Wang Renmei (王人美)
Though her father once gave a university student named Mao Zedongshelter in his home, Wang Renmei was almost destroyed by the “NewChina” she so vigorously supported. Born in Changsha 长沙 onNovember 8, 1914, the tenth child in a family headed by aprogressive-thinking mathematics teacher, Wang Shuxi 王庶熙 (heroriginal name) enjoyed a middle class upbringing till her father’sdeath in 1926 led to changes that were anything but bourgeois.
By the age of 13 she was in Shanghai, a student in the song anddance school 美美学校 led by Li Jinhui 黎锦晖, the father ofmodern Chinese popular music. Before her fourteenth birthday, thenewly christened Wang Renmei (“King of the Beauties”) was on tourwith Li’s influential China Song & Dance Troupe 中华歌舞团 andits later incarnation, the Bright Moon Musical Troupe 明月歌剧社.
The troupe was incorporated into the United Photoplay Service(“Lianhua”), one of Shanghai’s most prestigious pre-World War IIstudios, and the teenager made a huge splash as the spirited heroineof The Wild Rose 野玫瑰 (1932). The picture brought her fame, anickname Wildcat 野猫 and a husband, her Wild Rose leadingman, Korean-Chinese star Jin Yan 金燕.
In 1934 Renmei made the picture for which she is best remembered,Song of the Fisherman渔光曲, a social-realist drama that enjoyed arecord-breaking 84-day run in Shanghai and was the first Chinesemovie to win an international award (in Moscow). The Japaneseinvasion in 1937 led to Wang’s relocation to the wartime capital ofChongqing, where stage and screen work were scarce. She returnedto Shanghai in 1945, her marriage over but her career entering a newphase with the lead in The Unstoppable Spring Light 关不住的春光(1948), her first film in seven years. Wang’s pro-communist politicsmade it dangerous for her to stay in Shanghai during the waningmonths of the civil war. She temporarily moved to Hong Kong, butreturned after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
Her most interesting film role in the PRC was that of a cadre whosaves a young peasant woman from an arranged marriage in Springfor Two Families 两家春 (1951). The irony is that the lady sherescues was played by Qin Yi秦怡, Wang’s first husband’s secondwife. Renmei did not remarry till 1955, when the 41-year-old tied theknow with 48-year-old Ye Qianyu 叶浅予, one of the 20th century’smost famous Chinese artists. It was not a happy marriage, but lastedtill Wang’s death over 30 years later.
Renmei’s last movie was the children’s picture Flower Blossoms(1962). She and her husband endured relentless persecution duringthe Cultural Revolution, and Renmei became afflicted with physicaland mental illnesses from which she never fully recovered. Shebecame a member of the Communist Party in 1979 and the same yearco-directed a theatrical revival of Sunrise日出 in Beijing, butsickness eventually rendered her bedridden and she passed away onApril 12, 1987.
*The Wild Rose (1932), the film that made 17-year-old Wang Renmeia major star and earned her the nickname “Wildcat.”