China's leading lady Tang Wei deemed too racy to star in Mao movie

Clifford Coonan
Monday 16 May 2011 00:00

The brief rehabilitation of Chinese actress Tang Wei, who was purged for her steamy role in Ang Lee's erotic thriller Lust, Caution, seems to be over, after Chairman Mao's grandson intervened to have her cut out of the propaganda epic The Founding of a Party.

It appears that the actress has been edited out of the soon-to-be-released film on the wishes of the family of the late Mao, the first leader of the People's Republic of China. Ms Tang played Tao Yi, an early girlfriend of Mao's, in the movie, which was made to mark this year's 90th anniversary of the Communist Party's foundation. The film is due to open in mid-June.

Ms Tang was still in a version of the film that has been shown to various industry figures in recent weeks, but sources who asked to remain anonymous said it looked pretty certain that she has since been dropped because of objections by the Great Helmsman's grandson, Mao Xinyu, a Major-General in the People's Liberation Army.

There has been widespread speculation online too. The film director He Ping wrote on his blog: "There was a little girl acting in the film, but her part was all deleted," referring to Ms Tang..

The families of historical figures have considerable influence in China, and people regularly take legal action against fictional works that might cast a family name in bad light. It is possible that Mao Xinyu did not wish any links between his grandfather and an actress who shot to fame on the strength of her performance in a movie which contained considerable nudity and violent sex. A couple of years ago, the family of the Chinese opera star Mei Lanfang also brought considerable pressure to bear on the makers of the Forever Enthralled biopic.

China Film Group spokesperson Jiang Defu would not confirm or deny that Ms Teng's part was on the cutting-room floor, saying only that several parts had been deleted in the final cut, and nothing was sure until the movie hit the screens.

The Founding of a Party deals with the three phases of the setting-up of the Communist Party, which still runs China as a single-party state and has 78 million members. The role of the young Mao is played by the heartthrob Liu Ye, and the film is part of the Communist Party's efforts to present a modern image. Mao remains a powerful force in China. His face adorns every banknote and his portrait looms over Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The past few years have been a rollercoaster ride for Ms Tang, who was purged in 2007 for her erotic role as the lover of a collaborator in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in Lust, Caution.

The Founding of a Party is expected to make major waves at the Chinese box office after the huge success of The Founding of a Republic, an epic tribute to the 1949 revolution, which was the top-performing Chinese movies two years ago. It's also a high-profile blast of nationalism at a time when the Chinese film business is booming, taking in £930m at the box office last year. The film also features some of Hong Kong's top actors. Andy Lau stars as the warlord and revolutionary Cai E and Chow Yun-fat as Yuan Shikai.

China makes dozens of propaganda films every year, but most of them fail to make a ripple beyond China's borders, and are met with indifference by the broader audience even within China. But The Founding of a Republic transformed the Chinese propaganda movie in that it was of higher quality than the usual fare.

Chinese film censorship


In 2007, Ang Lee's erotic drama 'Lust, Caution' was shown without most of its sex scenes – although uncensored pirate versions were widely available online.


Hollywood films that are seen to portray China negatively are censored or banned, as are locally produced films that imply criticism of the government.

Time travel

The recent fashion for television costume dramas featuring time travel prompted the government last month to issue a formal warning against scientifically unsound plot lines in dramas.

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