Eileen Chang

Eileen Chang (1920–1995) was born into an aristocratic family in Shanghai. Her father, deeply traditional in his ways, was an opium addict; her mother, partly educated in England, was a sophisticated woman of cosmopolitan tastes. Their unhappy marriage ended in divorce, and Chang eventually ran away from her father—who had beaten her for defying her stepmother, then locked her in her room for nearly half a year. Chang studied literature at the University of Hong Kong, but the Japanese attack on the city in 1941 forced her to return to occupied Shanghai, where she was able to publish the stories and essays (collected in two volumes, Romances, 1944, and Written on Water, 1945) that soon made her a literary star. In 1944 Chang married Hu Lan-ch’eng, a Japanese sympathizer whose sexual infidelities led to their divorce three years later. The rise of Communist influence made it increasingly difficult for Chang to continue living in Shanghai; she moved to Hong Kong in 1952, then immigrated to the United States three years later. She remarried (an American, Ferdinand Reyher, who died in 1967) and held various posts as writer-in-residence; in 1969 she obtained a more permanent position as a researcher at Berkeley. Two novels, both commissioned in the 1950s by the United States Information Service as anti-Communist propaganda, The Rice-Sprout Song (1955) and Naked Earth (1956), were followed by a third, The Rouge of the North (1967), which expanded on her celebrated early novella, “The Golden Cangue.” Chang continued writing essays and stories in Chinese and scripts for Hong Kong films, and began work on an English translation of the famous Ch’ing novel The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai. In spite of the tremendous revival of interest in her work that began in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1970s, and that later spread to mainland China, Chang became ever more reclusive as she grew older. She was found dead in her Los Angeles apartment in September 1995. In 2006 NYRB Classics published a collection of Chang’s stories, Love in a Fallen City, and in 2007, a film adaptation of her novella Lust, Caution, directed by Ang Lee, was released.
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