Ding Ling (Ting Ling), a woman writer purged from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1957, was born in rural Hunan in 1906 into a family of some wealth and an intellectual tradition. She became aware of the need to change China's political and social order at an early age and much of her adolescence and early adulthood was devoted to that end. She took part in demonstrations for women's rights. She participated in the national salvation activities following the May Fourth Incident. She worked to improve the lot of workers through education. She also struggled to achieve more education and independence for herself.
During the course of several difficult years, however, her orientation seemed to change. She became less sanguine about the prospects for changing society and more self-centered. She "hibernated" (one of her own terms) in Peking and even advised her common-law husband, Hu Ye-pin, against leaving a promising writing career and going to Wuhan in 1927 to seek a position in the new governmental bureaucracy.
In that same year, 1927, Ding Ling herself began writing. The reasons were mostly personal. As she said later, she needed a way to express her frustration with society and relieve her loneliness. In keeping with her outlook at this time, her first stories were highly individualistic in nature-- psychological examinations of young women trying to cope with the complexities of their own lives.
Gradually, however, Ding Ling became active in the communist revolutionary movement. Hu Ye-pin was an influence in this direction. Friends, leftist critics, and developments in the socio-political situation also played a part in this development. As she moved toward the left, her fiction changed, too. Finally, of course, she became a CCP member and achieved recognition as a prominent revolutionary writer.
"A Day" was written in the midst of this process of change. Published in 1930, almost two years before she joined the CCP, it is as much an examination of the ills plaguing Chinese society in general as it is a description of the heroine's individual psychology. Yet, in keeping with the author's own uncertainty at this time, it offers no hope for curing those ills. Exhortation to adopt revolutionary goals and to work actively for their realization is conspicuously absent--the flippant quote by Wei-li of the first part of Sun Yat-sen's statement, "The revolution has not yet been completed. Comrades, we must continue to work hard," notwithstanding.
Actually, "A Day" addresses itself to a "pre-revolutionary" problem, namely, what should be the response of intellectuals to a society riddled through with injustice and misery. First of all, they should be concerned about the problem. This Yi-sai is. Her heart goes out to the "nightsoil" (human excrement used for fertilizer) collectors. She thinks that if she went among them she could improve their lives and make them realize that they are men. She has also been interested in changing the attitudes and ideas of her maid. Unfortunately, however, these concerns do not find expression in action, as they should if anything constructive is to be accomplished. Yi-sai is unable to break out of her own class isolation and establish an understanding relationship with the workers she wishes to help. There is, therefore, little else for her to do but fall asleep and await the repetition of this ugly depressing cycle.