A piece of Chinese history: 8 model dramas in Chinese Culture Revolution (1966–1976) [2] The White-Haired Girl

Posted by Grace Feng on August 26, 2012

The Chinese Culture Revolution is a very special period of Chinese history in which the Gang of Four dictated almost every aspect of people’s life. During the Revolution, nothing is allowed in theatres except 8 model dramas (样板戏 yàng bǎn xì ) that were personally approved by Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife, also the leader of the Gang of Four.

It is hard to watch the 8 model dramas today since the roles in the play were depicted so “unreal and unnatural”. Good characters move between heroic poses that keep reminding me of a puppet, instead of a real person. Bad characters are purposely uglified to show how miserable and pathetic they are. The story itself might not be a bad one. But with all these deliberately set up “stereotype performance”, the play is full of weird taste.

History is history. 10 years of Culture Revolution was a tragedy of a nation that China can never forget. It has always been a heavy topic to talk about even after so many years.

In this series of post, I will collect the stories and images of all 8 model dramas and translate the story into English. They might can help my readers to have a peek into that period of Chinese history.


《白毛女》The White-Haired Girl

This story happened near the end of 1930’s in China when land was still owned by landlords, and peasants had to rent the land from landlord to make a living. Quite often it was not an equal relationship between landlord and peasants, which meant the peasants’ rights were hardly protected. (traditional landlords disappeared after 1949)

That was the background of this story.

Peasant 杨白劳 Bailao Yang’s wife died when their only daughter was very young. Since then he raised his daughter 喜儿 Xier on his own and didn’t marry again. Their neighbor, mother 王 Wang and son 大春 Da Chun were getting along with them very well. Dachun fell in love with Xier and Xier loved him too. Father Yang and mother Wang were planning to get the young pair married soon.

A piece of Chinese history: 8 model dramas in Chinese Culture Revolution  (1966–1976) [2] The White-Haired Girl

Landlord 黄世仁 Shiren Huang  was drawn by the youthful beauty of Xier and wanted to have her. He and his housekeeper 穆仁智 Renzhi Mu set up a trap to make Bailao Yang to pay back debt that was more than he could. As a result, in New Year Eve, Bailao Yang was forced to sign on a deal to sell his daughter to Shiren Huang to settle the debt.

That night, Bailao Yang felt very guilty for Xier and was desperate at the same time. While Xier was asleep, he decided to drink salt brine and committed suicide.

The next morning, Xier woke up to find his Dad dead in the snow. She was devastated. Meanwhile, Shiren Huang sent his thugs to rob Xier to his home and locked her up. In order to cut off the connection between Xier and Dachun, Shiren Huang confiscated Wang’s land and drove his mother and him away. Dachun tried to save Xier but failed. He finally joined the Red Army.

A piece of Chinese history: 8 model dramas in Chinese Culture Revolution  (1966–1976) [2] The White-Haired Girl

Xier was raped by Shiren Huang and got pregnant. After months of suffering, she finally managed to run away from Huang’s home with the help of Huang’s maid. On the way of her escape, she gave birth to a baby. But the baby died soon after. Then she ran into the deep mountain and hided in a cave. She managed to survive by stealing food from around. Lack of sunshine and salt intake, her hair soon turned white.

She was spotted by villagers when she came down to the temple to steal food from the tribute table. As superstitious as they were, the villagers thought she was a “white-haired” fairy and were scared of her.

When the Second Sino-Chinese War broke out, Dachun returned back to the village together with the Red Army. He stayed in the village to work on reducing tax and debt for peasants from landlord. Meanwhile, the villagers were dreaded of the mysterious “white-haired” fairy. In order to find out the truth, Dachun followed villagers to the mountain and surprisingly met Xier in the cave. The real identify of the “white-haired ” fairy was revealed.

A piece of Chinese history: 8 model dramas in Chinese Culture Revolution  (1966–1976) [2] The White-Haired Girl

A while later, Shiren Huang and his thugs received public sentence in front of the villagers. After being rescued, Xier’s hair slowly turned back to black again. She and Dachun finally got married.


The pictures were taken from the original ballet opera. A movie with the same name was also made during that time. In my opinion, this model drama was actually having a high artistic quality.



Related posts:

A smart video to introduce you to Chinese culture in 10 minutes
A piece of Chinese history: 8 model dramas in Chinese Culture Revolution (1966–1976) [8] The Harbor
Thoughts on Survey of Chinese City Single Women 中国城市单身女性排行榜


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7 Responses to “A piece of Chinese history: 8 model dramas in Chinese Culture Revolution (1966–1976) [2] The White-Haired Girl”

  1. nothing


    08-26-2012 5:20 pm

    Thanks for this series. My wife and I are very interested in this period of China’s history. Just one more period of great suffering the people had to endure during the 20th century. Some of our friends have spoken about this particular time, and we know some of how individuals and families were abused. Our hope is that the new generations of China will not forget.


    • nothing


      08-27-2012 3:13 am

      Hi Cliff,

      That’s my hope too. :-) Writing posts like this is not just to tell the history, but also to remember.

      I still remember that my Chinese teacher in high school would become very emotional whenever he talked about a famous writer or artist that died in Culture Revolution. At that time I didn’t quite understand why so many talented people died during those 10 years, either died of political persecution or suicide. There’s no words about what exactly happened in any of my textbooks. Then I did research on my own and read a lot about that period. It shocked me …

      “忘记历史是一种背叛” – Forgetting history means betrayal. We will never forget …



  2. nothing

    Thomas Doherty:

    08-28-2012 1:02 am

    The 1950 movie link : http://archive.org/details/the_white_haired_girl

    The 1971 version on YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIJY38L713c


    • nothing


      08-28-2012 1:15 am

      Thanks for helping out, Thomas! I actually watched the 1950 version the other night. The movie was actually very good. The performance was natural and real. I could feel their struggle inside. Especially the father, when he was forced to print his finger print to sell his daughter. And still had to put up a smile to make everyone happy in the New Year Eve. That was a really good one.


  3. nothing

    Thomas Doherty:

    08-28-2012 1:31 am

    Part 1 of a 9 part better quality cleaned up version of the 1950 movie on YouTube is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHqs5nGGkaQ&feature=player_embedded#!


    • nothing


      08-28-2012 2:41 am

      This link is better … thanks Thomas!


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