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Reading Eileen Chang’s Posthumous Novel


First written in 1957 but never published, Little Reunion is Eileen Chang’s (author of Lust, Caution; Eighteen Springs; Rouge of the North) last novel. It took her almost twenty years to complete but she never made the necessary revisions after a friend, Song Yilong, who is actually the beneficiary of her inheritance, cautioned her about the sensitive autobiographical details disguised in fictional prose.

In this autobiographical novel, Eileen Chang describes the book’s protagonist, Jiuli Sheng—Chang’s literary alter ego—as someone who is not sentimental. She is an unconventional woman in her times, falling in love with a man who is allegedly a spy working for the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese War. It was sensitive material indeed as Song reminded her that the public could have used the book as documentary evidence against her.

In real life, Chang falls for a cynical and talented womanizer, Hu Lancheng, collaborator of the puppet government installed by the Japanese. They married in 1943, but as soon as he returned to Wuhan, he started to be unfaithful. After the Japanese defeat, he was hiding, but Eileen Chang found him in Wenzhou, supported and protected by a young widow. This humiliation did not save her marriage and they divorced in 1947. On the run in Japan, he published memoirs in which Eileen Chang, then a famous writer, played a hopeless role among his eight mistresses.

Little Reunion is a book about her childhood and her relationship with Hu Lancheng. In 1976, her friend Stephen Soong, Director of the Translation Center of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, advised her not to publish the text specially as Hu had been granted in 1974 a visa to Taiwan where lived three years. Their correspondences reveal Eileen Chang’s desire to destroy the manuscripts. She contemplated making the necessary revision but never got around doing it until she died in Los Angeles in 1995. 

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