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The Bitter Tea of General Yen

The Bitter Tea of General Yen(1933)


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Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, elderly missionaries in Shanghai, welcome guests to their home for the wedding of Dr. Robert Strike, a fellow missionary, and Megan Davis, Bob's childhood sweetheart whom he has not seen in three years. Shortly after Megan arrives, however, Bob rushes in with the news that the wedding must be postponed so that he can rescue some orphans in terrible danger from the spreading civil war. Megan waits in the car while Bob pleads with General Yen, a powerful Chinese warlord, to give him a safe passage pass, but Yen, contemptuous of Bob's missionary ideals, gives him a worthless paper describing Bob's foolishness. Megan and Bob reach the orphanage safely, but the pass only makes the soldiers laugh and steal their car when they try to leave with the children. The beleaguered missionaries and children reach the train station, but in the chaos, Bob and Megan are both knocked unconscious and are separated. Megan regains consciousness in the private train of Yen and is attended by his lovely concubine, Mah-Li. They soon arrive at Yen's summer palace, where Jones, Yen's American financial advisor, is waiting to tell Yen that he has succeeded in raising six million dollars, hidden in a nearby boxcar, for Yen's war chest. Yen, who is fascinated by the beautiful, spirited Megan, tells her it is unsafe to send her back to Shanghai due to the wartime violence. Soon, after Megan's own attraction to Yen is revealed to her in an unsettling dream, she accepts his invitation to dinner. It becomes obvious that Mah-Li is betraying Yen with Captain Li, one of his soldiers, and after dinner, Yen arrests Mah-Li for being a spy. When Megan intervenes, Yen challenges her to prove her Christian zeal by chaperoning Mah-Li and forfeiting her own life if Mah-Li proves unfaithful again. Megan naively accepts and ends up unwittingly helping Mah-Li betray Yen by passing information to his enemies about the location of his hidden fortune. The enemy soldiers steal Yen's fortune, and Yen is ruined, deserted by his army and servants. Yen cannot take Megan's life, however, for it is too precious to him, and after she leaves his room in tears, he prepares a cup of poisoned tea for himself. Megan returns, dressed in the Chinese finery Yen gave her, and waits on him, pampering him just as Mah-Li did. He smiles when she says that she could never leave him, then nobly drinks the poisoned tea. Later, on a boat back to Shanghai, Jones and Megan contemplate the beauty and tragedy of Yen's life, and Jones comforts Megan with the thought that one day she will be reunited with him.