Chang, Eileen 1920–1995

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Chang, Eileen 1920–1995

(Chang Ai-ling, Zhang Ailing)


Born September 30, 1920, in Shanghai, China; immigrated to United States in 1955; died September 8, 1995, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of a gentleman of leisure and his wife (a painter); married 1944 (divorced); married Ferd Rehyer (deceased 1967). Education: Attended University of Hong Kong, 1939-42.


Writer. Novelist and author of film scripts, magazine stories, essays, and plays. Miami University, Oxford, OH, writer-in-residence; Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, Cambridge, MA, associate scholar. Worked at Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley.


The Golden Cangue (novella), [China], 1943, translation published as The Rouge of the North, Cassell (London, England), 1967, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Tzu chun pieh hou, [China], 1952.

Chang Ai-ling tuon p'ien hsiao shuo chi, [China], 1954.

Yang ko, [China], 1954.

The Rice Sprout Song, Scribner (New York, NY), 1955, published as The Rice Sprout Song: A Novel of Modern China, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Nagna bhumiya, [China], 1955.

The Naked Earth, [China], 1956, published as Naked Earth: A Novel about China, Union Press (Hong Kong), 1964.

Ssal, [China], 1956.

Phasalera gana, [China], 1962.

Hsiao sheng lei hen, [China], 1962.

Chang k'an, [China], 1976.

Hung lou meng yen, [China], 1977.

Ch'h ti chih lien, [China], 1978.

Chin so chi (short stories), Nu shen ch'u pan she (Hsiang-kang), 1983.

Ch'ing ch'eng chih lien (short stories), Nu shen ch'u pan she (Hsiang-kang), 1983.

(Translator) Han Bangqing, The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, revised and edited by Eva Hung, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Written on Water (essays), translated by Andrew F. Jones, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Love in a Fallen City (six novellas), translated by the author and Karen S. Kingsbury, New York Review Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of the novel Eighteen Springs. Also wrote translations, film scripts, and radio scripts in Chinese, including the films Tai tai wan sui, 1947; Qing chang ru zhan chang (English title The Battle of Love), 1957; Tao hua yun (English title The Wayward Husband), 1959; Liu yue xin niang, (English title The June Bride), 1960; Nan bei yi jia qin (English title The Greatest Wedding on Earth), 1962; Xiao er nu (English title Father Takes a Bride, 1963; Yi qu nan wang (English title Please Remember Me), 1964; Nan bei xi xiang feng (English title The Greatest Love Affair on Earth), 1964; and the story for Se jie, 2007. Also author of story for Nong boon do ching (television mini-series; English title Once Upon an Ordinary Girl), 1984.


Chang's novels have been adapted for film, including Once in a Fallen City, 1984; Yuan Nu, 1988; Hong meigui, bai meigui, 1994; and Eighteen Springs, Mandarin Films, 1997.


Eileen Chang was already a well-known writer in China when she immigrated to the United States in 1955. She grew up in a wealthy Shanghai family that was plagued by the unhappy marriage of her parents and by the infidelity and opium-smoking of her father. Her painter mother left to study art in France for a period of time; on her return, the couple was divorced, and Chang's father took revenge on his ex-wife by lock- ing their daughter in the house for long stretches of time. Chang suffered physical and emotional breakdowns during childhood but was eventually able to live with her mother. She entered the University of Hong Kong in 1939, studying English there, but was forced by the Japanese invasion of 1942 to cut short her education in her junior year. During the war she continued writing in Shanghai while the city was under Japanese occupation, a development that was looked upon unfavorably by postwar Chinese regimes. She was a popular writer of magazine stories, and developed what critic C.T. Hsia, as quoted in A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 1917-57, called a style of "intimate boudoir realism."

In 1943 Chang published what many have seen as her finest work, the novella The Golden Cangue. Like most of her fiction, it deals with the affluent merchant class. The heroine, the daughter of shopkeepers, is married to the weak scion of a rich family whose household is ruled over by his opium-addicted, tyrannical mother. Living through an unhappy love for her brother-in-law, the heroine becomes a miserly old woman who ruins the lives of her children. Critic Hsia, referring to The Golden Cangue, commented that "the tragic element in Chang's work frequently took the form of a subsurface, impersonal sorrow, that was overlain by a satirical surface tone." Hsia also believed Chang's prose to be "the richest in imagery of any modern Chinese writer." Chang adapted The Golden Cangue into English as The Rouge of the North (1967), trimming it of some of its more harrowing scenes.

After immigrating to the United States in 1955, Chang either wrote in English, or translated from her own Chinese into English, including her novel The Rice Sprout Song, which a contributor to the The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States, called "brilliant" and "[Chang's] masterpiece." The novel, unusually for Chang, was about peasant life, and it was inspired by a newspaper article Chang read during the Communist years. A Communist soldier was ordered to shoot peasants who attacked a granary during a famine, and questioned his orders. In Chang's hands, this became a novelistic account of village life, focusing on the problems of a peasant couple whose daughter is killed during riots. For the The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States contributor, the novel "simply and effectively evokes the tragedy of human suffering through selected details and resonant images."

For the last quarter-century of her life, Chang lived as a recluse, rarely answering correspondence. She had difficulty finding U.S. publishers for her later work. In 1996, a year after her death, the journal New Asia Review bought the rights to Chang's novels from her estate, as the first step in launching a series of books under the New Asia Writers imprint. Chang maintains a large following in China, where her work had been banned until the 1990s.

Chang's work continues to be admired, with new works still published in English, such as her 2005 collection of essays titled Written on Water (first published in China in 1945). Chang writes about the arts—including film, theater, painting, and music—during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Janet St. John wrote in Booklist that the author "captures the subtleties of the urban experience … and the trivialities of daily endeavors." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Written on Water "original, memorable and unlike anything else that has come from the era."

Six of the author's novellas were published in 2006 under the title Love in a Fallen City. Primarily new translations, the stories take place predominately in Shanghai and focus on the woman's role or plight in China, including issues such as true love, marriage, and taboos. For example, in the novella "Red Rose, White Rose," the author tells of a man looking for a chaste wife as well as a mistress who is an ardent lover. Shirley N. Quan, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author's "writing realistically captures the human heart and confronts the trappings of cultural expectations." Referring to the book as "a major rediscovery," a Kirkus Reviews contributor also wrote: "Employing gorgeous spare imagery … and a seductive tone of worldly fatalism, Chang depicts a woman's fate as memorably as do Colette's tales."

Chang also made a major contribution to Chinese literature when a review of her papers revealed her English translation of Han Bangquing's 1894 classic Chinese novel The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai. "Its literary and historical significance is indisputable," wrote Lesley Downer in the New York Times Book Review. "More important to the average reader, though, are its absorbing storytelling and the chance it offers to be immersed in a gorgeous, long-vanished world."



Buck, Claire, editor, The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature, Prentice Hall (New York, NY), 1992.

Chevalier, Tracy, editor, Contemporary World Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Davidson, Cathy N, and Linda Wagner-Martin, editors, The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Hsia, C.T., A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 1917-57, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1961.

Lau, Joseph, and others, editors, Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas, 1919-49, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Ling, Amy, Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry, Pergamon Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Watson, Noelle, editor, Reference Guide to Short Fiction, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.


Amerasia Journal, January 1, 2000, Betty Tsou Fong, "The ‘Flowing Words’ of Eileen Chang," p. 190.

Booklist, April 15, 2005, Janet St. John, review of Written on Water, p. 1423; October 15, 2006, Kristine Huntley, review of Love in a Fallen City, p. 28.

Choice, October, 2005, J.C. Kinkley, review of Written on Water, p. 288; April, 2006, Y.L. Walls, review of The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, p. 1398.

Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, summer, 1999, Rey Chow, "Seminal Dispersal, Fecal Retention, and Related Narrative Matters: Eileen Chang's Tale of Roses in the Problematic of Modern Writing."

Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 2006, Allyssa Lee, review of Love in a Fallen City, p. 112.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2006, review of Love in a Fallen City, p. 803; February 1, 2005, review of Written on Water, p. 160.

Library Journal, November 15, 2006, Shirley N. Quan, review of Love in a Fallen City, p. 61.

Los Angeles Magazine, November 1, 2006, Robert Ito, review of Love in a Fallen City, p. 204.

New York Review of Books, November 16, 2006, Perry Link, "Chinese Shadows," p. 33.

New York Times Book Review, November 20, 2005, Lesley Downer, review of The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, p. 21; February 18, 2007, Andrew Ervin, review of Love in a Fallen City, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, August 14, 2006, review of Love in a Fallen City, p. 176.


Internet Movie Database, (June 3, 2007), "Eileen Chang."

New York Review of Books Web site, (June 3, 2007), brief profile of author.



New York Times, September 13, 1995, "Eileen Chang, 74, Chinese Writer Revered Outside the Mainland."