Retelling the Tale of Lan Huahua: Desire, Stigma, and Social Change in Modern China
- CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 40, Number 1, July 2021
- pp. 16-34
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Following the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, China's 1950 Marriage Law encouraged free choice and inspired women to leave unhappy marriages, but also encountered resistance stemming from traditional prohibitions against unsanctioned "illicit" relationships. This paper looks at how stories about a regionally iconic rural Chinese woman who rebelled against an arranged marriage to run off with her lover have served as a discursive site for the social effects of individual desires. Northern Shaanxi's Lan Huahua first received national attention in a folk song anthologized in 1945. Since then, her story has been retold in socialist poems, musicals, and TV dramas that portray her as a symbol of class struggle, and, more recently, a 2017 opera where her story is used to explore the promise and peril of neoliberal desires. Taken together, these retellings speak to ongoing tensions regarding how individual agency contributes to or threatens social order.