Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender

By Sheldon Hsiao-Peng Lu | Go to book overview
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Chapter 11
The New Woman Incident Cinema, Scandal, and Spectacle in 1935 Shanghai

Kristine Harris

When the silent film The New Woman (Xin nüxing) opened in Shanghai during the lunar new year festival of 1935, one newspaper reviewer applauded "the number of films with 'the woman question' as their subject over the past few years" and declared that "in a time when the women's movement is being noticed once again, it is inevitable that this kind of film will go on to influence many aspects of the women's movement to come. "1 This passage suggests just one way in which The New Woman was a striking convergence point for the cinematic, journalistic, and social construction of gendered subjectivity in 1930s Shanghai. Periodicals and studio publicity drew attention to the centrality of gender in the film, championing the eponymous "New Woman" :

Women have been shackled down and treated like non-persons for several thousand years. They have gradually climbed out from the abyss of suffering during the past hundred years, but archaic customs and economics still block the passage for women.

The New Woman is aimed at precisely this state of affairs -- it is a call to arms for humanity and society. It offers a model for the spirit of new women and opposes suicide which is an action that is not as new as it may seem. The film characterizes classic archetypes of women and advances a new kind of woman.

Having seen The New Woman you will feel that the "Old" Woman is pathetic and pitiable. Watching this film is like suddenly being offered a glass of brandy after a lifetime of drinking plain water-it will stun and provoke even the most complacent person; it is encouraging and inspiring.2

The film's title also attracted audiences for the same reason. One viewer in a province as distant as Guizhou recounted his movie date with a young woman from work this way: "I think that I can easily guess the reason she


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