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

Eileen Chang's Life and Legacy

Eileen Chang (張愛玲/Zhang Ailing, 1920-1995) is one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Chang was born in Shanghai to an aristocratic family. In 1939, she began studying literature at the University of Hong Kong, before returning to Shanghai amidst the escalation of WWII. She subsequently published a number of short stories and novels that would catalyze her literary stardom, including The First Incense of the Burner (第一爐香), Love In A Fallen City (傾城之戀), and Sealed Off (封鎖). In 1944, Chang married Hu Lancheng (胡蘭成), a Japanese sympathizer, then divorced him in 1947 due to his infidelity. In 1952, she returned to Hong Kong, and three years later, moved to the United States. There, Chang married the American writer Ferdinand Reyher, who passed away in 1967. Chang continued to write novels and screenplays, translated the 1894 Qing novel, The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai (海上花列傳), and took up positions at various American universities.

Chang moved to Los Angeles in 1972. Over the years, she frequently corresponded with Chinese literary critic and Columbia University Professor C.T. Hsia (夏志清), who promoted Chang’s work throughout the United States. These letters extensively discuss Chang’s work and life and signal the author’s increasing reclusion and movement to various addresses in Los Angeles. Chang passed away in 1995. As per her last will and testament, her landlord, Stone Lin, together with others, scattered Chang’s ashes into the Pacific Ocean. A friend of Lin, Professor Dominic Cheung (張錯) taught Chinese and Comparative Literature at USC. While Cheung studied Chang’s writings, he, respectful of her reclusive lifestyle, never met her. Following Chang’s death, Lin requested Cheung’s assistance in carrying out the sea burial, dealing with the press, and shipping her belongings, bequeathed to friends Stephen and Mae Soong, to Hong Kong. Recognizing the significance of Chang’s literary legacy, Cheung collaborated with the Soongs, who donated a rich repository of Chang’s articles, essays, speeches, correspondences, manuscripts, and photographs, establishing the special collection of Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang) Papers in USC’s Library.  

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