Written on Water by Eileen Chang
(Weatherhead Books on Asia)

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Known as "the Garbo of Chinese letters" for her elegance and the aura of mystery that surrounded her, Eileen Chang is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential modern Chinese novelists and cultural critics of the twentieth century. In Written on Water, first published in 1945 and now available for the first time in English, Chang offers essays on art, literature, war, and urban life, as well as autobiographical reflections. Chang takes in the sights and sounds of wartime Shanghai and Hong Kong, with the tremors of national upheaval and the drone of warplanes in the background, and inventively fuses explorations of urban life, literary trends, domestic habits, and historic events.

These evocative and moving firsthand accounts examine the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of the Japanese bombing and occupation of Shanghai and Hong Kong. Eileen Chang writes of friends, colleagues, and teachers turned soldiers or wartime volunteers, and her own experiences as a part-time nurse. Her nuanced depictions range from observations of how a woman's elegant dress affects morale to descriptions of hospital life.

With a distinctive style that is at once meditative, vibrant, and humorous, Chang engages the reader through sly, ironic humor; an occasionally chatty tone; and an intense fascination with the subtleties of modern urban life. The collection vividly captures the sights and sounds of Shanghai, a city defined by its mix of tradition and modernity. Chang explores the city's food, fashions, shops, cultural life, and social mores; she reveals and upends prevalent attitudes toward women and in the process presents a portrait of a liberated, cosmopolitan woman, enjoying the opportunities, freedoms, and pleasures offered by urban life. In addition to her descriptions of daily life, Chang also reflects on a variety of artistic and literary issues, including contemporary films, the aims of the writer, the popularity of the Peking Opera, dance, and painting.


About Eileen Chang

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Eileen Chang (1920-1995), who lived in the United States after fleeing Communist China in 1956, was a prominent fiction writer, essayist, and public intellectual. She is the author of Romances, The Rice-Sprout Song: A Novel of Modern China, and The Rouge of the North.Andrew F. Jones is associate professor of Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age and Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music, and the translator of Yu Hua's Chronicle of a Blood Merchant.
Published March 30, 2005 by Columbia University Press. 240 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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she writes, for instance, of the “young intellectuals [who] condemned all that was traditional, even all that was Chinese,” while conservatives, “shocked out of their complacency, redoubled their efforts to suppress them.” (Mao and company, it appears, were among the conservatives.) Just so, Chan...

Feb 01 2005 | Read Full Review of Written on Water (Weatherhead...

ForeWord Reviews

The author, a novelist, wrote these sparkling, discursive essays during Japan’s brutal World War II occupation of Shanghai.

Apr 30 2005 | Read Full Review of Written on Water (Weatherhead...

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