Jasmine Tea, a mirror of Ailing’s life
As the late-Qing poet, diplomatist and politician Huang Zunxian first presented the idea that “I write based on my own experiences and feelings” (“我手写我口”)in his poet, whether poems dated back to the Tang dynasty like Wang Wei’s ‘One-hearted’ (相思) or contemporary Chinese film like Chen Kaige’s ‘Farewell, My Concubine’, literary works and films are believed to be the reflection of authors’ and screenwriters’ real life to some extent.
While reading Zhang Ailing’s ‘Jasmine Tea’, the tragedy of Nie Chuanqing, an extremely unconfident and psychologically distorted young man in search of paternity impressed and interested me. Chuanqing’s parents’ unsuccessful marriage undoubtedly contributed to his disability in love and psychological illness. Although different from Zhang Ailing’s other works like ‘Love in a fallen city’ and ‘Eighteen Springs’, which are narrated from a feminine perspective, the novel, written from a masculine perspective, has a contradictory feminine title. Also, the male main character Chuanqing is depicted as a skinny young man with ‘a feminine kind of beauty’ (Zhang, 79). The contradiction in the novel makes me wonder whether ‘Jasmine Tea’ is actually based on Zhang Ailing’s own life experiences. Do Nie Chuanqing’s attitudes towards his parents as well as his professor Yan Ziye represent Zhang Ailing’s own attitudes and feelings? How do Zhang Ailing’s real life experiences influence her writing in ‘Jasmine Tea’?
Taking Zhang Ailing’s own family background into account, Niu Chuanqing’s thirst for paternity and malformed love of Yan Ziye reflects her own thirst for a warm and sound family as well as love and care from her parents. Zhang’s childhood experience contributed to her writing style in many aspects.
Firstly, the setting of the novel partially coincided with Zhang’s background indeed. Setting is important here. It intimates the autobiographical narration of the writing itself (Macdonald). The novel starts with the narrator raising readers’ attention by implying the title of the story: ‘This pot of Jasmine tea I've brewed for you may be somewhat bitter; this Hong Kong tale that I'm about to tell you may be, I'm afraid, just as bitter. Hong Kong is a splendid city, but a sad one too.’ (Zhang, 79). Zhang intended to study in the University of London. However, she finally went to the University of Hong Kong instead due to the invasion of Japan. The engaging invitation to the tea implies the war, which coincides with Zhang Ailing’s own experience (Macdonald). Also, like Zhang herself, Nie Chuanqing comes from Shanghai and then moves to Hong Kong for university studying because of the war between Japan and China. Nie lives with his father and stepmother, while his mother died when he was four. However, Nie suffers from the physical and verbal abuse from his father and even from his stepmother. Similar with Nie, Zhang Ailing lived with her father and stepmother during her childhood since her mother left her for Europe when she was four (Shui, 200). Obviously, Zhang’s miserable childhood and adolescence influenced her creation of the main character Nie Chuanqing in ‘Jasmine Tea’. As Ao Xianhong indicates in her analysis of ‘Jasmine Tea’ that Zhang Ailing actually abreacted her own resentment of her family and implied her thirst for a loving and sound family through this psychologically distorted young man, Nie Chuanqing (Ao, 5). Therefore, Zhang’s family background and experience in childhood helped her create a character with similar experience to her. Nie Chuanqing’s thirst for family love also reflects Zhang’s longer for the love from her biological parents.
Zhang Ailing was born in a wealthy and prestigious family in Shanghai. However, her mother left to study in England when she was only four years old. She then lived with her father and her stepmother who were addicted to opium. Years later, she escaped from his father’s house and then lived with her...
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