The Shanghai of the 1930s is remembered fondly today for its exhilarating mix of smoky jazz clubs, even smokier opium dens and a burgeoning film industry that is responsible for many of China’s classic films. Back then, stars like Zhou Xuan, Wang Renmei and Bai Yang were household names. A collection of photos, donated by Wu Yinxian to China’s Art Museum, features original images of these stars of the screen from nearly a century ago.
Zhao Huichen, photographed from 1936-1937. She only acted in one movie in her entire life, called Street Angel. After the end of the Chinese Civil War she became a screenwriter for operas, a script editor, and the deputy director of the Beijing Film Studio. Unfortunately, she died during the Cultural Revolution in 1967.
Zhou Xuan, photographed from 1936 to 1937. Zhou had a harsh upbringing. She was sold by her opium-addicted uncle and arrived in Shanghai as an infant. Though she had two pairs of adoptive parents, she never met her real parents. Despite this difficulty, she managed to enter the film industry and was the main female protagonist in Street Angel. Along with having the ability to act, she also sang “The Wandering Songstress,” which is featured in the film. Zhou died at the early age of 39.
Yuan Muzhi, photographed in 1936. He directed the movie Street Angel, one of the classics of Chinese cinema. When the Second Sino-Japanese War started, he actively promoted anti-Japanese sentiment. He died in 1978.
Lu Luming, photographed from 1935 to 1937. She appeared in Children of Troubled Times, and starred in Sunset, The Sinful Adultress, and The Young Mistress Fan. The films instantly turned her into a well-known celebrity. When she retired, she was working at a day care center.
This is a film still from the movie Children of Troubled Times, shot in 1936. The picture features Lu Luming and Wang Renmei.
Wang Renmei, photographed in 1935. She acted for Lianhua Film Company, Diantong Film Company and Kunlun Film Company, starring in Song of the Fishermen, Children of Troubled Times and Top Gun. Wang was married twice, first to Jin Yan, then to Ye Qianyu. During the Cultural Revolution, Wang was criticized but survived. She passed away in 1987.
Bai Yang, photographed from 1934 to 1936. She starred in Unite Tomorrow, For Peace, Blessing, and Dong Mei. Through these movies, Bai created many moving scenes and shaped the impressions people have of women. In the 1980s, she returned to play Soong Ching Ling in a TV serial. Bai passed away in 1996.
Bai Yang again, photographed from 1934 to 1937. She was one of the four most famous Chinese actors of her time. She rose to fame in 1936 in the comedy/drama Crossroads. When the Second Sino-Japanese War started, Bai, Chen Baichen and Shen Fuzu formed a film crew to help spread anti-Japanese propaganda. After the war, she starred in films such as Eight Thousand Li of Cloud and Moon and The Spring River Flows East.
Shi Chao, photographed from 1934 to 1935. A voice actor, he worked for the Xinhua Film Company and collaborated with actors Jin Shan, Jin Yan and Wang Renmei. After the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, he moved to Chongqing to start a war drama movement. Shi passed away in 1944 due to lung disease.
Ye Qiuxin, photographed from 1932 to 1936. She entered the film industry in 1932 and was highly regarded for her beauty. However, she married the brother of a famous general in the Nationalist Party and during the war, became homeless and penniless. She later moved to Hubei and worked in a factory, passing away in 1984.
Peep, a movie filmed from 1932 to 1934, starred Chen Yumei and was produced by Tianyi Film Company. Chen was the aunt of the Shao brothers, who were in charge of the company, and often referred to her as the “boss’ wife.” She rose to fame in the 1930s and passed away in 1975.
If you’re looking for a good movie to watch this weekend, here’s Street Angel with English subtitles: