Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

DING LING, A.K.A. TING LING, PEN NAME OF JIANG BINGZHI (1904—1986). Fiction writer. One of the most influential and most studied writers in modern Chinese literature, Ding Ling led a rich and colorful life that in many ways mirrored the journey progressive Chinese intellectuals took during the 20th century. Born in a small town in Hunan Province, Ding Ling was fortunate enough to have a liberal and fiercely independent mother who became the headmistress of a primary school when most women at the time stayed home. The May Fourth Movement of 1919 had a great impact on young Ding Ling. In 1921, she openly challenged tradition by publishing an article in a newspaper denouncing her uncle’s refusal to dissolve her engagement to his son. She won her freedom and the victory made her aware of the power of the pen. In the spring of 1922, she traveled to Shanghai and Nanjing to pursue further education. She later moved to Beijing and attended literature classes taught by Lu Xun and other eminent writers. Ding Ling applied for admission to an art school but failed the entrance exam. She also toyed with the idea of becoming a movie actress. Dejected and confused, Ding Ling began to write novels partly out of loneliness and partly out of dissatisfaction with the society that provided very few opportunities for women.

In 1927, Ding Ling’s first story, “Meng Ke” (A Woman Named Meng Ke), appeared in Fiction Monthly, a major literary journal. The following year, she published Shafei nüshi de riji (Miss Sophie’s Diary), one of her best-known works, followed by more short stories about women. Ding Ling’s works reflect the pulse of the times. The problems faced by women, especially young intellectual women, are at the center of her stories. “Meng Ke,” Shafei nushi de riji, and another story, “Shujia zhongxin” (Summer Vacation), are all about the new generation of educated women who emerged after the May Fourth Movement. Shafei, for example, rebels against her family and its feudal ethics in pursuit of love and the meaning of life on her own terms. Mao Dun, a powerful critical voice of the time, remarked that Shafei is “representative of the rebellious young women who are abused and injured by the times.” With an impressive body of works, Ding Ling quickly became a rising star. In 1932, she joined the Left-wing Association of Chinese Writers and the Communist Party the following year, thus beginning her lifelong association with the Communist cause.

“Tianjiachong” (Tianjiachong Village), a short story published in July 1931, marked a transition in Ding Ling’s literary career. She replaces the self-absorbed, sentimental bourgeois heroine portrayed in her early works with the socially engaged, politically active intellectual woman. The protagonist of this story is an educated young woman from a landed family who goes to a rural village to educate and mobilize the peasants. For the first time in her writing career, Ding Ling places an educated woman in the midst of the working class, depicting her role in the communist revolution. As Ding Ling became increasingly devoted to communism, her writing became more dominated by ideology. Between 1931 and 1933, Ding Ling wrote 11 short stories on the miserable conditions of the workers and peasants and their rebellious struggles guided by the Communist Party. Ding Ling abandoned the gloomy sentiments displayed in her earlier works and instead embraced an optimistic outlook. These stories were considered important achievements for the left-wing literary movement and subsequently made Ding Ling a target of the Nationalist government. In May 1933, she was abducted and spent three years in captivity in a secret location before finally managing to flee in September 1936 to the Communist base in northern Shaanxi.

Ding Ling’s arrival in the Communist-held region began a new chapter of her life. She was warmly greeted by the leaders of the Communist Party and soon developed friendships with Mao Zedong and other high-ranking officials and generals. After the Japanese invasion, Ding Ling’s work revolved around the war effort. She wrote for and edited newspapers and literary journals in an attempt to mobilize the masses and boost morale. The most representative of her writings in this period are seven short stories, including “Wozai xiacun de shihou” (When I Was in the Xia Village). While the country was still embroiled in the Civil War, Ding Ling joined a land reform work team in the Communist-controlled north. She immersed herself in the life of the peasants, making investigations, visiting the poor, and participating in their work. She accumulated firsthand material that would later be used to write Taiyang zhao zai Sanggan he shang (The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River), a novel about the complexity of land reform, which won the Soviet Union’s Stalin Prize (second place) in 1951.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Ding Ling held many official positions, including party secretary of the National Writers’ Association and director of the Literary and Art Division of the Propaganda Ministry. The articles, essays, commentaries, and some short stories she wrote during this period received little critical notice and in the late 1950s Ding Ling was exiled to remote farms until 1977, when she was restored to her former positions and returned to Beijing. See also SINO-JAPANESE WAR; WOMEN.