Module 2: Sports Queen (1934)

Module 2: Sports Queen (1934)

Sports Queen is a film made to order that offers a few surprises. Li Lili was coming into her own as one of Lianhua Studio’s star actors, and Sports Queen was made to showcase her “healthy,” “athletic”, and playful persona. Its release was timed to coincide with an actual major sports event, the precursor to the Asian Games. The film also espouses ideas promoted in the Nationalist government’s New Life Movement, launched earlier in the year, especially that China needs to strengthen the body politic by strengthening actual bodies. In three ways, then, Sports Queen is very much of the moment. But the filmmakers and the star have fun with this didactic premise, celebrating comedy, playfulness, the joys of motion, sex appeal and even risqué politics.

The film:

Video lecture 1: “You have a body – put it to work!”

13:31 minutes


  • Plot summary (minutes 3:30-5:25)
  • Star actor Li Lili’s healthy, athletic, playful, sexy persona
  • China’s emerging sports culture
  • Storytelling: The coming-of-age narrative of Sports Queen

Video lecture 2: Bodies and shapes in motion

16:39 minutes


  • Two types of visual pleasure in Sports Queen: bodies and shapes
  • Influences of Hollywood filmmakers, from Busby Berkeley to F.W. Murnau
  • Documentary style: Sports Queen, which was released to coincide with a real-life sports meet, presents itself as a newsreel-in-the-making
  • Buy Lux Toilet Soap! The convergence of athletics culture, cinematic culture, and consumer culture in Sports Queen
  • The influence of Sports Queen on later Chinese films, including Woman Basketball Player No. 5 (1957) and Beauty Parade (1961)

Learn more

Watch other films starring Li Lili:

Hollywood connections

Compare the “A New Life” sequence in a women’s dormitory starting a minute 18:46 in Sports Queen with the dormitory sequence in Footlight Parade (1933):

Compare the scene of Li Lili’s character putting on nylons after minute 45:00 in Sports Queen with Joan Blondell’s scene in Footlight Parade: