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, U.S.
Pen nameLiang Jing (梁京)[1]
  • Novelist
  • essayist
  • literature author
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
  • short story writer
EducationSt. Mary's Hall
Alma materUniversity of Hong Kong
St. John's University
GenreLiterary fiction
Notable worksLust, Caution
Love in a Fallen City
(m. 1944; div. 1947)
(m. 1956; died 1967)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Liang Jing

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, or by her pen name Liang Jing (梁京), was a Chinese-born American essayist, novelist, and screenwriter.

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 Communists defeated the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War, 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, she rose again to literary prominence in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and the Chinese diaspora communities.[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, an influential Qing court official. 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 introduced her to Tang poetry. Beginning in 1924, her father often brought back prostitutes or concubines and became heavily addicted to opium, which led to fights between her parents. During this time, Chang's mother decided to travel with her aunt to study in France.[1] In 1927, after Chang's father promised to end his drug usage and extramarital affairs, Chang and her mother came back and settled in Shanghai. However, Chang's parents eventually divorced in 1930. After that, Chang and her younger brother Zhang Zijing (張子靜; 1921–1997) were raised by their father.

At the age of 18, Chang contracted dysentery. Instead of seeking medical treatment, her father beat her and forced her to stay in her bedroom for six months. Chang eventually ran away to live with her mother and they stayed with her mother for nearly two years, until she went to university.[3]


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, even though her family was not religious.[1]

At an early age, under her mother's influence, Chang began painting, playing piano, and learning English.[4]

In 1939, Chang was accepted to the University of London on a full scholarship, but was unable to attend due to World War II. 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.[5]


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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[8] According to Chang's will, she was cremated without any memorial service, and her ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

After Chang's death, Stephen Soong (宋淇; 1919–1996) became the executor of her estate, succeeded by his son Roland Soong (宋以朗).[9] In 1997, the Soong family donated some of Chang's manuscripts to the East Asian Library at the University of Southern California (USC), including the English translation of "The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai" and the unfinished manuscript of the novel "The Young Marshall."[9] In 2015, Roland Soong handed Eileen Chang's manuscripts to Hong Kong scholar Rosanna Fong (馮睎乾) for organization and research.



At the age of 10, Chang's mother renamed her as 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 influenced her work throughout her career. Chang 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.[10]

Chang's writing is heavily influenced by the environment in which she lives. Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1940s were the background of many of her earlier novels.[5] She was known for her “aesthetic ambivalence” where the narrative style and language were reminiscent of the traditional “linked-chapter” novel while the setting was more in line with modern urban melodramas. Chang also sought to probe and examine the psychology her characters.[11]

In 1943, Chang was introduced to the prominent editor Zhou Shoujuan, and gave him a few pieces of her writing. With Zhou's support, 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 her English translation of The Golden Cangue, Chang simplified English expressions and sentence structures to make it easier for readers to understand.[12]

Several short stories and novellas were collected in Romances (Chuan Qi, 傳奇) (1944). It instantly became a bestseller in Shanghai, boosting Chang's reputation and fame among readers and also the Chinese 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. As described by Nicole Huang in the introduction to Written on Water, "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 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 years 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. It worsened after the defeat of the Nationalist government by the Communists in the Chinse Civil War. Eventually, Chang left mainland China for Hong Kong in 1952, realizing her writing career in Shanghai was over.[14] In Hong Kong, she worked for the United States Information Service (USIS), which promoted United States interests overseas.[16] During this time, she wrote two anti-communist works,The Rice-Sprout Song (Yang Ge, 秧歌) and Naked Earth (Chidi zhi lian, 赤地之戀, sometimes known in English as Love in Redland),[17] both of which she later translated into Chinese and published in Taiwan.[18] The Rice-Sprout Song was Chang's first novel written entirely in English.[2]

Chang wrote Naked Earth at the direct request of the USIS.[16] She used a plot outline supplied by USIS agents to write the book.[16] According to academic Brian DeMare, the book is a consequence of the anti-Communist paranoia of the United States Cold War mentality and lacks the poetry and nuance of Chang's other works.[19]

She also translated a variety of English works into Chinese, most notably The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving.[20] Chang's translation of The Old Man and the Sea was seen as Cold War propaganda for the USIS and is argued to have directly influenced her writing and translating of The Rice-Sprout Song.[21]

She then left for the United States in 1955, never to return to mainland China again.

United States[edit]

In 1955, Chang moved to America, struggling to become an English writer. Her work was rejected by publishers many times.[9] Chang's move from Hong Kong to the U.S. in the 1950s marked an important turning point in Chang's literary career.[11]

In 1960s, Chang was constantly searching for new job opportunities, particularly ones that involved translating or writing screenplays. Chang once tried to adapt a screenplay for Hollywood with Chinese elements, but was unsuccessful because the agent thought the role had too much content and psychological changes.[9] Chang became a U.S. citizen in 1960 and headed to Taiwan for more opportunities, returning to the U.S. in 1962.

Betrayal is an overarching theme in Chang's later works, notably in her English essay "A Return to the Frontier" (1963) and one of her last novels Little Reunions (2009, published posthumously). Compared to her previous works, there are many more tragedies and betrayals in her writings later on in her life.[22]

In 1962, when she resided in San Francisco, Chang started writing the English novel "The Young Marshal" based on the love story between the Chinese general Chang Hsueh-liang and his wife, Zhao Yidi, with an aim to break into the American literary world. However, due to the multitude of Chinese names and complex historical background in the book, her editor gave a less favorable evaluation of the initial chapters, which greatly undermined Chang's confidence in the writing. With her interest in Chang Hsueh-liang waned, she abandoned the story. In 2014, Eileen Chang's literary executor, Roland Soong, managed to have the unfinished "The Young Marshal" published, with a Chinese translation by Zheng Yuantao.

In America, Chang also wrote three novels based on her own life: The Fall of the Pagoda, The Book of Change, and Little Reunions.[11] 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.[11][23][24][25]

In 1966, Chang had a writing residency at Miami University in Oxford.[9] 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.[26][27] Her research topics include the Chinese Communist terminology and the 19th century novel Dream of the Red Chamber.[26] In 1971, the year Chen died, Chang left her post at Berkeley.[27][28] In 1972, Chang relocated to Los Angeles. In 1975, she completed the English translation of "The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai," a late Qing novel written in Wu Chinese by Han Bangqing. The manuscript for the translation was found among her papers at the University of Southern California and published posthumously in 2005.

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]

In 1990, Chang began writing an essay "Table of Love and Hate" (愛憎表), a reflection of her thoughts during the school days. In 2016, "Table of Love and Hate" was published posthumously in the July issue (Issue 155) of Taiwan's Ink magazine and in the autumn-winter issue of China's Harvest magazine.


Chang was a realist and modernist writer.[11] Her most important contribution was her construction of a unique wartime narrative, one that deviated from the grand accounts of national salvation and revolution. She sought to recount the seemingly irrelevant details and experiences of daily life of ordinary men and women in periods of social change and violence. Chang was also known for her view of modern history, displaying colours, lines, and moods in her writing and juxtaposition of historical reality with the domain of domesticity.[30]

During the 1970s, Chang's legacy had such a significant impact on many creative writers in Taiwan that several generations of “Chang School writers” (張派作家) emerged,[31] notably Chu T’ien-wen, Chu T’ien-hsin, Lin Yao-de [zh], and Yuan Chiung-chiung.[32]

With collective efforts to unearth the literary histories of the pre-revolutionary days in the post-Mao era, a renewed Eileen Chang “fever” swept through the streets of mainland China. The name Eileen Chang became synonymous with the glories of a bygone era. As with Taiwan in the 1970s, a group of young women authors who were clearly inspired by Chang rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s.[2] Other notable Mainland China authors influenced by Chang include Wang Anyi, Su Tong, and Ye Zhaoyan.[32]

Chang has been listed as one of the four women literary geniuses in Shanghai during the Republic of China era, alongside Su Qing, Guan Lu, and Pan Liudai. Chang has also been listed as one of the four women literary geniuses during the Republic of China era, along with Lü Bicheng, Xiao Hong and Shi Pingmei.[33] 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.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

Eileen Chang's works are often adapted for screens. The best known is probably Ang Lee's film Lust, Caution (2007), based on her novella of the same name, starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Tang Wei. The film won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and Golden Horse Award for best film in 2007. Other film adaptations include Love in a Fallen City (1984) and Love After Love (2020), the latter based on Chang's Agarwood Incense: The First Censer; both films are directed by Ann Hui. Chang's Love in a Fallen City was also adapted into stage performances by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre in 1987, 2002, and 2005. In 2006, the theatre took the Cantonese performance to New York, Shanghai, and Toronto.[34]

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.

Taiwanese writer Luo Yijun includes quotations and themes from Chang's writings and life in his novel Daughter.[35]

In 2020 on the occasion of the centennial celebration of Chang's birth, an online exhibition Eileen Chang at the University of Hong Kong was presented on the website for the University Museum and Art Gallery, Hong Kong. The exhibition pieced together a narrative that highlights the early stages of Chang's literary career.[36]

Works in English[edit]

  • Half a Lifelong Romance (1948; English 2016; trans. by Karen S. Kingsbury)
  • Little Reunions (2018; trans. by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan).
  • Love in a Fallen City (1943; English, 2006; trans. by Karen S. Kingsbury.)
  • Red Rose, White Rose (1944; English, 2006; trans. by Karen S. Kingsbury)
  • The Golden Cangue, in Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas, 1919–1949 (ed. Joseph S M Lau et al.)
  • Lust, Caution (1979; English, 2007; trans. by Julia Lovell).
  • Naked Earth (赤地之戀).
  • The Rice-Sprout Song: a Novel of Modern China (秧歌)
  • The Rouge of the North (怨女)
  • Traces of Love and Other Stories
  • Written on Water (流言, trans. by Andrew Jones)
  • 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:

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) (2): 159–163. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "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. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Eileen Chang and Lust, Caution". Focus Features. November 26, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c By Robert McG. Thomas Jr. (September 13, 1995). "Eileen Chang, 74, Chinese Writer Revered Outside the Mainland". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  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. Archived from the original on May 30, 2019. Retrieved March 3, 2019.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  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. ^ a b c DeMare, Brian James (2019). Land wars : the story of China's agrarian revolution. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-5036-0849-8. OCLC 1048940018.
  17. ^ "High Style and Desperate Love: On the Life and Work of Eileen Chang". The Millions. May 4, 2015. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  18. ^ Goldblatt, Howard (1999). "Review of The Rice-Sprout Song; The Rouge of the North, Eileen Chang". The China Quarterly (159): 760–761. doi:10.1017/S0305741000003659. ISSN 0305-7410. JSTOR 655784.
  19. ^ DeMare, Brian James (2019). Land wars : the story of China's agrarian revolution. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1-5036-0849-8. OCLC 1048940018.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Bo, L. Maria (September 1, 2019). "Freedom Over Seas: Eileen Chang, Ernest Hemingway, and the Translation of Truth in the Cold War". Comparative Literature. 71 (3): 252–271. doi:10.1215/00104124-7546276. ISSN 0010-4124. S2CID 202375261.
  22. ^ "Ends of Betrayal: Diaspora and Historical Representation in the Late Works of Zhang Ailing". MCLC Resource Center. September 23, 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  23. ^ "Fall of the Pagoda Records Eileen Chang's Childhood". Beijing Today. April 30, 2010. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  24. ^ "Sept 3: Book Launch – Eileen Chang's The Book of Change". August 27, 2010. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  25. ^ "Eileen Chang's first English autobiographical novel published". People's Daily. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  26. ^ a b Hoyan, Carole H. F. (1996). The life and works of Zhang Ailing : a critical study (Thesis). University of British Columbia.
  27. ^ a b "The Dispute Between Eileen Chang and Chen Shizhen (张爱玲与陈世骧的争执)". epaper.anhuinews.com. Archived from the original on May 10, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  28. ^ "University of California: In Memoriam, 1974". texts.cdlib.org. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  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. ^ Pong, David. Encyclopedia of modern China. ISBN 978-0-684-31571-3. OCLC 432428521.
  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. ^ Lin Shan, Lv Bicheng, A Woman Genius, Beijing: Jilin Publishing Group Ltd., 2012.
  34. ^ Kam, Louie (2012). Eileen Chang : romancing languages, cultures and genres. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 978-988-8083-72-5. OCLC 897197722.
  35. ^ The novel Daughter is featured as a chapter in the collection: Yijun, Luo (September 2018), "Science Fiction", in Mingwei Song; Theodore Huters (eds.), The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction, Columbia University Press, ISBN 9780231180238{{citation}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  36. ^ 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. Exhibition curated by Nicole Huang 黃心村, Florian Knothe and Kenneth Shing-Kwan Chan 陳承焜.


External links[edit]