Author ORCID Identifier


Dr. David Bisaha

Document Type



Theatre Arts

Publication Date



Mei Lan-fang, Beijing Opera, Female impersonator, Chinese theater, the School of Mei, the "ideal woman", Feminism


Mei Lan-fang was the most well-known Beijing Opera practitioner specializing in the impersonation of historical and mythological female characters. His captivating performance style is known as “The School of Mei”. It balances the external stage presence and internal precision and attends to the minutiae. His performances were drawn predominantly from the classic repertoire, and they have won him the position that “no other Chinese actor attained and retained” (Scott ii). Despite the general perception of Mei’s contribution to the emancipation of women through his work and his self-assertion of sympathy towards their suffering, the underlying motivation may not be as simple and honorable. Assessing the artist through his performance repository, his working process, and his personal life, the author of the paper is profoundly disturbed by the antithesis and paradox manifested through his stance on feminism. Consciously or subconsciously, Mei Lan-fang was very particular about the role types and the selection of his repertoire. This renowned female impersonator exhibited a clear predilection for depicting the “ideal women”. He either purposefully eschewed female characters of questionable reputations and vicious qualities or reinvested them as females of impeccable virtue. Furthermore, Mei Lan-fang had no tolerance for blemishes in either temperament or comportment for his parts, submitting to neither the truthful ethos nor veritable historical presence. Through constant refinement in the years of continuous revival, Mei Lan-fang resculpted the figurines into national inamoratas with outstanding beauty, whim, and virtues. These glamourized puppets and their sweeping international influence consolidate his egoistic misinterpretation of oriental feminity and come to be celebrated as live scriptures for daughters, wives, and mothers. Mei Lan-fang’s insistence on patriarchal dominance evinced through polygamy, his ill-fated wives, and deliberate avoidance of their contribution confirms superiority at play and exploitation at the heart, which overthrows the false advocacy of fair treatment and gender equality.


Sincere appreciation to Dr. David Bisaha for his insightful notes on the subject and for patiently helping with organizing the train of thoughts, contesting, and refining the arguments from a broad social-historical perspective.

Special thanks to my father Hongbo Bian and my mother Yingmang Meng for assisting with critically assessing the Chinese cultural heritage through many long and penetrating discussions.

A note from the author: due to limited research skills and the unavailability of properly cited scholarly articles on Mei Lan-fang's stance on feminism and his personal life in both English and Chinese, materials from less credible resources have been consulted in the juxtaposition of Mei's autobiography. Discussions and corrections are most welcome.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.