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

Love in Fallen Cities

Eileen Chang was accepted to the University of London on full scholarship, but due to the outbreak of WWII, instead studied English literature at the University of Hong Kong between 1939 and 1941. As demonstrated in Chang’s school records, she performed well in English, History, and Chinese Literature. Hong Kong, along with Chang’s birthplace of Shanghai, subsequently became the primary settings of her many literary works. Published in 1943, Love in a Fallen City (傾城之戀) is set in 1940s Shanghai and Hong Kong, depicting a tumultuous relationship between Bai Liusu and Fan Liuyuan. Born in Shanghai, Bai’s fallen aristocratic family despises her because she’s divorced. She seeks economic security and restored status with Fan, a Chinese man returned from sojourning in Britain. While attracted to one another, Bai and Fan doubt each other’s true feelings. With the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day in 1941, the couple realize their love. Despite the novella’s foregrounding of a woman’s perspectives on marriage, Chang refused Vivan Hsu’s invitation to include this work in the anthology Women in Modern Chinese Fiction. In 1984, director Ann Hui released her film adaptation of Love in a Fallen City, which Professor C.T. Hsia remarked that he did not like in a holiday card to Chang. Lust, Caution (色,戒), one of Chang’s most internationally acclaimed works, is also set in wartime Hong Kong and Shanghai. The novella depicts a group of university students plotting an assassination against Mr. Yee, a special agent in Wang Jingwei’s puppet government. The protagonist Wang Chia-chih aims to seduce and facilitate the ambush of Yee. As the two develop a sexual relationship, Wang struggles internally between her affection and attachment to Yee. At the critical moment, Wang surrenders to love and tells Yee to run. Rewritten after Chang’s immigration to the United States, the novella was completed in the 1970s. Chang mailed the manuscript to Stephen Soong, who forwarded the manuscript to China Times. Ang Lee made an award-winning film adaptation of Lust, Caution in 2007. Both Love in a Fallen City and Lust, Caution reflect Chang’s personal experiences living through colonialism, war, and heartbreak in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

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