A Woman’s Position in the Family:
Analyses of Love in a Fallen City and The Golden Cangue
For the bulk of the mid- to late-20th Century, Eileen Chang’s name and literary prowess fell into obscurity as a result of events related to the Cultural Revolution and her own reclusion. In C.T. Hsia’s A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, he praised Chang for her use of "rich imagery" and "profound exploration of human nature.” In his book, he also claimed Chang to be “the best and most important writer” of mid-twentieth century China. Hsia’s remarks and Ang Lee’s film adaptation of her novella, Lust, Caution, have helped to bring Chang’s name back onto the literary scene. Two of her most well-known and highly praised novellas are Love in a Fallen City and The Golden Cangue. On the surface, the stories describe the details of family activities, love relationships, and marriages that occupy mundane life in places like Shanghai and Hong Kong, but beneath the simple plot lines, the stories personify the struggles of strong-willed women within the family arena during a tumultuous time of change in China. Love in a Fallen City is a love story between a divorcee, Bai Liusu, and a playboy businessman, Fan Liuyuan. As a divorcee, Liusu is forced to return to her father’s home where she is an unwelcome fixture and an added economic burden. In a turn of events, the man, Fan Liuyuan, who was supposed to be her niece’s suitor, chooses her over the niece, exacerbating her situation at home. With nothing to lose, she follows Fan to Hong Kong where their love blossoms amidst the beginnings of the Japanese occupation of the city. The Golden Cangue follows the story of Cao Qiqiao, a widow who lives in anguish as a powerless daughter-in-law in a wealthy family. She was forced into an arranged marriage with a sickly man and treated poorly by her husband’s family. After the death of her husband, she gains independence and a small amount of wealth, but after years of torment, she turns her own repressed anger towards her children. The two stories share similar sentiments in that they depict the different struggles of women in the family setting. For Liusu, her struggle was to gain the acceptance of her family and love and affection from Liuyuan. In Qiqiao’s case, her struggle was her search for an escape from her oppressive family life. Eileen Chang’s use dialogue shows the strength of the women and her descriptions within the stories help to depict the inner turmoil each woman faces. The story of Love in Fallen City starts in the household of the Bai family. News concerning the death of Bai Liusu’s ex-husband arrives from a family acquaintance. The news stirs up the issue of whether or not Liusu should return to her late ex-husband’s home for mourning, as dictated by traditional family values. The possibility that her family would send her back to her in-laws infuriates her but she still remains composed. While she is in the weaker position in terms of family hierarchy, she holds the power in dialogue because of her sharp tongue: Liusu had now reached the height of fury, but she simply laughed. “Yes, yes, everything is my fault. You’re poor? It’s because I’ve eaten you out of house and home. You’ve lost your capital? It must be that I’ve led you on. Your sons die? I’ve done it to you, I’ve ruined your fate. (Chang, 114)
While obviously upset, she remains composed. Rather than allow her emotions to show physically, she translates those emotions into words. Liusu’s sharp retorts are common throughout the book and they show the strength of her character. She does not allow herself to become the victim and she responds with dagger-like words that show her anger and disappointment. The position Liusu finds herself in is a result of her family’s lack of concern for her general wellbeing and happiness. As one of the younger female members of the family, she holds no power. Everything in her life happened...
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