Last night I saw the film released in Australia under the title Children of the Silk Road and overseas as The Children of Huang Shi. The film is a largely fictionalised and “Hollywoodised” account of how Englishman George Hogg (below, left) helped to found the Shandan Bailie School during the War of Resistance to Japan in China.
Despite its distortions and omissions the film has a largely positive portrayal of Hogg, is quite honest about the corruption of the Kuomintang, the atrocities of the Japanese, and avoids negatively stereotyping its only Communist character played by Chow Yun Fat (although it does make him unbelievably fluent in English).
The distortions centre on the relationship between Hogg and a beautiful blond-haired and blue-eyed nurse. Her character is based on that of Anglican missionary nurse Kathleen Hall, a New Zealander, who smuggled medicines to Dr Norman Bethune and the Communist Eighth Route Army and who nursed Hogg back to health after he contracted typhus.
The major omission is of any reference to the politics of the work in which Hogg was involved with another New Zealander, Rewi Alley . Together they founded a school for the training of boys in skilled trades that would enable them to work in the movement for Chinese Industrial Cooperatives established under the auspices of Dr Sun Yat-sen’s widow Mme. Soong Qingling. This was an elementary form of socialist organisation for which there was such enormous enthusiasm by its participants that US military observers took its Chinese name “Gonghe” and coined the term “gung-ho” (see symbol at right).
When Hogg died of tetanus in 1945, it was Rewi Alley that was at his side, reading at Hogg’s request, passages from the Communist Manifesto.
Sciptwriter James MacManus may or may not have stuck to some semblance of the original truth, but as he notes in an article written for Times Online that after having been made by his script agent to “write the script again and again”, it was finally sent to production companies “and the rewrites began again as production companies paid for options and demanded their own version. Needless to say, nothing of my script - not even the original title – has survived four different writers and the many film companies that have developed the film over the years.”
If the film inspires viewers to tap into the available materials on the real life of George Hogg, Rewi Alley and Kathleen Hall it will have served a very useful purpose. Certainly a number of on-line comments indicate that people who have seen the film intend to do just that.
In addition to the links below, accurate information on Hogg can also be found in Rewi Alley’s At 90: Memoirs of My China Years and Tom Newnham’s He Mingqing: The Life of Kathleen Hall, both published by the New World Press, Beijing.
Background to the film and Hogg from China Radio International:
A short review of the book “Ocean Devil” on which the screenplay is supposedly based:
Another short review of the book: