The Tragic Life of Ruan Lingyu
Ruan was born in Shanghai in 1910. Her father, a penniless machinist, died when she was just five years old. For a while she went to live with her mother who was working as a housemaid for a rich family. She then went to a girl's school, but as soon as she had finished primary school, she began to look for a job to lighten her mother's load. She saw an advertisement for film actors, went for an interview and was given a job.
Her first screen appearance in 1927 was in the film Husband and Wife in Name. In spite of her lack of formal education, she was diligent and scrupulous in every detail of her acting. These qualities, combined with her beauty, made her screen images very impressive.
Contrast to her success on the screen, her personal life was a tragedy. She fell in love with Zhang Damin, the young master of the house her mother worked, before starting her film career. They lived together eventually. But in a class-divided society they couldn't get married because of the objection from Zhang Damin's mother. Their relationship deteriorated when she became successful. She later left Zhang and lived with a businessman Tang Jishan. When Zhang sued Tang for damage this became a scandal in 30s Shanghai and Ruan Ling-Yu was hounded by the tabloid press. Under severe pressure, Ruan Ling-Yu finally decided to take her own life to prove her innocence by sleeping pill overdose in the early morning of 8th March, 1935.
The whole of Shanghai wept when the news of her death was heard. When she was buried at Lianyi Villa outside Shanghai, several hundred thousand mourners lined the road to watch her funeral procession.
Ruan's sudden death ignited fierce debate on the behavior of tabloid newspapers and the protection of women in public life. The great writer Lu Xun (1881-1936) published an essay Gossip Is a Fearful Thing, denouncing the newspaper bloodhounds and gossip mongers.
Ruan LingYu's screen charisma and tragic life have since been fascinated by many people. Hong Kong directors Stanley Kwan's The Actress (1991) starring Maggie Cheung tells the story of Ruan LingYu poetically which won Maggie Cheung the Silver Bear in Berlin Film Festival and several Hong Kong Film Awards.