Tracking the “Unknown Woman” from Hollywood through Shanghai to Hong Kong
This chapter examines three maternal melodramas: Stella Dallas (dir. Henry King, 1925), The Goddess (dir. Wu Yonggang, 1934, Shanghai), and Rouge Tears (dir. Wu Yonggang, Chen Pi, 1938, Shanghai/Hong Kong), all of which narrate the ultimate disappearance of a lower-class mother who sacrifices her own interests and relinquishes her child to the more respectable patriarchal figure. Simultaneously virtuous (embodying selfless maternal love) and abject (being a woman of bad taste or an illegal streetwalker), the lower-class mother poses a representational dilemma. That is, how can maternal melodrama—a genre that privileges virtuous femininity and normalizes the middle-class, nuclear home space—portray a mother who is inextricably mired in moral decrepitude and illicit female sexuality and desire? This representational dilemma is key to understanding Shanghai and Hong Kong remakes in the mid-to the late 1930s, when social problems and Chinese national politics tended to be coded in terms of gender politics.
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