Swiss archive provides film on milestone of Chinese history

Mao Zedong 1938 (video still "Journey to Yan'an" by Walter Bosshard, © Archives of Contemporary History ETH Zurich)

Mao Zedong 1938 (video still "Journey to Yan'an" by Walter Bosshard, © Archives of Contemporary History ETH Zurich)

The Archives of Contemporary History of ETH Zurich holds the private papers of Walter Bosshard. The Swiss photojournalist was the first European reporter to reach the "red capital" Yan'an in early Mai 1938. He recorded his then observations in a film that culminates in sequences with Mao Zedong. As a donation from Zurich this historical document entitled "Journey to Yan'an" is henceforth shown publicly at the permanent exhibition of the 8th Route Army Memorial in Xi'an.

Yan'an City Archives wants to go even a step further. To the archives in the north of Shaanxi a copy of the Bosshard film was handed over on the basis of a preliminary agreement with the Archives of Contemporary History. Together the institutions in Yan'an and Zurich will boost the dissemination of Bosshard's work that contains other films and over 20'000 photos many of which still are to be allocated to time and place.

Reiterating Bosshard's travel recently, Daniel Nerlich (deputy director of the Archives of Contemporary History and research sabbatical at swissnex China) at first had presented the film to the authorities of the Xi'an Memorial, which appears on the list of the major national historical and cultural sites. Its director Wang Zhi Min thereafter spontaneously invited his Swiss guest to give a lecture about the origins of the film at the opening of the exhibition "A Great Woman. Helen Foster Snow in China" on September 29. 

Director Wang Zhimin of the 8th Route Army Memorial in Xi'an framed by the author and by interpreter Zhang Zhenran

Director Wang Zhimin of the 8th Route Army Memorial in Xi'an framed by the author and by interpreter Zhang Zhenran

Opening ceremony of the exhibition "A Great Woman. Helen Foster Snow in China"   

Opening ceremony of the exhibition "A Great Woman. Helen Foster Snow in China" 

 

"The way to Yan'an" is a political metaphor pointing to the birthplace of revolution. As such the geographical end of the Long March is deep-seated in the perception of Chinese Society. Up to 3 Million tourists per year nowadays pilgrimage to Yan'an's revolutionary sites and memorials on the traces of the early communist forces.

Booming red tourism wasn't foreseeable when Bosshard made it to the loess plateau. His aim was to interview and film the uprising communists and their political and military training as a neutral correspondent. The Xi'an historical site commemorates this era today and is set up in the original buildings of the 8th Route Army. Thus important source material so far rarely known in China is now put on the map in the 75th year of its existence and exactly where Walter Bosshard in 1938 had begun his journey!

Contributed by Daniel Nerlich, Deputy Director, Archives of Contemporary History ETH Zurich, www.afz.ethz.ch