The novel “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” written by Wang Anyi starts off with the core pieces of Shanghai explaining to the very last detail of what really makes this place such a hot topic. In the very core of Shanghai, locates Longtangs which consists of close neighbors and the cause of fast spreading gossip. In the very essence of our Longtangs is our main character Wang Qiyao whom is “the typical daughter of the Shanghai Longtang” (Page 20) as the novel starts off. This quote explains how Wang Qiyao can be found everywhere and every daughter that resides in a Shanghai Longtang is like the main character, the way she dresses, eats, speaks, walks, and much more. Wang Qiyao is the spotlight of Shanghai fashion throughout this novel, with high confidence in herself is swept off her feet multiple times throughout the decades of mid-19th century. Wang Qiyao herself is defined as an example of old shanghai through this emerging era which goes through post world war 2 as well as the cultural revolution. However, no matter the difficulty events Wang Qiyao puts herself in, she manages to pull through and really portray a modern woman whom relies on nobody except herself. Little did Wang Qiyao know that doing so can only pull you so far and eventually led to her death.
Although there are many themes throughout the story, I believe the most important theme here to talk about is Time. Wang qiyao herself as I mentioned earlier seems to not have a good grasp on time and she really is full of herself when it comes to her looks and fashion. The novel does a great job in letting the reader understand the current situations going on during the era, however while those events are occurring, Wang Qiyao is mainly focused on herself. Little did she know that she wasn’t keeping track of time and while she was busy making lots of love, her beauty was slowly deteriorating. In the beginning of the story, Wang qiyao is in a relationship with Director Li, whom is an important factor in the Kunming tang Army. Director Li had 3 wives and was double the age of Wang qiyao when they started dating, did Wang qiyao not think at the time when she met him at the “Miss Shanghai Pageant” that he was just messing around with her and not really taking her seriously? We come to find that Director Li rarely visits Wang Qiyao and becomes distant after the communist victory later telling Wang Qiyao to pretend their relationship never happened, despite leaving her money and later dying in a plane crash. This really made me think as a reader, did Wang qiyao not have a grasp of time and realize she was wasting her time waiting on someone she would never actually have a life with?
Another example that really grinds my gears was when Wang Qiyao became pregnant with Ming, whom is from a family with strict rules and a concubine mother. The moment I found that out I knew she was already getting herself into big trouble. This was most definitely not going to end well and being pregnant did not help at all because Ming being the “father” that he is did not send Wang Qiyao any money at all when he left however he still came back occasionally to make love and never to be seen again thereafter. At this point in the novel I was already hoping Wang Qiyao would wake up and clearly try to at least get back on her feet and start to live realistically and maybe find someone that can start a family like Mr. Cheng. But our main character is very full of herself and still does not get a grasp of time, slowly getting old and the beauty that she is so proud of is destroying her mentally and emotionally.
The last example I am going to use here is when Wang qiyao met Old colour. Wang qiyao was 55 and Old Colour was 26, at this point she should have realized that it is just not realistic for a 26-year-old to fall in love with a 55-year-old. Old Colour did not know what he wanted and simply was looking for nostalgia, but Wang qiyao whom was so infatuated with her own beauty thought it was simply because she was beautiful and was still that young hot beauty. Little did she not know that time had already flown by and she was already 55 and her beauty is not the same as it use to be. In the novel, Wang qiyao had desperately tried to keep Old Colour but he left because he did not want any sort of relationship. Therefore, Time has an indirect relationship with beauty, and truly defines the result of our main character Wang qi yao. In the beginning of time, you were once young and beautiful, but slowly as time moves on without you realizing it, you start to become old. Wang qiyao did not have a grasp of this situation and suffered numerous relationships.
During this period (early 1940) China was going through world war 2 and being oppressed by the Japanese. Once the war was over There was a civil war between Nationalists and Communists and in 1949 the People’s republic of China begins. This era was where Wang Qiyao met Director Li whom was an important factor in the Kunming tan Army. Once the communist Army won the war, Director Li had to flee and eventually died in a plane crash which left Wang qiyao alone. Thus, began the era of the Anti-Rightist Campaign. This was when Wang qiyao would seldomly play mahjong with Ming and Sasha and Madame Yan. The cultural revolution occurred in 1966-1970 and during this time Mr. cheng was accused of being a Capitalist Roader and locked up by the red guards, he later committed suicide at a young age of 44.
The novel did successfully portray the themes because although it is very hidden, the novel goes through the story in timelines and eras. Each era represented a specific event that occurred to Wang Qiyao and within each timeline as it progressed, it became worst and worst for Wang Qiyao. I think the author did this on purpose not because they hated the main character, but it was really to show the struggle of people at the time of these eras. It was not easy to support yourself and you had to go to extremes to rely on other people to survive. As a reader, it truly made me feel like Wang Qiyao did know what was happening to herself, but she was ignorant and confident in her abilities since the first pageant and decided to rely on other people. Once Wang Qiyao had Wei Wei I think she started to realize a little bit about time. When her daughter left for America, she was very lonely and would only sleep a few hours and eat single meals. “Wang Qiyao gazed at herself in the mirror, a bit disoriented, wondering just what era she was living in” ( Page 241) This quote supports my theme on how Wang qiyao was clearly loss and did not have an idea of what time or what was going on , I think Wei Wei leaving for America truly set a catalyst off in Wang Qiyao.
Honestly, when I first read the novel I truly did not believe my eyes and wondered how can Wang qiyao go through so many of these events and still manage to stay strong until the end. To my eyes it was just unrealistic that during those events one still has time to fool around and not learn the first time, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it really was hard back in those times. It was hard to find work and realistically you were either working in a factory or as a prostitute. After some thinking, the characters in the novel are truly believable and define characters in the old days of China. I think every character was truly realistic and if I were to tell people about these characters and explain more in detail about what was going on during those times, they would all believe me.
I learned a lot about modern China in this novel, the type of neighborhoods in Shanghai was very close to each other and everyone knew one another. There was a lot of internal conflict as well as competitiveness between men and women. It was almost like an internal hunger games, they were all trying to survive and feed off one another. It took a lot of work for China to finally settle down and become united. In the novel, through fashion you could almost tell the change of events. In the beginning, fashion was very big deal as portrayed by the shanghai pageant, but as time passed on it was more about survival and nobody really cared about fashion anymore. Once times got better, clothes began to become popular again and reminded people of the old times. “The following year the clothing industry began to prosper, and numerous new designs began to crop up on the streets. Old timers could see the root of these new designs in old pre-liberation outfits.” (Page 203) This quote truly explains how clothes alone can spark a memory in old timers when there were similarities in fashion.
The film in the class really helped my understanding of the novel, the main plot was clearly there in both the film and the novel. However, the film was not faithful to the novel. The film gave the men that were in a relationship with Wang Qiyao a better aura, when in the novel the men are all bastards. One other point is that Wang qiyao is killed by different people in the novel however for similar reasons. The film also did not introduce a bunch of characters from the novel, which I felt played a huge role in the novel. Overall however, I do feel like the film is a success, it did a good job in explaining what had happened in the novel. In the end we all felt Wang Qiyao’s pain and understood what she was going through, and the message was clearly there, the events currently going on were clearly portrayed in the film along with the setting of the story and its specific details like the longtang and gossip. I really enjoyed both the film and the novel, however I felt like the film should have been longer because I really enjoyed it and should have went into more detail. I would recommend this film and novel to my other classmates.
In conclusion, “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” written by Wang Anyi was beautiful and portrayed the story of a Shanghai women blooming from her young age to old. There was romance and tragedy which followed the events of China during the 1900s. Time is an important theme in the story and is represented throughout the film and novel.
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