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Jin Yan

Jin Yan: The Rudolph Valentino of Shanghai

Richard J. Meyer
With foreword by Robert Dallek
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Jin Yan
    Book Description:

    The Rudolph Valentino of Shanghai tells the remarkable story of the "Emperor of Film," who dominated the golden age of Chinese silent movies. Jin Yan (金錎) achieved his greatest stardom in the 1930s, when women literally threw themselves at his feet. Married first to the Shanghai actress Wang Renmei, his movie roles with "the Goddess" Ruan Ling-yu spurred public demand for more of them together in films made by the leading studio, Lianhua. It was Jin who made Ruan aware of film's awesome power to portray social problems while evading the censors with melodramatic soap opera formats. Jin's life spanned the most turbulent period in modern Chinese history - a childhood escape from Japanese-occupied Korea, through the long civil war, the bitter Cultural Revolution, and Deng Xiaoping's reformation. Jin's embodiment of the modernizing May Fourth ideals of the 1920s and 30s added a new layer of sexuality to the liberal movement. But the Communists later cast Jin aside in their campaign to "learn from Lei Feng," a humble young soldier. As Jin's second wife Qin Yi rose to new heights in the politically charged film world, the sick and aging star languished in obscurity. Reproducing dozens of beautiful stills from the personal collection of Qin Yi and the China Film Archive, Richard Meyer contextualizes Jin's tragic transformation with riveting details on many fellow performers.

    eISBN: 978-988-8052-44-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Robert Dallek

    Popular culture is a mirror on the political, economic, and social life of a nation. Richard Meyer’s biography of Jin Yan is an excellent case in point.

    As Meyer shows us, Jin was the Rudolph Valentino of his day, the 1930s–1950s, when China went through massive upheavals: the Japanese invasion and occupation of China, World War II, the dislocations caused not only by the war but famine and disease, and a ruthless Nationalist government that killed countless numbers of people to maintain its hold on power.

    Jin was a movie star who not only entertained people, and by so...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Richard J. Meyer
  6. Cast of Characters in the Life of Jin Yan
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Growing Up in Exile
    (pp. 1-10)

    When the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV opened its beautiful National Film Museum to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Chinese film in 2005, the most famous leading man of the pre-Communist era was resurrected from obscurity. There in the main gallery depicting the history of Chinese film was the portrait of Jin Yan with scenes from his most famous motion pictures. Why, after being erased from memory during the Cultural Revolution, did the so-called “Emperor of Film” reemerge in this massive, modern glass and steel structure,¹ an edifice described by The New York Times as “spectacular”?²

    Jin Yan’s...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Breaking into the Shanghai Film World
    (pp. 11-22)

    The old steamer headed up-current just before dawn on March 8, 1927. The filthy waters of the Wangpu River splashed against its hull as it passed Japanese, British, and American warships anchored in mid-channel. A tall seventeen-year-old man clung to the railing of the vessel as it pushed aside junks laden with food, lumber, and other goods from the interior of China. The boy could smell the fetid odors of the thousands of souls who inhabited small sampans and shacks along the banks. He scarcely noticed the corpses floating on the surface. All he could think about was that at...

  9. CHAPTER 3 “The Emperor of Film”
    (pp. 23-44)

    Shanghai in late winter was cold and damp. The hazy sun set early bringing a biting wind chill to those who traveled or slept on the streets. Yet as the 1930s began, the city was at its most prosperous peak.¹ Lianhua studios had investors’ money to make films and their stable of directors, actors, and writers possessed some of the finest talent in world cinema.

    Sun Yu, although ill, decided to begin filming Yecao Xianhua (Wild Flower), which he had written, with Jin Yan and Ruan Lingyu in mind for the leads. The director had been quite demanding when he...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Japanese Strike
    (pp. 45-64)

    The up and coming director Fei Mu, while delighted to have Jin Yan and Ruan Ling-yu assigned to him for his debut film at Lianhua, decided to shock the audience. The director cast Jin in his first role as a screen villain. Fei, who had been educated in a French school in Beijing, was a famous writer before his move to Shanghai in 1932. His directorial bow a few months later with City Nights was critically acclaimed. The film concerns class tensions between workers and capitalists with a clear bias for the working poor.

    Ruan plays the daughter of a...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The War Years
    (pp. 65-80)

    One month after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Jin Yan and his wife Wang Renmei and the cream of Shanghai’s actors appeared in a stage production called “Defending the Lu Gou Bridge.” The play was a sensation in Shanghai and was part of a concerted effort by the inhabitants of the city to demonstrate their hatred of the Japanese invasion.¹

    Chinese troops were forming around Shanghai’s outskirts as Chiang Kei-shek realized that he could not defeat the Japanese in the north. He hoped that by concentrating his efforts in Shanghai with its large International Settlement, he could induce the Western...

  12. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER 6 The New China
    (pp. 81-92)

    Jin Yan returned to a city throttled by the KMT. He discovered that the party had taken over all of the film studios in Shanghai right after the war. They seized the excellent motion picture equipment that the Japanese had left behind. The actors and directors who had remained in the city during the occupation were accused of being “traitorous filmmakers.” Many were indicted for “the crimes of conspiring with the enemy nation.” A large number of them fled to Hong Kong, which benefited greatly from the talent and capital in the British colony’s post-war construction.¹

    The KMT also appropriated...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Sick and Alone
    (pp. 93-116)

    The Shanghai Movie Company started production soon after the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Although Qin Yi, and to some degree Jin Yan, had been involved in the planning of the CCP production studio, tension developed between their Shanghai culture and those who had arrived from Yan’an, the Communist base area during the civil war. This unease between the two forces would pervade and dominate filmmaking for many years. The Shanghai moviemakers were associated with the social and geographical elements that had the least trust of the CCP leadership. The cadres from the countryside had views and...

  15. CHAPTER 8 The Legacy of Jin Yan
    (pp. 117-122)

    In death, Jin Yan suddenly took on a new importance. Leading individuals from the Ministry of Culture attended his funeral. Jin’s wife, Qin Yi, his beloved step-daughter Jin Fei Heng, and a handful of film people were there. His son, Jin Jie, was too frightened to attend because his father had not yet been cremated and the son could not bear to view the corpse. The boy was present later when the actor’s ashes were interred.

    Jin Fei Heng recalled that when her father died and she saw his body “the sky had fallen.”¹ The actor’s mentor from the Golden...

  16. Interview with Qin Yi, Shanghai, PRC — December 15, 16, 17, 2005
    (pp. 123-160)

    Richard J. Meyer: Where did you see films in the 1930s?

    Qin Yi: Shanghai.

    RJM: Do you remember what theater and what year?

    QY: The cinema downstairs from my office was built in the 1920s and I saw some of them there.

    RJM: Do you remember how old you were when you saw your first film?

    QY: I was seven when I started to see movies. Most of the films I saw were ones with Ruan Ling-yu. I particularly remember The Peach Girl.

    RJM: Were you in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation or did you and your family go to...

  17. Filmography of Jin Yan
    (pp. 161-170)
  18. Sources for Jin Yan’s Films
    (pp. 171-172)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-186)
  20. About the Author
    (pp. 187-189)