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They Chose China
Directed by Shuibo Wang
A National Film Board of Canada Production
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In January 1954, months after the end of the Korean War, U.S. soldiers held in POW camps were at last free to return home. A small group, however, refused repatriation to the U.S. and, after being given 90 days to reconsider their decision, 21 American soldiers decided to stay in China. In THEY CHOSE CHINA, Academy Award-nominated Chinese documentarian Shuibo Wang tells the controversial story of these forgotten American dissidents.

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Using rare archival footage, excerpts from American and Chinese TV programs, as well as period and contemporary interviews, THEY CHOSE CHINA chronicles the fascinating history of this group of young Americans who were hailed in China as "peace fighters" and denounced in America as "turncoats" and "traitors." U.S. media claimed that these young POW's had been "brainwashed" by the Chinese communists. The film shows conditions inside these Chinese camps, featuring never-before-seen footage, plus contemporary interviews with some of the camps' Chinese translators, instructors, lecturers, and officers.

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The majority of the 21 Americans became disillusioned and returned to America, where they recanted their statements and were imprisoned by the military. Others remained in China, got educations, worked in a variety of jobs, married and raised families. In interviews today, several of the surviving men—including those who remained in China and those who returned to the U.S—along with members of their families recount their unusual experiences, explain their thinking at the time, and the nature of their beliefs today.

"Recommended!"—Educational Media Reviews Online

"Illuminates on many levels... At the time, the 'turncoats' (a word Mike Wallace emphasizes repeatedly in archival sequences) were thought to have been brainwashed, Manchurian Candidate style. Wang unearths rare and fascinating footage that reveals a different story of individuals who, out of loathing for McCarthy's America, chose a people they viewed as peace loving and who repaid their admiration until the tide turned with the Cultural Revolution."—United Nations Association Film Festival (Stanford University)

" * * * [3 stars]! Helps us to understand why men who were willing to lay down their lives for their country chose not to return home."—Eye Weekly

"A fascinating introduction to a little-known episode of Cold War history. Recommended."—Video Librarian

"Shuibo Wang is to be lauded for this exploration of what is still a contentious part of American history, and for his contribution to the historical debate by suggesting that perhaps these men, too, could be considered POW-heroes."—Film & History

2007 Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting
Jury Prize, 2006 Black Maria Film Festival
Remi Award, 2006 WorldFest-Houston
Golden Gate Award, 2006 San Francisco Film Festival
Nominee, 2006 IDA/ABC News Videosource Award
2006 United Nations Association Film Festival
2006 Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival

52 minutes / color
Closed Captioned
Release: 2006
Copyright: 2005
Sale: $348

Subject areas:
American Studies, Asia, China, Closed Captioned, Cold War Era, East Asia, Family Relations, History (World), Korea, Multi-Cultural Studies, Psychology

Related Links:
Shuibo Wang

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Last Updated August 17, 2015
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