CITY NEWS

Flying high
SHEN Zejiang still feels a little regret over giving up his pilot's career to be president of China Eastern Airlines Co Ltd (CEA).

Kids learn od city's culture
"SOCIETY is the largest and most effective classroom," said Zheng Hong, a painting teacher at Shanghai German School.

More control spraying of termite nests downtown
FOUR more termite nests have been found along Nanjing Road since the first was discovered in a tree on the street's pedestrian section two weeks ago. One of the nests is located in a well-known fashion store on the road.

A toast to queen's health
THE British Consulate-General held a large reception on Thursday at Regal International East Asia Hotel to celebrate the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.

JV insurers get diplomas at Fudan
TWENTY-TWO marketing professionals from AXA-Minmetals Assurance Co - the first Sino-French insurance joint venture - received their diplomas on Sunday from local Fudan University in a Fudan-AXA-Minmetals training and development programme.

Better air quality reported
SHANGHAI'S air quality turned for the better last week from the previous week, according to a report from the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Centre.

Drugs hit female, young
MORE female and juvenile addicts were found among the increasing number of drug-consumers, according to the result of a survey conducted recently by the city of 300 registered drug addicts.

Erotic dancers caught in act
A MAN was recently arrested for organizing obscene dance performances to attract customers to a club, according to Jinshan District Procuratorate.

$12,000 still unclaimed
BAOSHAN District police are still looking for the owner of over 100,000 yuan ($12,000) found on a road in the district nearly two months ago.

Survey finds lead in teas
LOCAL tea drinkers are warned to be careful about what they drink because some teas have been found to contain excessive levels of lead and pesticide.

Police seize thief wanted by Japan
THE last of two Shanghai residentswanted by Japanese police for involvement in a series of thefts in Japan

Whiter than white at the tooth wash
YOU will read elsewhere of a sparkling new service about to close in on Shanghai - a teeth cleaning laundry.

Likely end to two-way charges on cell phones
DESPITE the massive popularity of mobile phones in China, the world's second largest market for cell phones, many users bemoan the high charges they incur through the two-way billing system.


Film stars light way for future women

WOMEN knew their place in China at the beginning of the 20th century.

Those from poor backgrounds would work the fields or help out in small family shops. Those born to wealthy families would live lives of leisure - and dependence.

"Decent" women were taught to hide themselves, to veil themselves in modesty. It was unthinkable that they should advertise their talents and push themselves into the limelight in search of a career.

But with the age of the cinema in 1920s Shanghai, came a generation of new women who broke the mould.

Women like film stars Hu Die and Ruan Lingyu who rose to unprecedented fame in the movies. Before them, the only "profession" open to women was prostitution. Now, for the first time, pretty, intelligent young women established themselves in good jobs that had no relation to either the bedroom or the kitchen.

The story goes that one day in the 1920s, a young girl visited the Forbidden City in Beijing with her father. When they approached the throne in the ancient palace, the girl suddenly pulled her hand free from her father's grip and scrambled up onto the throne declaring: "If I can't become an emperor in the future, I will become the queen."

The girl was Hu Die and her prophetic words were fulfilled in 1933 when she was crowned China's first "Film Queen." She was 25 that year.

But film stars in old Shanghai were targets both for admiration and attack. On the silver screen, they acted out stories of life and death, tears and laughter, unification and separation. And their personal lives were full of similar trials.

Just two years after Hu Die was crowned, her close friend, actress Ruan Lingyu, committed suicide. She died on March 8, 1933, International Women's Day, after vicious gossip-mongering in local tabloids drove her to take her own life. Ruan was just 25 years old when she died.

Hu was not able to escape suffering either. She had a loving husband but Kuomintang secret intelligence boss Dai Li forced her to become his mistress in 1944. He threatened harm to her family unless she succumbed to his will and she was unable to escape his clutches for two years. But in 1946, Dai died in an air crash.

On screen, these stars portrayed new women who worked and were independent in mind and finances.

Before 1920, around 20 short movies were made in Shanghai and Hong Kong. All the performers were male with even the female roles taken by men in drag.

In 1921, China's first actresses made it into film. During the 1920s, Shanghai's 90 film companies produced some 600 films. And about 100 actresses shot to fame in the booming industry, China's first generation of women film stars.

It took great courage for these early actresses to go out to work, "exposing" themselves to the public.

They had to bear constant criticism and were labelled "prostitutes."

Many of these actresses were actually very well educated. Both Hu and Ruan went to prestigious schools. In fact only two of the famous actresses formerly worked in brothels.

One was Wang Caiyun. By the time she became famous, she had already stopped working as a prostitute and married the son of a rich businessman. Wang's husband was a friend of a film maker who was looking for a talented actress. Wang was chosen for her ability to give gritty, real-life performances.

The other was Fan Jingxuan, one of the first four actresses to succeed in film. She wrote an article in 1956 in which she revealed she had been forced into the "pit of fire" due to poverty when she was young. Fan had studied Peking Opera since she was nine years old and was a natural at acting. A director named Zhang Shichuan discovered Fan and helped her out of prostitution.

This first generation of actresses were positive new role models for young women. It was they who paved the way for the much improved status that Shanghai women enjoy today.

(By Joshua Shi)

Copyright 2000 by Shanghai Star. All rights reserved.