sunday in peking documentary

Documentary Depicts A 1955 Beijing In Vivid Imagery

Life back then had steam rollers, bound feet, and gymnastics

The documentary A Sunday in Peking (Dimanche a Pekin), has taken the internet by storm with its footage of early-mid 20th century China. Directed by Chris Marker, the footage was restored directly from the Kodachrome film stock, bringing a sense of realism rarely seen in documentaries on China.

sunday in peking documentary

sunday in peking documentary

While many of the scenes in the film appear to be staged, it’s still a welcome bit of nostalgia. With the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution still to come, life in 1955 seems to reflect a simpler time.

A Sunday in Peking also shows that despite the rapid urbanization that defines modern China, some things haven’t changed. Beijing’s parks are still packed with people enjoying their time off, while city avenues are still jammed with tiny stores and alleys that lead to the city’s hutongs.

sunday in peking documentary

Most surprising however is that face masks worn by residents were about as common in 1955 Beijing as they are today. While there doesn’t seem to be as much air pollution and haze judging by the city’s blue skies, the city was still prone to sand storms. Perhaps least surprising, is the city’s love affair with military parades, which as the photos suggest, were just as popular 60 years ago as they are today.

sunday in peking documentary

Seeing face masks make an appearance in the documentary had a big impact on many Chinese netizens. One person wrote, “The smog back then was also severe,” while another said, “So back in 1955, Beijing already had smog?!!!

Sunday in Peking recently had its Kodachrome film stock fully restored.

Here’s the video on Youku, with full English narration:

And here it is on Youtube:

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor