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The Worlds of Mei Lanfang

A Film by Mei-Juin Chen

Produced by Lisa Muskat & Shi Jen

57 min

Channel 6
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The Worlds Of Mei Lanfang explores the life and times of the greatest Beijing Opera performer of the 20th century.  Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), the man who inspired Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, was a Chinese opera singer whose career spanned from the last imperial dynasty to Mao Tse-Tung. Surviving two Republics and foreign occupations, he became an icon of Chinese opera who specialized in portrayals of women, from delicate concubines to fierce warriors.  Mei Lanfang's extraordinary career brought him praise and attention from luminaries such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Paul Robeson, Bernard Shaw, and Sergei Eisenstein during international tours in the early 1930s.  With rare archival footage never seen outside of Beijing’s Chinese Film Archive, this documentary offers a unique and fascinating look at one of China’s leading cultural figures. Mei’s rich life provides a window for exploring topics such as Chinese nationalism, communism, gender and high/pop culture.


Rare archival footage includes:

  • The Boxer Rebellion

  • China from ‘30s-‘50s

  • The rise of the Cultural Revolution

  • Mei Lanfang's performance in Moscow shot by Eisenstein

  • Mei Lanfang's opera in the first Chinese color film

  • Mei Lanfang on Broadway and in Hollywood

Festivals (selected)

Berlin International Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, USA International Film Festival, Asian American Film Festivals and Gay & Lesbian Film festivals across the USA


  • Honor, Women in Film

  • Honorable Mention, Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival

  • Most Outstanding Asian Artist Special Award,
    Lincoln Center, The Chinese American Arts Council,
    and New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs


History   Performing Arts   Arts & Artists   Asian   Film   Gender   Women

- Berenice Reynaud, Professor California Institute of the Arts 

Critical Response

Combining scholarship and wit, Mei-juin Chen provides a fascinating insight into one of China's most beloved traditions -- female impersonation in Beijing opera. Through the charismatic figure of Mei Lanfang, who inspired Brecht and Eisenstein, the film poses important questions about East-West cultural relationships and the construction of gender.

Author, "New Chinas, New Cinemas" (Editions des Cahiers du cinema, 1999)

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