HONG SHEN (1894—1955)
HONG SHEN (1894—1955). Play and screenplay writer. One of the pioneers of modern Chinese theater and cinema, Hong Shen graduated from Qinghua University, where he joined a theater club to promote the modern huaju (spoken drama), a progeny of the Western play introduced to Chinese audiences in the early 20th century. In 1916, Hong went to the United States to study ceramic arts and three years later he entered Harvard as the first Chinese student in history to major in performing arts in the United States. After finishing his program at Harvard, he performed with various groups in New York and in 1922 Hong returned to China. The following year, he staged his first play Zhao yanwang (Mr. Zhao the Terrible), starring himself as the peasant-turned-murderer, and thus began a lifelong career transforming the Chinese theater. Hong was the first to use the term huaju, a word he coined in 1924 for the new play he and his colleagues were promoting. He founded Fudan ju she (Fudan Theater Society) and was a member of Nan guo she (South China Society) led by Tian Han, Ouyang Yuqian, and painter Xu Beihong, and the Left-wing Association of Chinese Writers. In the Chinese theater of the 1920s and 1930s, Hong was one of the most prominent names. As a director, he used not only his own scripts but also those of his colleagues, including Yang Hansheng’s plays Li Xiucheng zhi si (The Death of Li Xiucheng) and Caomang yingxiong (The Rebel Hero). During the dozen years he worked for Bright Stars, one of the fir st film companies in China, he made more than 30 movies, including the first Chinese sound movie Ge nü Hong Mudan (Red Peony the Singsong Girl). Last but not least, he was an accomplished actor, starring in plays and films, many written by him, including Ji ming zao kan tian (The Cock Crows in the Morning), a film set in the final years of the Sino-Japanese War about a group of travelers gathered in a country inn.
Hong’s early writings can be regarded as psychological plays; they include Shao nainai de shanzi (Young Mistress’s Fan), which is based on Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, and Aiqing he huangjin (Love and Gold), a tragedy about a bank clerk who dumps his true love to marry the daughter of the bank manager but commits suicide when his former girlfriend shows up at his wedding and kills herself in front of the newlyweds. Later, Hong turned to writing plays that were primarily concerned with sociopolitical issues, championing, among other progressive causes, the liberation of women and the poor. Yapo (Oppression) and Nü quan (Women’s Rights) fall under this category. Other works with similar focus include his best film Jie hou taohua (Peach Blossoms after the Calamity), which reflects the colonial history of Qingdao through the tragic experience of a former Qing dynasty official who tries to protect his retirement home from foreigners and Xin jiu Shanghai (Shanghai Old and New), a comedy that centers on the lives of several tenants in a Shanghai apartment, all struggling to make a living. Hong died in Beijing from lung cancer. See also MAY FOURTH MOVEMENT; NEW CULTURE MOVEMENT; SPOKEN DRAMA.