American diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray (1881–1960) began filming in 1925, two years after Kodak introduced the Cine-Kodak Motion Picture camera, which made production and display of motion pictures possible for amateurs. The John Van Antwerp MacMurray Papers at Mudd Manuscript Library contain twenty-eight silent 16mm films, which MacMurray shot while serving as Minister to China (1925–1929). Although the country was divided by civil war and Nationalists took control of Peking (Beijing) in June 1928, the films are not political in nature. They contain street and other local scenes in Peking, the Western Hills, and other places that MacMurray visited. A finding aid to the John Van Antwerp MacMurray Papers at Mudd Manuscript Library may be found at http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/wh246s13m .
MacMurray shot the first film that is featured here during a visit with his wife and sister to the Northern city of Kalgan (Zhangjiakou) at the Great Wall of China, the gateway to Mongolia. They accompanied the American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews and his excavation team between Kalgan and Changpeh (Zhangbei) through the Wanchuang (Wanzhuang) pass. Andrews had led a series of expeditions in the Gobi Desert in the 1920s. In 1928, however, rogue soldiers and brigands made access impossible, hence MacMurray had to secure passage by calling upon the assistance of local warlord Chang Tso-lin (Zhang Zuolin). The film captures the exit of the crew of 37 people, eight cars and 150 camels from Kalgan on April 16, 1928, escorted by 50 Chinese cavalrymen. In addition, MacMurray filmed local scenes in Kalgan and on the way to the Wanchuang pass.