Hogg was a British journalist in China in 1938 who wound up supporting and escorting a bunch of young orphaned Chinese boys from Huang Shi to Shandan (somewhere out west beyond Lanzhou) in a mini-Long March to prevent their conscription by either of the armies. (Don't even ask why it was a bunch of boys.) It's an emotional story that had me weeping like a Korean drama actress.
But I was puzzled why I never heard of this guy. I've explored these Old China Hand stories a lot; I am intrigued by the biographies of Graham Peck, Christopher Rand, David Kidd, John Blofeld...all those guys whose varied paths seemed to cross in some salon or other in late '30s China. But George Hogg? I can find no reference in Christopher Rand's son Peter's "China Hands" book, and I don't recall Graham Peck, a friend of Rewi Alley, making any reference to him. (But maybe I wasn't paying attention.) But there he is, with a grand story, made into a film in 2008.
In the movie, all connections to Rewi Alley are ignored (perhaps because Alley was a gay New Zealand Communist).
But what a film! Apart from a performance by a woman who was only slightly less annoying than Ally (not Rewi) Sheedy in "Short Circuit," the movie was enthralling, capturing the horrors of the Japanese occupation of China. (Perhaps we are interested in this now because tales of the Holocaust have gotten a little stale. But fascist brutality is fascist brutality in any hemisphere.) This history is poignant, perhaps ironic, in light of current bizarre Chinese posturing -- denying Nobel peace prizes and imprisoning people because they protest the handling of the baby milk scandal.
Politics aside, the movie has some spectacular scenes in the Chinese countryside, the most fabulous camel caravan I've even seen in film --dozens of Bactrian extras-- and a death scene in an abandoned Buddhist monastery that rivals anything in the longer Chinese dramas I have become addicted to. Which reminds me to remind you -- keep up with your tetanus shots! Not a nice way to go, even with a Buddha watching over you.
I think my favorite scene is when the little long march arrives in Lanzhou and is met by the local magistrate. Bear in mind this is a period of warlords and Communists and Nationalists and Japanese and who knows who. The exhausted Hogg explains that after having marched the boys for two months from Huang Shi, he will push on to Shandan. The inscrutable magistrate says, "I cannot let you do this." It's a heart stopping moment.
Until the magistrate says, "I have four Dodge trucks. You can borrow them." And off they go in those sturdy truck-tanks to safety. (I once owned, in 1972, a 1950 Dodge truck that I wish I still had. It was built like a tank, but had a really bad carburetor. I would love to have driven it across the Gobi. With a lot of cute young Chinese men. With good mechanical skills.)
I give this movie maybe an 88 on the Tao 61 scale. I stumbled onto it at the Blockbuster next door to my hairdresser. I chalk it up to some kind of synchronistic karma that I found it right before I got my haircut, an element that turns up in the film, but there, to rid the boys of lice.
Here's an excellent summary of the real story of George Hogg, with photos. If you watch the movie, you'll want to read this. If you read this you'll want to watch the movie.