Course:ASIA351/2022/Love in a Fallen City

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Love in a Fallen City
The Cover of the Book
Author Eileen Chang
Title Love in a Fallen City
Country China
Language Chinese/English
Genre Novella
Published 1943
Media Type Image of Book Cover

Written in 1943, Love in a Fallen City (傾城之戀) is a Chinese novel by Eileen Chang. Chang's book consists of four novellas and two short stories, translated into English from the original Chinese and published in the 1940s by Karen S. Kingsbury (2007). The plot focuses on an unconventional love story that flourished during World War II in Hong Kong.

Chang writes about the complexities of life as Chinese customs try to keep up with China's rapidly changing culture. Chang depicts love as having a dual nature, often experienced as hot or cold, and the selfish intentions of parties when regarding love. Her stories masterfully show what can happen when people attempt to navigate these opposing forces in life.

Historical background

Love in a Fallen City is written based on the historical event of War of Hong Kong, occurring from December 8th - December 25th, 1941. The story takes place in a time leading up to the breakout of the war.

War of Hong Kong (December 8th - December 25th, 1941)[1]

Amidst erupting conflicts during the Second World War, Japan begins showing aggression towards China and surrounding East Asian countries. This would be the beginning of the series of Pacific War. With troops at the Hong Kong Garrison significantly reduced, and the Empire of Japan having already captured the surrounding Canton, Hainan Island, French Indo-China, and Formosa Hong Kong was extremely vulnerable to attacks.

The attack on the British Crown colony of Hong Kong began the same day the Empire of Japan declared war on the British Empire, and initiated the attacks on Pearl Harbor. As Japan takes control of key reservoirs that provide water for Hong Kong and major areas within inland China, armistice is quickly reached on Christmas Day as the British Empire surrenders the colony to the Empire of Japan, leading to the fall of the city, until the end of World War II whereupon Japan surrenders.

Synopsis/Plot Summary

In the dawn of the 1940s, Bai Liusu, a shamed divorcee from a traditional family, and Fan Liuyuan, an international playboy with an unsettled heart, meet by coincidence in Shanghai, China. Liusu's traditional family plans to set up Liusu's more eligible younger sister Baoluo with Liuyuan as a match for matrimony, and brought Liusu along to the cinema and ballroom date as she seemed the least assuming.

However, Liusu captures the attention of Liuyuan by her ability to dance. To the family's dismay and outrage, Liuyuan keeps Liusu company throughout the night, dancing several numbers with her. Mrs. Xu, as the facilitator of the now-failed match, and a sympathetic figure towards Liusu, approaches the unexpected change of events by inviting Liusu to go to Hong Kong with her and Mr. Xu, with the hint that Fan Liuyuan is no longer in Shanghai. To become Mrs. Fan; this will be Liusu's chance of escaping the abuse and scapegoating of her conservative family, and change her fate forever,

Liusu accompanies Mrs. Xu and her family to Hong Kong by boat, and arrive at the hotel where Fan Liuyuan is staying. Liusu stays in the room adjacent to Liuyuan's. In the days ensuing, Liuyuan and Liusu tour the city, with Liuyuan flirting unabashedly with Liusu in grandiose, emotional speeches, whilst Liusu responds coolly to all his advances. Although Liuyuan has been a perfect gentleman who never even attempted to hold her hand, Liusu believes that Liuyuan wishes to have sex, then be done with her. Liusu desires marriage, and she schemes that if she makes it difficult for him to bed her, he may eventually wed her. However, Fan Liuyuan is sluggish to initiate. Suddenly offended during a beach outing one day, Bai Liusu gets up and walks toward the hotel while Liuyuan stays behind.

Days later, they reconvene on a rainy day, with Liusu excusing her absence as sickness. They carry on their previous days of travel and play. One midnight, Fan Liuyuan declares his love to Liusu over the phone. Liusu expresses that if he truly loves her, he should wed her rather than just express his feelings in empty words, making Fan Liuyuan furious. Their time together has made the public begin seeing them as husband and wife, however, when Liusu is addressed as "Mrs. Fan", Liuyuan intervenes to tell her not to take the name in vain. Dejected, Liusu feels that with her tarnished reputation, she could only become his mistress, but her pride stops her from submitting, so she informs Liuyuan that she will be returning to Shanghai instead.

Fan Liuyuan requests her arrival in a telegram sent from Hong Kong at the end of November, 1941. Given the hostility of her family in Shanghai and the fact that she is no longer young, she submits to her predicament. Liuyuan rents a home for Liusu to live in, and informs her he will be travelling to England in a week, for a year. Amidst her internal turmoil whether he would even still return for her, the conflict in Hong Kong begins on December 8th. Unable to board his ship to England, Fan Liuyuan returns to Liusu. The two assists one another in surviving together during the war, which leads to their union. They go back to their rented home after the armistice and fall of the city, with Fan Liuyuan ultimately making the decision to make Bai Liusu his wife.

Main characters

Bai Liusu: Bai Liusu was born in the White Mansion. The White Mansion is a house of poetry and manners, but it is also a place that is out-of-date. The family living there iscaught in a circle of outdated moral codes, making it impossible for the new ideas of the May Fourth Movement to be properly transmitted to the family she lived with. Bai Liusu bravely made the decision to get a divorce after enduring an unsatisfactory marriage and returning to her own family. However, Bai Liusu's life is difficult as she is considered as a burden by her family due to the pressures from her brother and sister-in-law. In a sister's matchmaking opportunity, Bai Liusu befriended Fan Liuyuan. While valiantly seeking love for herself, she dances with Fan Liuyuan and travels to Hong Kong to meet him. However, she is also desperately chasing the security that marriage will bring her, which causes her to lose herself and turn into a victim in the male-dominated society.

Fan Liuyuan: Fan Liuyuan was born in a wealthy family and is the son of a powerful businessman in the South Seas. This playboy specialises in fanciful ladies seduction and the lovely concept of "love." He claimed to be in love, but after getting his hands on it, he abandoned it and went looking for a new partner. He fell in love with Bai Liusu because of her attractive features and graceful dancing. In an effort to appease himself, he went out of his way to pay to invite her to Hong Kong. To his astonishment, Bai Liusu resisted taking the bait readily and was wary, evasive, and careful. The two of them engage in a tug of war in marriage, with one wanting to possess first and the other wanting to marry first. Bai Liusu must be vanquished if, under normal circumstances, she is never Fan Liuyuan's foe. However, in the midst of the conflict and the displaced society, Fan Liuyuan motivated by her actual emotions, made the decision to wed Bai Liusu, and rose to fame as the "love in a fallen city."

The theme(s) of the work

Self Identity and Individualism

The anxiety of self-identity is a major theme in Love in the Fallen City. Due to the persistence of traditional forces, ethical-moral values, and various domestic and international conflicts and wars, it is difficult to establish a bourgeois self-identity.

Matrimonial Anxiety

In the novel, middle-class women like Bai Liusu and Fourth Mistress seize any opportunity to advance their social standing in order to secure their financial security. Marriage and love cause anxiety as a reaction to the social-political quandary. "Breaking up other people's marriages means no sons or grandsons." I, the Bai family's third son, am a man with sons, and I fully expect their support in my old age" (Chang, p.3). The Third Master's statement reveals that the institution of marriage is a focal point of stability not only for women and husbands, but also for aging men who see their children as future caregivers.[2]

Patriarchal Structure

Chang gradually reveals the complexities of China's sociocultural environment, in which patriarchy is more prominent than in North American culture. For example, Liusu asserts, "It is the useless women who are the most formidable" (Chang, p.13). The following excerpt expands on the idea of women being submissive and lacking in employable skills.[3]

History vs The Individual

Beyond the literal mentions of war throughout the novella, the themes and turmoil of warfare also indirectly influences the way characterization and interactions are built. As at the end of the fiction, Fan Liuyuan failed to leave Hong Kong due to the breakout of the war, and it directly leads to the marriage. The historical event here plays an important role of the marriage between two main characters.

Throughout Love in a Fallen City, Elieen Chang presented how love between people is twisted and altered under the war, however, while showing Bai Liusu’s struggle for love, the hope for love is portrayed at the same time“. A woman, in the time of the war lonesomely, lack of love from her family and the struggles in looking for love while fighting against her destiny. The falling of the city brought down the temporal wall between these two people.”[4] . Although, instead of focusing on describing the war itself, Love is a Fallen City is perhaps more of a love story that centers around love from Bai Liusu’s perspective, the complicated nature of the love between Bai Liusu and Fan Liuyuan is very much caused by the environmental and historical factor at that specific special period of time. In this case, it can be said that the influences from the historical background consists a fundamental part of the fiction.

Further Reading

Literary Critics

New York Times praises Chang's four novellas and two short stories in Love in a Fallen City, written in lush and lavish style, explore the effects of war and westernization on her characters' domestic lives. Chang establishes many oppositions, such as East vs. West, tradition vs. modernization, spiritual love vs. physical love, and then subtly undermines them to reveal subtler tensions. The musical quality of her fiction, as translated from Chinese by Karen S. Kingsbury and the author, contributes significantly to its beauty."[5]

With language as sharp as a knife edge, Eileen Chang cut open a huge divide in Chinese culture, between the classical patriarchy and our troubled modernity. She was one of the very few who could see on both sides of that divide, into which her heroines so often disappeared. Eileen Chang is the fallen angel of Chinese literature, and now, with these excellent new translations, English readers can discover why she is so revered by Chinese readers everywhere.[6]

"A lot of people tend to ignore the connection between Eileen Chang's work and the Sino-Japanese War," says Liang Wendao. She mentions how people had gone about their daily lives during the war, such as the two lovers in this novella. It does have an impact on how we perceive the war or our society during the war. She had shown us the everyday lives of ordinary people. Yes, there was a war; yes, the Japanese had taken over our country. However, life had to go on. Eileen Chang had shown us how ordinary people lived their lives during the war in such a large city as Shanghai. Is there a story in such a way of life? Yes, but it had to be masked by a hint of sadness or Eileen Chang's favorite word, desolation.[7]

"At first glance, Eileen Chang's best works, including "The Golden Cangue" and "Love in a Fallen City," describe the details of family activities, love relationships, and marriages that occupy mundane life in places like Shanghai, but they in fact reveal the eternal mysteries in human nature that lie beneath the surface of life, mysteries of human desires for power and money," wrote Liu Zaifu in his article.[8]

Media Adaptations


TV series

  • Love in a Fallen City is a 2009 television series produced by the China Television Production Center and starring Chen Shu and Huang Jue was broadcasted on several channels in the Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
Theatrical performances
  • The Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (HKRT) adapted the story for stage performances in 1987, 2002, and 2005, with elements of singing and ballroom dancing included in the most recent version, signaling Hong Kong's prosperity after the handover.[9]

The Author and Her Influence:

Eileen Chang (traditional Chinese): 張愛玲 ; Pen name : Liang Jin

About the Author:

  • Chang was also known as Chang Ai-ling or Zhang Ailing, her pen name was Liang Jing (梁京).
  • Chang, along with Lu Bicheng, Xiao Hong, and Shi Pingmei, has been named one of China's four female geniuses. Her works inspired numerous films, television dramas, and stage plays. Ang Lee received his second Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for his film Lust, Caution, which is based on Chang's short story.
  • Chang was an artist and cheongsam designer during her time, drawing her own works to supplement her writing, and influencing Chinese women's aesthetics. Her impressionistic view of modern history is displayed in her most important works, with colors, lines, shapes, textures, and moods often crystallized in the changing styles of women's clothes

About her Influence:

  • Chang's work was highly regarded in Mainland China during the 1980s, where a surge swept through the nation in a "Eileen Chang Fever", as readers clamored to read something nostalgic between the plain works of the post-Tiananmen era, and the new modernist writings.[10]
  • Though her works usually regarded the upper-middle, sophisticated class and the struggles within their world, Chang has written anti-communist works, such as The Rice-Sprout Song to illustrate the wide-spread famine in Mao's China.[11]


  1. "Japan invades Hong Kong".
  2. Chang, Eileen (1943). Love In a Fallen City. New York Review of Books. p. 3.
  3. Chang, Eileen (1943). Love in a Fallen City. New York Reviews of Book. p. 13.
  4. 刘, 琳 (2014). "两种社会背景下的爱情描写——鲁迅《伤逝》与张爱玲《倾城之恋》之比较". 青年文学家. 30期.
  5. "Love In a Fallen City". October 10,2006. |first= missing |last= (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. Lee, Ang (October, 2006). "Love in a Fallen city review". Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. Liang, Wendao, (2015). ""YiQianLingYiYe",". Youtube.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  8. Zaifu, Liu, (2009). "Eileen Chang's Fiction and C.T.Hsia's A history of Modern Chinese Fiction", translated by Yunzhong Shu,". MCLC Resource Center.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  9. Louie,, Kam. (2012). "Eileen Chang: Romancing Languages, Cultures and Genres". Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, Project MUSE.,.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  10. Chiang, Louis and Perry Link (2018). "Before the Revolution". The New York Review.
  11. Hays, Jeff (October, 2021). "Eileen Chang: Her Life, Book, Talent, and Impact". Facts and Details. Check date values in: |date= (help)