Peng Xiaolian

Peng Xiaolian (Chinese: ; June 1953 – 19 June 2019) was a Chinese film director, scriptwriter and author. A graduate of the 1982 class of the Beijing Film Academy, she was a member of the Fifth Generation, although her style differed from the other members of this group.[1] She is known for her series of films about Shanghai, including Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (1998), which won the Best Picture Award of the Huabiao Awards; Shanghai Story (2004), which won four Golden Rooster Awards including Best Director and Best Picture; and Shanghai Rumba (2006), based on the romance of the movie star couple Zhao Dan and Huang Zongying.

Peng Xiaolian
Peng Xiaolian.jpg
Peng Xiaolian in 1989
BornJune 1953
Died19 June 2019(2019-06-19) (aged 65–66)
Alma materBeijing Film Academy
OccupationFilm director, writer
Years active1982–2018
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese

Early lifeEdit

Peng was born in June 1953 in Chaling County, Hunan, and grew up in Shanghai.[2][3] She was the youngest daughter of Peng Baishan [zh] (1910–1968) and his wife Zhu Weiming.[4][5] As a young child she experienced the terror of political persecution of her father.[4] Baishan was the Minister of Propaganda in Shanghai when he was arrested for his association with Hu Feng, a literary critic and politician. Along with other associates of Hu, he was condemned as a core member of the "Hu Feng Counterrevolutionary Clique" and suffered in prison and labor camp. This family tragedy had a major influence on Xiaolian, who vividly depicts the terrifying memories in the 1987 novella "On My Back",[6] the 1997 short story "To That Faraway Place",[7] and in the 2009 documentary Storm under the Sun that she co-directed with Louisa Wei.[8]

When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, her mother began to suffer brutality from the Red Guards.[5] The ultimate terror of the family came in 1968 when her father was beaten to death. Even years later, Peng insisted on writing about the chaotic years and the aftermath in fictions like the novel Shanghai Story,[9] the novella "Holding up the Book I Read Everyday"[10] and the novella "Childhood: Secrets of Four Seasons".[11]

Like millions of her generation, she was sent down to the countryside for "re-education" by peasants during the Cultural Revolution. Although she spent nine years in the countryside of Jiangxi province,[4] not many works of hers except for "Burning Connections" write about the experience.[12]

After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Peng entered Beijing Film Academy in 1978 to study directing, together with Li Shaohong, Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang and others, who would later be known as China's Fifth Generation film directors.[13]


Directorial debutEdit

Upon graduation from Beijing Film Academy in 1982, Peng was assigned to work at Shanghai Film Studio,[4] where she first worked as an assistant director. Three years later, she was given a teenage film Me and My Classmates to direct.[14] The film was a success and won the Best Children's Film Award of the 1987 Golden Rooster Awards.[4] As a reward, she was a given a chance to direct a film that she had wanted to direct: Women's Story (1988). This film made her known to the world, not only by entering festivals like The Creteil Women's International Film Festival and Hawaii International Film Festival, but also praised for its strong feminine subjectivity and its portrayal of rural Chinese women.[15]

Life in New YorkEdit

In 1989, Peng won a script award for her script "Difficult Truth" at Rotterdam Film Festival, but could not make the film in China due to the tightening ideology. She thought about leaving China and the success of her first two films helped to win a Rockefeller scholarship. She enrolled in the MFA program in New York University and graduated in 1996. Although she did not complete a single film in New York, her experience in New York inspired many fictional works, including novellas “The Abingdon Square”, “Burning Connections”, “A Drop of Ram Shit” set in New York, “Exile’s Return” and “On the Way Home”—all collected in her novella collection titled On the Way Home.[12]

Directorial careerEdit

After returning to China in 1996, Peng co-wrote (with Guo Lingling) the script for Huang Shuqin's film My Daddy.[4] Together with Zhu Bin, she directed her first thriller, The Dog Homicide (1996).[4][16]

In the following decade, she made a series of films about Shanghai.[4] Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (1998), a historical film about the Shanghai Campaign of 1949, won the Best Film Award of the Huabiao Awards.[17] Shanghai Women (2002) portrays contemporary life in the fast-changing city. Shanghai Story (2004), which explores the vicissitudes of life of a bourgeois family from the 1920s to the 1990s, won four Golden Rooster Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.[4][2] Shanghai Rumba (2006) is based on the romance of the famous movie star couple Zhao Dan and Huang Zongying.[4] These films made her known as a representative figure in presenting the culture of Shanghai.[16] She also made a children's animation film, Keke's Magic Umbrella (2000).[1]

In 2009, Peng co-directed (with Louisa Wei) the documentary Storm Under the Sun, an investigation of the Hu Feng affair which had implicated her father. Peng and Wei interviewed 26 people who had been denounced as "counterrevolutionaries" for their association with Hu Feng.[4][8]

Later life and deathEdit

Peng was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. She underwent chemotherapy and her health temporarily recovered.[17] She began writing a book about her father titled Four Seasons of Childhood, and planned to make it into a film.[17] She also spent two years writing the book Editor Zhong Shuhe – A Documentary on Paper, about the publisher Zhong Shuhe (钟叔河). However, her health deteriorated again in November 2018 before she was able to finish either project.[17] She died on 19 June 2019 in Shanghai, at age 66.[17][18]

Selected filmographyEdit

As directorEdit

Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
2018 Please Remember Me 请你记住我 [16]
2009 Storm Under the Sun 红日风暴 Documentary about the Hu Feng affair, co-directed with Louisa Wei.[8]
2006 Shanghai Rumba 上海伦巴 Based on the lives of Zhao Dan and his wife Huang Zongying[4]
2004 Shanghai Story 美丽上海 Won four 2004 Golden Rooster Awards, including the Best Picture and Best Director awards.[4]
2002 Shanghai Women 假装没感觉 [1]
2001 Red Persimmons 满山红柿 Japanese: 満山紅柿 (Manzan Benigaki). Completed an unfinished documentary by Japanese director Shinsuke Ogawa.[19]
2000 Keke's Magic Umbrella 可可的魔伞 Children's animation[1]
1998 Once Upon a Time in Shanghai 上海纪事 Won the Best Film Award of the Huabiao Awards[17]
1996 The Dog Homicide 犬杀 Co-directed with Zhu Bin (朱斌)[16]
1987 Women's Story 女人的故事 [1]
1986 Me and My Classmates 我和我的同学们 Won the Best Children's Film Award at the 1987 Golden Rooster Awards.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Davis, Edward L. (2009). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 635. ISBN 978-0-415-77716-2.
  2. ^ a b 缅怀!导演彭小莲走了,让我们记住她. Shanghai Online (in Chinese). 19 June 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  3. ^ Fan Jialai 范佳来 (20 June 2019). 纪念|文学创作者彭小莲:一个纯粹的理想主义者. The Paper (in Chinese). Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ye, Tan; Zhu, Yun (2012). Historical Dictionary of Chinese Cinema. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 123–4. ISBN 978-0-8108-6779-6.
  5. ^ a b Peng, Xiaolian. Their Times. Shanghai: Eastern China Normal University Press, 2010.
  6. ^ Peng, Xiaolian. “On My Back" in Harvest: A Literary Bimonthly, No. 4 (1987): 25-38, 65.
  7. ^ Peng, Xiaolian. "To That Faraway Place" in Fiction World, No. 6 (1997): 113-6.
  8. ^ a b c Veg, Sebastian. Storm under the Sun in The China Quarterly, June (2009): 198-199.
  9. ^ Peng, Xiaolian. Shanghai Story. Shanghai: Shanghai Social Science Press, 2005.
  10. ^ Peng, Xiaolian. "Holding up the Book I Read Everyday” in Jiangnan, No. 5 (2009): 31-53.
  11. ^ Peng, Xiaolian. "Childhood: Secrets of Four Seasons” in Harvest: A Literary Bimonthly, No. 3 (2015): 73-89.
  12. ^ a b Peng, Xiaolian. On the Way Home. Shanghai: Baihua Press, 2005.
  13. ^ Ni, Zhen. Memories of Beijing Film Academy: The Genesis of China's Fifth Generation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.
  14. ^ Peng, Xiaolian. “My Shanghai, My Films” in S. Louisa Wei and Yang Yuanying, Women’s Cinema: Dialogues with Chinese and Japanese Female Directors. Shanghai: Eastern China Normal University Press, 2009, 125-130.
  15. ^ Kuoshu, Harry H. Metro Movies: Cinematic Urbanism in Post-Mao China. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011; Lewis, Catherine E. “Sewing, Quilting, Knitting: Handicraft and Freedom in The Color Purple and A Women’s Story” in Literature/Film Quarterly, 29: 3 (2001): 236–45.
  16. ^ a b c d Chen Chen 陈晨 (20 June 2019). 纪念彭小莲:没有电影拍,对她才是折磨. The Paper (in Chinese). Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Luo Xin 罗昕 (20 June 2019). 纪念|彭小莲,把炬火努力传递给别人. The Paper (in Chinese). Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  18. ^ Feola, Josh (19 June 2019). "Fifth-Gen Filmmaker Peng Xiaolian Passes Away at 66". RADII. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  19. ^ "Red Persimmons". Icarus Films. 11 February 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2019.

External linksEdit