Organized Panel Session
After hopes for success in the postwar Anglophone market were dashed, Eileen Chang (1920-1995) returned to Sinophone audiences, first in a series of Hong Kong film comedies, then in essays and short fiction published in Taiwan. But even while retreating into deep seclusion in California, she worked also on longer fiction projects, including 同學少年都不賤, posthumously published in 2004 (forthcoming in English as “School Friends All Successful Now”). This third-person sage, the only Chang story set in China and the U.S., follows classmates whose diasporic identities take sharply different turns, one rising to prominence in American high society, the other struggling and isolated. The latter, Zhao Jue, can seem an avatar of the author—divorced, stymied, poor—but as this paper argues, Chang is as usual having it both ways, by investing in each characters’ frailties and limiting Zhao Jue’s full reliability to only the most piercing epiphanies. The pains and disunities in diasporic life are encompassed, moreover, at the level of title, with a quote from Du Fu that both softens those stings and extends the Chinese map of literary wisdom deep into New World territory. Chang’s easy and instinctive command of cultural resources running back to the 7th century, combined with her anti-romantic insistence on de-personalization, even in character-centered fiction with seemingly autobiographical sources, may seem odd in our world today, but as this paper argues they are lasting strategies for contentment that should be shared with our students.