The story of David Hawkins, the youngest of 21 Americans who ‘chose China’ at the end of the Korean conflict.

Combining archival footage with new oral history interviews, the film brings to life Hawkins’ remarkable experiences during this crucial period in the history of ‘mind control’. It considers the ambiguities of autobiography, using the various, intertwined versions of Hawkins’s story to shed light both on Cold War politics and the changing ways in which we interpret, and pathologise, personal trauma.

David Hawkins: A Battle of the Mind was shortlisted for the AHRC’s Best Research Film of the Year Award 2017. The judges said: “This is a  film that equals anything broadcast but is the direct output of an extensive research project. The research and use of film archive is quite brilliant and its combination with interview explores the multiple levels at which the concepts of hidden persuasion interacted with political ideologies across the cold war.”‘

Nasheed Qamar Faruqi
Production Date


In 1953, aged just 19, David Hawkins was one of 21 American prisoners of war who chose to live in communist China rather than return to the US after the Korean War. The decision of the ‘21 who stayed’ led to widespread public scrutiny in the US; they were branded as communist agents, weak-willed turncoats, and victims of a powerful new psychological warfare technique: ‘brainwashing’. Hawkins encountered the power of these claims when he returned to the US in 1957. Yet he found them largely alien to his experiences in China. When the Hidden Persuaders Project first contacted Hawkins in the fall of 2014, he had only recently begun to find words and concepts that could convey what he had faced.

David Hawkins: A Battle of the Mind (2017), directed by Nasheed Qamar Faruqi, combines Hawkins’ extraordinary life story, the research of The Hidden Persuaders Project, and Faruqi’s skill in using film as a mode for exploring the psyche. Blending oral history and archival footage, Faruqi‘s film traces Hawkins’ journey to China and back to American soil, following the choices he made and how they have been interpreted and re-interpreted by the media, politicians, ‘psy’ professionals and Hawkins himself. This film presents a challenging narrative that frames the ‘battle’ for Hawkins’ mind as a search for self-understanding.

About the filmmaker

Nasheed Qamar Faruqi is a Pakistani woman and film maker who grew up in London. Her previous work includes Bubbles (2015), a fictional short that screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner in 2015.

Cast & Crew

Yann Heckmann
Original Music
Zahra Mani
Sound Design
Gernot Fuhrmann
Pierangelo Pirak

This film features interviews with David Hawkins conducted by Daniel Pick, Marcia Holmes, Charlie Williams, and Nasheed Qamar Faruqi.

Produced by the Hidden Persuaders project, and funded by the Wellcome Trust.

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