Literary Legend Eileen Chang
Eileen Chang 100
Eileen Chang, one of the most influential Chinese female writers in modern history. Her works appeal to readers of successive generations and are highly regarded in literary and artistic circles. 2020 Zuni's latest production - Eileen Chang 100 Read S
Date: June, November
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Literary Legend Eileen Chang
Eileen Chang and Hong Kong

Eileen Chang, born Zhang Ying in Shanghai International Settlement of the Republic of China in 1920, is of Hubei origin and was a descendant of Li Hongzhang. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of her birth.

One hundred years ago, China was plagued by frequent wars. Growing up then, Eileen Chang became the author of many literary classics. Her works and personal life were closely associated with Hong Kong. Chang has studied or worked in Hong Kong across three periods, spanning six years intermittently. In 1939 following the outbreak of World War II, Chang's plans to pursue her studies in the UK with a scholarship from the University of London was brought to a standstill. Subsequently, she enrolled in the Department of Arts at the University of Hong Kong. In 1942, Hong Kong was occupied. Chang was forced to suspend her studies and returned to Shanghai. In 1952, she resumed her studies in the University of Hong Kong for a month before applying for a further suspension to seek opportunities to go to the States. During her stay in Hong Kong, Chang worked at the United States Investigation Services. After three years in Hong Kong, she boarded a cruise ship to settle in America. In 1961, Chang returned to Hong Kong for a short while to complete a screenplay for Motion Picture & General Investment. A few months later, she went back to the States.

Chang alludes to Hong Kong often in her works. During her time in Hong Kong and Shanghai, she authored a few novels set in Hong Kong, including Aloeswood Incense: The First Brazier , Aloeswood Incense: The Second Brazier, Love in a Fallen City. Her prose anthologies From the Ashes and A Return to the Frontier also made references to Hong Kong. In From the Ashes, she wrote that her experience in war-time Hong Kong had an imminent and violent impact on her. Through her personal experiences, Chang expressed her observations of the war. She once commented that “the emptiness and despair one feels when being alone in a war are unbearable. People therefore yearn for something tangible. They get married”. After witnessing a couple borrow a car from the Head of Air Defense to pick up their marriage certificate, Chang was inspired. She turned the episode into the ending of the protagonists Bai Liusu and Fan Liuyan in Love in a Fallen City. During her second visit to Hong Kong, Chang was under fire for her relationship with Hu Lancheng in the mainland. Both were labelled as “cultural traitors”. Chang wrote under a pseudonym after Communist China came into power in order to escape public pressure. As she reflected upon her time in the mainland while working for  USIS in Hong Kong, she completed The Rice Sprout Song: a Novel of Modern China and Love in Redland, novels against the background of the Communist Land Reform at that time. Her short stories collection was published by Tin Fung Publishing Company Limited, while Sing Tao Daily published her novel The Rogue of the North. She wrote over ten screenplays for Motion Picture & General Investment. Her writing career was inseparable from Hong Kong.

Chang met many inspiring people in Hong Kong. Aside from her teacher N. H. France and Xu Dishan, she also met her best friends Fatima Mohideen and the married couple Stephen and Mae Fong Soong. During her first stay in Hong Kong as a student, Chang met Fatima Mohideen of Sri Lanken and Tianjin descent. Their friendship, which Chang detailed in her writings, became something Chang treasured for life. Together, they have run a fashion shop. Mohideen has also utilised her connections to find accommodations for Chang on different occasions. During her second stay in Hong Kong, Chang met the Soongs, who emigrated from Shanghai. In the many years to come, they would continue to write to and work with each other. Chang left her estate to the discretion of the Soongs in her will. Her handscripts were also left to Roland Soong, their son.
Chang holds delicate feelings for both Shanghai and Hong Kong. In Shanghainese, After All, Chang wrote that she “tried to observe Hong Kong from the perspective of a Shanghainese”, and that “only the Shanghainese would understand what she was unable to articulate in her writings”. She was “always thinking about the Shanghainese while writing about Hong Kong”. However, she also expressed her deep fondness towards Hong Kong:

“Of course these old houses have to go. All these years, influxing refugees have almost filled the island up to the hilt. Surely we'd have to find a way to house these people? I know (my nostalgia) is not quite sound. But all is due to my love for this city. It has the breathtaking nature of the West Lake and the tidiness of QingDao. It also has the best China Town in the proximity. You can still see traces of ancient China. Perhaps due to its proximity, it maintained the essence of China Towns, unlike those abroad.”
( A Return to the Frontier )
Eileen Chang: A Timeline
Born in Shanghai on 30th Semptember and named Zhang Ying.
10 y.o.
Chang's mother renamed her Ailing, a transliteration of Eileen. Parents divorced.
11 y.o.
Studied in St. Mary's Hall, Shanghai.
12-13 y.o.
Her debut short novel The Unfortunate Her and prose Chimu were published in the school magazine.
14 y.o.
Chang's father remarried.
18 y.o.
Escaped from her home imprisonment by her father to live with her mother. First publication in English in Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury.
19 y.o.
Gave up studying in London due to World War II, and was accepted into The University of Hong Kong to study literature.
23 y.o.
Aloeswood Incense: The First Brazier was published and became a huge success, more acclaimed works were published accordingly such as Love in a Fallen City, Jasmine Tea, The Golden Cangue, etc.
24 y.o.
Married to Hu Lancheng. Romances, a collection of several short stories and novellas, had become a bestseller in Shanghai.
27 y.o.
Divorced from Hu Lancheng and live with her aunt. Movie Tai Tai Wan Sui scripted by Chang was screened in Shanghai with great success.
28 y.o.
Eighteen Springs was serialised and published by the newspaper company Yi Bao.
32 y.o.
Left China to resume her study at The University of Hong Kong. Gave up her scholarship and suspended study after less than a semester.
33 y.o.
Chang's father died in Shanghai.
34 y.o.
The Rice Sprout Song: a Novel of Modern China, Chang's first attempt at writing fiction in English, and Love in Redland were published in both Chinese and English versions. A Collection Short Stories by Eileen Chang was published in Hong Kong.
35 y.o.
Left Hong Kong for the United States in fall.
36 y.o.
Married Ferdinand Reyer, an American scriptwriter, in August.
37 y.o.
Chang's mother died in the United Kingdom.
38 y.o.
Started her career in writing screenplays for Motion Picture & General Investment Co. Ltd. She penned a total of ten scripts, eight of which brought to the screen.
47 y.o.
Ferdinand Reyer passed away.
48 y.o.
The edited version of Eighteen Springs was re-published under the new title Half a Lifelong Romance in Taiwan.
53 y.o.
Relocated to Los Angeles.
57 y.o.
Engaged in analyzing Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber during her later years and a collection of essay was published and entitled Nightmare in the Red Chamber.
59 y.o.
A novella, Lust, Caution was published.
74 y.o.
Complete Works of Eileen Chang of fifteen books was published by the Crown Publishing Ltd. Dui Zhao Ji was published. Awarded with the 17th annual Special Achievement Award from the China Times.
Chang was found dead in her apartment on 8th September.