Module 9: Spring River Flows East (1947)

Spring River Flows East 1947 still

A two-part, three-hankie weepie that has been likened to Gone With the Wind—an epic story of love, lust, heroism and betrayal set against a war that divided a nation. Made during China’s Civil War, this high-budget film boasting China’s leading actors follows a devoted wife who struggles to keep her family together during eight years of war, only to suffer a crushing betrayal.

This module corresponds to chapter 11 of the book Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949.

The film

Part 1:

Part 2:

Yi jiang chunshui xiang dong liu
Directors / Screenplay: Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli
Studio: Kunlun
Date of release: October 9, 1947
Part 1: Eight Years of Separation and Chaos 八年離亂
96 minutes
Part 2: Before and after the Dawn 天亮前後
91 minutes
Cast: Bai Yang, Tao Jin, Wu Yin, Yan Gongshang, Gao Zheng, Shu Xiuwen, Shangguan Yunzhu
English subtitles translated by Christopher Rea

Video lecture 1: Bringing the war home

16 minutes


  • A Chinese answer to “Gone with the Wind” (1939)
  • Similarities with earlier wartime blockbuster, after Eight Thousand Li of Clouds and Moon (1947)
  • Plot summary
  • Representing the war through categorical form

Video lecture 2: The river flows ever on

20 minutes


  • Representing moral vice and virtue through rhetorical form
  • Catharsis through identification and condemnation
  • Villains and paragons
  • Poetry and lyricism
  • The river of suffering (ku 苦) flows ever on
  • Images of deluge

Learn more:

Clips from Spring River Flows East

Zhang Zhongliang inspires factory workers to support the troops fighting the Japanese in the northeast in 1931:

He Wenyan, the wife of factory boss Manager Wen, contributes to the war effort in 1937:

One of several scenes in which the filmmakers intercut wartime newsreel footage with acted shots:

Zhang Zhongliang, in Chungking, begins having sex with Wang Lizhen:

Zhang Zhongliang is celebrating his marriage to Wang Lizhen in Chungking when he receives a letter from Sufen:

The big boss introduces his new personal assistant to his staff, and itemizes the parts of his wartime business:

Sufen takes care of war orphans in Shanghai:

After Manager Wen is jailed, and before Wang Lizhen arrives in Shanghai, He Wenyan offers to be Zhang Zhongliang’s “secret wife”:

The beggar’s song offers a moral critique of the gap between rich and poor in wartime China:

In the melodramatic climax of Part 2, Sufen recognizes her long-lost husband:

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