THE SONG OF EVERLASTING SORROW: WANG ANYI'S TALE OF SHANGHAI
University of Kansas
East Asian Languages & Cultures
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ABSTRACT The 2008 publication of the English version of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow - a Novel of Shanghai, translated by Michael Berry and Susan Chan Egan, brought some well-deserved attention to Wang Anyi, an important contemporary Chinese author who had, hitherto, been relatively unknown among Western readers. Since then, her reputation has grown. This thesis explores the life and writings of Wang Anyi, focusing on her major work, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, which won the author the prestigious Mao Dun literary award in China. The novel is an attempt by the author to capture the spirit of the city of Shanghai over a span of more than four decades. It focuses primarily on the life story of Wang Qiyao, a former Miss Shanghai, who embodies the values and represents the changes undergone by the city during a turbulent time in its history. One of the aims of this paper is to analyze the subtextual meaning of "the everlasting sorrow" of the title, an understanding of which is, in fact, critical to the complete understanding of the story. In addition, the thesis also aims to unravel the myth surrounding the literary ties between the famous Shanghai Style Chinese author Zhang Ailing and the younger Wang Anyi. By tracing the origin of the book title, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and focusing on the central message of the book, the thesis argues that the subtextual meaning of the title cannot possibly refer to what the protagonist of the book feels regarding her life, but rather refers to the author's feelings of sorrow as she contemplates the fate of Shanghai in the face of the growing materialism of the twentieth century. The thesis also focuses on an analytical study of Zhang Ailing's novella, Sealed Off, comparing it with Wang Anyi's, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and concludes that, although there may be some superficial similarities between the two writers, in the end, Wang Anyi's literary background, her attitude toward writing and her style are simply too different from Zhang Ailing's own for Wang to be considered Zhang's "Shanghai Style" heir apparent.
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