Marines and Chinese armies in Peking

(This is our fifth post about the films of diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray. See the first post for more background.)

When watching MacMurray’s peaceful films of China, it is easy to forget that the country was torn by civil war for most of the time he served as minister. The films labeled “Peking Misc(ellaneous) I-II,” serve as a reminder. The first film opens with drills of the U.S. Marines of the Legation Guard, who protected the legation and, in emergencies, American citizens. In addition, the second film contains elaborate, rare footage of Nationalist troops, which may have been shot during the “capture”  of Peking in June 1928 that ended the Nationalists’ Northern Campaign and left Chiang Kai-shek and his party in control of the country.


Above: Newspaper clipping of June 18, 1928, about a break-in by Nationalist soldiers of Ta Pei Ssu, a temple leased by MacMurray (box 104).

According to a newspaper clipping in MacMurray’s papers, Nationalist soldiers broke into the ‘Ta Pa Ssu’ temple in the Western Hills, which was leased by the MacMurray family. (For more on temple renting, see our previous entry.) Fear of looting and violence against foreigners, as had occurred during the Nationalist capture of Nanking in March 1927, was widespread. These fears proved unfounded, however, as can be read in My Life in China, the memoirs of Hallett Abend, a reporter for the New York Times. After negotiations with the foreign legations, the generals of the armies that surrounded the city agreed that Chang Tso-lin, the Manchurian warlord in control of Peking, would be allowed to leave the city, while his best-disciplined troops stayed behind to retain order. When General Yen Hsi-shan’s troops entered the city through the South Gate, Chang’s troops would exit through the Northeast gate. Does MacMurray’s footage capture these events?

The first film opens with a visit of presumably Admiral Clarence Williams, commander in chief of the US Asiatic Fleet (1:09), and a parade by the Marines of the Legation Guard. (The naval officers with bicorn hats (0:53) are not identified). The footage continues with a long series of drills, in which the Marines are simulating their defense of the Legation Quarter: first, the gates are closed and mounted Marines are sent out to “rescue” Americans (1:39), while heavy machine guns and supplies are retrieved from the armory with two wheel carts (2:01). This is followed by artillery drill practice from the Tartar Wall (2:30). The remainder of the film shows various Peking sites, including Beihai Park, and footage of Peking in snow. In addition, the film contains street and market scenes and shots of musicians and performers.


The second film continues with local scenes of Peking and its surroundings, including a funeral procession (0:12), street and market scenes, ice skating (2:21), and the selling and burning of incense at a temple (4:34). The footage that may capture the entry of Nationalist soldiers in Peking starts at 7:14.

MacMurray filmed an encounter with an unidentified military officer (7:58), groups of vehicles and packed camels, and armed and unarmed troops (8:38, 8:43, 8:54, 9:13, 9:19, 9:35), wearing different armbands and on two occasions carrying different flags (8:38 and 8:54). Filming the groups from different locations, MacMurray appears to have sought a variety of military and uniformed groups, alternating with shots of onlookers and guards. Of particular interest are the men with straw hats wearing armbands with Guomindang stars (9:35). The film ends with footage of a soldier raising the Nationalist flag (10:15), and a scene at a train station, with soldiers leaving on an open car (10:22). The brief footage following, shot aboard a boat, does not seem to be related.

unidentified.jpgThe footage leaves many questions. Did MacMurray film this on June 8 1928, the day that the Nationalist troops entered the city, or was it spread over a few days? Who was the military officer who gets so much attention (the fourth from the left in the picture here)? What do the two flags at 8:38 and 8:54 indicate, and what is the meaning of the different armbands, which were often used to differentiate between forces and units (8:38, 9:19, 9:36)? Ultimately, who are the troops in the end, leaving by train? When the Manchurian troops, who had been promised safe conduct, evacuated the city, they were surrounded and disarmed by the soldiers of a subordinate general, Han Fu-chu. The incident required the intervention of the diplomatic corps. Is any of this footage related to that? If you are able to shed any light on the films, we would love hear from you!

Our thanks to Dirk Haig for his explanation of the Marine drills, Shuwen Cao for her identifications of local scenes, and Edward McCord for his information about Chinese uniforms, armbands, and flags.

Previous posts about the films of John Van Antwerp MacMurray:

Renting a temple in the Western Hills

(This is our fourth post about the films of diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray. See the first post for more background.)

Detail of a map of the Western Hills
Detail of MacMurray’s German map of the Peking surroundings. The Pa Ta Ch’u valley, with Ta Pei Ssu, the temple rented by MacMurray (no. 41) is shown at the left of the center above Mo shi Kou.

To escape the heat and air of the city, diplomats in Peking (Beijing) spent their weekends and summers in the Western Hills, the hilly region to the northwest of Peking, where they often “rented a temple.” During his previous time in Peking as Secretary to the Legation (1913-1917), MacMurray expressed his love for the Hills in hundreds of photographs of the area’s temples and scenery. Thumbnail image for TaPaSsuLease.gifWhen he returned in 1925, he focused his motion picture camera on people instead. In addition to family and friends, MacMurray filmed village and rural scenes during various trips in the Hills, where transport was often by donkey. MacMurray labeled the films himself, but did not provide any identifications. Some of the scenes are shot at Ta Pei Ssu, a temple in the Pa Ta Ch’u valley, where MacMurray and his family leased living quarters.

Lease of living quarters at Ta Pei Ssu for 1926-1927. The other half was kept by the temple’s administration (translation at TaPeiSsutransl.pdf).

The first film includes unidentified views and local scenes, villagers performing manual labor, donkeys and camels and their drivers, and views of the hills covered in snow. The footage also features a trip to the Ming tombs.

This film includes some family and temple scenes, probably at Ta Pei Ssu. In addition, the film includes street and village scenes, as well as footage of carriers, laborers, pig herders, and other villagers.

Miao Feng Shan (“Marvelous Peak Mountain”) was a popular pilgrimage site about 30 miles northwest of Peking. On October 23, 1928 MacMurray wrote his mother that the family was taking their guest, the artist Lilian (“Jack”) Miller, on a five-day trip in the Western Hills to Lung Ch’uan Ssu, Miao Feng Shan, Ti Shui Yen, and T’an Che Ssu. MacMurray must have shot this film during this trip. The film includes views of the Summer Palace northwest of Beijing, but the scenes following are not identified. The last part of this film seems to have been shot while climbing Miao Feng Shan.

The fragments on this reel include images of MacMurray’s children, Joan and Frank, and a guest riding donkeys in the Western Hills, possibly Lilian (“Jack”) Miller.

This brief film opens with camels and a camel herder, followed by a man who seems to be the storyteller at Chieh Tai-Ssu (a temple in the Western Hills), mentioned on the film reel label. The footage ends with a small boat being pulled across a stream.

Previous posts about the films of John Van Antwerp MacMurray:

A diplomat’s trip along the Yangtze River, 1928

(This is our third post about the films of diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray. See the first post for more background.)

On February 24, 1928, MacMuray, his Chinese secretary, and a naval attaché started a six-week trip along the Yangtze (Yangzi) river to inspect consulates and ports between Tsingtao (Qingdao) and Chungking. MacMurray, who took his camera along, painstakingly listed the ships, ports, and towns he filmed in passing, as well as the treacherous rapids and gorges between Shasi and Kweifu (Yangtszelists.pdf). “This Upper Yangtze trip is the most beautiful I have ever made,” he wrote his mother on March 13. The three films that MacMurray shot aboard four ships are featured here. JVAM postcard 051328.jpgThe only reference to the political context of the films is an inconspicuous boat that represented, according to MacMurray’s notes, the “American Consulate at Nanking, temporarily at Chinkiang.” Since its capture in March 1927, Nanking (Nanjing) had been the capital of the Nationalist Party, which was, by the time of MacMurray’s trip, in control of most of South China. During the trip, MacMurray met the Nationalist Party’s foreign minister Huang (Hwang) Fu, and negotiated a settlement of the “Nanking incident,” an outburst of anti-foreign sentiments during the capture of Nanking one year before. This would pave the way for the Tariff Treaty of July 25, 1928, which,  one month after the Nationalists took control of Peking, was a de facto recognition of the Nationalist regime of China.

Above: “The American Consulate at Nanking, temporarily at Chinkiang.” Photo printed on a postcard to MacMurray’s mother on May 13, 1928  (John Van Antwerp MacMurray Papers, box 26)


MacMurray’s first “Yangtsze” film begins with some brief footage in Tsinanfu, followed by outdoor scenes in Tsingtao, where administrator general Chao Chi (Zhao Qi) took MacMurray, who loved dogs, to a training session of police dogs (1:15). The destroyer USS Noa took MacMurray’s party to Shanghai, where they boarded the USS Isabel a few days later to sail to Chinkiang (Zhenjiang), and to Anking (Anqing). In Chinkiang the group paid a visit to Silver Island (Jiao Shan, 4:34), where MacMurray filmed temple scenes and a paper rubbing shop. At Chinkiang harbor MacMurray captured the Standard Oil house boat, mentioned above, where the American Consulate at Nanking was temporarily based (3:55). In Anking the party boarded SS Kungwo to Hankow (Hankou), where they were joined by Consul-General Frank Lockhart for the remainder of the journey to Chungking. The journey between Hankow and Chungking and back to Hankow (March 8-22) was traveled on river gunboat USS Guam with Admiral Yates Stirling, commander of the Yangtze Patrol. After passing Shashi and the Tiger’s Tooth Gorge, the film ends with harbor and street scenes in Ichang, where MacMurray and his party arrived on March 11.


The second Yangztze film documents the journey through the Yangtze Gorges on the upper river between Ichang and the city at the other end of the Gorges, known as Kweifu (now called Fengjie Xian). The footage ends with salt boiling at Kweifu (11:07) and some riverbank scenes with gondola-like boats that, according to MacMurray in a postcard to his mother, were native to Kweifu.


The contents of “Yangtsze III,” which continues the journey to Chungking, are not listed by MacMurray. During a stop, possibly at Wanhsien (Wanxian), MacMurray filmed the building of a boat, as well as some other riverbank scenes (2:54). The footage that follows includes a close up of MacMurray’s party with Admiral Yates Stirling (4:56), under whose command the USS Guam was sailing. Liu Hsiang.jpgUpon arrival in Chungking the party apparently visited local warlord Liu Hsiang (Liu Xiang 5:40). Subsequent footage contains street scenes and the waterfront of Chungking. The Yangtze footage that follows was filmed on the way back to Hankow. It includes the Precious Stone Rock (Shibaozhai) in Zhong Xian, a steep natural rock with pagoda that was passed on the Northern river bank.

Right: Liu Hsiang, photo portrait in the John Van Antwerp MacMurray Papers (box 120)


Previous posts about the films of John Van Antwerp MacMurray:

Trip to attend the reinterment of Sun Yat-sen, 1929

(This is our second post about the films of diplomat John Van Antwerp MacMurray.  See the first post for more background.)
Procession Sun Yat-sensm.jpg

Foreign representatives accompanying the bier. Detail from a 9 feet long print of the procession (John Van Antwerp MacMurray Papers, box 81 folder 5).

On June 1, 1929, the body of Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Nationalist Party, who died and was buried in Peking (Beijing) in 1925, was reinterred in a new mausoleum in Nanking (Nanjing). The newly established Nationalist government invited the foreign diplomats in Peking (Beijing) to attend the ceremony. Two of the three films that MacMurray labeled “Peking I-III’ turn out to capture the trip to Nanking in the “ministers train” and back. Although MacMurray did not film the ceremony itself, “Peking II” includes rare footage of the procession of Sun’s body from his original burial place to the train station in Peking. The films below are shown in reverse order (III, II, I), as it appears MacMurray mis-numbered the films.


This film begins with scenes in Beihai Park in Peking, which include footage of soldiers, followed by local sites and scenes, including the Summer Palace. It ends with footage of who we believe is José Gallostra y Coello de Portugal, the secretary of the Spanish legation. During the train trip Gallostra drew caricatures of his colleagues, which he published in a satirical journal for French expatriates in Peking. Thumbnail image for JVAM cartoonsm.jpgMacMurray, whose caricature is shown on the left, sent a copy to his chief Stanley Hornbeck, with the comment that Gallostra had a “genius for caricature and an irrepressible spirit of mockery” (19 July, 1929). In the film featured here, Gallostra, who is impersonating different characters, seems to be mimicking the prescribed behavior of the diplomatic representatives when paying their last respects to Sun Yat-sen. During a ceremony on May 31, prior to the reinterment, each minister placed a wreath at the foot of the dais at the headquarters of the Nationalist Party, where the embalmed body lay in state. The three bows while moving forward and backward can be found in descriptions of the ceremony. (Our thanks to Shuwen Cao, East Asian Library, Princeton University for clarifying this).


The second film in the series begins with village scenes in the Western Hills, where diplomats and their families spent much of their free time. The film includes footage of MacMurray and his family, probably at the temple Ta Pei Ssu, where they leased living accommodations. MacMurray filmed additional street and temple scenes, followed by a local fair and other village scenes.

After footage of MacMurray’s children in costumes, the film continues with the procession of Sun Yat-sen’s body passing by the Legation Quarter (Dongjiaominxiang) on its way to the Peking train station on May 26, 1929 (6:24). It is followed by the departure of the foreign representatives in the “Ministers train” on the following day (7:56). Close-ups include the French minister Damien de Martel (7:56) and the Dutch minister W.J. Oudendijk, doyen of the diplomatic corps, standing next to José Gallostra, who is drawing in a sketchbook (8:06). The film ends with a train stop at Taianfu.


The third film continues the previous footage on the Taianfu station and includes harvesting scenes that were filmed along the Jinpu railroad on the way to Nanking. The brief footage of Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum (0:28) was shot prior to the funeral, as MacMurray did not film the official ceremony. This is followed by street scenes in Nanking, where MacMurray filmed silk thread making and other local scenes.

The footage after this seems to have been shot at the Nanking harbor (Xiaguan), as the train station in Pukou was on the other side of the Yangzi River (1:18). The next scenes were filmed during train stops on the way back to Peking and include the Lianghsiatien (Liangxiadian) station (the man in bathrobe (1:59) is believed to be Italian minister and author Daniele Varè), as well as agricultural scenes, and local musicians. The film ends with a children’s scene in the garden of the US legation in Peking.

MacMurray’s films of China, 1925-1929

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 .


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.

Although there is extensive correspondence with Roy Chapman Andrews in the John Van Antwerp MacMurray papers, there are no exchanges about this particular event. A description of the expedition can be found in Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions by Charles Gallenkamp (2001).