Six videos have been specially created for the project by project partners. These six videos were launched on the Leeds Industrial Museum online Exhibition ‘Song of the Female Textile Workers’ throughout the Chinese New Year celebrations in February 2021. If you missed the Online exhibition, the videos are here:
This historical and contemporary footage identifies the connection between the Shanghai Textile Industry and Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera. The female textile workers formed China’s first ever female working class and developed their local entertainment, from a rural male sing-song to an urban all-female theatre form. Following mass redundancy in the 1990s, Shanghai’s All-Female Yue Opera lost it’s main audience and has since embraced new digital technologies and a fusion of performing styles, to re-juvenate and maintain popularity across both Shanghai and China.
The All-Female Yue Opera entered Shanghai as a migrant culture from Zhejiang Province. The entertainment form developed and prospered alongside the textile industry, becoming a way of life for the industrial workers. Reforms of the 1990s saw the dismantling of the textile industry across Shanghai, resulting in mass redundancy and staff redeployment. As the textile industry focused on new fashion and technology, and established old factory premises as contemporary art clusters, Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera also adapted. Whilst maintaining traditional performance training, Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera is appealing to a new audience through new fashion and technology.
In the early 1990s Shanghai was moving from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’ and Shanghai was being transformed from the manufacturing heart of the country to the new centre for financial and international trade. The textile factories bore the brunt of the change with over 500,000 female workers made redundant.
In 1994 Shanghai Airlines advertised for 14 Air Stewardesses, to be recruited from the textile industry. Over 50,000 women applied, and 18 women were recruited. They became known as ‘Aunt Stewardesses’. The interview and selection process became national news and the successful candidates became celebrities.
The original Shanghai TV footage from the 1994 selection process is updated with interviews from the 2014 reunion of the 18 Aunt Stewardesses. The women tell stories from their recollection of the interview process and their subsequent training and service with Shanghai Airlines.
A student attends her first Yue Opera performance, the immersive show ‘Fate of Love’, and explains her interest in the All-Female performance. Socio-political changes in the early 1900s allowed an All-male entertainment to develop into an All-female performance which, with support from Shanghai’s textile workers, was developed for the new urban working women.
Early performances ‘broke the mould’ of beautiful feminine figures supporting heroic male characters, presenting the female characters as strong and determined individuals. Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera continues to represent the urban females and continues to adapt traditional stories to incorporate new female values.
Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera is traced from its roots to its current position amongst the most popular entertainment forms in China. In exclusive interviews, Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera Star Performer, Ms Wang Rousang, explains her love of Yue Opera and the training that she has undertaken since her childhood. In All-Female productions, Wang Rousang is famous for her Xiaosheng (male role) performances.
Wang Rousang is currently developing a one-woman performance – Song of the Female Textile Workers – in collaboration with the project’s UK partners. The performance will be staged in China and live-streamed to the UK later this year.