed, until peasants own their land, and workers their factories.’ Chiang disagreed.”
While the film won an Emmy Award in the documentary category soon after its release, contemporary critics have criticised his “callous and condescending” portrayal of Chinese. Film Threat remarked that White never attempted to take on board the Chinese viewpoint, and points out there were unconfirmed rumours that the CIA was involved in the film’s making.