The Worlds of Mei Lanfang | Chicago Reader

The Worlds of Mei Lanfang

Mei-Juin Chen's video recounts the life and career of the celebrated Peking Opera star Mei Lanfang, known for his uncanny portrayals of women. Descended from a long line of such performers, Mei was the toast of Beijing and Shanghai from the teens to the 1940s, and his headline-making visits to New York and Hollywood won him the rapt attention of no less than Sergei Eisenstein. A Chinese patriot, he later became a communist and performed for Mao; Mei's son and the singers who've inherited his roles insist that he was straight (contrary to the film Farewell My Concubine, which is loosely based on his life). Chen's video ends with an unsatisfying coda that connects Mei to modern cross-dressers, but its revealing archival materials outweigh such artlessness. 56 min.

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