"CPC Kindled Hope for Many Young People" — Foreign Journalist Walter Bosshard's Experience in Yan'an
Published: May 10, 2021 11:15 AM
Silent Documentary <em>Journey to Yan'an</em> by Walter Bosshard

Silent Documentary Journey to Yan'an by Walter Bosshard

Walter Bosshard, a pioneer of modern photojournalism from Switzerland, was the first European journalist to visit Yan'an and meet Mao Zedong in person. He shot a black and white silent documentary Journey to Yan'an with a 16mm film camera and recorded what he saw and experienced on the way from Xi'an to Yan'an and after arriving in Yan'an. This precious video is now stored in the Archives of Contemporary History of ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

In April 1938, Bosshard set out for the revolutionary base Yan'an from Xi'an with a truck fleet of the Eighth Route Army carrying supplies. The rain made the roads muddy and dangerous. Bosshard wrote that the road was so rough that they had to move slowly. Even with chains on the wheels, the trucks could not stop backsliding off the steep hill. There were times when the trucks had to move precariously along the verge of a cliff, which was nerve-wracking. The further the fleet went, the shabbier the villages with fewer crops. Just when he thought they were entering a deserted no-man's land, Bosshard suddenly saw something very special: groups of young Chinese in their prime were walking down this rough road. Though plainly dressed with only simple baggage, these young people were brimming with enthusiasm and hope like pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

Despite the arduous journey, Bosshard was deeply impressed by the warmth of the ordinary Chinese towards the Red Army. When the fleet spent the night at a farm, they were offered the best rooms where one could see "We trust the Red Army" written on bright red paper on the wall. 

After a six-day tortuous journey, Bosshard finally saw the town of Yan'an. He described the small town as surrounded by steep hills and a narrow river where people lived a vibrant life. People lived in cave houses. The caves also served as offices, schools and hospitals. Yet the streets were neat and clean, and people's clothes were also clean despite the patches. The place was full of life. Bosshard found that what people valued most at the CPC base was learning and education. The soldiers were learning how to read and write. Whenever they had some free time even during their march, the soldiers would be practicing writing with their fingers or sharp stones in the sand for their homework of the day. That was how the Red Army eliminated illiteracy, and every soldier was able to read newspapers, simple books and pamphlets. There were also many college students who spoke fluent French or English in Yan'an. They went there because they believed the CPC offered the hope for China's national independence. For them, Yan'an was a place for further education and exchanges, and for realizing their aspirations for the future of the nation.

<em>Journey to Yan'an</em>

Journey to Yan'an

Bosshard recorded everything he saw in Yan'an with his camera. In a humble cave house, he interviewed Mao Zedong and learned about his views on the protracted war against Japanese aggression. Mao said that solidarity of the Chinese people was more important than anything, even the future of the CPC at that time. The KMT should cooperate with the CPC to resist the invaders; otherwise, China would have no future. That was the hope of all the Chinese people, something no political party could ignore. During the three-hour interview, Mao also explained how he saw China's conditions and how communism would improve the income and purchasing power of 400 million peasants in China. Although Mao was smoking cheap cigarettes due to the scarcity of materials, his wisdom and confidence struck Bosshard as a classic philosopher. During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, more than 40,000 young intellectuals went to Yan'an. After his visit, Bosshard concluded that the CPC kindled hope among many young Chinese. This generation, uprooted by the war, found a new conviction in Yan'an.