Li Lili

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Li Lili
Li Lili.png
Li Lili in 1970s
Qian Zhenzhen

(1915-06-02)2 June 1915
Beijing, China
Died7 August 2005(2005-08-07) (aged 90)
Beijing, China
Occupation(s)singer, actress
ParentQian Zhuangfei
AwardsSpecial Honor Award 1991 (Chinese Academy of Motion Picture Arts)

Li Lili (Chinese: 黎莉莉; 2 June 1915 – 7 August 2005) was a Chinese film actress and singer. Her films Playthings, The Great Road and Storm on the Border were blockbusters of the 1930s and 1940s.[1][2] She was sometimes called "China's Mae West".[3]

Her films Volcanic Passions (1932), Playthings (Little Toys) (1933), Daybreak (1933), Sports Queen (1934), and The Great Road (The Big Road) (1934) are available with English subtitles on YouTube.[4][5][6][7]


Li Lili in the 1930s

Li was born Qian Zhenzhen (Chinese: 钱蓁蓁) in Beijing, 1915. Her father, Qian Zhuangfei, was a famed secret agent and member of the Chinese Communist Party.[8] In 1927, she moved to Shanghai, where her father encouraged her to join the China Song & Dance Troupe, later renamed Bright Moon Song and Dance Troupe. Li Jinhui, later described as "the Father of Chinese popular music",[1] was the conductor of the troupe and adopted her as his god-daughter, and she changed her name to Li Lili.[1]

The troupe were very popular in 1920s Shanghai. Li Lili, Wang Renmei, Xue Lingxian (薛玲仙) and Hu Jia (胡笳) were known as Bright Moon's "Four Divas" (四大天王).[9][10] After troupe was merged into the Lianhua Film Company in 1931, Li became an actress. She starred in Sun Yu's 1932 Loving Blood of the Volcano, set in the South Seas with plenty of dancing, which allowed Li to play to her strengths.[11] She and Wang Renmei then acted together in Poetry Written on the Banana Leaf.[2]

Li Lili and Chen Yen-yen in 1934's 'The Big Road'

Sun Yu wrote Queen of Sports and The Big Road for her to star in, and she won audiences with her fashionable and energetic image, gaining the nickname "Sweet Big Sister". Sun Yu's Daybreak (1933) was one of her early star vehicles.[12] Magazines characterized her as being interested in music and books.[13] From 1935 to 1937, she starred in eight more films with the Lianhua Film Company.[14]

Li Lili, together with Wang Renmei and Xu Lai, her former colleagues at the Bright Moon Troupe, were the earliest stars to portray the energetic, wholesome, and sexy "country girl" prototype, which became one of the most popular figures in Chinese cinema, and later inherited by the cinema of Hong Kong.[15]

After war with Japan broke out in 1937, she joined the China Film Studio in Chungking, China's wartime capital. There she met and married Luo Jingyu, a section head, who became head of the studio. In 1939, she filmed Cai Chusheng's Orphan Island Paradise in Hong Kong; it was another hit. Back in Chongqing, she starred in another hit film Storm on the Border, for which she was highly praised.[2]

Li travelled to the United States in 1946, studying acting at The Catholic University of America in Washington, language and singing in New York, and make-up at the University of California. She also observed filmmaking in Hollywood.[2]

She returned to China, and to acting at the Beijing Film Studio. In 1955, she studied at Beijing Film Academy, and later taught in the acting department. Her son, Luo Dan, married the daughter of Marshal Ye Jianying; Ye became China's head of state in the late 1970s.[8]

During the Cultural Revolution, Li and her husband were denounced and tortured on the orders of Mao's wife Jiang Qing. Li had acted with her, and outshone her, in films such as Blood on Wolf Mountain. Li later told her family that she refused to denounce anyone. Luo, however, was killed.[8]

In 1991, she was given the "Special Honour Award" by the Chinese Academy of Motion Picture Arts.[2]

By the end of her life, Li Lili was the last living Chinese movie star from the silent era. She died of a heart attack in Xuanwu Hospital, Beijing on August 7, 2005, aged 90.[2]


Li Lili in the 1934 film Queen of Sports
Year English title Original title Role Notes
1926 A Hero Hidden in Yanshan Mountain 燕山俠隱 Ma Muying Lost
1931 A Spray of Plum Blossoms 一剪梅 Piano player uncredited
Two Stars 銀漢雙星
1932 Poetry Written on the Banana Leaf 芭蕉葉上詩 Lost
Volcanic Passions 火山情血
1933 Daybreak 天明 Ling Ling
Little Toys 小玩意 Zhu'er
1934 Queen of Sports 體育皇后 Lin Ying
The Big Road 大路
1935 National Customs 國風 Zhang Tao
An Abandoned Woman 秋扇明燈
1936 Return to Nature 到自然去
Bloodshed on Wolf Mountain 狼山喋血記
1937 Lianhua Symphony 聯華交響曲 Segment 6: "Ghost" ()
The Lost Pearl 人海遺珠
So Busy 如此繁華
Vistas of Art 藝海風光 Part 3: "Song & Dance Class" (歌舞班)
1938 Fight to the Last 熱血忠魂
1939 Orphan Island Paradise 孤島天堂
1940 Storm on the Border 塞上風雲 Jin Hua'er
1944 Undaunted Land 氣壯山河 Ma Fengqi
Blood on the Cherry Blossoms 血濺櫻花
1954 Capture by Stratagem Mount Hua 智取華山
1963 Fen River Flows On 汾水長流 Does not appear Assistant director


  1. ^ a b c Elaine Duan, Top 10 legendary Chinese women in the 1930s: Li Lili,, 2011-08-15. Retrieved 2012-05-06.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "A Jasmine Swinging In the Wind – Movie Star Li Lili's Screen Career". All-China Women's Federation. 2006-12-11. Archived from the original on 2012-07-01.
  3. ^ Xiao, Zhiwei; Zhang, Yingjin (2002). Encyclopedia of Chinese Film. Routledge. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-134-74554-8.
  4. ^ Rea, Christopher (1932-11-07). "Volcanic Passions 火山情血 (1932)". Chinese Film Classics. Retrieved 2022-11-07.
  5. ^ Chinese Film Classics YouTube playlist:
  6. ^ "Li Lili 黎莉莉". Chinese Film Classics. 2021-04-22. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  7. ^ "Li Lili 黎莉莉". Chinese Film Classics. 2021-04-22. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  8. ^ a b c Shaun Rein (Li Lili's grandson-in-law) (2010-08-17). "What I Learned from China's Angelina Jolie". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2010-08-18. Retrieved 2010-10-24.
  9. ^ Elaine Duan (2011-08-15). "Top 10 legendary Chinese women in the 1930s". Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  10. ^ *Zhang, Yingjin (1999). Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943. Stanford University Press. p. 146. ISBN 9780804735728.
  11. ^ "Silent Film Star Li Lili: a TV interview". English translation by Chinese Mirror. 2004-08-21. Archived from the original on 2012-10-20.
  12. ^ Rea, Christopher (2021). Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. ch. 3.
  13. ^ Michael G. Chang (Yingjin Zhang) (1999). Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943. Stanford University Press. pp. 148–9. ISBN 0-8047-3188-8.
  14. ^ Top 10 women of old Shanghai: Li Lili, Retrieved 2012-05-06.
  15. ^ Ho, Sam (1 January 2004). Hong Kong Cinema: A Cross-cultural View. Scarecrow Press. p. 267. ISBN 978-0-8108-4986-0.

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