Woman Demon Human

Huang Shuqin - Woman Demon Human (Ren gui qing, 1987)

Cine-Club "sinocinephile" organized by CLCC and EUCHAN

"Woman, Demon, Human" , by Huang Shuqin ,

7pm on 17 March 2015, Institut Libre Marie Haps, local 14-01, rue d'Arlon, 14 ,1050 Bruxelles

woman demon human

Based on the real life story of Pei Yanling, the movie portrays a famous female performer of leading male roles in Hebei opera, her best-known role being the underworld demon catcher Zhong Kui. In an interview, the female director Huang Shuqin said: “What astonished me about Pei Yanling was that such a pretty and charming actress was playing the rugged, ugly ghost catcher Zhong Kui. It struck me that in this was an extraordinary spiritual journey that was worth delving into.” The film begins with a shot of Qiuyun (Pei Yanling’s fictitious persona) as an adult, putting on her make-up in front of a confusing array of mirrors. In some of the mirrors, she appears fully made up as the male character Zhong Kui, in others, she’s quite obviously an adult woman.


Qiuyun becomes increasingly confused about her identity as her onstage “male” persona begins to bleed into her offstage “female” life. This is further complicated by her relationship with her parents: her father, who also specializes in playing Zhong Kui, does not want her to enter the acting profession and has a very close bond with her after her mother abandons the family to run off with another man. Throughout her acting career, Quiyun endures hardship and repeated misfortune and wins her successes only with difficulty. Qiuyun’s mother’s adulterous love and her elopement constitute rebellion against traditional moral ethics. In her ignorance, Qiuyun is a victim of traditional ideas but also identifies with them, and this is why she clashes with her childhood friends, is unlucky in love, has an unhappy marriage, and is estranged from her mother.


It’s a fascinating film that bends reality and raises questions about gender and identity that aren’t often addressed in mainstream Chinese films, or indeed in any other national cinema. It is also probably the movie that made Huang Shuqin’s name and in the words of female critic Dai Jinghua is “the only movie in contemporary China that can unequivocally be called a women’s film”. This work may be viewed from a great variety of perspectives. It was produced in the context of contemporary China’s ongoing cultural critique, giving voice to the malaises that pervaded the cultural life of the 1980s.