This collection of autobiographical narratives produced in China during World War II testifies to the diverse ways in which modern Chinese women writers tell the stories of their lives. It showcases the nine writers’ extraordinary experiences included in Xie Bingying’s (1906–2000) classic anthology entitled Selected Autobiographies of Women Writers (Nü zuojia zizhuan xuanji, 1945). Published at the initiative of Xie and the female editor Huang Baoxun, the original collection represents one of the rare concerted efforts to gather women’s life stories in one volume in China in the first half of the twentieth century and for a long time to come. It is noteworthy particularly because the anthology came out when it had become increasingly difficult for women writers to make their personal voices heard. Highlighting the unconventionality of these narratives, the front cover of Xie’s book features the portrait of a Western woman wearing long curly hair, earrings, and a low-neck dress. She looks half submissively and half defiantly to her lower right, with her right hand on her heart, as if full of stories that she hesitates and yet strongly desires to confide in the reader. This portrait gracing the cover of the book embodies the complicated connection between modern Chinese women’s autobiographical practice and its Western “model” which I attempt to unfold in this introduction.
The narratives in the translated collection include: An E’s (1905–1976) “How I Left My Mother” (Wo zenyang likai de muqin, 1944), Bai Wei’s (1894–1987) “Jumping Through Hoops” (Tiao guan ji, 1944), Chu Wenjuan’s (1907–?) “Imprints of Life” (Shengming de yinhen, 1943), Lin Beili’s (1916–?) “A Journey of Twenty-Seven Years” (Er shi qi nian de lücheng, 1943), Peng Hui’s (1907–68) “A Brief Autobiography” (Jian dan de zizhuan, 1943), Xie Bingying’s “Midpoint of an Ordinary Life” (Pingfan de ban sheng, 1943), Ye Zhongyin’s (1912–?) “My Autobiography” (Wo