Bai Fengxi


Bai Fengxi
b. 1934, Wen’an, Hebei
Theatre actress, playwright
Bai Fengxi became an actress in the China Youth Art Theatre in 1954 and played more than forty dramatic characters, such as the title heroines in Liu Hulai (1951) and Prince Wencheng (Wencheng gongzhu, 1960). She began writing plays after 1976 and became the first woman playwright in the PRC who focused on the experiences and uncertain roles of women in real life. The Women Trilogy depicts the concerns of intellectual women in the transition from the Maoist (1949–76) to post-Maoist (1976– present) eras. The first play, First Bathed in Moonlight (Mingyue chu zhao ren, 1981), represents a microcosm of PRC women, relating the lives of three generations of mothers and daughters who struggle between their official roles as liberated women and their private search for love, happiness and freedom. It portrays Fang Ruoming, a Party official in charge of women’s affairs, whose efforts to help rural women with arranged marriages coincides with her endeavour to understand her own daughters’ fight against social prejudice and traditional values. Bai’s second play, An Old Friend Comes on a Stormy Night (Fengyu guren lai, 1983), probes more deeply into women’s protest against a sexist society. Xia Zhixian finds success in her career as a gynaecologist at the expense of her family life. She lives alone, having divorced her husband, who proved unable to support her total devotion to a career. As the play unfolds, her daughter faces a similar dilemma: when she is ranked first in a graduate school entrance examination to study abroad, her mother-in-law urges her to give up her plans, since a family with a PhD husband seems to be more acceptable than a family with a PhD wife. After much torment, Xia encourages her daughter to pursue her journey abroad, saying, ‘A woman is not a moon. She does not need to depend on someone else’s light to glow’. This line was frequently repeated in the effort to raise public consciousness of women’s issues.
Her third play, Where is Longing in Autumn? (Buzhi qiusi zai shui jia, 1986), staged a group of courageous women whose unconventional decisions shocked their audiences. The mother, Su Zhongyuan, was puzzled by the choices of her children: her elder daughter left her husband solely to take better care of herself; her second daughter remained a spinster to avoid a loveless marriage; and her son opted for a business career instead of taking college entrance examinations and was engaged to a fashion model. The play ends with no closure and no resolution of a mother’s anguish. The seemingly irreconcilable conflicts between mother and children suggest the moral tribulations of a society in flux, caught between a problematic tradition and the uncertainties of Westernization and commercialization.
Bai, Fengxi (1991). The Women Trilogy. Trans. Guan Yuehua. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press.
——(1994). ‘Friend on a Rainy Day’. Trans. Diana B.Kingsbury. In Diana B.Kingsbury (ed.), I Wish I Were a Wolf: The New Voice in Chinese Women’s Literature. Beijing: New World Press, 64–122.
Chen, Xiaomei (1997). ‘A Stage of Their Own: The Problematics of Women’s Theatre in Post-Mao China’. Journal of Asian Studies 56.1:3–25.
CHEN XIAOMEI

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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