The Yellow Cruise, a conquest of the East to conquer the West

The Yellow Cruise, a conquest of the East to conquer the West

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  • The Yellow Cruise.

  • Citroën autochenille.

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Title: Citroën autochenille.

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Dimensions: Height 28 - Width 82

Technique and other indications: Metal

Storage location: National Museum of Car and Tourism website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Picture reference: 04-512003 / CMV288

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Publication date: December 2010

Historical context

1931, year of the colonies in France

Three weeks before the official opening of the Colonial Exhibition in Paris, André Citroën gave the signal for the departure of the most publicized and the most followed of his four continental expeditions of the interwar period: the Yellow Cruise. Also called the “Citroën Center-Asia Expedition”, the mission of the Yellow Cruise is to prove to the world the technical qualities of the French manufacturer's vehicles, but also to collect as much scientific data as possible. Citroën provides “its” explorers with all-terrain vehicles and state-of-the-art technological equipment for taking pictures. It is led by André Sauvage (1891-1975), author of great documentaries like Portrait of Greece in 1927 or Studies on Paris in 1928. The organizers of the expedition count on the interest shown by the French for their colonies, nourished by travel literature, and, because of the importance of the economic stakes, also hope to assert the French power, in particular after his difficult victory against Germany in 1918.

Image Analysis

The tools of conquest

The movie poster is built on a very sharp contrast between a left part of a golden yellow, symbol of the rising sun and the skin color of Asians, and a dark right part while rocks seen from a low angle. If the play of color in the texts, below, reinforce this opposition, the visual dynamic of this poster is in fact more complex: the strong diagonal that it imposes on the viewer's gaze accentuates the perception of the vertiginous abyss where the autochenille could fall, like the rocks it knocks down there. This very close foreground responds to the deep second plan where, like an apparition, the threatening figure of the conqueror Genghis Khan floats on the eternal snows of the distant Himalayas.

The real hero of the expedition is the autochenille invented by engineer Adolphe Kégresse (1879-1943), whom viewers know to have triumphed - without knowing the details, however. The metal scale model kept at the Automobile Museum with its trailer does not reproduce the mythical "Golden Scarab" P19, the Pamir group's command vehicle recognizable by its tank on the side and its passenger seats, but a vehicle usual C6, heavier, used by the China group, which could carry up to 450 kilos of load in its trailer. If this reduced model shows some details of the machine, such as the front roller and the roof made of a light tarpaulin, the color underlines its two strong points: its mat rubber tracks, more resistant and quieter than the metal, and its robust, simple equipment, resistant to the sands of the Gobi as the temperatures of Central Asia, scorching by day, freezing at night.


The imaginary cruise

In the poster, the members of the expedition are indistinct figures gathered around their vehicle. The spectator associates their epic with that of Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants, but also with that of other French tanks, Citroën those, in 1918. The poster of the film is inspired by a photograph taken near Godhaï and immediately broadcast: the autochenille appears suspended between the collapsed track and a bottomless precipice. If the readers of Le Fèvre in The Illustration know that it took nearly five hours of effort to pull through this vehicle weighing more than 2 tons, few French people know the rest of the story: faced with natural obstacles and geopolitical difficulties (revolts and rivalry between European powers), Citroën had to give up. Most of the half-tracks set off in the opposite direction, only two cross the passes, but in separate parts.

In these times of France's colonial triumph, challenged by the first independence movements in the Maghreb, Asia appears as an El Dorado, a front to be opened. The Citroën C6 scale model thus nourishes an imagination built on half-truths, such as the story of the expedition. The film The Yellow Cruise attracted countless spectators, whetted their appetites by its spectacular poster, widely distributed and reproduced in books. However, Sauvage has been criticized for having insufficiently emphasized Citroën and the role of the French authorities. He was sidelined following his use of intertitles, his long sequences on the Moï populations, filmed in Indochina in April 1932, and his refusal of Georges Le Fèvre's off-commentary, which he considered too nationalist. The final editing is entrusted to Léon Poirier, director of The Black Cruise (1926), who had refused this new trip. The film was finally released in 1934, but André Sauvage, a friend of Breton and Max Jacobs, gave up cinema - sacrificed on the altar of colonial marketing.

  • automobile
  • cinema
  • Citroën cruises
  • colonial history
  • expedition


Ariane AUDOUIN-DUBREUIL, Croisière Jaune: sur la Route de la Soie, Grenoble, Glénat, 2007. Pascal BLANCHARD and Sandrine LEMAIRE, Colonial Culture. France conquered by its empire, 1871-1931, Paris, Autrement, 2003. Raoul GIRARDET, The Colonial Idea in France, Paris, Hachette, 2007. Jacques WOLGENSINGER, L'Épopée de la Croisière Jaune, Paris, Robert Laffont, 2002.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The Yellow Cruise, a conquest of the East to conquer the West"

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