New English Manuscript Discovered in Ailing Zhang (Eileen Chang) papers

East Asian Studies

A new English translation of Eileen Chang’s short story "Xiang Jian Huan," translated as "She Said Smiling," has been discovered in the author's papers in the USC Libraries' Special Collections. The twenty-two typewritten pages were previously believed to be related to Chang's translation of the 1892 novel Hai Shang Hua (The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai)—until a patron noticed that they came from a different project. With the help of the patron and Professor Yunwen Gao of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, archivist Bo Doub and Chinese studies librarian Tang Li of the USC Libraries confirmed the discovery and moved the manuscript to its own folder within Box 2 of the collection.

Professor Gao, a USC alumna and Chang scholar, wrote the following introduction to the manuscript:

The 22 pages of manuscripts from the Zhang Ailing paper archive at USC has been discovered recently. Scholars from mainland China (Li and Zhou) have published research articles to prove that it is one version of the English translation/transwriting of Chang’s 1978 short story “Joyful Reunion” (相見歡). The Chinese title of the story is named after a Tang and Song tune pattern (cipai 詞牌), which describes the plot of two cousins, neither happy with their marriage, get together in their middle age, chat with each other with the company of one’s daughter, reminisce their youth, and end the conversation with a shocking moment when one forgets about telling an anecdote while the other forgets about having heard of it a few months before. The story was first drafted in the 1950s, yet not until 1978 did the story get published in Taiwan. In 1983, a revised version of the story was published in the short stories collection titled "The Story of Regret" (惘然記). In the decades in between, the story, like many other stories written around the same time, went through rounds and rounds of revision, translation, or as scholars call it, transwriting. In the article by Li and Zhou, they proved that there are at least two versions of the English translation of “Joyful Reunion,” translated as “She Said Smiling,” according to a letter from April 29, 1964 by Eileen Chang. The English manuscript found at USC, which is missing the title page, has many similarities with the Chinese version of “Joyful Reunion” and the English version “She Said Smiling” so that the authors Li and Zhou concluded that it might be the manuscript of “She Said Smiling.”

The value of the English manuscript at USC lies in two aspects. First, the existence of this manuscript proves that in Chang’s post-1950 writing practice, bilingual writing, or transwriting, is a constant practice. Chang adapts her story according to different languages and target readers. In the English version, the character Yuanmei, who is Mrs Wu’s daughter, is completely missing, reducing the narrative perspective to the two interlocutors alone, without a third person perspective. Many culturally specific elements that require explanation or footnote have been removed or simplified in the storytelling. This proves that Eileen Chang is fully aware of the cultural difference between Chinese and English readers and adapts her stories based on her perception of these two different groups.

Second, the manuscript has been heavily edited, which can be seen from the different colors of the ink, and the inserted pages that are marked x ½. A careful study of the handwriting on the printed pages can inform us about how Chang intended to revise the English manuscript that later got published as “She Said Smiling.” This manuscript reveals Chang’s close attention to grammatical accuracy in terms of tense, word form, and sentence structure, etc. aside from plot and narratological adjustments. The constant effort to make the story more idiomatic for the English-speaking readers can be seen in her revisions in the margin. Many typed paragraphs have been completely crossed out and rewritten on a new piece of paper inserted into the draft. Some ended up with slight changes. As a non-native speaker who’s well-versed in English, Chang demonstrates her obsession with clarity of expression. Many scholars point out that her English writing has been heavily influenced by Hemingway, whose The Old Man and the Sea Chang translated in 1954.

To sum up, this manuscript can help us better understand Chang’s revision and transwriting of “Joyful Reunion” and her bilingual writing practice from the 1950s to the 1980s.