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Review: China's Century of Humiliation Documentary (2011)

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Todd Rutley
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Review: China's Century of Humiliation Documentary (2011)

This documentary tells the history of East-West relations and China’s Century of Humiliation (1839-1949) from both an Asian and Western perspective.  The documentary stands out for its exceptional access to top experts, with 6 PhD professors being interviewed.  With so many PhDs involved, and with the director’s emphasis on achieving a balanced perspective, the educational quality of the documentary is outstanding.

The documentary touches on many ideas that make it educational and relevant to students. These ideas include the importance of education, war, imperialism, the opium trade and opium wars, the problems of drug addiction, racism, the fall of the last dynasty in 1911, missionaries and religion, the scientific method, Confucianism, economic development, family relationships, industrial revolution, social class relations, the Magna Carta and idea of personal liberty, the “divine right” of kings and the idea of the “mandate of heaven”, Japanese imperialism in Asia as China was weakened by Western imperialism, international trade, the importance of the China tea trade which can be related to the Boston Tea Party, white supremacy, unequal international treaties, the evils of nationalism, and far more. These ideas can be explored through Q&A after or before the video.

Expert Voices from Asia & The West

The documentary highlights the opinions of both Asian & Western scholars in a very balanced way.  This focus promotes international understanding.  The lesson for students is that “there are at least two sides to every story” and wisdom requires studying and understating other cultures in addition to our own. 

The fair depiction of the Western predation of China should also make it clear that history is full of examples of racism and imperialism perpetrated by the West (whites) against weaker peoples.  This exploitation has taken place within the territory now claimed by the USA and in many places abroad including China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and The Philippines.

Expert Asian opinions include: Jianli Yang PhD;  Yang Rui (Chinese Journalist); Yunxiang Yan PhD (阎云翔 UCLA Department of Anthropology); and  Professor Gungwu Wang (王赓武), Chairman of the East Asian Institute and Professor, National University of Singapore.

Western scholars include:  Clayton Dube (杜克雷), PhD (Director, USC U.S.-China Institute); Kenneth Pomeranz, PhD; and Richard Baum (包瑞嘉), PhD, (late of UCLA);   

How to use documentary in your classroom teaching?  

The 77 minute documentary could be shown in one long class or used in two or more classes.  I think it is more educational to review in 2 classes because there is a great deal of information covered and a Q & A session after each part would promote better learning and retention.     

The Introduction and Part 1 are 35 minutes long in total (intro is about 4 minutes, Part I is about 32 minutes).   I would show Part I in the first class, followed by a Q&A and discussion.  

Part II is about 36 minutes long. I would show it in the second class, followed by a Q&A and discussion.  

Where to obtain documentary for free?

YouTube.  On 4/3/2021it was here:   

YouTube videos can be downloaded as MP4 files to a PC or USB flash drive so an internet connection is not needed to watch.   

Kanopy.  Stream for free from your school library or access via public library.

Amazon Prime.  Video was not available on 4/3/2021


Here is the review from  Kanopy is an on-demand streaming video platform for public libraries and universities that offers films and documentaries. 

China's century of Humiliation explores the fundamental differences between the Western and Chinese culture from early beginnings.

The film debates how Christianity and Confucianism were translated in political thought and social systems. Next, the film investigates why the industrial revolution did not take place in China, despite its many early inventions, but in Europe. China's century of Humiliation sheds light on the first economic and military encounters between the British and Chinese Empires through the eyes of Asian and Western historians. Trade deficits, war threats and reprisals have marked the 19th century as one of the bloodiest and most shameful in Chinese history. Today, these past lessons can serve as an powerful insight for what the future might bring for China and the rest of the world.

China's Century of Humiliation is unique in many ways. As the only documentary to attempt a comparative study of the Chinese and Western history the film also features a special visual style. For illustration the film uses shots from the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Europe and the US. but also a large number of computer generated animations that bring history to life. Using authentic historical documents the director has created motion and dynamism that engages the audience. The film also benefits from the artistically generated landscapes of ancient China and an imaginative combination of maps and architecture that serve at times as metaphors of the events depicted in the film.

China's Century of Humiliation has been screened at numerous universities for students majoring in Political Science , International Relations, History and Economics and has also been made a part of the yearly curriculum at a number of these institutions. Whether you are a Professional in the fields above, or just a attentive student of history and civilization, China's Century of Humiliation is a "must see" for anyone interested in the shifting balance of power in the world today.

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