Because of their being not ready for the shift from a WWII to the post-WWII environment and the change in values, Chinese women were highly susceptible and extremely vulnerable to the lures of the “New Shanghai,” which led the main character of Wang’s novel The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A novel of Shanghai, Wang Qiyao, to the bitter realization of the fact that in any kind of relationship, be it between the ones in love with each other or between relatives, both parties are doomed to mutual misunderstanding and eventually being used, which means that at the end of the day, every single human being is lonely.
One of the many faces of loneliness, or, to be more exact, the necessity to comply with the false morals of the post-war Chinese society, shows clearly that, by trying to subvert to a new definition of freedom and equality without even questioning its meaning, people were trying to make up for the void inside.
Mentioned at the very beginning of the novel, these false morals, however, do not portray the post-40s Chinese world as something to be shunned or ashamed of; instead, Anyi clarifies delicately that the give misconception stemmed from the clash of the Chinese culture and the European one.
Nevertheless, the air of misunderstanding that contributes to distancing the characters from each other even more is expressed in a very graphic manner: “One exalts Ibsen’s Nora as a spiritual leader for having the courage to leave home while deep down inside idolizing Oriole in The Western Wing, who finds a strong man she can depend on for the rest of her life” (Anyi 15).
Truly, one should not jump to conclusions concerning the mendacity of the post-war society; instead, the given phenomenon can be viewed as the willingness to comply with the progress of the West while trying to retain the traditional Chinese values.
As a result, the Chinese people of the 1940s–1950s were luring themselves into thinking that they can live a better, more exciting and luxurious life according to the elitist standards of the New Shanghai, while not being able to part with the ideas that they had learned at their mother’s knees and have been living their entire life according to.
Trying to follow the fashionable fads and finding that the latter offered them nothing but emptiness and false expectations, the Chinese people felt betrayed and lonely.
Speaking of the characters, neither the lead one, i.e., Wang, nor any of the supporting ones escape the clutches of lonesomeness. The given idea can also be traced in the story of some characters.
For example, the following description of Mr. Cheng pretty much incorporates the history of the Chinese people’s fascination and the following disappointment in the distant 1940s: “In the 1940s photography was still a modern hobby, which naturally made Mr. Cheng a modern youth. […] He was fickle in his interests, always tiring of the old and moving on to the new” (Anyi 78).
The desire to follow the trend instead of relying on the traditional values leaves one roaming in search for another fad, feeling finally devoid of any substance.
Needless to say, the atmosphere of rivalry and cunningness that the Hollywood is shot through does not give many reasons to hope for the characters to get more in tune with each other, either.
By stressing the vulgarity of the Hollywood morals, as well as the shallowness of its actors and actresses, Anyi explains that the glamorous New Shanghai, which was practically trying to recapture the specifics of the Western culture, simultaneously paying zero respect to the traditional Chinese one, made the distance between the Chinese people even greater.
As Anyi put it, “He [Mr. Chang] especially despised Hollywood movies and the women in them, who displayed nothing but feminine shallowness. Those Hollywood actresses were not fit to hold a candle to men playing female roles in Peking operas” (Anyi 108).
Splitting into the traditional rural and the highly modernized urban parts, the Chinese community was becoming more disintegrated, which resulted in people distancing from each other.
It can be argued, though, that Anyi portrays a number of moments in which her characters interact with each other rather successfully; moreover, they seem to be completely in tune with each other and appear to be forming close friendship.
However, at the end of the day, most of these relationships turn out to be based on the needs of one of the characters.
Another argument against the idea of depressing theme filling Anyi’s work is that the author portrays very convincing development of relationships that are typically looked down at and even mentioned with a pinch of irony, e.g., friendship between two women.
However, these relationships often turn out to be based on something as low as gossip: “If the longtang of Shanghai could dream, that dream would be gossip” (Anyi 9).
Finally, it can be argued that the novel portrays not only the relationships in which one of the parties is necessarily the love interest of another one, but also the ones in which a man and a woman form a friendship, which is a rather original solution.
Indeed, whenever seeing a female and a male character spending at least a chapter of a book having a talk, the readers will inevitably think them to be enamored with each other.
To her credit, Anyi breaks this obnoxious cliché by showing that the relationships between Mr. Cheng and Wang can take an unexpected turn and that there might be a strong emotional connection between them: “’If I had a sister… and were able to choose what she was like,’ said Mr. Cheng. ‘I would pick someone just like you’” (Anyi 93).
However, the charming atmosphere of mutual trust and the reconciliation between two kindred spirits is shattered by the fact that they will actually never be able to become more than acquaintances.
The last and the most important, in this conversation, one of the characters is far from being as serious as another; unlike Mr. Chang, Wang considers the atmosphere “playful” (Anyi 93) enough not to take Mr. Cheng’s words as something important.
Thus, the given scene is shot through with the idea of loneliness as the only possible escape for the people of the post-WWII era.
Therefore, every single sentence of Anyi’s novel rings with the idea of loneliness as the only option for the Chinese women of the post-WWI China, with its empty luxury and pointless attractions, which stress the distance between people taking part in it even more.
Reminding of the fleetingness of life and the fact that reaching complete understanding between two people is practically impossible, Aniy’s novel offers its readers a bitter reconciliation with their fears.
Aniy, Wang. The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai. n. d. Web.