Ding Ling 1904–86
In 1927, China’s literary scene was struck by a sensational new character. Her name was Sophie, a young woman wracked by sexual longing, and determined to torment her reliable and rather dull boyfriend while lusting after a tall, handsome man she couldn’t have. Sophie broke a whole range of taboos about young Chinese women and how they should behave – and she became a literary phenomenon as a result.
Sophie was the creation of Jiang Bingzhi, who became known under her pen name of Ding Ling. She appeared during a brief flowering of liberal culture in China’s cities, known as the New Culture movement, which allowed for daring new thought about feminism and social change.
Ding Ling became involved with the leftwing literary scene in Shanghai and Beijing, but soon found herself on the run from the nationalist political authorities, who regarded people like her as dangerous subversives. By the 1940s, she had joined the communists under Mao Zedong, but even that didn’t spell an end to her troubles. After Mao’s victory in 1949, Ding Ling found herself in internal exile, forced to live in the remote countryside for decades because her views were considered ‘bourgeois’, dangerously individualistic and ‘rightist’.
Yet from the 1970s, Ding Ling was finally rehabilitated, and is remembered today as one of China’s most important feminist authors.
Ding Ling’s explosive brand of feminist literature provoked the ire of nationalists and communists alike