New Acquisition Sheds Light on Mystery of Author Eileen Chang's Later Years

East Asian Studies

A recent acquisition at the USC Libraries promises to shed light on a famously reclusive author's life.

Eileen Chang (Zhang Aling, 1920–95) first gained fame as a fiction writer in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the 1940s. Her works exploring themes of marriage, family, and love in an urban setting earned a large readership and critical acclaim, and she remains one of the twentieth century's most influential Chinese American authors—but her later years in Los Angeles have long been shrouded in mystery. 

Now, a series of additions to the USC Libraries' Ailing Zhang papers offers scholars an intimate portrait of the author's everyday life in the 1990s, when she kept a low profile even amid renewed interest in her writings. Fifteen folders containing correspondence, news clippings, personal documents pertaining to her marriage and immigration to the U.S., photographs of her Rochester Avenue residence, and even grocery receipts have been processed and are available for research by appointment.

Dominic Cheung, professor emeritus of Chinese and comparative literature at USC, helped the libraries acquire the collection's original six boxes and recently donated the additional materials that now comprise box 7.

"The content of this donation," Cheung said, "provides indispensable information of the late years of her living conditions in Los Angeles which remains a mystery to be solved until today."

For more information about Chang's papers and the recent acquisition, contact Tang Li, Chinese studies librarian and head of USC's East Asian Library.