Shirley Temple's Innocence Made Her A Mega Star, In Post-Communist China

In the wake of Shirley Temple's death at the age of 85, the world has reminded itself of what a prominent and vital star she was. The actress died of natural causes on the 10th February at home in Woodside, California. As the world woke up to the death of a beloved actress, for one country in particular, the grief was particularly poignant.

Shirley Temple
Former Child Star, Shirley Temple Black, Died Earlier This Week, Aged 85.

It's not exactly common knowledge that Temple's popularity enjoyed a revival in a country that was just waking up to the wonders and possibilities of Western movies. By the late eighties, the Depression-era child actress had been retired for 40 years and was even nearing the end of her career as a US diplomat. However, in China, the lovable child star was enjoying fevered fandom and a strastospheric re-ascent to fame.

After decades of being isolated from the West and its culture, China was beginning to open up and televised translated foreign films were being screened on Sunday night. The Communist Party had loosened its control over Chinese citizens' personal lives so young people in particular began to take advantage of the cultural world opening up to them.

Shirley Temple Child Star
Shirley Enjoyed A Fame Revival In China From The Late Eighties.

However, as the first few tentative steps were taken to introducing decades of American show-business and Hollywood filmmaking, programmers were initially tentative and steered well away from anything scandalous or political. As it turned out, Temple's all-round talent, untainted charm and seemingly universal appeal as America's darling was an instant hit.

Shirley Temple Has Died
The Actress' Wholesome Innocence Appealed To Chinese Audiences.

All of Temple's Depression-era favourites that had helped numb and distract from the US' stricken slump were suddenly invigorated in Chinese TV, including Curly Top, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Our Little Girl, which were all dubbed in Mandarin. Her dimples, ringlets and innocent face entranced a generation, and the Shirley Temple doll was a particular big-seller in the nineties.

Upon Temple's death, Chinese newspapers prioritised obituaries on their front pages, with headlines such as "The Angel Says Goodbye to the Human World," according to the LA Times. Film star Li Bingbing expressed her shock at the death of an idol. "I was shocked," the Forbidden Kingdom star wrote. "She will always remain an angel in my mind, or maybe the angel is just going home."

Li Bingbing
Li Bingbing Spoke Highly Of Shirley Temple, Upon The Actress' Death.

Another mourner summed up Temple's popularity in China well, writing "Today you see a lot of child actors; many of them are pretend-innocent or just pretentious. Shirley Temple was innocent and lovely and very few mature actors have been able to perform to the level of this child star."


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