A poet and a professor at University of Southern California,
Dominic Cheung, said that
"had it not been for the political division between the Nationalist and Communist Chinese, she would have almost certainly won a Nobel Prize".
Born in Shanghai on September 30, 1920 to a renowned family, Eileen Chang's paternal grandfather Zhang Peilun was a son-in-law to Li Hongzhang, an influential court official. Chang was named Zhang Ying at birth. Her family moved to Tianjin in 1922, where she started school at the age of four.
When Chang was five, her birth mother left for the United Kingdom after her father took in a concubine and later became addicted to opium. Although Chang's mother did return four years later following her husband's promise to quit the drug and split with the concubine, a divorce could not be averted. Chang's unhappy childhood in the broken family was what likely gave her later works their pessimistic overtone.
The family moved back to Shanghai in 1928. Chang started to read Dream of the Red Chamber and two years later, her parents divorced, and she was renamed Eileen in preparation for her entry into the Saint Maria Girls' School. In 1932, she wrote her debut short novel.
Even in secondary school, Chang already displayed great talent in literature. Her writings were published in the school magazine.
After a fight with her stepmother and her father, she ran away from home to stay with her mother in 1938.
In 1939, Chang received a scholarship to study in the University of London, though the opportunity had to be given up due to the ongoing . She then went on to study
literature in the University of Hong Kong instead.
Chang met her life-long friend Fatima Mohideen while
at University of Hong Kong. Just one
semester short of earning her degree, Hong Kong fell to the Empire of Japan on December 25, 1941. The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong would last until 1945.
Chang had left occupied Hong Kong for her native Shanghai.
Her original plan was to finish the degree at
Saint John's University, Shanghai, but it lasted for
only two months. Lack of money was one factor for her to
quit the university. She refused to get a teaching job or
to be an editor, but was determined to do what she was
best at - writing. In the spring of 1943, Chang made a
fateful trip to meet the editor Shoujuan Zhou to give him her writings - the rest was history, as Chang then became the hottest writer in
Shanghai in 1943-1944. It was during this period when her most acclaimed works, including ''Qing Cheng Zhi Lian'' and ''Jin Suo Ji'' , were penned. Her literary maturity
was beyond her age.
Chang met her first husband Hu Lancheng in the winter
of 1943 and married him in the following year in a secret
ceremony. Fatima Mohideen was the witness. At the time
they had a relationship, Hu Lancheng was still married
to his third wife. She loved him dearly despite of this,
as well as being labeled a traitor for collaborating with the Japanese.
After the marriage,Hu Lancheng went to Wuhan to work
for a newspaper. When he stayed at a hospital in Wuhan,
he seduced a 17-year-old nurse, Xunde Zhou , who soon
moved in with him. When Japan was defeated in 1945, Hu used a
fake name and hid in Wenzhou, where he fell in love with yet another countryside woman, Xiumei Fan . When Chang traced him to his refuge, she realized she could not salvage the marriage. They finally divorced in 1947.
Life in the United States
In the spring of 1952, Chang migrated back to Hong Kong, where she worked as a translator for the American News Agency for three years. She then left for the United States in the fall of 1955, never to return to Mainland China again.
In MacDowell Colony, Chang met her second husband, the American scriptwriter Ferdinand Reyher, whom she married on August 14, 1956. While they were
separated briefly , Chang wrote that she was pregnant with Reyher's child.
Reyher wrote back to propose. Chang did not receive the letter,
but she called the next day telling Reyher she was coming over
to Saratoga, New York. Reyher got a chance to propose to her
in person, but insisted that he did not want the child.
After their marriage, they stayed in New York City
until October 1956 before moving back to MacDowell Colony.
Chang became a US citizen in July 1960, then went to Taiwan to look for more opportunities . Reyher had been hit by strokes from time to time, and eventually became paralyzed. Reyher died on October 8, 1967. After Reyher's death, Chang held short-term jobs at Radcliffe College
and UC Berkeley .
Chang relocated to Los Angeles in 1972. Three years later, she completed the English translation of ''The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai'' , a celebrated novel in the Wu dialect by Han Bangqing 韓邦慶, 1856-1894. The translated English version was found after her death, among her papers in the University of Southern California, and published. Chang became increasingly reclusive in her later years.
Chang was found dead in her apartment on Rochester Avenue in Westwood, California on September 8, 1995, by her landlord. The fact that she was only found a few days after her death is a testament to her seclusion. Her death certificate states the immediate cause of her death to be Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease . She was survived by her brother Zijing Zhang . Neither Chang
nor her brother had any children. Chang's life-long friend Fatima Mohideen
died a few month earlier, in June 1995 in New York.
According to her will, she was cremated without any open funeral and her ashes were released to the Pacific Ocean.
She asked in her will to give her all of her possessions to Stephen Soong and his wife Mae Fong Soong in Hong Kong, but copyright
was not mentioned in the will.
Works in English translation
* ''Love in a Fallen City'' Translated by Karen Kingsbury and Eileen Chang. ISBN 1-59017-178-0
*"The Golden Cangue" is found in ''Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas, 1919-1949'' HC ISBN 0-231-04202-7 PB ISBN 0-231-04203-5
* ''Lust, Caution'' Translated by Julia Lovell. New York: Anchor Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-307-38744-8
*''Naked Earth'' Hong Kong: Union Press, 1956.
*''The Rice Sprout Song: a Novel of Modern China'' HC ISBN 0-520-21437-4, PB ISBN 0-520-21088-3
*''The Rouge of the North'' HC ISBN 0-520-21438-2 PB 0520210875
*''Traces of Love and Other Stories'' PB ISBN 962-7255-22-X
*''The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai'' ISBN 0-231-12268-3
*''Written on Water'' ISBN 0-231-13138-0
Chang wrote several film scripts. Some of her works have been filmed and shown on the silver screen as well.
* ''Bu Liao Qing''
* Tai Tai Wan Sui
* Ai Le Zhong Nian
* Jin Suo Ji
* Qing Chang Ru Zhan Chang
* Ren Cai Liang De
* Tao hua yun
* Liu yue xin niang
* Wen Rou Xiang
* Nan Bei Yi Jia Qin
* Xiao er nu
* Nan Bei Xi Xiang Feng
* Yi qu nan wang
* Qing Cheng Zhi Lian
* Yuan Nu
* Gun Gun Hong Chen
* Hong Meigui Yu Bai Meigui
* Ban Sheng Yuan