Because of China's deep tradition of feudalism, even though the movie industry was a newly emerging industry, it was dominated by menin its early days. Even ten years after Yan Shanshan had first appeared on screen, most female roles were still played by male actors. As late as 1923, Wang Hanlun played the female lead Yu Weiru in An Orphan Rescues His Grandpa for Mingxing Film Company. She signed a contract with Mingxing Film Company to star in a series of movies, making her a true professional actress.
Her difficult experiences made her a strong woman
Wang Hanlun was born as Peng Qinshi in Suzhou, Jiangsu. She was the seventh child in a large family. She was clever, beautiful and her father's favorite. She was sent to study at a female missionary school in Shanghai, St. Maria's College. But her parents' death led to her becoming a movie star instead of a talented woman.
After her parents died, her brother and sister-in-law married her to a coal mine inspector far away. His surname was Zhang. But her husband was unfaithful and her wish to continue her studies did not happen, so it was long before her first marriage ended and she returned to Shanghai.
Wang Hanlun lived at a distant relative's home and began a life for herself. She taught in a primary school and later worked as an English typist in a foreign enterprise. One of her colleagues was a shareholder of Mingxing Film Company. When the company was looking for actresses and actors for the movie, An Orphan Rescues His Grandpa, her colleague recommended her. Wang Hanlun met the director, Zhang Shichuan, and passed the film test. She then began her career as an actress. According to her contract, her pay for the movie was 500 hundred Yuan and she was to receive a 20 Yuan subsidy each month.
Her brother and sister-in-law thought that she had brought disgrace to her family for resigning her job and becoming an actress. They wanted her to return home and punish her in the ancestral hall. Wang Hanlun broke off all ties with her family. She thought that tigers were fearless and tigers have the character for king on their foreheads, so she changed her surname to Wang, and she adopted the name Hanlun, which is similar to the English name Helen.
Starting a company
In the movie An Orphan Rescues His Grandpa, the character Wang Hanlun played loses her husband and is slandered. Even though she is humiliated, she still raises her son. She vividly plays the role of a grieving but tenacious woman. The audience was deeply moved by her performance, and the film was a big hit. She was a successful woman in these early movies and was honored as the first female dramatist. The movie also greatly profited Mingxing Film Company, but Wang Hanlun's salary stayed the same as before. Soon after that, the Great Wall Film Company enticed her with a higher salary.
The first movie she starred in for Great Wall Film Co. was The Outcast Woman. In this movie, she transforms from a good wife and loving mother to a tragic character. But after starring in three films, Great Wall Film Company did not pay her as promised, and she lost faith in film companies. She said, "I created the movie, but it does not belong to me." Her labor was not justly compensated so she decided to start her own company – Hanlun Film Company. She designed, starred and promoted her films all by herself. She pursued not only the right to live, but freedom, justice and human dignity.
Hanlun Film Company's first movie was The Lost Love, which starred Wang Hanlun. After the movie's production, she personally promoted and advertised the film. This kind of Truman Show gave the public an opportunity to meet the movie star up close. Her first movie quickly sold out among domestic and foreign film operators. In 1930, she retired from acting and began another path which was completely foreign to her – starting a beauty salon.
Beauty salon disappeared in turmoil
Wang Hanlun studied under the French cosmetologist, Doctor Richard, when she began her own beauty salon. Hooligans frequently came by to disrupt the salon's business, but Wang Hanlun persisted in running it until Shanghai was lost. While Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese, Radio of the Enemy Regime asked Wang Hanlun to broadcast propaganda for them, but she refused. After that, she was not able to run the salon.
Without economic resources, her only means of supporting herself was by selling furniture and clothes.
After the War of Japanese Resistance ended, Wang Hanlun wanted to return to acting, but even though she was only 40 years old at the time, the film company thought she was too old.
When Shanghai was liberated, Wang Hanlun could not express her excitement in words on. What made her even more excited was her opportunity to reappear on the screen.In 1950, twenty years after her farewell to movies, she played the Empress Dowager in The Biography of Wu Xun. The movie was produced by Shanghai Kunlun Film Company. She only had 10 lines in one scene, but she read the play many times. She seemed to focus all her enthusiasm on this role. She did not expect the movie to bring her any rewards, but just wanted to enjoy reliving her dream of twenty years. However, the reality was not so nice. After the film was shown, many people criticized her because she had played the Empress Dowager from a feudal dynasty. She suddenly realized that times had changed, everything had changed.
She joined Shanghai Film Company as an actress who contributed a lot to early films. In 1954, she joined the Shanghai Film Troupe to learn more about stage performance. She was devoted to the film industry in the new China. However, she did not think she could perform well anymore. She was born during the twenties in Shanghai and was familiar with the dispositions and customs of the declining aristocrats and the rich of that time. When faced with a new world, she was at a loss. She did not understand the workers, peasants and soldiers of the new society. She also did not know how to rid herself of bourgeois practices. Therefore, she did not act in communist movies and only played a minor character in one or two films.
Despite everything, she received a pension from the government every month and enjoyed free medical service. She had no children and when she was older, a nephew frequently visited her. She read a lot and always had a book in her hand. She preferred quiet even more.
On August 17, 1978, Wang Hanlun, who was then 75 years old, lay on the bed in Shanghai Guang Ci Hospital (St. Marie Hospital) dressed in clean patients clothes. She passed away quietly without a word.
She was a staunch and broad-minded woman. There are few people who, after many hard times and good times, could keep going like her. She remained good and pure after a life full of hardships. She guarded her dignity until her death as an independent female.
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