In a Bronze Mirror: Eileen Chang’s Life and Literature

Chinese Life and Fashions

In 1943, Eileen Chang published an essay entitled “Chinese Life and Fashions”. The essay, as observed by scholar Rey Chow in Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading Between West and East, offers not only a chronicle of modern Chinese fashion, but a sophisticated theorization of Chinese modernity and modern consciousness linked to the vanishing of superfluous detail. Chang writes that in 1920s China, women began wearing long gowns similar to the Qing Dynasty changpao/changshan (長袍,長衫) worn by men, signaling a rising awareness of gender equality. The writer further describes the evolution of the qipao/cheongsam (旗袍), which comes to boldly accentuate Chinese women’s sexuality. Chang’s essay finally reveals the sociocultural significance of the qipao’s removal of non-functional ornamentation and integration of Western dimensional cuts. Most well-known for her writings, Chang was also a gifted illustrator, as demonstrated by her drawings in “Chinese Life and Fashions.” She drew throughout her life, and especially loved portraying women with elegant strokes. Together with her friend Ying Yan (炎櫻), Chang also designed the front covers of her books Romance (傳奇) and Written on Water (流言). Deeply devoted to fashion, Chang was often pictured wearing a glamorous qipao, like those that adorn her female protagonists. Chang’s personal photographs reveal her careful attention to apparel and accessories, and accompanying descriptions provide glimpses into her cross-cultural musings.

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