Eileen Chang

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Eileen Chang
Chang in British Hong Kong in 1954
Chang in British Hong Kong in 1954
BornZhang Ying (張煐)
(1920-09-30)September 30, 1920
Shanghai, Republic of China
DiedSeptember 8, 1995(1995-09-08) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Pen nameLiang Jing (梁京)[1]
  • Novelist
  • essayist
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
  • short story writer
Alma materSt. Mary's Hall
University of Hong Kong
GenreLiterary fiction
(m. 1944; div. 1947)

(m. 1956; died 1967)
  • Zhang Zhiyi (father)
  • Huang Suqiong (mother)
  • Zhang Zijing (brother)
  • Zhang Peilun (grandfather)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Eileen Chang (traditional Chinese: 張愛玲; simplified Chinese: 张爱玲; pinyin: Zhāng Àilíng; Wade–Giles: Chang1 Ai4-ling2;September 30, 1920 – September 8, 1995), also known as Chang Ai-ling or Zhang Ailing, her pen name was Liang Jing (梁京), was a Chinese-born American essayist, novelist, and screenwriter. She is a well-known feminist in Chinese history.

Chang was born with an aristocratic lineage and educated bilingually in Shanghai. She gained literary prominence in Japanese-occupied Shanghai between 1943 and 1945. However, after the Communist takeover of China, she fled the country. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she was rediscovered by scholars such as C. T. Hsia and Shui Jing. Together with the re-examination of literary histories in the post-Mao era during the late 1970s and early 1980s, her work became popular once again among Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and the Chinese diaspora communities.[2]

Chang was a realist and modernist writer.[3] Chang's most important contribution was her construction of an alternative wartime narrative, one that deviated from the grand accounts of national salvation and revolution.[2] Chang was a designer for women's clothing, cheongsam, in her era, influencing Chinese women aesthetics. In her most important works, her impressionistic view of modern history displays colors, lines, shapes, textures, and moods, which are often crystallized in the changing styles of women's clothes.[2]


Childhood and youth[edit]

Chang was born Zhang Ying (張煐) in Shanghai, China on September 30, 1920. She was the first child of Zhang Zhiyi (張志沂 1896–1953) and Huang Suqiong (黃素瓊 1893–1957). Chang's maternal great-grandfather, Huang Yisheng (黃翼升 1818–1894), was a prominent naval commander. Chang's paternal grandfather, Zhang Peilun (1848–1903) married Li Ju'ou (李菊耦 1866–1916) and was son-in-law to Li Hongzhang. She also spent her childhood with paternal aunt Zhang Maoyuan (張茂淵 1898–1991).[1]

In 1922, when Chang was two years old, the family relocated to Tianjin. When she was three, her father began to introduce her to Tang poetry. In 1924, her father often brought back prostitutes or concubines and was addicted to opium. This resulted in fights between Chang's parents. During this time, her mother decided to travel with her aunt to France to study.[1] She returned in 1927, as her husband had promised to end the turmoil with his drug usage and his extramarital affairs, and so the family settled back in Shanghai in 1928. However, her parents eventually divorced in 1930. Chang and her younger brother Zhang Zijing (張子靜) (1921–1997) were raised by their father.

Upon graduation from high school, Chang had a fight with her stepmother and father. Eventually, she contracted dysentery. Instead of obtaining treatment for her, her father beat her and forced her to stay in her bedroom for six months. Chang ran away to live with her mother shortly after her 18th birthday; they remained in a new apartment for nearly two years, until she began to attend university and briefly lived in Hong Kong.[4]


The gate of Eddington House in Shanghai, Eileen Chang lived here in 1942. (Picture taken in June 2013)

Chang started school at age 4. Chang had obtained excellent English skills besides her native Chinese. In 1937, she graduated from an all-female Christian boarding high school, St. Mary's Hall, Shanghai, but said her family was not religious.[1]

Under her mother's influence, at an early age, Chang began training in painting, piano, and English.[5]

In 1939, Chang was accepted to the University of London on a full scholarship, but because of the war in Europe, she was not able to attend. Instead, she studied English Literature at the University of Hong Kong, where she met her lifelong friend, Fatima Mohideen (炎櫻 died 1995). When Chang was one semester short of earning her degree in December 1941, Hong Kong fell to the Empire of Japan. Chang's famous works were completed during the Japanese occupation.[6]


In 1943, Chang met her first husband Hu Lancheng when she was 23 and he was 37. They married the following year in a private ceremony. Fatima Mohideen was the sole attendee. In the few months that he courted Chang, Hu was still married to his third wife. Although Hu was labelled a traitor for collaborating with the Japanese during World War II, Chang continued to remain loyal to Hu. Shortly thereafter, Hu chose to move to Wuhan to work for a newspaper. While staying at a local hospital, he seduced a 17-year-old nurse, Zhou Xunde (周訓德), who soon moved in with him. When Japan was defeated in 1945, Hu used another identity and hid in the nearby city of Wenzhou, where he married Fan Xiumei (范秀美). Chang and Hu divorced in 1947.[2]

While in MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire, Chang met and became involved with the American screenwriter Ferdinand Reyher, a Philadelphia native nearly 30 years her senior.[7] During the time they were briefly apart in New York (Chang in New York City, Reyher in Saratoga), Chang wrote to Reyher that she was pregnant with his child. Reyher wrote back to propose. Although Chang did not receive the letter, she telephoned the following morning to inform Reyher she was arriving in Saratoga. Reyher had a chance to propose to her in person, but insisted that he did not want the child. Chang had an abortion shortly afterward. On August 14, 1956, the couple married in New York City.[8] After the wedding, the couple moved back to New Hampshire. After suffering a series of strokes, Reyher eventually became paralyzed, before his death on October 8, 1967.


On September 8, 1995, Chang was found dead in her apartment on Rochester Avenue in Westwood, Los Angeles, by her landlord.[9] According to her friends, Chang had died of natural causes several days before her building manager discovered her body after becoming alarmed that she had not answered her telephone. Her death certificate states that she died from cardiovascular disease.[9] According to Chang's will, she was cremated without any memorial service, and her ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

After Chang's death, Song Qi was responsible for her works.[10]



At the age of 10, Chang's mother renamed her Aìlíng, a transliteration of Eileen, in preparation for her entrance into an English school. While in high school, Chang read Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, which would influence her work throughout her career. Chang already displayed great literary talent and her writings were published in the school magazine. The following year, she wrote her debut short novel at the age of 12.[11]

The background of Chang's earlier novels was Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1940s.[6] In the works published by Eileen Chang, the characteristic of her writing is that her language style and the background of the story are quite different. And in her works, there have many descriptions of psychology of the characters.[3]

In 1943, Chang was introduced to the prominent editor Zhou Shoujuan, and gave him a few pieces of her writing. With Zhou's backing, Chang soon became the most popular new writer in Shanghai. Within the next two years, she wrote some of her most acclaimed works, including Love in a Fallen City (Qing Cheng Zhi Lian, 傾城之戀) and The Golden Cangue (1943). In The Golden Cangue, Eileen Chang adopts popular language expression for her translation, simplifying English expression and sentence structure to make this English version easier for readers to understand. But Chang did not spend a lot of attention to the English translation of the Golden Cangue.[12] Several short stories and novellas were collected in Romances (Chuan Qi, 傳奇) (1944). It had instantly become a bestseller in Shanghai. As a result, Chang immediately received attention from Chinese readers and also the literary circle.[13]

A collection of her essays appeared as Written on Water (Líu Yán 流言) in 1945.[14] Her literary maturity was said to be far beyond her age. "The essay form became a means for Eileen Chang constantly to redefine the boundaries between life and work, the domestic and the historic, and meticulously to weave a rich private life together with the concerns of a public intellectual."[14] In 20th century China, Chang was experimented with new literary language. In her essay entitled "writing of one's own," Chang retrospectively remarks on her use of a new fictional language in her novella Lianhuantao Chained Links [14]

In the early days of her career, Chang was famously associated with this comment:

To be famous, I must hurry. If it comes too late, it will not bring me so much happiness ... Hurry, hurry, or it will be too late, too late![15]

Hong Kong[edit]

In 1945, Chang's reputation waned due to postwar cultural and political turmoil. The situation worsened after the Communist takeover in 1949. Eventually, Chang left mainland China and went to Hong Kong in 1952, realizing her writing career in Shanghai was over.[14] In Hong Kong, she worked as a translator for the United States Information Service for three years. While there, she wrote The Rice Sprout Song (Yang Ge, 秧歌), her first novel written entirely in English.[2] During her sojourn in Hong Kong, she translated a variety of English books into Chinese. Most notably include books by Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.[16] She then left for the United States in 1955, never to return to mainland China again.

Chang sought literary inspiration not only from Western European novels but also from local novels. She rejected the notion that there was a war or revolution in her works, and she did not acknowledge a connection to Tolstoy and his War and Peace.[6]

United States[edit]

In 1955, Chang moved to America, and she sought a job as an English writer, but she failed.[17] In Chang's writing career, the most important turning point was that she moved from Hong Kong to America in the 1950s.[3]

Around 1960, Chang's life was not happy and the economy was tight, so she was constantly looking for opportunities to work, such as translating and writing screenplays. Chang once tried to adapt a screenplay for Hollywood with Chinese elements, but the agent thought the role has too much content and psychological changes, so she gave up.[18]

Chang became a U.S. citizen in 1960 and briefly headed to Taiwan for more opportunities, returning to the U.S. in 1962.

In 1963, in the Chang's late work, the English essay "A Return to the Frontier", and in her last novel "Little Reunion", there have a betrayal behavior in both works. There are more tragedies and betrayals in Chang's later works than the previous works.[19]

As soon as Chang arrived in America, she began to create three novels based on her life, these novels are "The Fall of the Pagoda", "The Book of Change" and "Little Reunion".[3] In 1963, Chang finished her English semi-biographical novels, The Fall of the Pagoda and The Book of Change. Both were believed to be her attempts to offer an alternative writing style to mainstream America; she did not succeed. The full-length novels were not published until 2010, 15 years after her death. "The Fall of the Pagoda", "The Book of Change", and "Little Reunion" let Chang became the writer of many people's attention again.[3][20][21][22] In 1966, Chang had a writing residency at Miami University in Oxford.[23] In 1967, Chang held a short-term job at Radcliffe College.

In 1969, upon the invitation of Shih-Hsiang Chen (陳世驤 Chén Shìxiāng), a professor of Oriental Languages at the University of California, Berkeley, Chang became a senior researcher at the Center for Chinese Studies of Berkeley.[24][25] She did research on the special terms used by the Chinese Communists as well as on Dream of the Red Chamber.[24] In 1971, Professor Chen died, and Chang subsequently left her position at Berkeley.[25][26]

In 1972, Chang relocated to Los Angeles. In 1975, she completed the English translation of Shanghai Flowers, a celebrated Qing novel written in Wu Chinese by Han Bangqing. Among her papers retrieved from the University of Southern California, the manuscript for the translated English version was found after her death and published.

Eileen Chang's late writing style was influenced by her tragic life experience, especially her description of the mother in her works. When Eileen Chang rewritten her memories into numerous autobiographies, her late writing style gradually matured.[27]

Eileen Chang was good at describing small things in the family in novels, and let readers feel the mood of the characters in the novels, then mirroring social and historical behaviors.[28]

In 1978, Crown Magazine published "Lust, Caution", “Xiang Jian Huan”(相見歡) and “Fu Hua Lang Rui”(浮花浪蕊), all written by Eileen Chang.[29]

Eileen Chang has been listed as one of China's four women geniuses, together with Lü Bicheng, Xiao Hong and Shi Pingmei.[30]


During the 1970s, many creative writers in Taiwan have been influenced by her. Several generations of “Chang School writers" (張派作家) are said to have emerged.[31] Notable Taiwanese authors include Chu T’ien-wen, Chu T’ien-hsin, Lin Yao-de [zh], Yuan Chiung-chiung.[32]

Like Taiwan in the 1970s, in Mainland China in the 1980s and 1990s, a group of young women authors emerged were clearly inspired by Chang.[2] The name Eileen Chang became synonymous with the glories of a bygone era. Notable Mainland China authors who are influenced by Chang include Wang Anyi, Su Tong, and Ye Zhaoyan.[32]

Dominic Cheung, a poet and professor of East Asian languages at the University of Southern California, said that had it not been for the Chinese Civil War, Chang would have been a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.[9]

Her work Lust, Caution was remarked as one of the most influential films in the 21st century, performed by two influential Chinese actors Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Tang Wei.

In 1997, some of Eileen Chang's manuscripts were exhibited at the University of Southern California (USC), and then these manuscripts were donated to this university's East Asian Library. Most of the content of the manuscripts were Chang's works created in America, including the translation of "The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai".[33]

Works in English translation[edit]

  • Half a Lifelong Romance (1948, English: 2016; trans. by Karen S. Kingsbury)
  • Little Reunions (2018; trans. by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan). ISBN 978-1681371276
  • Love in a Fallen City (1943, published in English in October 2006 by New York Review Books) Translated by Karen S. Kingsbury. ISBN 1-59017-178-0
  • The Golden Cangue, in Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas, 1919–1949 (ed. Joseph S M Lau et al.) HC ISBN 0-231-04202-7 PB ISBN 0-231-04203-5
  • Lust, Caution Translated by Julia Lovell. New York: Anchor Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-307-38744-8
  • Naked Earth (tr. of 赤地之戀) Hong Kong: Union Press, 1956.
  • The Rice Sprout Song: a Novel of Modern China (tr. of 秧歌 by the author) HC ISBN 0-520-21437-4, PB ISBN 0-520-21088-3
  • The Rouge of the North (tr. of 怨女) HC ISBN 0-520-21438-2 PB 0520210875
  • Traces of Love and Other Stories PB ISBN 962-7255-22-X
  • The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai (Chang's tr. of Han Bangqing's novel) ISBN 0-231-12268-3
  • Written on Water (tr. of 流言 by Andrew Jones) ISBN 0-231-13138-0
  • Sealed Off (封鎖)
  • Jasmine Tea (茉莉香片)


The following scripts were penned by Chang:

The following are films adapted from Eileen Chang's novels:

In popular culture[edit]

A 20-episode TV series, The Legend of Eileen Chang, written by Wang Hui-ling and starring Rene Liu, was aired in Taiwan in 2004.

Malaysian singer Victor Wong wrote a song titled "Eileen Chang" ("Zhang Ailing") in 2005.

"Science Fiction," a chapter from the book Daughter by Taiwanese writer Lo Yi-chin in 駱以軍 and translated by Thomas Moran and Jingling Chen, features quotations and themes from Eileen Chang's writings and life, in the collection The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction, ed. Mingwei Song and Theodore Huters (Columbia University Press, 2018).

On the occasion of the centennial celebration of Chang's birth in 2020, an online exhibition titled Eileen Chang at the University of Hong Kong: An online presentation of images and documents from the archives was launched on the website of the University Museum and Art Gallery, Hong Kong. Curated by Nicole Huang 黃心村, Florian Knothe and Kenneth Chan 陳承焜, the online exhibition pieces together a narrative that highlights the beginning of an extraordinary literary career.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Sun, Rui Zhen (May 22, 1988). "Eileen Chang's Brief Account of Life and Activities (張愛玲生平和創作活動簡記)". Xueshu Yuekan (學術月刊) (in Chinese): 159–163. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Chang, Eileen (Zhang Ailing) 1920–1995." Encyclopedia of Modern China, edited by David Pong, vol. 1, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2009, pp. 193-195. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Accessed 24 Mar. 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e Qu, Lina (February 9, 2020). "Writing, Rewriting, and Miswriting: Eileen Chang's Late Style Against the Grain". CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture. 21 (6). doi:10.7771/1481-4374.3305. ISSN 1481-4374.
  4. ^ Lee, Lily Xiao Hong; Stefanowska, A.D., eds. (2006). Biographical dictionary of Chinese women, Volume 2. University of California Press. p. 274. ISBN 0-520-24449-4.
  5. ^ Jiang, Li, Xiangdong, Aimin (June 1, 1999). "Discussion of the Relationship Between Eileen Chang's Family and Her Writings (论家世对张爱玲小说创作的影响)". Journal of Dalian University (in Chinese). 20 (3): 108. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c CHAN, Roy Bing (January 1, 2017). "Homeless in the world : war, narrative, and historical consciousness in Eileen Chang, György Lukács, and Lev Tolstoy". Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 現代中文文學學報. 14 (1). ISSN 1026-5120.
  7. ^ Stevens, Wallace, and Holly Stevens. “Letters to Ferdinand Reyher: Edited with an Afternote by Holly Stevens.” The Hudson Review, vol. 44, no. 3, 1991, pp. 381–409. JSTOR.
  8. ^ "Eileen Chang and Lust, Caution". Focus Features. November 26, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c By Robert Mcg. Thomas Jr. "Eileen Chang, 74, Chinese Writer Revered Outside the Mainland". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  10. ^ LEE, Christopher (January 1, 2017). "Translation in distraction : on Eileen Chang's "Chinese translation: a vehicle of cultural influence"". Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 現代中文文學學報. 14 (1). ISSN 1026-5120.
  11. ^ Chang, Eileen; Kingsbury, Karen (2007). Love in a Fallen City (New York Review Books Classics). New York Review Books Classics. p. 320. ISBN 978-1-59017-178-3.
  12. ^ "Eileen Chang's Translation of The Golden Cangue". translationjournal.net. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  13. ^ Wang,Ma, Weiping,Lin (1997). "Eileen Chang Fifty years of Research (张爱玲研究五十年述评)". Xueshu Yuekan (学术月刊) (in Chinese) (11): 88. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  14. ^ a b c d Nicole Huang, "Introduction," in Eileen Chang, Written on Water, translated by Andrew F. Jones (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), ix-xvi.
  15. ^ Zhang, Ailing, and Translated by Karen Kingsbury (2007). “Preface to the Second Printing of Romances” in Love in a Fallen City. New York Review Books, New York, p.14.
  16. ^ Xia, Chih-tsing (2007). The Relationship Between Eileen Chang and Hu Lancheng (张爱玲与胡兰成的前世今生). ShanXi: Shi Fan University. p. 197. ISBN 9787561332702.
  17. ^ LEE, Christopher (January 1, 2017). "Translation in distraction : on Eileen Chang's "Chinese translation: a vehicle of cultural influence"". Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 現代中文文學學報. 14 (1). ISSN 1026-5120.
  18. ^ LEE, Christopher (January 1, 2017). "Translation in distraction : on Eileen Chang's "Chinese translation: a vehicle of cultural influence"". Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 現代中文文學學報. 14 (1). ISSN 1026-5120.
  19. ^ "Ends of Betrayal: Diaspora and Historical Representation in the Late Works of Zhang Ailing". MCLC Resource Center. September 23, 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  20. ^ "Fall of the Pagoda Records Eileen Chang's Childhood". Beijing Today. April 30, 2010. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  21. ^ "Sept 3: Book Launch – Eileen Chang's The Book of Change". August 27, 2010. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  22. ^ "Eileen Chang's first English autobiographical novel published". People's Daily. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  23. ^ LEE, Christopher (January 1, 2017). "Translation in distraction : on Eileen Chang's "Chinese translation: a vehicle of cultural influence"". Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 現代中文文學學報. 14 (1). ISSN 1026-5120.
  24. ^ a b Hoyan, Carole H. F. (1996). The life and works of Zhang Ailing : a critical study (Thesis). University of British Columbia.
  25. ^ a b "The Dispute Between Eileen Chang and Chen Shizhen (张爱玲与陈世骧的争执)". epaper.anhuinews.com. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  26. ^ "University of California: In Memoriam, 1974". texts.cdlib.org. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  27. ^ Qu, Lina (February 9, 2020). "Writing, Rewriting, and Miswriting: Eileen Chang's Late Style Against the Grain". CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture. 21 (6). doi:10.7771/1481-4374.3305. ISSN 1481-4374.
  28. ^ "Ends of Betrayal: Diaspora and Historical Representation in the Late Works of Zhang Ailing". MCLC Resource Center. September 23, 2014. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  29. ^ Xiao, Song Xi Yue (2016). Eileen Chang's Life in the United States of America (张爱玲在美国的日子). Beijing: Zhongguo Hua qiao chu ban she. p. 203. ISBN 9787511359384.
  30. ^ Lin Shan, Lv Bicheng, A Woman Genius, Beijing: Jilin Publishing Group Ltd., 2012.
  31. ^ Su, Weizheng 蘇偉貞 (2006). Copying: On the Generations of Taiwanese Chang School Creative Writers 描紅:臺灣張派作家世代論 Taipei: Sanmin shuju.
  32. ^ a b Wang, David Der-wei (2016). Methods to Imagine China. History· Fictional Writing· Narration (想象中国的方法 历史·小说·叙事).Tianjin: Baihua Wenyi chu ban she. p. 248-251.
  33. ^ LEE, Christopher (January 1, 2017). "Translation in distraction : on Eileen Chang's "Chinese translation: a vehicle of cultural influence"". Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 現代中文文學學報. 14 (1). ISSN 1026-5120.
  34. ^ "Eileen Chang at the University of Hong Kong: An Online Presentation of Images and Documents from the Archives". University Museum and Art Gallery, Hong Kong. September 28, 2020.


External links[edit]