(Global Times) Rumor Control. By Zhang Lei. July 18, 2011.
Eileen Chang's posthumous editor Roland Soong.
"I came here to deny a rumor," Roland Soong told the Global Times.
Long-time aficionados of Chinese media will be familiar with the influential EastSouthWestNorth (ESWN) blog founder Soong, who's dedicated much of the latter part of his life to diligently providing English-language analyses of domestic Chinese newspaper reports.
Although his website has long been blocked on the Chinese mainland, Soong was speaking in defense of a different project at One Way Street Library Beijing, Saturday: clarifying his intention in publishing the posthumous works of acclaimed Chinese writer Eileen Chang, despite growing criticism.
Chang, best known for her works set in a 20th-century Shanghai of Oriental myth - steamy, corrupt tales set amid the mahjong tables, opium dens and treacherous affairs of the sleazy 1930s city - shared links with Soong's parents for over 40 years, as the 61-year-old Soong pointed out.
The writer of Love in the Fallen City and Lust, Caution, later adapted into a movie by Ang Lee, had a life beset with its own tragedies. Soong inherited Chang's literary legacy in 1995 and set about releasing the unpublished Little Reunion (1976) and Chinese editions of The Fall of the Pagoda and The Book of Change (both 1963), two semi-autobiographical novels written in English but turned down by US publishers.
Recently, The Collected Private Sayings from Eileen Chang, which includes a large number of pictures, manuscripts and other materials that back up Soong's version of events, attempts to deflect attacks that the works are being published against Chang's will, infringing privacy for profit.
Though widely considered a mediocre and insipid work, the sexually explicit Little Reunion proved a million-copy bestseller in 2009, revealing the author's previously unknown private life and family secrets written in 1976. Many readers found it hard to believe, and some complained it betrayed their impressions of Chang and first husband Hu Lan-Cheng's love story.
Soong is stoutly defensive of his position: "It was my right to publish it and readers' choice not to read it," he said.
Chang was highly reclusive but maintained a strong connection with Soong's parents, Mae Fong and Stephen Soong, both living in Hong Kong, exchanging hundreds of letters after Chang moved to the US in 1955, where she remained until her death.
Zhi An, writer, literary critic and editor of Chang's works, observed that Chang was too secretive to trust others but made an exception for the Soongs.
More new manuscripts are expected, including a complete edition of the Soong-Chang letters and Chang's translation of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, said Soong, who criticized a series portraying Chang's life, She Came from the Sea, in which his father, Stephen, appeared for only three seconds, and his mother wasn't even mentioned.
"All Eileen Chang biographies need to be rewritten because they should not be without Stephen Soong and Mae Fong Soong," he claimed.
Away from his Chang projects, with ESWN Soong is dedicated to the Deng Xiaoping maxim, "seek truth from facts." "In my opinion, there's only truth and lies, nothing in between," he said.
In February, a New York Times report claimed Lanxiang Vocational School in Shandong Province was responsible for hacking Google and other US corporations. Soong researched the allegation, gathering materials from Chinese media to refute it.
But his ESWN website was blocked and labeled anti-China and anti-Communist Party, he said. But "ridiculously, I was often called one of the '50-cents' army!" It remains a personal interest to maintain it. "I do it as long as I'm happy, and I can help my viewers."
He is disappointed that, despite the Chinese phenomenon of renrou sousuo - literally, human flesh search - the Internet remains rife with unfounded gossip. In the case of the recent Guo Meimei Red Cross scandal, he cited a list of 20 rumors made up by netizens on Sina Weibo.
"Weibo is the future, instead of blogging," he predicted. Soong began his own account this April, following over 700 users and attracting some 24,000 of his own. He's been exploring the way of Chinese microblogging by carefully crafting his wording with a punch line.
Meanwhile, five recipients from Beijing, Taipei and the US received 50,000 to 100,000 yuan Eileen Chang research grants. Begun by Soong with a seven-member judging panel, the five-year project will encourage more research into the study of Chang, with a million yuan fund.
So whatever his critics may say, it appears that Soong is now unequivocally the gatekeeper of Chang's legacy.