Two-Stage sisters’ Chinese movie


Stage Sister’s Film

‘Two-Stage sisters’ is a Chinese movie authored by Xie Jin in 1964 during the Cultural Revolution. The plot of the movie shows how two young girls Chunhua and Yuehong successfully rose the ranks of Yue Chinese opera but ended up with a series of challenges in their lives (Flowers, 2013). The two sisters from the same troupe took up different paths in their lives after being sold to the Shanghai opera. Yuehong radicalizes and devotes her career to politically progressive performances, while Chunhua decides to flee to avoid the turmoil of urban trappings (Flowers, 2013). Soon, the world changes around them as they try to maintain their friendship. This movie explores feminist issues and political ideology during the historical period in China and its effects on society today. This essay critically analyses the cultural, historical contexts, theme, film elements, and the metaphorical meaning of the movie in contemporary Chinese culture.

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In 1935, Chunhua took refuge at Yue Opera troupe, which was performing at Shaoxing village. The head of troupe Xin decides to send the girl away, but Opera teacher Xing sees her potential and trains her (Flowers, 2013). Chunhua later becomes part of the troupe and a partner to Yuehong, the teacher’s daughter. Ni, a rich landlord, invites the two sisters to sing for him and takes an interest in Yuehong. However, Yuehong and her father turn down his interest, and as a result, police forcibly seize her and arrest Chunhua then ties her to a tree for public humiliation (Conner, 2013). The two are later released after Xing and Xin send bribes to the police.

During the Japanese – China war, the two sisters and the troupe go through hard times. Furthermore, Xing dies, and the teacher sells the two sisters to Tang, a Shangai opera manager (Flowers, 2013). The two sisters become prominent in the city, and Tang decides to forsake his aging wife Shang to marry Yuehong, who is materialistic and claims to be tired of opera life. Chunhua remains down to earth and refuses their marriage plans. One day the aging Shang commits suicide, and Tang insists that he has nothing to do with his lover’s death (Flowers, 2013). Chunhua later meets a radical journalist who advises her to be progressive and teach Chinese to differentiate between truth and falsehood. She starts performing progressive operas, and when Tang realizes he works, he ruins her reputation by coercing Yuehong to testify against her, unfortunately, Yuehong faints in court. The movie ends with a reunion of the two sisters who rekindle their relationship.

Plot Structure Analysis

The movie is divided into three different parts. The first part explores how the two sisters met as a result of fate. The second part of the movie examines the harsh realities of life that the two sisters had to undergo after their father’s death (Conner, 2013). The final part of the movie illustrates the reunion of the two sisters after their split, which was brought about by Tang’s jealousy. Metaphorically Tang’s jealousy shows the other side of human nature when a neighbor progresses.

Film Analysis

Historical, Cultural and Political Revolution

The movie was directed at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China and gave a detailed description of the historical period in the 1930s. The movie represented the cultural views and thoughts of people when it was filmed in 1964 (Clark, 2010). Initially, the movie received good reception, but at the helm of revolution, the movie was heavily criticized. In this episode, the author tries to justify the backward motion of Chinese films during the period of war. During that period, Japan invaded China, and the Communist Party took leadership roles (Conner, 2013). As a result of this war, the Chinese people were faced with starvation, malnutrition, homelessness, and economic problems (Clark, 2010). Moreover, this period reflects the harsh realities in human nature as the war caused a lot of suffering for women and children.

Politically, the communist style of leadership promoted a decline in morality. They were corrupt and violated human rights. The film also gives an insight into how poor leadership affects people in society because of lack of freedom and democracy. Leaders and police are supposed to enforce law and order, yet the police in the film take a bribe to free the two sisters. The film also shows how the rich and powerful people exploit the poor, which is a violation of human rights.


Female characters mainly dominate the film. This movie depicts feminist aspects of our modern society. From the movie, women have less power and cannot decide on their lives at that time (Clark, 2010). Today, China still grapples with the issue of gender inequality. In the film, the female protagonists are Chunhua and Yuehong, the two sisters, Shang, the older woman who commits suicide, and Shanghai’s wealthy woman. All these women represent different social classes of people (Yang & Yecies, 2016). From the movie, in old age China, women are viewed as low class, and their status can be argued to be humble and low. Today women’s rights are still violated in Chinese society. Additionally, during the evolution era, many women were sold to wealthy families as child brides. As seen in the movie, Yuehong becomes a child bride, and ideally, the concept of human rights was violated at that time.

Importantly, ‘Sisters’ in the movie represent women who were the cornerstone of the toiling masses as the war forced them to abandon their homes and seek life elsewhere (Yang & Yecies, 2016). However, for the wealthy Shanghai woman, she represents the rich upper class in Chinese society (Yang & Yecies, 2016). Metaphorically, the rich are powerful and do not care about the suffering of ordinary people. Besides, Shan Shui, who was once a prominent person, commits suicide at old age as she gets abandoned, miserable and lonely. This foreshadows how poor people can’tcan’t change their destiny. Instead, they become a toy of the wealthy.

The movie also has male characters such as Tang, the manager, Ni, the rich landlord Xing father of the two sisters and Xin, the teacher. The author, in his literary works associates men with high social class. All the men are in a powerful position and are wealthy, unlike women. This status makes men take advantage of women by owning their lives (Yang & Yecies, 2016). An example is clearly shown by boss Tang who keeps Yuehong as a bride and takes advantage of his wealth to sway a vulnerable woman into marriage. In the movie, women’s lives are portrayed harder than that of men. Today in contemporary China, things have changed, and women’s status is becoming higher every day (Yang & Yecies, 2016). We have women who hold potent roles in today’s society, unlike the historical period.


Audio Visual Elements

The author employs the use of audiovisual elements such as sound, color, and images to bring out the theme of the story. The movie contains a dialogue between the characters, songs, dances, and performances of the opera (Yang & Yecies, 2016). In his literary works, the author uses images and pictures of both men and women to portray style and themes. For instance, the movie depicts a lot of feminist issues, and he, therefore, draws portraits of women who are of Chinese descent. He also uses black color to clearly show the period of sorrow and sadness in the historical period. In some images, the producer uses the Chinese language of writing to associate the movie with the Chinese color. The use of colors gives a clear view of the pictures of various scenes.


According to the movie, any male who had money had power. Most conflicts in the film revolve around the two sisters who made different decisions about things. Their different views and decisions ultimately drifted them apart. From the movie, women are living under male influences because they viewed men as a superior gender (Audissino, 2017). Chunhua is a strong independent woman who stood for what is right. She doesn’t believe in inequality and is against the marriage of her sister to Tang. Ironically, Yuehong claims to be tired of opera life, yet she is only after the material wealth of Tang (Audissino, 2017).

Alternatively, conflict in this episode is depicted when the marriage, which should have been the beginning of happiness for Yeohung, becomes the source of all her sorrow and pain. Even though the famous Chinese saying states that” life is like a stage,” the real-life is usually overstated by the scene at that time (Audissino, 2017). Contrary to people’s sentiments that rich people are bad, while the poor are good, in my opinion, this is due to the cultural influence of society.

Conflict is created in the movie when Yuehong elopes with Tang for material gains. In reality, she only wants to settle with a rich and powerful man, although there happens to be no love between them (Audissino, 2017). This scene shows how men are attracted to pretty young women, not knowing that beauty will fade as they grow old. In my view, Yuehong made wrong choices because of society’s influence. Besides, she represents women in today’s culture who, out of fear, will take any opportunity that comes their way in order to live a stable and comfortable life (Audissino, 2017). Furthermore, many women will make the same decision as Yuehong, even if that is not what they wanted in life. Chunhua shows that if you genuinely believe in what is right or wrong, justice and equality, and you are will to sacrifice, then ultimately, you will make a change.

Conflict is also created in the film when Tang coerces Yeohung to falsely testify against Chunhua just because she progresses well in her works. Because of jealousy, his selfish nature doesn’t benefit him as Yeoung collapses in court (Audissino, 2017). Ashamed of her actions, Yeoung reconciles with her sister, and they manage to restore their friendship. In the movie, Chunhua is depicted as a role model to other girls as she understands that a person’s influence is never enough, and she deeply understands the significance and values of relationships with the other members of the troupe, who look up to her (Audissino, 2017). She later forgives Yeohung, and they revive their relationship as she believes that Yeohung is a kind-hearted person, and she only made the wrong choices in life as she was only influenced by society.

Another way the author illustrates conflict is the introduction of the suicide of an aging older woman. This circumstance has forced Chuahua to bond with the journalist who replaces her sister. They believe that after the suicide, society needs to change, and for this to happen, people need to develop a positive attitude towards life (Audissino, 2017). Chunhua delivers the progressive message to her audience through performances. She teaches the Chinese people to always stand up for what they believe in. In this scene, she advocates for justice and equality for the people of China. Her movies have indeed attracted a broad audience due to the message of change in society.

Semiotic Analysis /Symbol/Signs/Metaphors

The author of this film employs the use of signs and symbols to bring out meaning metaphorically. The name ‘Stage Sisters’ represents two different central ideas. In this movie, “Stage” is symbolically used to represent an important occupation known as Shaoxing opera (Teo, 2015). On the other hand, “Sisters” represents Chunhua and Yuehong, who are not biological sisters but friends who lived together, and the sisters briefly describe a process of the split between the two.

Importantly, in the movie, death is used to lead to change symbolically. Death brings pain, sorrow, and anguish to people in society (Teo, 2015). Significantly after the death of the sister’s father, they were faced with a lot of struggles and difficulty, which led to change in their lives. Chunhua and Yuehong had to start a new way of life and leave their old ways (Teo, 2015). Death in Shaoxing opera, just like in China, signifies an end to revolution and the beginning of a new dawn. Suicidal death of the aging woman metaphorically shows how loneliness and being miserable may make one take away his life, and no matter the circumstances, people will leave their olden values and embrace westernization.


This movie is one of those old movies that have triggered controversies about morality in China. What happened in China in the 1930s is reappearing today. The movie depicts a bad impact on contemporary China. The only difference is that the actresses in the film were forced into compromising situations back then by economic pressures, unlike today, where actresses repeat the same things depicted in the film willingly. Conservatives in China blamed westernization as the source of the decline of morals. However, the counter-argument puts the root cause of the decline of morals to communist leadership of gender inequality, corruption, and lack of democracy. Consequently, this style of leadership has made the society to be desensitized on morals and truly as depicted in the movie; this is repeated in China. It is sad that after sacrificing for revolution, China is back to where it started.

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