“Compassion is unknown”
In Ross’s portrayal of Chinese city life the editing and commentary suggest a lack of empathy and resignation to fate as crucial characteristics of the people depicted.
The first two shots of this excerpt perform a remarkable re-interpretation of the facts depicted. First two boys struggle to carry large baskets, then a street seller laughs while looking at the camera. While the reel presented here was silent, probably used by Ross for live lecturing, the sound film Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! (1930) spells out the implications of this sequence of shots: “The onlooker laughs. Compassion is unknown.” Some minutes earlier, at a comparable scene of toil in the Cantonese harbour, Ross had remarked that “no Chinese helps another one.”
While some leftist reviewers liked to remark on the instructive contrast between rich and poor in Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien!’s Chinese chapter (for instance between the hard-working boys in the beginning and the well-to-do children later at the market)1, such moments as shown in the first two shots rather play into racialized notions, well established in Germany since the turn of the century as part of the warnings of a “yellow peril” threatening European and American supremacy, that depicted Chinese as shifty and cruel.2 In contrast to Europe’s assertive individuals, Chinese are presented as resigned to their fate, gambling and smoking (opium?) pipes. But, in an image typical of Ross’s geopolitical prophesizing, a speechmaker in the street already calls them to action.
Colin Ross. Ost-Asien Reise – Hong Kong, Canton [archive title]
Excerpt from: Colin Ross. Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! Das Doppelgesicht des Ostens. Germany: Ufa/Ullstein; 1930.
35mm | b&w | silent | 237m | 16 fps | 13’
Master: 0003-02-0301_ChinaReiseHongKong_ProRes-422HQ_24fps_MOS.mov; 0:05:01,17-0:06:27,08
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30
1 See: Fritz Rosenfeld. Raum ohne Volk - Volk ohne Raum. Arbeiter-Zeitung: 1931 Jan 20;44 (20); 6; r. r. See Library. Achtung, Asien! Achtung, Australien! Die Rote Fahne: 1931 Jan 25; 14 (22); 8. See Library.
2 See: Ute Mehnert. Die soziale “Gelbe Gefahr”. In: Deutschland, Amerika und die “gelbe Gefahr”. Zur Karriere eines Schlagworts in der Großen Politik, 1905–1907. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner; 1995; 49–56.