Eileen Chang (张爱玲Zhāng àilíng) (September 30, 1920–September 8, 1995) was a Chinese writer. She also used the pseudonym Liang Jing (梁京), though very rarely. Her works frequently deal with the tensions between men and women in love, and are considered by some scholars to be among the best Chinese literature of the period. Chang’s work describing life in 1940s Shanghai and occupied Hong Kong is remarkable in its focus on everyday life and the absence of the political subtext which characterised many other writers of the period. Yuan Qiongqiong was an author in Taiwan that styled her literature exposing feminism after Eileen Chang’s. A poet and a professor at University of Southern California, Dominic Cheung, said that "had it not been for the political division between the Nationalist and Communist Chinese, she would have almost certainly won a Nobel Prize"
Born in Shanghai on September 30, 1920, to a renowned family, Eileen Chang’s paternal grandfather Zhang Peilun was a son-in-law to Li Hongzhang, an influential Qing court official. Chang was named Zhang Ying (张瑛) at birth. Her family moved to Tianjin in 1922, wher she started school at the age of four.
When Chang was five, her birth mother left for the United Kingdom after her father took in a concubine. Chang’s father became addicted to opium. Although Chang’s mother did return four years later, following her husband’s promise to quit the drug and split with the concubine, a divorce could not be averted. Chang’s unhappy childhood in the broken family probably gave her later works their pessimistic overtone.
The family moved back to Shanghai in 1928. She started to read Dream of the Red Chamber. Two years later, Chang was renamed Eileen (her Chinese first name, Ailing, was actually a transliteration of Eileen) in preparation for her entry into the Saint Maria Girls’ School and her parents divorced. In 1932, she wrote her debut short novel.
Even in secondary school, Chang already displayed great talent in literature. Her writings were published in the school magazine. After a fight with her step-mother and her father, she ran away from home to stay with her mother in 1938. In 1939, Chang received a scholarship to study in the University of London, though the opportunity had to be given up due to the ongoing war in China. She went on to study literature in the University of Hong Kong instead. Chang met her life-long friend Fatima Mohideen (炎樱) while at University of Hong Kong. Just one semester short of getting her degree, Hong Kong fell to the Empire of Japan on December 25, 1941. The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong would last until 1945.
Chang had left occupied Hong Kong for her native Shanghai. Her original plan was to finish the degree at Saint John’s University, Shanghai, but it lasted for only two months. Lack of money was one factor for her to quit the university. She refused to get a teaching job or to be an editor, but determined to do what she was best at – writing. In the spring of 1943, Chang made a fateful trip to meet the editor Shoujuan Zhou (周瘦鹃) to give him her writings. The rest was history: Chang became the hottest writer in Shanghai in 1943-1944. It was during this period when her most acclaimed works, including Qing Cheng Zhi Lian (倾城之恋) and Jin Suo Ji (金锁记), were penned. Her literary maturity was beyond her age.
Chang met her first husband Hu Lancheng (胡兰成) in the winter of 1943 and married him in the following year in a secret ceremony. Fatima Mohideen was the witness. At the time they had a relationship, Hu Lancheng was still married to his third wife. She loved him dearly despite of this, as well as being labeled a traitor for collaborating with the Japanese. After the marriage,Hu Lancheng went to Wuhan to work for a newspaper. When he stayed at a hospital in Wuhan, he seduced a 17-year-old nurse, Xunde Zhou (周训德), who soon moved in with him. When Japan was defeated in 1945, Hu used a fake name and hid in Wenzhou, wher he fell in love with yet another countryside woman, Xiumei Fan (范秀美). When Chang traced him to his refuge, she realized she could not salvage the marriage. They finally divorced in 1947.
Life in the United States
In the spring of 1952, Chang migrated back to Hong Kong, wher she worked as a translator for the American News Agency for three years. She then left for the United States in the fall of 1955, never to return to Mainland China again.
In MacDowell colony, Chang met her second husband, the American scriptwriter Ferdinand Reyher, whom she married on August 14, 1956. While they were separated briefly (Chang in New York City, Reyher in Saratoga, New York), Chang wrote that she was pregnant with Reyher’s child. Reyher wrote back to propose. Chang did not receive the letter, but she called the next day telling Reyher she was coming over to Saratoga, New York. Reyher got a chance to propose to her in person, but insisted that he did not want the child. After their marriage, they stayed in New York City until October 1956 before moving back to MacDowell colony. Chang became a US citizen in July 1960, then went to Taiwan to look for more opportunities (October 1961 – March 1962). Reyher had been hit by strokes from time to time, and was eventually paralyzed. Reyher died in October 8, 1967. After Reyher’s death, Chang held short-term jobs at Radcliffe College (1967) and UC Berkeley (1969-1972).
Chang relocated to Los Angeles in 1972. Three years later, she completed the English translation of The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai (海上花列传, literally Biographies of Shanghai Flowers, or Courtesans), a celebrated Qing novel in the Wu dialect by Han Bangqing 韩邦庆, 1856-1894. She became increasingly reclusive in her later years.
Chang was found dead in her apartment on Rochester Avenue in Westwood, California on September 8, 1995, by her landlord. The fact that she was only found a few days after her death is a testament to her seclusion. Her death certificate states the immediate cause of her death to be Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease (ASCVD). She was survived by her brother Zijing Zhang (张子静) (December 11, 1921- October 12, 1997). Neither Chang nor her brother had any children. Chang’s life-long friend Fatima Mohideen died a few month earlier, in June 1995 in New York. According to her will, she was cremated without any open funeral and her ashes were released to the Pacific Ocean. She asked in her will to give her all of her possessions to Stephen Soong (who died December 3, 1996) and his wife Mae Fong Soong in Hong Kong, but copyright was not mentioned in the will.