Illustration of Mei Lanfang by Anna Myers.

Mei Lanfang was a famous theatrical performer who, like many male actors of his period, played women’s roles. He introduced Beijing (Peking) Opera to foreign audiences when he toured Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

Mei Lanfang was a theatrical performer born in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province, who achieved international recognition for his portrayals of women during an era in which women’s roles were traditionally assigned to men. Born to a family of noted opera singers, Mei began studying at the Beijing (Peking) Opera when he was eight years old, making his stage debut at twelve. At the age of fourteen he joined the Xiliancheng Opera Company and gained a national reputation after a series of performances in Shanghai and elsewhere in China. Mei introduced Beijing Opera to foreign audiences when he toured Japan in 1919 and 1924, the United States in 1930, and the Soviet Union in 1932 and 1935. In 1937 he ceased performing and moved to Hong Kong after the outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945) in protest of the Japanese invasion. He later returned to China and performed in films and on stage from 1946 until his death. He played more than one hundred characters, one of the most famous being the Flower-Shattering Diva. His distinctive style of dance became known as the “Mei Lanfang school.” A charismatic and modest person, he is remembered as one of the greatest performers in Chinese history.

Further Reading

Mackerras, C. (1997). Peking Opera. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wu Zuguang. (1981). Peking Opera and Mei Lanfang. Beijing: New World Press.

Source: Oakman, Daniel. (2009). MEI Lanfang. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1441–1441. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

MEI Lanfang (Méi Lánfāng 梅兰芳)|Méi Lánfāng 梅兰芳 (MEI Lanfang)

Download the PDF of this article