Module 5: New Women (1935)

The film:

What is the reality women face in Chinese society? What should it be? This “problem film” dramatizes the perils facing women seeking a public role in society, especially a predatory news media that treats them like commodities for public consumption. A film inspired by the recent suicide of actress Ai Xia (who appears in Spring Silkworms), the film became a sensation when lead actress Ruan Lingyu committed suicide on March 8, 1935–International Women’s Day.

Xin nüxing
Alternative English titles: New WomanNew Female
Produced by: United Photoplay Services, Ltd. (Lianhua yingye gongsi 聯華影業公司) (second studio)
Director: Cai Chusheng 蔡楚生
Screenplay: Sun Shiyi 孫師毅
Year of release: 1935
Cast: Ruan Lingyu 阮玲玉, Zheng Junli 鄭君里, Yin Xu 殷虛, Wang Naidong 王乃東
English subtitles translated by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow

Video lecture 1: Sensational New Women

Contents:

  • A film inspired by an actress’s suicide…and followed by the suicide of its star, Ruan Lingyu
  • Marketed as a “problem film” about “the woman question” – really, an array of questions about what the lives of women were and should be in modern China
  • Trends in the public visibility of women in modern China, and their representation in popular culture
  • A visually sensational film: wipes, split screens, matte shots, and other types of superimposition

Video lecture 2: Visual and Sonic Symbolism

Contents:

  • Double standards and triple lives: the symbolism of mirrors, photographs, and toys
  • Wei Ming vs. Aying: Representing one type of new woman as flat and passive, and another as a three-dimensional bodily force
  • Silenced women: music and singing as plot and symbolism; muted cries
  • “I want to live!”: a dubbed sound-on-disk film made on the cusp of the talkies era
  • How to interpret the film’s ambiguous ending?

Learn more:

Scenes from New Women

This encounter between Wei Ming, Mrs. Wang, and Aying (Ah Ying) is suggestive of the personalities of the three “new women”:

Yu Haichou’s boss agrees to publish Wei Ming’s novel only after he sees her photograph:

Yu Haichou rejects Wei Ming’s advances in her apartment, inadvertently sending her into the arms of playboy Dr. Wang:

A flashback, made with superimposition, shows Wei Ming’s memory of how she met Dr. Wang, as she rides in his car to a Shanghai nightclub:

Parallel editing contrasts play and work, around the clock:

Wei Ming experiences hallucination and vertigo during a cabaret performance:

Aying and her students sing the “Song of the New Women”:

Aying beats the stuffing out of Dr. Wang, who has pursued Wei Ming to her apartment:

Compare with other films

Ruan Lingyu also plays a single mother in dire straits in Goddess (1934):

Actor Yin Xu, who plays Aying, appears in a similar role as a physically strong woman in Sports Queen (1934):

Compare the mirror kiss scene in New Women to this one in Trouble in Paradise (1932):

The Cheat (1931) also features the use of a doll to represent women – here in the hands of a male sexual predator: