Spring in a Small Town

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Spring in a Small Town
Spring in a Small Town poster.jpg
MandarinXiǎochéng zhī chūn
Directed byFei Mu
Written byLi Tianji
StarringWei Wei
Yu Shi
Li Wei
Music byHuang Yijun
CinematographyLi Shengwei
Edited byWei Chunbao
Xu Ming
Distributed byUnited States (DVD):
Cinema Epoch
Release date
Running time
98 min.

Spring in a Small Town is a Chinese film released in 1948 and directed by Fei Mu. The film is a black and white film and its screenwriter is Li Tianji (Chinese: 李天濟; pinyin: Lǐ Tiānjì), and was produced by the Wenhua Film Company.

Though its reputation suffered after 1949 in mainland China after the Communist revolution, within the last 20 years it had become known as one of the greatest Chinese films ever made.[1][2] The original print of the film is kept at the China Film Archive.[2][3]


Taking place in a ruined family compound after the Sino-Japanese War, the film tells the story of the once prosperous Dai family. The husband and patriarch, Liyan (Shi Yu) is ill, and he can hardly brave the miserable reality that, during the war, Liyan lost most of his wealth. What is worse, his marriage to Yuwen (Wei Wei) has long been rendered loveless, though both still feel concern for the other. Liyan spends his days in the courtyard nostalgic for the past. Liyan's young teenage sister Xiu (Zhang Hongmei), meanwhile, is too young to remember the past, and stays cheerful and playful in the ruins of her home. Lao Huang (Cui Chaoming) is an old faithful servant of the Dai family. This family still manages to live in peace somehow, but peace is suddenly shattered after a unexpected visit.

Into this dreary but unchanging existence comes an unexpected visit from Liyan's childhood friend Zhang Zhichen (Li Wei), a doctor from Shanghai and a former flame of Yuwen before she met, Liyan, her husband. The rest of the film details the love quadrangle among Yuwen, Liyan, Zhichen and Xiu. Yuwen is conflicted between her love for Zhichen and her loyalty to her husband and his family. Liyan loves his wife, but feels unworthy of her and ashamed of himself. Xiu, newly turned sixteen, develops romantic feelings for Zhichen - who himself is conflicted between his love for Yuwen and his loyalty to his friend. That Yuwen and Zhichen still love each other soon became apparent to Liyan and Xiu.

Liyan has had enough of this dreary marriage. In addition, he realizes Yuwen and Zhichen are secretly dating with each other. Later, he attempts suicide by taking excessive amount of hypnotics, but, fortunately, he is resuscitated by Zhichen. After Liyan's attempt of suicide, Yuwen starts to repair and patch up relationship with Liyan. She is finally able to reconcile relationship with his husband and start brand new life. Zhichen departs, and Huang and Xiu walk him off to the train station. He promises to return in a year. Yuwen, watching from the wall, is joined by her husband by her side as Zhichen departs.


  • Wei Wei (韋偉) as Zhou Yuwen (周玉紋 Zhōu Yùwén), the heroine;
  • Yu Shi (石羽)[1] as Dai Liyan (戴禮言 Dài Lǐyán), her husband;
  • Li Wei as Zhang Zhichen (章志忱 Zhāng Zhìchén), Dai Liyan's childhood friend and Yuwen's former lover
  • Cui Chaoming as Lao Huang (老黃 lǎo Huáng), Dai and Yuwen's loyal servant;
  • Zhang Hongmei as Dai Xiu (戴秀 Dài Xiù), Dai Liyan's young sister.

Reception from 1948 to Recent Time[edit]

Made after the war and the so-called "Solitary Island" period of Shanghai film-making, Spring in a Small Town, unlike its leftist predecessors of the 1930s, was a more intimate affair with only tangential references to the politics of the day. Indeed, the film can be distinguished from those earlier works by its more mature treatment of inter-personal conflicts, particularly in the sense that there are no villains or antagonists except for time and circumstance. Even the husband, who ostensibly stands between Zhou Yuwen and Zhang Zhichen's love, is an inherently decent and good human being.

Because of this apparent lack of "political" grounding, Spring in a Small Town was rejected by the Communist Party as rightist or reactionary, and was ignored following the Communist victory in China in 1949.[4] The film was only able to find its audience and had a resurgence in popularity after the China Film Archive made a new print in the early 1980s.[5] Today it is considered one of the classics of Chinese film. In 2005 the Hong Kong Film Awards Association named it the greatest Chinese film ever made.[6] Sixth Generation film director Wang Chao also declared the film to be one of his favorites and Fei Mu the director he most admired.[7] In 2002, the film was remade by Tian Zhuangzhuang as Springtime in a Small Town.

Film Elements[edit]

  • This film is not only a romance, but it also represents the physical and psychological trauma for people and country after War period, which is War of Resistance between China and Japan in this case. Although people should celebrate after Japanese forces surrendered, the huge ruin for the country itself and people in China after the post war period. The main important scene/motif of city wall is destroyed that the walls are not complete and overgrown with weeds. At the same time, the main male character Dai Liyan also suffers under both psychological and physical condition that he feels hopeless and sick constantly after his house got partly destroyed by the War. The repeatedly scene of broken city wall show in the film could remind audiences about the destruction caused by the war.[8]
  • The unstable narrator and voice over from main female character YuWen also represent the traumatic memory and inconstant life after the war. Yuwen's explicitly talks about the memory and events happened in the past, main while she also demonstrates the things will happen in the future. For example, she says that she never knows that Zhang Zhichen will come to visit, even though she does not even see him physically. At the same time, Yuwen's inconstant voiceover is unstable that the voice is not present in the entire film, this could reflect that she also suffer under the post war condition that she may have the hallucinatory repetitions, which she remembers the love between Zhang Zhichen with her and her loyalty to Dai Liyan after he attempts suicide.[9]

DVD releases[edit]

Spring in a Small Town was released on Region 1 DVD on May 8, 2007 by Cinema Epoch. The disc features English subtitles.

An earlier all-region DVD version was also released in the United States by the Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communication Co. Ltd on December 1, 2006.


In 2002, a remake film for Spring in a Small Town called Springtime in a Small Town directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang. Although the two films use the same Chinese title, they have different English titles.


  1. ^ "Spring in a Small Town". Film Society of Lincoln Center.
  2. ^ a b "BAM/PFA - Film Programs". University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Archived from the original on 2015-08-01.
  3. ^ "Springtime in a Small Town". Artificial Eye. Archived from the original on 2014-04-17.
  4. ^ Zhang Yingjin, "Introduction" in Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922–1943, ed. Yingjin Zhang (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 8.
  5. ^ Spring in a Small Town
  6. ^ "‘Spring in a Small Town’ tops best 100 Chinese films," Sina English, March 15, 2005 (15 August 2006).
  7. ^ "Five Questions for Wang Chao". that's Beijing. 2006-06-30. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  8. ^ Carolyn FitzGerald, Spring in a Small Town: Gazing at Ruins, Chinese Film in Focus II, 2008, page 205-211
  9. ^ Carolyn FitzGerald, Spring in a Small Town: Gazing at Ruins, Chinese Film in Focus II, 2008, page 207-208

External links[edit]