Zhou Xuan, Zhao Dan and Chinese cinema.


I love Zhou Xuan, 周旋. Chinese actress of the 1930’s and 40’s. The highest paid at one point. The end of her life did not seem right, and there is speculation as to where all her money went. Not easy to find this clip on youtube, took me a couple of hours. Its probably her most famous film, ‘Street Angel’ which in Mandarin is ‘Malu Tian Shi’. I can recognise some words, need a few more years.

Zhou Xuan 周旋 is not forgotten.

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The above is the first half of a very well known film, the second half ‘xia’ is on youtube too.

Here is a url for a more comic version of the ‘Song of Four Seasons’ which occurs early in the film, she is flirting with her boyfriend played by the wonderful and talented Zhao Dan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxu8Kxuf-Sg 

Both of them have a great talent for acting, it is impossible not to be drawn into their characters and sympathise with them. 

Zhao Dan, well known Chinese actor. 

Heres Zhao Dan, suffered during the Cultural Revolution. How could anyone wish to harm him??

Doesn’t he look a nice man, an honest face and I would think a very interesting man to be with.

Heres another interesting article:

Zhao Huishen and Zhou Xuan in Street Angel

This year is the centennial of Chinese film, and Renwu magazine, in concert with the Biography Center of the People’s Publishing House, Renwu Online, and Sina, conducted a survey to determine the ten most influential people in the Chinese film industry in the past century.209,542 ballots were cast in Sina’s online survey, which was supplemented by a panel of judges from Renwu, People’s Publishing House, and Renwu Online to provide historical perspective they felt would be lacking in the youthful online audience (each group counted for 50% of the final selection). Candidates were selected based on their importance within the film industry as well as their influence on society at large.

The ten names selected (nine individuals plus the Shaw brothers as a group) stretch from the silent era, through the prewar Shanghai golden age, up to the present day. Actors, directors, and producers are all represented; the preponderance of men in the non-acting categories accounts for only two of the ten being women, namely, actresses Zhou Xuan (pictured) and Gong Li. With only ten slots, some important people were bound to get left out – I would have chosen Liu Xiaoqing over Gong Li – and even the original group of 30 candidates was not at all comprehensive.

The list of the ten most influential people in the first century of Chinese film follows, in roughly chronological order (note that in the link, which has pictures, the order is reversed).

  • Zheng Zhengqiu (1889-1935), writer and first-generation director, was one of the chief founders of Chinese cinema. His A Couple in Hard Times was China’s first narrative movie.
  • Shaw Brothers, director & producers, who between 1925 and the 1970s shot over 1000 films, including China’s first martial arts film and its first Cantonese language film.
  • Cai Chusheng (1906-1968), second-generation director, founder of Chinese realist cinema. Known for The Spring River Flows East.
  • Zhao Dan (1915-1980), actor, appeared in 1930s films like Street Angel, as well as post-revolutionary classics like Lin Zexu and Nie Er.
  • Zhou Xuan (1918-1957), actress, also appeared in Street Angel, for which she sang two songs, rocketing her to screen idol stardom.
  • Xie Jin (1923- ), fourth-generation director of Legend of Tianyun Mountan and Hibiscus Town.
  • Bruce Lee (1940-1973), actor, King of Kung-fu.
  • Zhang Yimou (1951- ), fifth-generation director and actor, Red Sorghum, Hero, etc.
  • Ang Lee (1954- ), Academy Award-winning director, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
  • Gong Li (1965- ), actress, Red Sorghum, The Story of Qiu Ju

Note: the final ten were selected from a pool of thirty; the remaining 20 nominees were: Ruan Lingyu, Zheng Junli, Tang Xiaodan, Cui Wei, Shanggong Yuanzhu, Bai Yang, Liu Xiaoqing, Jackie Chan, Chen Kaige, Wang Kar-wai, Tsui Hark, Stephen Chow, Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung, Ge You, Andy Lau, Jiang Wen, Zhang Manyu, Jia Zhangke, and Zhang Ziyi.

Links and Sources

In this film she sang two of her most memorable songs: “Wandering Singing Girl (天涯歌女)” and “Song of the Four Seasons (四季歌).” She continued her singing and acting careers throughout the war years and by 1949 had recorded over 200 records and performed in scores of films. She is perhaps the most famous singer of this period, but I may be biased.

Her personal and professional career declined precipitously in 1951 when she suffered a nervous breakdown resulting from family problems and a disastrous love affair, and despite some improvement, her health continued to decline during the 50s. She passed away in Shanghai on 22 September 1957, the very epitome of the tragic singing star who dies of a broken heart.


As a postscript here is some more information on Zhou Xuan (unauthenticated) from http://sevencastles.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!7C5A2F3DB6C97D9A!6617.entry:

Zhou Xuan was once the most popular actress in China’s entertainment industry; described as the Marilyn Monroe of 1930s Shanghai or the Chinese equivalent of Judy Garland in terms of fame, talent, and off-screen troubles. Her tragic early death elevated her status from a movie star to a legend. Although her brilliant screen images were known to millions of fans, her personal life always remained a controversial mystery, and there was always a dispute about her real identity.

Her troubles started with her abandonment at birth. Born on August 1, 1920 into a Su family in Changzhou, Jiangsu, her original name was Su Pu. At the age of 3, she was swindled by her mother’s brother, an opium addict, to another city and was sold to a Wang family, where they called her Wang Xiaohong. Later, she was again sent to a Zhou family, and they changed her last name to Zhou. They sent her to a local song and dance ensemble when she was around 7 and when she was 12, she joined “Bright Moon”, a then famous song and dance troupe in Shanghai, where she took the stage name of Zhou Xuan (“Xuan” means “beautiful jade” in Chinese) and gradually rose in fame with her enchanting voice. At the age of 14 she was selected as the second most popular female singer of China, and then people began to nickname her “Golden Voice” Zhou Xuan.

Before long, she sang professionally and played some supporting roles in movies. Her talent marked her out, and soon she played lead roles and recorded some of the most popular songs of the day. Since 1935, she began her stardom in a series of films including contemporary hits like “Street Angel”, “Dark Night”, “Night Inn”, “Menglijun”, “Recall to Jiangnan” and others. Dubbed “the forerunner of the new realism genre”, “Street Angel”(1937), set in 1930s China, depicts the life of down-and-outs scraping an existence at the bottom of the social ladder. In the movie, she portrayed a female singer who despite of suffering great insult, still held an aspiration toward future. She sang two of her most memorable songs: “Wandering Singing Girl” and “Song of the Four Seasons”. The film soon turned out to be a great success. What is more, the two theme songs that she sang also enjoyed long lasting popularity. From then on, she became one of the top female singer-actresses in China. Considered the first pop diva in modern China, in 1945, she gave three solo sold-out concerts in Shanghai and ticket prices were sky-high.

After the war was over, she was invited to shoot films in Hong Kong. In 1947, her fabulous performance in the flick “Recall to Jiangnan”, in which she vividly played two totally different types of women (an innocent county girl plus a spoiled party girl) at the same time, pushed her into the spotlight again. Gradually, her name became a trademark to guarantee a box-office hit. And her popularity soon spread beyond China’s borders into the whole of Southeast Asia.

She continued her singing and acting careers throughout the war years and by 1949 had recorded over 200 records (of which 114 were for movies) and performed in 43 films. She was the most famous singer of this period. And her masterpiece “When Will You Come Back Again?” has lasted for generations. To this day, her songs still remain a staple in many Golden Oldies collections in Mandarin popular music. Her success was a combination of both her natural talent and hard work. She was among the first women in China to use a microphone when singing, and by doing so she not only saved energy but also developed her unique singing style: soft and sweet. Her frail but eminently musical voice captured the hearts of millions of Chinese of her time.

People who were familiar with her all agreed that she was a simple, tender traditional Chinese woman, who may be too introverted to be a movie star as she seldom attended parties and was very serious about love affairs. Yet, her love road proved to be a tough one. Her love life was as dramatic as any of her scripts, including the birth of two out-of-wedlock sons fathered by two lovers. In 1938, she married Yan Hua, a singer and actor. But their marriage did not last long and they divorced in 1941. The gossip magazines reported on her miscarriage and attempted suicide. But there was also lots of hard work: stage and radio performances, along with sixteen starring movie roles between 1939 and 1941. She was largely absent from the screen during World War II, and in 1946 made the move south to Hong Kong. Between 1946 and 1949, she made eight movies in the colony and another two in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, she had an affair with a businessman, which floundered. In 1951, she was back in Shanghai making her first film in the recently established People’s Republic when she suffered a nervous breakdown. The movie, her last, was never completed. A failed marriage, a broken love affair and an obsession with getting back to the top in movies unbalanced her. Her psychiatric problems worsened after she returned to Shanghai in the early 1950s, and in 1957 she contracted and died from encephalitis (though there were also rumors of suicide).

Over the years, there have been novels, movies, television series and musicals that have sought to depict the rise and fall of this star. A multimedia musical about her life boasts a star cast to strike a good balance between old classics and new works, moving many in the audience to tears. Yi Nengjing, who is a versatile Taiwanese artist with the manner and temperament quite close to Zhou, plays the title role. Yi sings about 20 of Zhou’s trademark songs, including her most popular “Wandering Singing Girl” and “Song of the Four Seasons”. Her story will also be retold in a 40-part TV drama now being shot in Shanghai. The shooting began in late March and is expected to be finished next year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Zhou’s death. Cecelia Cheung will play the lead role of Zhou.

And here is another piece I’ve found:

Zhou Xuan


Zhou Xuan Memorial Hall


Memorial Hall | Post Message | Read Messages | Memorial Web

Zhou Xuan Memorial HallZhou Xuan (August 1, 1918 – September 22, 1957) was a popular Chinese singer and film actress. Zhou was born as Su Pu and was separated from her natural parents at a young age; she was raised by adoptive parents. She spent her entire life searching for her biological parents and her parentage was never established until after her death. At 13 she took Zhou Xuan as her stage name, ‘Xuan’, which means beautiful jade in Chinese.Zhou started acting 1935, but she achieved stardom in 1937 in Street Angel, when director Yuan Muzhi cast her as one of the leads as a singing girl.She became known as “The Golden Voice” and was a popular singing star in the late 1930s and 1940s, one of the “seven great singing stars.” “Golden Voice” was Zhou’s nickname to commend her singing talents after a competition for the most popular singers in Shanghai, where she came in second. Zhou rapidly became the most famous and marketable popular singer in the gramophone era up to her death, singing many famous tunes from her own movies. Her frail but eminently musical voice captured the hearts of millions of Chinese of her time.After introducing “Shanghai at Night”, Zhou returned to Shanghai. She spent the next few years in and out of mental institutions. Through the years, Zhou led a complicated and unhappy life marked by her failed marriages, illegitimate children and suicide attempts.She died in Shanghai of encephalitis following a nervous breakdown, at the age of only 39, having made a total of 43 movies. Her favorite film was always Street Angel. This contained two theme songs: “Four Seasons Song” and “The Wandering Songstress” which enjoyed long-lasting popularity. To this day, Zhou Xuan’s songs still remain a staple in many Golden Oldies collections in Mandarin popular music.Her biography is told in adapted materials. One of them is TVB’s Song Bird in 1989, starring Nnadia Chan as Zhou Xuan and Leon Lai as her lover. In this series, Xuan’s songs were re-written in Cantonese, sung by her in solo. In duets, she sang with him in the serial while (under the limits of Crown Records) Deric Wan replaced Lai’s vocals in the soundtrack album.
 Zhou Xuan Memorial Hall

Here is a good link I’ve just found, devoted to the history of Chinese cinema: http://www.chinesemirror.com/index/2006/11/zhou_xuan_a_sad.html




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5 Responses to “Zhou Xuan, Zhao Dan and Chinese cinema.”

  1. lactatingbookworm Says:

    I just watched Ma Lu Tian Shi and saw Zhou Xuan for the first time. My Chinese is limited so I couldn’t find much information about her on the internet until I found your blog. Thank you. I’m trying to find out where I can get more of her films. I live in Australia. Any ideas?

  2. lactatingbookworm Says:

    I wondered what happened to all these actors during the cultural revolution. Zhou Xuan never lived long enough to see it. Did a lot of them move to Hong Kong? as a lot of Shanghainese did when the communists took over?

  3. kllrchrd Says:

    I did read that Zhao Dan suffered during the Revolution, Such a lovely man. I’ve a Chinese penpal, I’ll ask him to dig out stuff. Tks re comment.
    Also, I’ll try to get more leads for you to follow. Isn’t Zhou Xuan so wonderful in Malu Tianshi?

  4. lactatingbookworm Says:

    That would be great to find out what happened to him. I would also like to watch the biopics about Zhou Xuan. Any idea where to find these?

  5. Tian Hong Crown Records Says:

    […] Zhou Xuan, Zhao Dan and Chinese cinema. « kllrchrd weblog In this series, Xuan's songs were re-written in Cantonese, sung by her in solo. In duets, she sang with him in the serial while (under the limits of Crown Records) Deric Wan replaced Lai's vocals in the soundtrack album. I just watched Ma Lu Tian Shi and saw Zhou Xuan for the first time. My Chinese is limited so I couldn't find much information about her on the internet until I found your blog. Thank you. I'm trying to find out where I can get more of her films. […]

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