Hong Zicheng, a famous literary critic, once made the following reviews about The Song of Everlasting Sorrow. “This novel traces vicissitudes of life of Wang Qiyao, a girl born of the longtang, for 40 years. Her life is connected with the city’s unique charm and its rises and falls. This novel ‘grows’ at such a juncture when Shanghai rejoins global trend of multinational market capitalism. Tales of Shanghai in old days are rediscovered and retold as is Eileen Chang’s stories. (Eileen Chang was another writer famous in the 1940s who also set her stories in Shanghai). Moreover, lingering desolation after decadent pleasures and sumptuousness is again being taken by many as aesthetic experience.”
Wang Qiyao in The Song of Everlasting Sorrow is a typical Shanghainese girl living in the longtang. Through depicting ups and downs in her life, the writer interprets to us spiritual connotations of Shanghai culture. During the time span covered by this novel, mainly from the 1940s to the 1980s, China witnessed constant change of events, such as the People’s Liberation War, the founding of the People’s Republic of China, socialist transformation of agriculture, handicraft industry, capitalist industry and commerce, Reform and Opening-up, and so on. Nevertheless, it seems to Wang Anyi that none of these are the core of society. The real core of society is the secular bread-and-butter life led by those like Wang Qiyao. It is by this depiction of trivialities in daily life that Wang Anyi grasps the very nature of Shanghai culture, so it is little wonder that she is considered a successor to the Shanghai School of literature and art.
Wang Anyi was born in Nanjing on March 6, 1954. Her ancestral home is Tong’an County in the southeastern province of Fujian. The daughter of the writer Ru Zhijuan and the playwright Wang Xiaoping, she moved to Shanghai with her mother Ru Zhijuan in 1955, also attending elementary school there. After graduating from middle school in 1969, she was sent to Wuhe County in Anhui, where she lived and worked as part of the Toupu Commune. In 1972, she entered the Xuzhou Song and Dance Cultural Troupe in Jiangsu, where she became a performer. She became an editor at Childhood, a Shanghai-based magazine affiliated with the China Welfare Institute, in 1978. In 1987, she joined the Shanghai Writers Association as a professional writer. She began working at Fudan University in 2004 as a professor in the department of Chinese Language and Literature. She is currently the chairperson of the Shanghai Writers Association and the vice-chairperson of the China Writers Association.
In 1980, Wang took part in the fifth Literary Training Institute held by the China Writers Association. Three years later she went to Iowa University with her mother to participate in the school’s International Writing Program. She took part in the City Writer Program held by the Taipei city government’s Department of Cultural Affairs in 2002, and in 2007 she attended the thirtieth seminar of modern literature held at Cambridge.
She began publishing her writing in 1976. Among her written works are the short stories and novellas And the Rain Patters On, Lapse of Time, Baotown, Coda, Love on a Barren Mountain, Dreams on the Sea, and Utopian Verses. Her novels include, People of the Yellow River, Thirty Chapters on Flowing Water, True Reports and Fabrication, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and Anonymous. Wang’s works have received multiple awards. Among them, The Destination won the National Short Story Prize in 1981; Baotown received the 1985-6 National Novella Prize; The Song of Everlasting Sorrow was awarded the fifth Mao Dun Literature Prize; and Confidences in a Hair Salon won the third Lu Xun Literary Prize.
Wang’s works have been translated into many different languages, including English, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Korean, Dutch, Vietnamese, and Thai. In 2011, she was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. She was admitted to the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2013.
The longtang of Shanghai intrinsically wears shades of implicit eroticism. It teems with touches of earthliness and sexuality of incredible intimacy. It is also the origin of flying gossip. Behind all the ruffle and hubbub lie lovely and virginal boudoirs. Wang Qiyao is one such typical Shanghai girl born out of the longtang.
Wu Peizhen, whose cousin works at a film studio, is a friend of Wang and she takes Wang to the film studio to please her. They often go to the studio together after that and get more acquainted with the director little by little. Wang is invited by the director to an audition but failed. She then gets another opportunity, however, because of this experience. The director recommends her to model for Mr. Cheng’s photo studio. One of her photos is chosen for inside front cover of Life in Shanghai magazine and she becomes famous in the girls’ school. Before long other photo studios want her to model for them and her photos are displayed behind show windows with the title “Shanghainese Lady Wang Qiyao”. More girls at school want to make friends with her and Jiang Lili is one of them. Wang and Jiang soon become good friends after Wang attends Jiang’s birthday party.
Shanghai holds the “Miss Shanghai” pageant before long. With the help of Mr. Cheng, Jiang Lili and Jiang’s mother, Wang enters the second round and eventually come to win the third place with a white wedding dress. Mr. Cheng grows feelings for Wang, but is too shy to say anything. Thankfully, Jiang Lili is always with them and they go to the cinema, dinners, and attend evening parties together until Jiang starts to, unexpectedly, have feelings towards Cheng. This leads the three young people to become entangled into romantic complications that end up ruining the friendship between the two girls.
Mr. Cheng, however, is just a fall-back spare tire for Wang. Therefore, when the influential Director Li comes along, she moves to Alice Apartment he rented as his lover and she quickly becomes a social butterfly. However, Director Li is always so busy that he returns to the apartment at no regular intervals. Wang has no choice but to live with her loneliness day by day. At this point, out of contact with Wang, Mr. Cheng is battered out of his senses and Jiang Lili hears of the fact through her mother that Wang is now a so-called “lover kept in secluded apartment”. This news brings Mr. Cheng and Jiang a brief relationship. One day, however, Wu Peizhen pays a visit to Wang’s apartment to bid farewell, for she is married and about to leave for Hong Kong soon. In 1948, China is in a rather tense political situation. Moreover, Director Li dies in a plane crash, while Wang is left totally in the dark.
To get away from all the chaos, Wang returns to her hometown Wuqiao. There she meets a young man named “Deuce”. Deuce yearns for the glitz and glamor of Shanghai. He later leaves Wuqiao and isn’t heard from since. This all in a way rekindles strong nostalgia towards Shanghai in Wang. Later on she leaves Wuqiao too. She goes back to Shanghai and moves into Ping’anli.
Wang receives a nurse injection certification at a nursing training center and starts to offer injection services to patients in the longtang. Madame Yan visits Wang often as they both enjoy different tastes from common longtang dwellers and therefore bond quite well. Once Wang meets Kang Mingxun, a cousin of Madame Yan’s, during a visit and decides to invite them both over for dinner the next day. Kang brings with him Sasha, a friend of his of both Chinese and Russian decent, who as a stranger causes some uneasiness amongst the group when playing mahjong. Whereas Sasha feels quite at home and often visits Wang for mahjong since then. During some afternoons, she comes over with Kang. Soon after these four people grow close and often have afternoon tea as well as dinners at Wang’s place. Wang and Kang eventually fall in love and start a secretive romance. However, the romance is bound to end in despair as Madame Yan and Kang’s family would definitely not allow Kang to marry a woman like Wang. As a result, Madame Yan has a falling out with Wang and no longer pays her any visits. Kang breaks up with Wang due to pressures from his family when Wang is pregnant with his child. Wang tries to get an abortion with Sasha’s help, but she decides to keep the baby anyway after some delay.
Wang meets Mr. Cheng again in 1960. He is still unmarried and offers to take care of her during pregnancy. Jiang Lili is now a government cadre with three children and her husband is a military representative to a cotton mill. The reunion of the three of them comes at a time when so much has changed. Before long, Wang gives birth to a baby girl. After hearing the news, Madame Yan turns sympathetic and resumes her friendship with Wang. With that Kang Mingxun also starts paying visits. The poor Mr. Cheng takes care of Wang dutifully with all his heart, but still fails to win hers. Because of this he often asks Jiang Lili to visit and look after Wang, while he himself stops visiting her in the longtang. Kang and Wang keep in contact, but without strong affections towards each other as in the past. Mr. Cheng, however, gradually cuts off all contact with his friends.
In 1965, Wang visits Mr. Cheng unexpectedly and informs him that Jiang Lili is dying of a malignant tumor. In fact, Jiang’s marriage is not a happy one. Her rough and uneducated husband doesn’t have much in common with her. Jiang, in sickness, still laments their “love triangle”. One week later, Jiang dies of massive hemorrhage caused by splenic rupture. In 1966, the Cultural Revolution sweeps through and Mr. Cheng is accused of being a spy because he loves taking photos. As the humiliation is too much to endure, he commits suicide.
In 1976, Wang and Kang’s daughter Weiwei is 15 years old. The mother is even more beautiful while the daughter is gifted with youth. They constantly compete with each other and do not get along quite well. Weiwei’s best friend is a girl named Zhang Yonghong, who has a great sense of fashion. Zhang and Wang regret not befriending each other earlier and it is fashion that Zhang frequently discusses with Wang. Between them, frictions and competitions are also inevitable. Zhang changes boyfriends fast, never committing herself to any of them for too long. Weiwei follows Zhang’s example and gets herself a boyfriend too.
Balls of all kinds come into fashion. Young Mr. Shen, Zhang’s new boyfriend, often organizes family balls. Once Wang is invited, only to find out that the ball is held at Alice Apartment. Back at the place, Wang is overwhelmed by sorrowful sentiments. After Young Mr. Lin, Weiwei’s boyfriend, gets admitted to a university, the mother and the young couple plan to travel to Hangzhou. Out of trust, Wang gives Lin some gold bars to exchange for some money at the bank. Regretfully, Wang again gets into conflict with Weiwei due to some trivial matters. Later on, Lin proposes to Weiwei around Christmas. Wang is busy with preparing dowry for her daughter since then. Weiwei and Lin get married during the Spring Festival and soon after that Lin goes to study in the United States. A year later Weiwei joins her husband there.
Wang meets “Mr. Classic” at a party in 1985. He interests himself not in the latest fashions, but in old and nostalgic things. They meet a few times at parties after that and gradually get acquainted. Mr. Classic starts to have feelings for Wang, while Wang is somewhat resistant. Wang’s place is now again packed with people, and mostly young people. Frequent visitors, of course, are Mr. Classic, Zhang Yonghong, and her boyfriend “Mr. Legs”.
Maybe human is indeed fortune’s fool. At the beginning, Mr. Classic wants Wang and Wang hesitates. Before long, however, Wang finds it impossible to live without his affections, but Mr. Classic is already tired of her. To hold on to him, Wang is even willing to give up all her fortunes, but he is determined to leave her for good. One night, Wang throws a party and invites Mr. Classic, but he never shows up. Late that night, Mr. Legs returns to Wang’s place to steal some gold, but is exposed by Wang. He tries to escape, but Wang threatens to call the police. Cornered and desperate, he strangles Wang accidentally and takes her wooden box containing the gold bars.
A series of activities to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Mongolia officially opened in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, on September 10, 2019.