Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema
Jean Ma is Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Stanford University. She is the author of Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema, and coeditor of Moving: Between Cinema and Photography, also published by Duke University Press.
The Little Wildcat
One particular songstress type was the “wildcat,” or singing country lass, associated with a highly popular cycle of “rustic singing films” and most famously embodied by actress Chung Ching. Chung was a somewhat idiosyncratic case—typecast as a songstress despite her lack of vocal talent. Her film songs were regularly dubbed by other singers, such as the famed pop star Yao Lee, who collaborated with Chung as a behind-the-scenes singer in a large number of productions. Precisely for this reason, these films shed light on the ambivalent location of the voice in songstress films—at once corporeally anchored and mechanically detachable, coexisting with but not necessarily belonging to the onscreen singer. The ambivalence of the voice in turn points to the specific assumptions about performance and stardom operative in this period.