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 Post subject: The epic-historical context of 55 days at Peking
PostPosted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 4:58 pm 
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Joined: Mon Aug 08, 2011 9:50 am
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The fifties and early sixties were the golden age of the large-scale historical epic. Most of these dealt with either Biblical, Classical or Mediaeval history, but there was also a fashion for making movies on a similar epic scale dealing with more recent historical events. Many of these dealt with some aspect of European colonialism or with relations between Westerners and the inhabitants of some other part of the globe, such as "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Khartoum" or "Fifty-Five Days at Peking" which relates, from a Western viewpoint, the story of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion.

The film narrates the story of how the foreign residents of the Legation Quarter of Peking (it was obviously not the fashion to call it "Beijing" in 1963) managed to hold out for a siege of nearly two months in the summer of 1900 before being relieved by a multi-national expeditionary force. The main characters on the Western side are Major Lewis, the commander of the small detachment of American marines in Peking, and Sir Arthur Robertson, the British ambassador. The main characters on the Chinese side, although we see less of that side, are the Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi and her counsellors, the devious and anti-foreigner Prince Tuan and the more liberal General Jung-Lu, who favours rapprochement with the foreigners.

Personally I have some problems with the commonplace criticism that the film should have showed more of the historic background ...The aim was to make an epic adventure story about one particular episode during the Boxer rebellion.In order to explore the complexities of Chinese politics during the years leading up to it would have resulted in a very lengthy and tedious film, especially if the filmmakers had tried to include reference to events as remote in time as the Opium Wars, as some have suggested.

The portrayal of Robertson is the Westerners' equivalent of Jung-Lu, a liberal by the standards of his period who (unlike many of the other Europeans) hopes to avoid war by taking a conciliatory attitude towards the Chinese. When war comes, he looks within himself to find reserves of courage and stoicism. Apart from his scenes with Gardner, Heston is very impressive as Lewis, the tough man of action. Although he is a very different character from Robertson, the two men discover a respect for each other as the crisis brings them together. The spectacular action scenes were mostly well done, and the costumes and architecture of this period of Chinese history were reproduced on a grand scale.

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 Post subject: Re: The epic-historical context of 55 days at Peking
PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2011 5:21 am 
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Marabunta
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Here is a link to the real Meyers who became a Lieutenant General in the US Marine Corps.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Twiggs_Myers

And as my Marine Corps friend would say "Semper Fi"

It is interesting to note that Meyers started as a Naval Officer then became a Marine, very few did that when I was a US Naval Officer.

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 Post subject: Re: The epic-historical context of 55 days at Peking
PostPosted: Sat Sep 10, 2011 5:51 am 
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Prince Judah
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I feel that a Chinese made film on te Boxer Rebellion would certainly tell a different tale. Since the Opium War when Great Britain humiliated China and was granted all kinds of trading concessions a whole flock of other powers came in and nibbled off chunks of China. There were pieces of that country on the coast that were colonies in all, but name. The latest nibbler was Japan who defeated them in the Sino-Japanese War a few years earlier and they are among those in the foreign compound.

By the late 19th century, Russia and Japan sought to carve areas out of the obviously weak China. In 1895, Japan crushed China in a local war - and took Korea, Taiwan, railroad and industrial licenses in Manchuria. Russia seized Outer Mongolia and demanded industrial concessions in northern coastal China. The British and other European nations failed to object - but the U.S., sentimental about the Chinese, reacted strongly to the foreign incursions - and Secretary of State John Hay pronounced the "Open Door" policy, insisting that no nation should obtain territorial advantages or further exclusive concessions in China. Popular sentiment in America was fiercely pro-Chinese and against the Japanese and Russian "brutes". Japan was finally forced by the American-led western powers to disgorge some of its gains from the war.

Thus western powers were freely trading with China, and had begun great industries in their concession areas in nine coastal cities - meanwhile many Chinese were humiliated by their failure to have kept the foreigners completely out of China - yet many others flocked to the foreign concessions where they were employed in sweatshop conditions in foreign industry. The coastal cities exploded in population due to Chinese migration to work for the foreign industries.

Millions of other Chinese had very much grown up around the thousands of Christian missions situated throughout the country - and felt Christianity to be the more "modern" progressive religion because it was associated with the West which had proved itself more powerful and prosperous. This aroused equally hostile feelings among other Chinese toward the Christian religion and its missionaries, associating such "foreign" culture with Chinese humiliation at foreign hands and resenting the very implication from the missions' existence that the Chinese were backward and must be taught by the foreigner.

The Boxers were a fanatical semi-religious sect so named by the westerners due to the closed fists of the sect's adherents. They swore to kill all the foreigners and to drive them out of the country. Naturally, the Boxers' primary target was missionaries and the Chinese Christian converts -- they were defenseless and located throughout the country. The torture, **** and massacres of the missionaries and converts of course aroused outrage back in the U.S. and Britain - where tens of millions had contributed to "help the Chinese" all their lives -and now they and the charitable subjects of their savings - were being slaughtered.

The Western powers took no military action - but to evacuate as many missionaries as possible - and attempt to persuade/threaten the Manchu court to put down the rebellion itself. The Manchu court was undecided, split between those who believed the Boxers could throw out the foreigner and restore China's pride - and those who believed that if they sided with the Boxers and lost, the western nations would themselves take victorious action and the Manchu court would wind up paying a high price.

This was more or less the situation where the movie begins.

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 Post subject: Re: The epic-historical context of 55 days at Peking
PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 4:07 am 
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Thanks to both for such valuable info. wow Leiningen you were in the US Navy? Grand.

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 Post subject: Re: The epic-historical context of 55 days at Peking
PostPosted: Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:32 pm 
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Cheating Bastard

Joined: Thu Aug 08, 2013 11:16 am
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There is a new (2011) book out about the rebellion titled (I think) "The Boxer Rebellion". If I hadn't moved to new quarters this past year I could probably get my hands on it right now...its in a box somewhere....but Amazon has it. A great read; intense and historically accurate.

And that brings us to the film. When it was released most critics (and historians who at the time derided the Boxer Rebellion as a fanciful creation of the press in 1900) attacked "55" as being inaccurate baloney. Well, as Messala said, "The wheel has turned." The new book's accuracy is not in doubt and the film now looks to be in many ways closer to the rebellion and the foreign legations ordeal than originally thought.


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 Post subject: Re: The epic-historical context of 55 days at Peking
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:03 pm 
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Joined: Mon Aug 08, 2011 9:50 am
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Thanks for the valuable point confirmed by a history-teacher!

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