CHINA / POLITICS
Color Footage of the Founding Ceremony of the People's Republic of China — A Precious Gift from Russia
Published: Jun 03, 2021 11:53 AM
At 3 pm on October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong solemnly proclaimed on the Tian'anmen Gate Tower the founding of the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China. With that, an ardent dream of generations of Chinese came true. That scene, which goes down in history as an enduring classic, has been a source of inspiration for billions of Chinese people.

As far as we could recall, the few available scenes of the founding ceremony of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in movies and on TV were all black and white. Why isn't there more footage of this momentous and memorable occasion?

In fact, the central government not only had a photography team from Yan'an record the entire event, but also invited Soviet cinematographers to document the historic moment in color. The latter captured the whole day's activities, including Chairman Mao's proclamation, the hoisting of the national flag, the military parade, the mass pageant and the splendid fireworks. However, just days later, a fire broke out in the room where the dozens of film rolls were kept, destroying almost all of them. Scenes of the founding ceremony we later saw were all in black and white, taken by Yan'an photographers.

In September 2019, a Russian documentary titled "The Second Birth of the Celestial Empire" caught the eyes of many Chinese and Russians online. People were amazed to see in it color footage of the founding ceremony. How did the ruined film reappear?

Opening Title of “The Second Birth of the Celestial Empire”

Opening Title of “The Second Birth of the Celestial Empire”


According to Alexey Denisov, the director of the documentary, he was working in the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive on footage filmed in China over the years when he came across some 200 boxes containing color footage, the positives of which had faded. He decided to study them in greater detail, and eventually discovered a lot of precious materials that no one had ever viewed.

It turns out that in 1949, the Soviet Union sent a group of documentary cinematographers to China. For several months, they captured how the Chinese Communists defeated the Kuomintang. Before the founding ceremony of the PRC, Joseph Stalin proposed to Liu Shaoqi who was visiting Moscow that the Soviet Union help film the ceremony in color. While everyone thought all the color footage of the ceremony was gone in the fire, the film Denisov discovered had been lying in storage ever since the death of Stalin. Apart from the founding ceremony and fighting scenes, a huge amount of other footage was uncovered, including views of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou; as well as newsreels from daily life, showing what people wore, what they ate, how street vendors and peasants lived, and what their homes were like.

Chairman Mao Zedong Proclaims the Founding of the People’s Republic of China

Chairman Mao Zedong Proclaims the Founding of the People’s Republic of China


Cameras tell stories. The footage discovered presents the founding ceremony and other significant events as well as scenes of major cities in the early days of the People's Republic. It is a window into China back then, and thus has remarkable historical value.

The Soviet Union was the first country to recognize the PRC. The two countries formally established diplomatic relations on October 2, 1949. In 2019, on the occasions of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC and the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Russia, Russia provided China with rare film including color footage of the founding ceremony. It is a significant gesture of friendship between the two countries. In 2013, President Xi Jinping chose Russia as the first stop on his maiden overseas visit after taking office. He and President Vladimir Putin opened a new chapter in China-Russia relations. Since 2013, President Xi has paid eight visits to Russia. Each time he witnessed the strong bond between the two peoples and fruitful outcomes in bilateral cooperation. As President Xi said at a gathering marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Russia, "The past 70 years of historical experience fully demonstrates that China and Russia were, are and will remain good neighbors and partners."
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