Eileen Chang 1921-
(Also transliterated as Zhang Ailing) Chinese short story writer, novelist, essayist, and translator.
Considered among the most talented and influential writers in China in the 1940s by critic C. T. Hsia, Chang's short fiction has been compared to that of Eudora Welty and Katherine Mansfield. Written in simple and direct language, her deeply moral and realistic stories focus on the tragic ironies of human experience. They are replete with metaphors, symbolism, and imagery, especially nature imagery. Because Chang has translated much of her own work, infusing colloquial English into it in the process, her English translations stand beside the Chinese stories as independent creative works. Criticism of Chang's translations, as well as that of her original Chinese works, has been laudatory, with most critics concentrating on her 1943 novella Jin suo ji (The Golden Cangue).
Little is known about Eileen Chang's life. She was born into a distinguished Shanghai family on September 30, 1921, and raised in Beijing and Tianjin until 1929, when her family returned to Shanghai. Many sources have suggested that Chang suffered a great deal in her youth, much like many of the protagonists in her fiction, as a result of an abusive father. She attended the University of Hong Kong from 1939 to 1942, after which she returned to Shanghai. There she began producing most of her short fiction and essays while also working for The Times and Twentieth Century. After the war, in 1952, Chang again moved to Hong Kong where she worked for The World Today, in which much of her work appeared weekly. In Hong Kong she published two novels, Jidi zhi lian (1954; Naked Earth) and Yang-ko (1955; The Rice-Sprout Song). In 1955 Chang moved to the United States where she later wrote two novels based on her much acclaimed novella The Golden Cangue: Yüan-nu (1966; The Embittered Woman) and The Rouge of the North (1967). Since living in the United States, Chang has been associated with various universities, including the University of California at Berkeley, Miami University in Ohio, and the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Chang's novella The Golden Cangue has generated a great deal of favorable criticism. Stylistically based on the eighteenth-century Chinese novel The Dream of the Red Chamber, The Golden Cangue examines the life of a woman who is forced by her family into a loveless marriage. She grows mad after years of suffering, but eventually obtains wealth and independence after the death of her husband. She then manipulates and terrorizes everyone near her, especially her children. Many of the themes in this novella—particularly anguish and survival, clashes between family members, conflict between duty and self-fulfillment, and compromised love—appear throughout Chang's work. The latter theme, especially, is developed in many of Chang's stories dealing with marriage. In "Ashes of Descending Incense, First Brazier," for example, a young woman falls in love with and marries a wealthy and manipulative gallant even though her love is not reciprocated.
Chang's characters are drawn from all levels of Chinese society; they include mandarins, students, farmers, servants, and concubines. Regardless of their social station, all of her protagonists suffer from tragic experiences. In The Golden Cangue, for example, it is a wealthy young woman whose chances for love and marriage are repeatedly destroyed by her oppressive mother, while in "Indian Summer, A Hsiao's Autumnal Lament" an uneducated maid is singled out as she falls in love with her miserly, amoral master. While the majority of Chang's stories feature women, some delve into the consciousness of men. In "Ashes of Descending Incense, the Second Brazier," a college professor marries a young, beautiful, and innocent woman who considers his wedding night advances acts of perversion and consequently humiliates him in public. In "Jasmine Tea" an unhappy young man discovers his true father's identity and, in a fit of passion, rage, and jealousy, violently attacks the man's daughter.
Chang's fiction is considered unique for its time because of its blending of Chinese and Western elements. The abundance of imagery and symbolism in her short fiction is reminiscent of classical Chinese literature. Yet numerous critics have detected modern Western psychology in her fiction as well. According to C. T. Hsia, "A Freudian emphasis is noticeable in several of her stories about a parent-child relationship, particularly 'Jasmine Tea' and 'The Heart Sutra'." Above all else, Chang's critics appreciate her truthful rendering of the human experience, however painful, as well as her moral integrity. As Steven Cheng summarized "Eileen Chang's stories in their delineation of the universal suffering in the human scene point out the importance of love and sympathy; hence, though she does not exalt the highest ideals of human conduct, in her praise of the little deeds of kindness and acts of grace that perhaps ultimately save and redeem us, she remains nonetheless profoundly moral."
Jin suo ji [The Golden Cangue] (novella) 1943
Chuanqi xiaoshuoji [Selected Romances] 1947
Xiaoshuoji [Selected Short Stories] 1954
Chang k'an [As Seen by Eileen Chang] (stories and essays) 1976
Qingcheng zhi lian: duanpian xiaoshuo xuan [Love in a Fallen City: Short Stories] 1985
Other Major Works
Jidi zhi lian [Naked Earth] (novel) 1954
Yang-ko [The Rice-Sprout Song] (novel) 1955
Yüan-nu [The Embittered Woman] (novel) 1966
The Rouge of the North (novel) 1967
Pan-sheng yüan [Half a Lifetime's Romance] (novel) 1969
Liu yan [Gossip] (collected essays) 1969
Hung-lou meng-yen [Nightmare in the Red Chamber] (nonfiction) 1977
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"Eileen Chang," in A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, Yale University Press, 1971, pp. 389-431.
[In the following excerpt, Hsia provides a laudatory overview of Chang's short fiction—especially The Golden Cangue, "Jasmine Tea," "Blockade," and "Love in a Fallen City"—in which he discusses both the Chinese and Western elements in her works.]
[To] the discerning student of modern Chinese literature, Eileen Chang is not only the best and most important writer in Chinese today; her short stories alone invite valid comparisons with, and in some respects claim superiority over, the work of serious modern women writers in English: Katherine Mansfield, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers. . . .
Eileen Chang deals with a society in transition, where the only constants are the egoism in every bosom and the complementary flicker of love and compassion. Her imagery, therefore, not only embraces a wider range of elegance and sordidness but has to suggest the persistence of the past in the present, the continuity of Chinese modes of behavior in apparently changing material circumstances. In that respect her imagery has a strong historical awareness.
Eileen Chang's world is also rich in nature imagery. Its metropolitan character does not preclude the sun and moon, the wind and rain, and that extensive part of vegetation still easily...
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"Themes and Techniques in Eileen Chang's Stories," in Tankang Review, Vol. VIII, No. 2, October, 1977, pp. 169-200.
[In the following examination of Chang's short fiction, Cheng explores the themes, imagery, metaphors, symbolism, and narration in her works.]
Eileen Chang started her writing career in the early 1940's in Shanghai, then under the Japanese occupation. Her stories and essays appearing in the newspapers and periodicals there enjoyed wide popularity and were later collected in Romances and Gossips. . . . She left Shanghai for Hong Kong in 1952, and while there she published two novels, Rice-sprout Song and Love in the Redland, delineating life in Communist China. Both works were received with indifference and their literary merit remained unexplored until several years later. In the meantime she had immigrated to the United States. In the years since her move to the States, she has written only two novels, Half a Lifetime Love, which is a revision of her early story, "Eighteen Springs" written in Shanghai; and also The Bitter Woman, which is an expansion of her famed novelette, The Golden Cangue. In addition to the two novels she has translated some of her own works into English. She has also published several articles on the critical and textual studies of Dream of the Red Chamber.
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"Yuan Qiongqiong and the Rage for Eileen Zhang Among Taiwan's Feminine Writers: The Eileen Zhang Phenomenon," in Modern Chinese Literature, Vol. 4, Nos. 1 and 2, Spring/Fall, 1988, pp. 201-23.
[In the following excerpt, Sung-sheng points out those characteristics of Chang's fiction, especially in Chuanqi (Romances), which have inspired a new generation of women writers.]
The growing popularity of Eileen Zhang's fiction in Taiwan between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s is easily explained with reference to social development. As the urban milieu of Taiwan's big cities became increasingly metropolitan, the characteristic sophistication and cynicism of Zhang's love stories, set in Hong Kong and Shanghai before the Communist Revolution, catered to the taste of educated young people studying or working in the cities who formed the main body of readers and constituted the pool of potential writers. . . .
Eileen Zhang, whose first short story collection bears the title Chuanqi [Romances], has offered young women writers a welcome model because of her unpretentious, professional respect for the mass readers and, more significantly perhaps, because of her excellent appropriation of the structure of popular romance in the frame of serious literature.
Zhang's frankly expressed wish to make her literary fame by gaining popularity among a...
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"Moon, Madness, and Mutilation in Eileen Chang's English Translation of The Golden Cangue," in Tamkang Review, Vol. XIX, No. 1-4, August, 1988-Summer 1989, pp. 547-57.
[In the excerpt below, the critics examine recurring motifs in Chang's English translation of The Golden Cangue, noting in particular variations from the original Chinese version of the novella.]
In Eileen Chang's novelette, The Golden Cangue, motifs of moon, madness, and mutilation dominate the story of the progressive destruction of Ch'i-ch'iao and her family. These motifs are developed by means of point of view, stylistics, theme, and images and symbols. Although the story was originally written in Chinese by Eileen Chang (Ai-Ling Chang), a Shanghai native, the author was her own translator of the English version. Chang is an anomally in that few authors are capable of translating their own works into another language. Having studied at the University of Hong Kong, and later settling in San Francisco, the author, who knew English well, was able to translate her story, and, for that reason, The Golden Cangue can stand on its own merits as an original English work of art. . . .
Because Chinese and English are so dissimilar, Chang's English version should be regarded as a discrete creative work in its own right. The Golden Cangue aims to please English readers by...
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"Fiction and Autobiography: Spatial Form in The Golden Cangue' and The Woman Warrior," in Modern Chinese Women Writers: Critical Appraisals, M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1989, pp. 25-43.
[In the following excerpt, the authors assert that spatial form in Chang's novella The Golden Cangue indicates a blending of two genres, fiction and autobiography.]
The Golden Cangue may be readily considered in terms of traditional Western characteristics of fiction. It is a long, novella length, work of the imagination, a portrait of a whole complete world, which may be approached through a study of character, narrative point of view and structure. Qiqiao's [Ch'i-ch'iao's] brilliance, cruelty and insecurity are uniformly present throughout the story, marking her as a "flat" static character, whereas her daughter, Chang'an, is a "round" dynamic personality. Initially an innocent naive girl with a capacity for selfless love, she emerges as the "spit and image" of her mother who manipulates others to maintain her own security. The narrator enjoys the vantage point of an omniscient being who reveals the thoughts and feelings of characters and who occasionally is wont to inject an editorial explanation, e.g., "solace is purely spiritual but is used here as a euphemism for sex." More rarely, the narrator is no longer an outside effaced observer with a privileged view but becomes a dramatized "I," a...
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