Tao Hong talks gender equality and the absence of meaty roles for mature actresses

Some of you may recognise talented actress Tao Hong as the dragon maiden from rom-com Sunny Piggy 春光灿烂猪八戒 (2000), which also propelled her husband and actor-director Xu Zheng to fame, or as Ji Xiaofu in Heaven Sword Dragon Sabre 2003. The actress recently returned to mainstream television as a controlling single mother in A Little Reunion, a critically and commercially successful slice-of-life drama that focuses on the stressful relationship between parents and teenagers on the cusp of high school graduation.

I’ve translated some excerpts from the actress’ recent interview, in which she shares her views on the entertainment industry and the situation faced by many older actresses in the industry.

On the limited roles offered to mature actresses:

The problem of a lack of roles for mature actresses has always existed. It isn’t exactly a problem exclusive to the entertainment industry, nor is it something restricted to actors or actresses. It’s become a problem because society has overlooked and not given enough respect to certain issues. The traditional status of women as housewives is anchored in history, and given the patriarchal society, cinema would often focus on the more masculine elements. Apart from Dream of the Red Chambers, the majority of works in traditional Chinese culture do not revolve around women – the lack of understanding meant such stories often became maudlin tear-jerkers.

The popularity of youth within Asian culture is not something we should be celebrating – it only goes to show how immature and childish men can be. I don’t mean to attack anyone, but the attitude is part of the problem…

…They aren’t truly aware of the lives of women. Therefore, the analysis, reflection and literature that comes with awareness is limited. Without good literary works, it’s impossible to hope for good characters onscreen. 

“All industries are struggling to address the issues of gender equality…the day where women are able to hold up half the sky is still a long way away.”

On her role as Song Qian in A Little Reunion:

Song Qian is a very traditional Chinese mother. The supposed mentality that “men should go out to work while women should take care of the housework” is based on the assumption that women do not work. Now that women have started working, they have already taken up the same social responsibilities as men. Yet domestic chores are still largely the responsibility of women; true balance in the household has yet to be achieved. When women take a step forward, men should have taken a step back to balance the scales. 

When Song Qian slapped her daughter, it was an outburst of bottled up emotions. She had been repressing her emotions for too long because she always aspired to be the perfect mother. Song Qian is weighed down by the responsibility from society and work as a single mother, so when there is a conflict between mother and daughter, she overreacts.

On the labels given to her by viewers:

I’m not fazed by the fact that people think I’ve sacrificed my career for family. I don’t live in the character, I live life for myself. I don’t mind if people don’t understand me. I even think the less they know, the better. I’m not of the opinion that if someone is talented, they must let the whole world know.

On her high standards when choosing scripts:

I think everyone should have high standards when it comes to choosing scripts – that way the entire industry can improve. There’s no good in churning out “fast-food style” scripts and dramas to get quick returns, whether it be fans or monetary profit. A drama only becomes a classic when you still enjoy watching it at different stages of your life.

Tao Hong appeared as a guest on Birth of a Performer Season 1, and also worked with the director to clean up the storyboard, edit the script and suggest music cues for microfilm The Last Empress.

On the fact that some viewers want her to be more ambitious and take on directing:

The work of a director is more complicated than what is presented…I’m not obsessed with success, nor do I think I need to complete something for my life to be perfect…when you want someone to be more ambitious, it’s actually because you currently have an unfinished goal that is perhaps just out of your reach.

Tao Hong also talks about child-rearing, education and corporal punishment in the full interview.

And a final Easter Egg:

Interviewer: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Tao Hong: Happily retired. XD

4 thoughts on “Tao Hong talks gender equality and the absence of meaty roles for mature actresses

  1. This gender issue takes a large group effort covering multiple aspects. Females devote more time on beauty, appearance, and household issues. A lot fewer men spend as much time on their own appearances compared to men. There are a lot more financially successful men, and women haven’t had office careers for centuries. So writers don’t have centuries of large groups of career-women material in multiple industries to draw from. If you take city subways in CBD or financial districts, you often see men reading publications like Wall Street Journals. Browse the commenter names on financial publications, you’ll see a lot more male names than female ones. Sometimes you don’t even see a single female name among commenters at all. Women have the tendency to read more fashion magazines though there are exceptions. You go into a consumer goods store, you will likely see a disproportionately large section devoted to female makeup and a much more modest male section. What’s the total time that the world’s women spent on putting on eye makeup vs men? If you add up the effort and money spent during a year, it becomes substantial.
    On some level, you are rewarded on the efforts you put in. Women may not have put in nearly as much effort in understanding finance, engineering, science, as much as men have. The fast-growing, higher-paying fields tend to provide greater rewards to men partly because they are more men who are invested in these fields. Look at the gender demographics for Google and tech firms. Women may need to recognize this if they see this around them. It does take some work and effort to gain higher respect. As more often women can get into leadership roles, a lot of the other factors will improve for women. Things should improve faster if more women can be successful producers, writers, directors, deal-makers, in addition to being actresses and models.

  2. Mature actresses not getting major roles is an issue even in Hollywood. I would consider it more of a global social issue than anything to do with Asian culture. In fact China actually has a better work environment for women compared to most countries in the region. You see more women working behind the cameras (as directors, scriptwriters, etc.) in the Chinese film industry and this helps a lot with giving women more opportunities in the industry as whole. Progress doesn’t happen overnight, takes years/decades to improve things.

  3. I think “fast food” cdramas have a lot to do with the viewers, especially the younger ones. At a pace of fewer than 1 episode a day, there will people who complain the release is too slow, they’ve forgotten what happened before, they’re dropping the drama because they’re tired of waiting… Given that a 60+ episode drama usually finishes airing in a couple months, no surprise the Chinese entertainment industry churns out lots of low-quality offerings.

    “Potty parity” is a global issue. Authoritarian Chinese government can actually do much more to solve it for their female citizens if it cared about gender equality even when it’s just about toilets.

  4. Wow that was an emotionally charged scene, what an amazing actress Tao Hong is! I’ve only seen her in HSDS but wow that scene makes me want to look into her works. I love how honest and candid she is about her work and definitely agree with her, ‘I live life for myself’ and her opinion of fast food dramas (there’s just so many that come out every month!?).

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