Ding Ling’s “Miss Sophie’s Diary” (1928)

Ding Ling (1904-1986), at first writing under the pen name Jiang Bingzhi, was perhaps the most prominent female author of twentieth-century China. Highly influenced by May Fourth thought, and sympathetic to the Communist cause, she joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1932. Her husband, Hu Yepin, also a Communist, was detained and executed along with other Communists by the KMT in the "White terror" purge of 1931. Ding Ling herself was arrested in 1933 by the KMT and held under house arrest until 1936. The short story "Miss Sophie's Diary" was only her second published story, yet it typifies her highly successful early style and bold expression of her sexual feelings. The notion that a story would both describe a woman's desire and flaunt traditional behavior shocked (and attracted) many readers. The story takes place in Beijing with the characters Yufang and Yunlin being the main character's two closest friends.

Questions

  • 1. What themes does "Miss Sophie's Diary" address that might have been considered innovative literature for the period?
  • 2. Would you describe the relationships as radical? Would many of the emotions she illustrates still be true today?
  • 12 January

Yufang has moved in, but Yunlin has moved out. Can there be another couple like them in the universe? They won't live together for fear of having a child. I imagine that they can't be certain that if they lay in each other's arms in bed they wouldn't do other things too, which is to why they're taking this precaution against that sort of physical contact. Hugging and kissing when they're alone isn't dangerous, so the occasional discreet bout doesn't come within the scope of their ban. I couldn't help laughing at them for their asceticism. Why shouldn't you embrace the naked love of your beloved? Why repress that manifestation of love? How can the pair of them think of those irrelevant and worrying things before they're even under the same quilt? I don't believe that love can be so rational and scientific.

They didn't get angry with me for teasing them. They're proud of their purity, and they laughed at my childishness. I can understand their state of mind, but there are so many strange things in the world that I can't fathom at all.

I stayed at Yunlin's (or Yufang's, as I should now say) till 10 before coming back. We talked a lot about ghosts.

I got used to talk about ghosts when I was tiny. I often used to sit on my aunt's lap listening to my uncle telling stories from Liaozhai [Pu Songling's Tales from the Studio (similar to 1.11)], and I loved listening till late at night. As for being frightened, that was another matter. I'd never tell anyone about it, because if I'd admitted being frightened, I'd never have heard the story to the end, my uncle would have gone into his study, and I'd not have been allowed to get out of bed. When I went to school, I learnt a little science from the teachers. Because I was completely convinced by our teacher Pockmarked Zhou, I believed the books too, whereupon ghosts weren't frightening any more. Now I'm more grown up I still say that I don't believe in ghosts, but my disbelief doesn't stop the goose- pimples or my hair standing on end. But whenever the conversation gets on to ghosts other people don't realize that I'm wanting to change the subject because I'm afraid of lying alone in my quilt at night being sad at missing my dead aunt and uncle.

When I came back and saw that dark alley, I did feel a little scared. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if a great yellow face had appeared in some corner or if a hairy hand had stretched out in that alley that seemed to be frozen solid. But that tall man Ling Jishi seemed a reliable bodyguard to have beside me, so when Yufang asked me I said I wasn't scared.

Yunlin came out with us and went back to his new place. As he went south, and we went north the sound of his rubber-soled shoes on the footpath died out within three or four paces.

He put out a hand and took me by the waist.

"I'm sure you're frightened, Sophie."

I tried to struggle but I couldn't break free.

BA JIN (1904-2005)—Pen

name of influential May Fourth author Li Feigan, who is best known for his novel Family, the first book in the Torrents Trilogy, which also included Spring and Autumn.

My head rested against his ribs. I wondered what sort of creature I'd look like in the light, held by the arms of a man over a head taller than me.

I ducked down and got out. He let go and stood beside me as we knocked at the front gate.

The alley was very dark, but I could see very clearly where he was looking. My heart was pounding somewhat as I waited for the gate to open.

"You're frightened, Sophie," he said.

There was the sound of the bolts being drawn as the porter asked who was there. I turned to him and started to say, "Goodnight." He seized my hand fiercely and I couldn't finish the word. The porter showed his astonishment as he saw the tall man behind me.

When the two of us were alone in my room my boldness was not needed any longer. I deliberately tried to make some politely conventional remarks but just couldn't. All I could manage was, "Do sit down." Then I began washing my face.

Goodness knows how, but I'd forgotten all about ghosts.

"Are you still interested in studying English, Sophie?" he asked suddenly.

So, he was coming to me, and he was the first to bring up the English. Of course, he wouldn't necessarily be pleased at having to sacrifice his time for nothing to give some extra classes: he couldn't fool me, a woman of twenty, about what he had in mind. I smiled, though only in my head.

"I'm too stupid," I said. "I'm worried that I couldn't manage it and would only make a fool of myself."

He said nothing, but picked up a photograph that was standing on my table. It was of my sister's little girl. She's just one year old.

When I'd washed my face I sat down at the other side of the table. He looked first at me, then at the little girl, then back at me again. Yes, she looked very much like me.

"She's nice, isn't she?" I asked him. "Do you think she's like me?"

"Who is she?" His voice clearly showed that he was very serious.

"Don't you think she's sweet?"

He kept asking me who she was.

Suddenly I realized what he was driving at. I wanted to lie to him.

"She's mine." I snatched the photograph and kissed it.

He believed me. I'd actually fooled him. I felt triumphant in my dishonesty.

This triumph seemed to make him less charming and handsome. Why else could I have ignored his eyes and forgotten his mouth when he showed that naive astonishment? Otherwise this triumph was bound to cool my passion.

But after he'd gone, I felt sorry. There'd been so many obvious chances set in front of me. If only I'd made some other expression when he pressed my hand and let him understand that I wouldn't have turned him down, he'd certainly have made some bolder moves. When it comes to boldness between the sexes, I'm absolutely certain that as long as you don't detest the other person the pleasure you feel must be like the body melting. So why do I have to be prim and proper with him? After all, what did I move into this dilapidated room for?

 
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