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

Red Roses White Roses

In 1944, Eileen Chang published Red Rose and White Rose (紅玫瑰與白玫瑰), a novella resonating with the writer’s perspectives on love, gender, and sexuality. The female protagonists – one bound to Chinese tradition and the other modern and independent – symbolize the primary gender stereotypes of Republican China. Red Rose and White Rose explores how men construct these gender stereotypes, while seeking to control women who embody them. Simultaneously, Chang’s pairing of complex female characters and treatment of their shared encounters moves beyond simplistic binaries to reveal a multilayered feminist perspective on male-dominated society. A half century following the publication of Red Rose and White Rose, director Stanley Kwan adapted the novella into an acclaimed film. Published four years after Red Rose and White Rose, Chang’s Eighteen Springs (十八春) ruminates on ill-fated romance and the inescapable fate of women in 1940s China. The story follows the plight of women, who do not get to choose their husbands. In a correspondence with Professor C.T. Hsia, Chang suggests Eighteen Springs would be suitable for film adaptation because of its dramatic turns and envisions one leading actress playing the two leading sisters. After Chang’s death, in 1997, Ann Hui directed a film version of Eighteen Springs. Chang’s Rouge of The North (怨女) of 1967 expands upon her earlier works’ considerations of love and marriage. Rouge of the North portrays a woman’s twisted transformation following her marriage to the blind, bedridden son of a rich family. The couple’s unsatisfying family life and the exacting dictates of the woman’s mother-in-law leaves her hopeless. After her demanding mother-in-law dies, the woman moves out of the big house with her son. When her son gets married, she, in turn, becomes a cruel mother-in-law, inflicting pain on others. Chang narrates this cyclical abuse and ensuing tragedies across generations, critiquing the conventions of marriage. Evident in Chang’s stories and correspondences, she maintained a disbelief in marriage and yearning for true love.

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