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Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl is a 1919 silent film directed by D.W. Griffith. It was distributed by United Artists and premiered on May 13, 1919. It stars Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess and Donald Crisp, and tells the story of young girl, Lucy Burrows, who is abused by her alcoholic prizefighting father, Battling Burrows, and meets Cheng Huan, a kind-hearted Chinese man who falls in love with her. It is based on Thomas Burke's short story "The Chink and the Child" from the 1916 collection Limehouse Nights.
Cruelty and injustice against the innocent are a recurring theme in Griffith's films and are graphically portrayed here. The introductory card says, "We may believe there are no Battling Burrows, striking the helpless with brutal whip — but do we not ourselves use the whip of unkind words and deeds? So, perhaps, Battling may even carry a message of warning."
Broken Blossoms was released during a period of strong anti-Chinese feeling in the USA, a fear known as the Yellow Peril. The phrase "yellow peril" was common in the U.S. newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst. It was also the title of a popular book by an influential U.S. religious figure, G. G. Rupert, who published The Yellow Peril; or, Orient vs. Occident in 1911. Griffith changed Burke's original story to promote a message of tolerance. In Burke's story, the Chinese protagonist is a sordid young Shanghai drifter pressed into naval service, who frequents opium dens and whorehouses; in the film, he becomes a Buddhist missionary whose initial goal is to spread the word of Buddha and peace (although he is also shown frequenting opium dens when he is depressed). Even at his lowest point, he still prevents his gambling companions from fighting.ShareThis