Ling Shuhua (1904–1990)

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Ling Shuhua (1904–1990)

Chinese writer. Name variations: Ling Shu-hua; Su Hua Ling Chen. Born in 1904 in Kwantung, China; died in 1990; Cantonese father was an official; married writer and critic Chen Yuan (Ch'en Yüan), in 1920s; studied English literature, Yanjing (Yenching) University, early 1920s; studied painting in Paris and had several solo exhibitions of her works; professor of literature.

Wrote short stories, inspired by writer Katherine Mansfield; was a friend of writer Bing Xin; had stories published in weekly Contemporary Review and in three collections.

Selected works:

The Temple of Flowers (1928); Women (1930); Little Brothers (1935).

Ling Shuhua was born in 1904 in Kwantung, moving to Beijing in the early 1920s to study English literature at Yanjing University. Her first stories were published in the early 1920s in the weekly Contemporary Review after she came to the attention of Chen Yuan, a professor of English at National Peking University and editor of the magazine. They married during the 1920s and became a celebrated literary couple in Beijing, Ling Shuhua writing short stories and working as a professor of literature, and Chen Yuan teaching and writing influential commentaries on politics and literature in the Contemporary Review, many of which were collected in his book Causeries of Hsi-ying.

Several women writers came to public attention in the 1920s, including Huang Luyin, Feng Yuanjun and Bing Xin , with whom Ling became friends at Yanjing University. None, however, are considered to have Ling's brilliance and originality. Ling's first book was The Temple of Flowers, published in 1928, collecting together a number of stories written between 1924 and 1926 with a foreword by Chen Yuan. Inspired by the deceptively light, ironic style and domestic subject matter of New Zealand short-story writer Katherine Mansfield , choosing similarly feminine titles like "The Tea Party" and "Embroidered Pillows," Ling's stories probe the nuances and quiet dramas of polite Chinese society during a turbulent and transitional era. Critic Don Holoch suggests that by "giving her fiction the feel and texture of everyday trivia and yet showing the enormity of the anguish they entail, Ling employs a 'realism' that endows every common object and cliché with a potentially explosive meaning and makes the matter-of-fact description of household life subversive."

Specializing in psychological portraits and telling details, Ling's work was never as popular as that of Bing Xin. But her deft touch and perceptive eye ensured that Ling found a dedicated and discriminating public. "Embroidered Pillows" is considered to be the first modern Chinese story sustained by the dramatic irony of a central symbol.

Ling published two further collections of stories, Women (1930) and Little Brothers (1935), the latter of which reflected both her new experiences as a mother and as a resident of Japan, where she lived during the early 1930s. Both she and her husband wrote less in the years leading up to World War II, partly because of her husband's withdrawal from public life in China. The couple moved to London in 1947 when Chen Yuan became a delegate to UNESCO, after which they split their time between London and Taipei. Ling also taught contemporary Chinese literature in Singapore, and later in Canada and the United Kingdom.


Hoang, Dustin X. "Modern Chinese Women's Literature in the May Fourth Era," thesis, December 15, 1995.

Hsia, C.T. A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 1917–1957. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York