China’s first heartthrob in sex and politics
At the height of his popularity in the 1930s Jin Yan was crowned China’s ‘Emperor of Film.’
He was the highest-paid male movie star in the country and his dashing good looks and dancing prowess drew comparisons with Hollywood sex symbol Rudolph Valentino.
The actor was part of a left-wing progressive movement of Shanghai-based filmmakers which sought to expose the inequalities of society. These films earned Jin a place on the KMT’s blacklist, but he was never arrested, due to his fame and popularity.
It was Jin who influenced actress Ruan Lingyu – one of the great sirens of the silent film era and the subject of Meyer’s 2005 book The Goddess of Shanghai – to make films portraying social problems while evading the censors with melodramatic soap opera formats.