The Foreign-Policy Aspect of Mei Lanfang’s Soviet Tour in 1935


  • Janne Risum Aarhus University



Beijing Opera, Chinese communist party, Cultural diplomacy, Guomindang, Lu Xun, Mei Lanfang's Soviet tour 1935, Sino-Soviet diplomatic relations, Sino-Soviet non-aggression pact, Socialist realism, Theatre historiography, Yan Huiqing


The Soviet tour in 1935 of the eminent Chinese male interpreter of female roles, Mei Lanfang, attracted justified international attention as a pioneering instance of cultural and aesthetic exchange. This is not least due to the fact that it was the first time a traditional Chinese theatre troupe made a guest appearance in Europe and that so many prominent Russian and other European theatre innovators consequently eagerly followed the event and reacted to the traditional Chinese stage conventions according to their very different aesthetic points of view. Complementing my published research over the years into the details of this major intercultural stage event, in this article I reverse my perspective and almost exclusively focus on its foreign-policy context. I demonstrate that from the more pragmatic point of view of international politics at the time, another aspect of Mei’s tour was much more important: It was an act of cultural diplomacy which helped break a deadlock in foreign relations between the Soviet Union and the Republic of China, and in so doing helped facilitate their formation of a defensive military alliance in response to the rapidly increasing Japanese aggression against them both. War memories, as well as memory wars, formed part of this foreign policy staging of Mei Lanfang’s Soviet guest appearance and its subsequent documentation.

Author Biography

Janne Risum, Aarhus University

Janne Risum is Emeritus Associate Professor of Dramaturgy at the School of Communication and Culture at Aarhus University, Denmark. She was co-editor of the Danish standard work, Dansk teaterhistorie (Copenhagen; Gyldendal, 2 vols, 1992- 1993). She has published widely in English and other languages on past and present theatre and acting in Europe and in Asia, including on gender issues. Her dissertation in English on the Soviet tour of the Chinese male performer of female roles Mei Lanfang and his Beijing opera troupe in 1935 and its effects, The Mei Lanfang Effect (2008), was based on extensive archive studies in Russia and elsewhere, as are her subsequent follow-up articles exploring complementary aspects of this seminal event.


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How to Cite

Risum, J. (2020). The Foreign-Policy Aspect of Mei Lanfang’s Soviet Tour in 1935. Nordic Theatre Studies, 31(2), 89–101.



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