Shangguan Yunzhu

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Shangguan Yunzhu
autographed photo of Shangguan Yunzhu, taken in the 1940s
Autographed photo, taken in the 1940s
Native name 上官雲珠
Born 2 March 1920
Jiangyin, Jiangsu, China
Died 23 November 1968(1968-11-23) (aged 48)
Cause of death
Residence Wukang Mansion, Shanghai
Other names Wei Junluo, Wei Yajun
Occupation Actress
Notable work(s)
  • Zhang Dayan
  • Yao Ke
  • Cheng Shuyao
Children 3 (2 sons, 1 daughter)

Shangguan Yunzhu (Chinese: 上官雲珠; Wade–Giles: Shang-kuan Yün-chu; 2 March 1920 – 23 November 1968) was a Chinese actress active from the 1940s to the 1960s. Recognized as one of the most talented and versatile actresses in China, she was chosen as one of the 100 best actors of the 100 years of Chinese cinema in 2005.[1]

Born Wei Junluo, Shangguan Yunzhu fled to Shanghai when her hometown Jiangyin was attacked by the Japanese. In Shanghai she became a drama and film actress, and her career took off after the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War. She starred in several prominent leftist films such as Spring River Flows East, Crows and Sparrows, and Women Side by Side. After the Communist victory in mainland China in 1949, her career was set back when her husband was embroiled in the anti-capitalist Five-anti Campaign, but later portrayed a wide variety of characters in many films.

Shangguan Yunzhu was married three times and had three children, but all her marriages ended in divorce. She was said to have had an affair with Mao Zedong, for which she was severely persecuted by the followers of Mao's wife Jiang Qing during the Cultural Revolution. leading to her suicide in November 1968.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Shangguan Yunzhu was born in 1920 in the town of Changjing (长泾) in Jiangyin, Jiangsu province. Her birth name was Wei Junluo (Chinese: 韋均犖), and she also used the name Wei Yajun (韋亞君). She was the fifth and youngest child of her parents. In 1936 she married Zhang Dayan (张大炎), an art teacher and a friend of her brother's, and soon gave birth to a son named Zhang Qijian (张其坚) at the age of 17.[4][5]

Soon after her marriage, the Second Sino-Japanese War erupted. In November 1937 the invading Japanese army attacked Jiangyin, and one of Wei Junluo's sisters was killed in a bombing raid. She fled to Shanghai with her family.[4][5]


Shangguan Yunzhu in the 1940s

In Shanghai Wei Junluo found work at a photo studio owned by He Zuomin, a photographer for the Mingxing Film Company.[4] Influenced by the studio's many customers from the film industry, she became fascinated with acting.[3] In 1940 she enrolled in a drama school and was employed by the Xinhua Film Company after graduation. She adopted the name Shangguan Yunzhu suggested by the influential director Bu Wancang.[2] After successfully playing the female lead in Cao Yu's stage play Thunderstorm, Shangguan joined the Yihua Company and made her film debut in Fallen Rose in 1941.[2]

In 1942 Shangguan joined the Tianfeng Drama Society, where she met the playwright Yao Ke (姚克). The next year Shangguan divorced Zhang Dayan and married Yao.[5] In August 1944 she gave birth to a daughter Yao Yao (姚姚). However, her new marriage was short-lived due to Yao's infidelity. The couple divorced before their daughter turned two.[4] Shangguan subsequently had a brief relationship with the actor Lan Ma (蓝马).[4]

In the post-war period, Shangguan Yunzhu played her first lead roles in Dream in Paradise directed by Tang Xiaodan and Long Live the Missus directed by Sang Hu.[2] She then starred in several leftist films including Spring River Flows East (1947, directors Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli), Myriad of Lights (1948, director Shen Fu), Crows and Sparrows (1949, director Zheng Junli), and Women Side by Side (1949, director Chen Liting). Her masterful performances in these popular films brought her great fame and critical acclaim.[2][3]

After 1949[edit]

photo of Shangguan Yunzhu's new proletarian look during the Communist era
Shangguan Yunzhu's new image in the Communist era

After Mao Zedong's communists won the Chinese Civil War and established the People's Republic of China in 1949, Shangguan Yunzhu continued her acting career under the new government.[2] In 1951 she married her third husband Cheng Shuyao (程述尧), manager of Shanghai's Lyceum Theatre. She gave birth to a son named Wei Ran (韦然).[4] However, Cheng Shuyao was soon embroiled in the Five-anti Campaign, a political campaign launched by Mao against the capitalist class in 1952. He was accused of embezzlement and confessed to the charges under pressure. Shangguan decided to divorce Cheng; their marriage lasted less than two years.[4] She later had another relationship with the director He Lu (贺路).[4]

Affected by her association with Cheng Shuyao, Shangguan did not play any major role for several years. This changed in 1955, when she starred in the film Storm on the Southern Island. Director Bai Chen (白沉) chose her to play the leading role as a heroic nurse, a far cry from her traditional roles of socialites and rich wives.[6] She adjusted to her new role well, and portrayed a wide variety of characters in many films including It's My Day Off (1959), Spring Comes to the Withered Tree (1961, director Zheng Junli), Early Spring in February (1963, director Xie Tieli), and Stage Sisters (1965, director Xie Jin).[3] She was recognized as one of the most talented and versatile actresses in China.[3]

Relationship with Mao[edit]

Shangguan Yunzhu was said to have had an intimate relationship with Chairman Mao Zedong.[3][7][8] On 10 January 1956, Shangguan and Mao had a private meeting set up by Shanghai mayor Chen Yi,[6][7] at which Mao said he was a fan of hers.[7] Mao was said to have requested to meet her "in private" many times.[8]


In 1966 Shangguan was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a successful surgery. However, only two months later it was found that she also had cancer in her brain and had to undergo another major operation.[4]

At the same time, the Cultural Revolution was under way. Two films Shangguan had appeared in, Early Spring in February and Stage Sister, had been denounced as "huge poisonous weeds".[4] She was also under severe persecution for her alleged affair with Mao. She was badly beaten by followers of Mao's wife Jiang Qing,[4][6] who gave her an ultimatum to confess her relationship with Mao.[8] At 3 am on 23 November 1968,[4][6] Shangguan Yunzhu jumped from her apartment in the Wukang Mansion to her death.[9]

Biographies and museum[edit]

photo of Shangguan Yunzhu holding her daughter Yao Yao, taken in the late 1940s
Shangguan Yunzhu with daughter Yao Yao in the late 1940s

Several biographies have been published about Shangguan Yunzhu's life:

  • Chen Danyan, Shanghai Beauty (上海的红颜遗事) (2000) – Biographical account of Shangguan and her daughter Yao Yao, who was killed in a traffic accident in 1975.[8]
  • Wei Xiangtao, Grieving for a movie star: A biography of Shangguan Yunzhu (1986).[7]
  • Chen Fuguan (陈复官), Shangguan Yunzhu.[10]

In 2007, her childhood home in Changjing, Jiangyin was opened to the public as the Shangguan Yunzhu Museum.[10]

Selected filmography[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "中国电影百年百位优秀演员" [100 best actors of the 100 years of Chinese cinema]. Sina (in Chinese). 2005-11-13. Retrieved 2014-04-21. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ye, Tan; Zhu, Yun (2012). Historical Dictionary of Chinese Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 132. ISBN 9780810879133. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Xiao, Zhiwei; Zhang, Yingjin (2002). Encyclopedia of Chinese Film. Taylor & Francis. p. 301. ISBN 9780203195550. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wei Ran. "我的母亲上官云珠" [My mother Shangguan Yunzhu] (in Chinese). Chinese University of Hong Kong. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c "银海流星—上官云珠与姚克" [Shangguan Yunzhu and Yao Ke] (in Chinese). CCTV. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d "文革被逼交代与首长关系 影星上官云珠的生死劫" [Movie star Shangguan Yunzhu's life and death] (in Chinese). People's Daily. 10 June 2004. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d Jeremy Brown, ed. (2010). Dilemmas of Victory: The Early Years of the People's Republic of China. Harvard University Press. p. 427. ISBN 9780674033658. 
  8. ^ a b c d Schaffer, Kay; Song, Xianlin (2013). Women Writers in Postsocialist China. Routledge. p. 111. ISBN 9781135091354. 
  9. ^ Knyazeva, Katya (21 October 2009). "Haunted Shanghai: A ghostly apartment building". CNN. Retrieved 5 October 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "上官云珠纪念馆" [Shangguan Yunzhu Museum] (in Chinese). Changjing Town government. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 

External links[edit]