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[109] 臨水照花人–張愛玲傳奇 (Legend of Eileen Chang)


Eileen Chang has become a serious addiction to me, by choice of course. Her life has been a rich tapestry of the most grandiose and elite of New China between 1910 and 1950.

Written in the Chinese language (which I trudge through during the past week with straining eye) by a scholar from Taiwan, this book draws on the letters of correspondences between Eileen Chang and her friends and her endearing aunt, historical records, old literary publications, memoir and scrapbook to incorporate biographical details into a fictionalized account of the legendary writer. Her personal history trickles into her own works, and this book thoughtfully draws on Chang’s sharpest and most piercing lines to establish a conversation with this contemporary literati who, despite her political apathy, shines into ordinary, but complex, conflicted individuals whose frustration and helplessness amount to a strong social realism.

The book follows Eileen Chang’s birth in 1920 all the way to her moving to the United States. She passed away in her Los Angeles home in 1995. Her marriage with Hu Lan Cheng, with whom she painfully broke off relation after the war upon discovery of his adultery, dealt her a heavy blow and this unhealed wound has transmuted an air of toughness and skepticism in her later works. A peek into her prose will reveal the cruelty of heart, caprice, unpredictability and mortality of love. She is tough but also unrelenting. Growing up in Shanghai on the heels of the revolution that overthrew Qing Dynasty, Eileen Chang was raised at a time when Western architecture was erected among Chinese landscapes. It was the time when the Chinese who clang on to their traditions opened up to the bustle of commercial activities made possible by ceasing land to the French.

Chang was privileged to grow up under this aura of new materialism. Captured in her quick-witted and acrimonious writings are what at the time impagined and threatened to subvert traditions and values of Old China: Cosmetics, coffee shops, newspaper, movie theater, gas stove, fashion shows, Quaker oatmeal, and panty hose. Under the influence of her mother, who was bold to divorce her opium-addict father and went abroad to pursue fine arts, Eileen took up serious writing–writing no about national issues but social and domestic satires that implicate, for example, her emotionally sterile father and the manipulative step-mother. Their cruelty toward her had only fueled her conviction to retaliate, by living a better life, by ridding them of her life. Her writings not only affords reality of the sense but also becomes a riposte to her pent-up repulsion and humiliation.

To me Eileen Chang is a legend because as a writer a tinge of snobbery is not a bad attribute. Snobbery in the sense of having certain expectation and standard. Whether in her characters or in her life Eileen Chang exacts a very brave happiness and sanguinity, something that is so impalpable that only through her writings can I perceive.

One Response

  1. […] The Painter of Shanghai coincides with the period of my favorite Chinese contemporary author, Eileen Chang, in the 1930s to 1940s Shanghai, where culture, media, arts, literature, and theater all thrived […]

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