Boarding House Blues

Flappers - Shanghai style

1 June 2024

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month — a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States — which led me to wonder if there were any Asian flappers.

China also experienced their version of the Roaring 20s in Shanghai. Because of the opening of trade in the 1920s, there were many Western influences in Shanghai. The city was even called the “cosmopolitan Paris of the East.” European-style architecture and jazz were in vogue. Flappers appeared in popular magazines in Shanghai around 1926 and were imitated by movie actresses.

One example of the "modern Chinese girl" is Yang Naimei, the daughter of a wealthy businessman and a popular silent film actress, who fully embodied the characters of the flapper.

In her early life, Yang Naimei showed an indulgent, sociable, and pushy personality. She displayed no interest in academics and developed a willful and arrogant character. With blatant disregard for her prominent family's wishes, she became an actress and quickly drew public attention with her bold character and uninhibited behavior. However, it was these qualities that paved the way for her later film and television career and, ironically, there is a strong similarity between her personal life and her screen images.

Yang's breakthrough role was in The Soul of Yuli (1924), where she played a dissolute playgirl who wouldn't settle down after marriage. Yang then played lead roles in The Poor Children and Lured into Marriage. She often played an unruly woman on the screen, and she had many relationships in her life, accumulating wealth and a reputation with her acting career.

After becoming a star, Yang Naimei shined in social places, but also started a series of bad habits, including gambling, smoking, etc. Her passionate lifestyle became the focus of society. In fact, some say that as a result of her passionate, charming, and sexy performance in Jade Pear Soul, she earned the dubious honor of being the first "romantic" female porn star in the history of Chinese film.



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