A one-minute newsreel from the BFI National Archive: A City of Chaos (1927). For more, see the ‘Refugee Week Collection’ on BFI Player. In most cases, these BFI titles will be available to book and screen for no cost. Please get in touch via with details of your screening.

A City of Chaos (1927) 1 min UK

This poignant newsreel item captures the panic on the streets of Shanghai as Chinese citizens seek protection from Communist and Kuomintang violence behind Allied barricades. Within days of its release Chiang Kai-shek would declare martial law in the city and his Kuomintang would initiate the Shanghai Massacre, a brutal purge of Communists, including mass arrests and executions.

Unlike some other British newsreel items filmed in Shanghai at the time, this film focuses on the Chinese reaction to the grim events and shows ordinary people fleeing the conflict, often struggling with large bundles of possessions and furniture. The streets are swollen with refugees, and glimpses of Western military uniforms and barbed wire barricades are also on view. Towards the end of the film, a man is seen carrying a traditional shoulder yoke, with one basket full of belongings and the other holding a small child.