China and Spain, 1936-39: Capa and the Global Popular Front

April 4, 2011

On Saturday, April 23, Columbia University and the International Center of Photography will present a day-long symposium titled “China and Spain, 1936-39: Robert Capa and the Global Popular Front.” Bringing together eleven scholars from the U.S. and China, the symposium will explore the interconnections between the Spanish Civil War and the concurrent Chinese war of resistance against invading Japanese forces.

A focal point of the symposium will be the photographs of Robert Capa, who won early fame for his dramatic battlefield images in Spain in 1936-37. It is less well known that Capa spent much of 1938 covering the fighting in central China, during a period that witnessed surprising cooperation between Chiang Kai-Shek’s Guomindang (Nationalist) forces and their Communist rivals. Based in Wuhan, which had become the Nationalist capital after the Japanese conquest of Nanjing in December 1937, Capa was part of an extensive international contingent of writers, reporters, photojournalists, and filmmakers that included W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Joris Ivens, and Agnes Smedley.

The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 9:45 am to 6 pm in 301 Philosophy Hall on the Columbia University campus. It will be followed at 8 pm by a screening in 413 Kent Hall of Joris Ivens’s 1938 documentary The 400 Million, a film on which Capa collaborated.

Co-sponsors of the symposium include the Columbia University Confucius Institute, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Institute of Comparative Literature and Society, European Institute, Department of History, Department of English, Department of Anthropology, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, and Weatherhead East Asian Institute.

Symposium schedule

9:45 am:
Opening Remarks: Lydia H. Liu (Columbia University), “The Forgotten Story of Internationalist Resistance to Fascism”

10:00 am
Morning Session: “From Madrid to Wuhan and Yan’an,” moderated by Rebecca Karl (NYU)

Andrew Lee (NYU), “Victims of Fascism: China and Spain”

Stephen MacKinnon (Arizona State University), “Capa’s Wuhan and the Madrid Connection”

Hwei-Ru Ni and Len Tsou (Independent Scholars, New York City): “Today in Spain, Tomorrow in China: The Chinese Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)”

1:30 pm:
Afternoon Session: “Robert Capa in China, ” moderated by John Rajchman (Columbia University)

Shi Zhimin (Photographer and Independent Scholar, Beijing), “Capa’s Unfulfilled Assignment and Brooke Dolan’s Suicide: The Meaning of Survival on Home Front China”

Wang Baoguo (Chinese Photography magazine, Beijing), “Capa’s China Photography at the Juncture Between Orientalism and Humanism”

Christopher Phillips (ICP), “Capa in China: Archival Traces in the ICP Collection”

Bao Kun (Photography critic, Beijing), “The Impact of the Left-Wing Intellectual Movement on the World of Photography in the 1930s: Capa and His Fellow Travelers”

Closing remarks by Christopher Phillips

8 pm:
Film Screening, 413 Kent Hall.
Joris Ivens, The 400 Million (1938, 53 minutes), introduced by Christopher Phillips

For further information, please contact Myra Sun at and Anatoly Detwyler at