Ruan Lingyu

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Ruan Lingyu
Ruan Lingyu.png
Born Ruan Fenggen (阮鳳根)
(1910-04-26)April 26, 1910
Shanghai, Jiangsu, China
Died March 8, 1935(1935-03-08) (aged 24)
Shanghai, China
Other names Lily Yuen
Ruan Yuying (阮玉英)
Years active 1927–1935
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Ruan.

Ruan Lingyu (April 26, 1910 – March 8, 1935) was a Chinese silent film actress. One of the most prominent Chinese film stars of the 1930s, her suicide at the age of 24 led her to become an icon of Chinese cinema.

Early life and career[edit]

Ruan was born Ruan Fenggen in Shanghai in 1910 to a working-class family. Her father, a worker, died when she was young, and her mother brought her up working as a housemaid.

In 1926, to help make ends meet, Ruan signed up for the prominent Mingxing Film Company. She made her first film at the age of 16. The film, A Married Couple in Name Only (掛名的夫妻/挂名的夫妻), was directed by Bu Wancang.[1] Two years later, she was signed by Da Zhonghua Baihe Company (大中華百合公司/大中华百合公司), where she shot six films.[2]

Ruan's first big break came in Spring Dream of an Old Capital (故都春夢 or Reminiscences of Beijing, 1930) which was a massive hit in China. It was Ruan's first major work after signing with the newly formed Lianhua Studio in 1930. In it she played a prostitute by the name of Yanyan.

Thereafter, Ruan became Lianhua's major film star. Her most memorable works came after 1931, starting with the melodrama Love and Duty (directed by Bu Wancang). Ruan had by then gained popularity owing to a string of lead roles, and in 1933 Ruan was voted second runner-up in a poll held by Star Daily (明星日報) for China's "movie queen". (Hu Die emerged the winner and Chen Yumei was first runner-up).[3]

Beginning with Three Modern Women (1932; dir: Bu Wancang), Ruan started collaborating with a group of talented leftist Chinese directors. In Little Toys (1933), a film by Sun Yu, Ruan played a long-suffering toy-maker. Her next film, The Goddess (1934; dir: Wu Yonggang), is often hailed as the pinnacle of Chinese silent cinema; Ruan sympathetically portrayed a prostitute bringing up a child. Later that year, Ruan made her penultimate film, New Women (directed by Cai Chusheng), in which she played an educated Shanghainese woman forced to death by an unfeeling society. The film was based on the life of actress Ai Xia who killed herself in 1934.[4] Her final film, National Customs, was released shortly after her death.

Private life and death[edit]

At the age of 16, Ruan became acquainted with Zhang Damin (张达民/張達民), whose family her mother worked for. Zhang was later driven out of his wealthy family due to his spendthrift ways and became a chronic gambler, supported by Ruan's salary. Unable to tolerate Zhang's gambling ways, Ruan split with him in 1933.[5] Ruan began living with Tang Jishan, a tea tycoon. In 1935, Zhang filed a lawsuit asking for reparations from Ruan. The tabloids seized on this opportunity to probe into Ruan's private life and put her under intense pressure.[6]

Following the completion of New Women, Ruan's life began to unravel. The film opened in Shanghai, February 1935. Cai Chusheng was under massive pressure from tabloid reporters, who were extremely hostile, owing to the scathing depiction of the Shanghai tabloids in the movie. Cai was forced to make extensive cuts to the film. Even after that, Ruan's private life was mercilessly seized upon by the tabloids and her lawsuit with her first husband, Zhang Damin, became a source of vindictive coverage.

Faced with these public issues, as well as with intense private problems, Ruan poisoned herself with an overdose of barbiturates in Shanghai on March 8, 1935, at the age of 24. Her suicide note apparently contained a line which says, "Gossip is a fearful thing" (人言可畏), although recent researchers have doubted the note's authenticity (it appeared to be forged by Tang Jishan).[6] Even China's preeminent intellectual, Lu Xun, was appalled at the details surrounding Ruan's death and wrote an essay entitled "Gossip is a Fearful Thing", denouncing the tabloids.[7]

Recent researchers believe her deteriorating relationship with Tang Jishan may have contributed to Ruan's suicide. He is believed to have physically abused her on the night of her suicide.[6] Her funeral procession was reportedly 3 miles (4.8 km) long, with three women committing suicide during the event. The New York Times called it "the most spectacular funeral of the century."[8]


In 1992, Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan made a movie about her life, Centre Stage, starring Maggie Cheung as Ruan Lingyu. Cheung won the Berlin Film Festival Best Actress for this role.[9]

One of her earliest films, Love and Duty (1931), directed by Bu Wancang, was discovered in Uruguay in 1994.[10]

In 2005, Jacklyn Wu Chien-lien played Ruan in a 30-episode Mainland TV serial on her life.[11] That same year a biography, Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai by Richard J. Meyer, was released by the University of Hong Kong Press.


20-year-old Ruan Lingyu in Love and Duty


  • Richard J. Meyer (2005). Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 962-209-395-7. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ [3] Archived July 26, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Wang, Lingzhen (2011). Chinese Women's Cinema: Transnational Contexts. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-15675-2. Retrieved April 15, 2015. 
  5. ^ 老照片:旗袍丽质阮玲玉 与角色一样不幸(图集). CRI Online (in Chinese). 15 November 2006. Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c 1935年:阮玲玉之死. 搜狐 (in Chinese). Inc. 22 June 2004. Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Yu, Wentao (2006-04-07), "Tragic Goddess", China Daily, retrieved 2009-11-14 
  8. ^ Cousins, Mark (2004-11-21), "The Asian aesthetic", Prospect (104), retrieved 2014-05-31 
  9. ^
  10. ^ [4] Archived September 27, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ 吴中华 (29 November 2005). 电视剧版《阮玲玉》面世 吴倩莲表演荡气回肠. (in Chinese). Retrieved 24 January 2013. 

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