In homepage to an esteemed author

This year marks the 98th birth anniversary of the late Shanghai author Eileen Chang (1920-95). Celebrations have been held at  the Changde Apartment, one of her former residences.

Jing’an is a potted history of Shanghai. Century-old villas, well-preserved traditional shikumen neighborhoods with high walls and stone gates, and renovated factories all have a story to tell. Glitzy retail malls, charming boutiques and annual music and arts events give the district a distinctive ambience and ever-growing opportunities. In this series, we explore some of the landmarks that have come to characterize the district’s culture and history.

Landmark ID:

Name: Changde Apartment

Formerly known as: Eddington House 

Built in: 1936 

Style: Art Deco 

Address: 195 Changde Rd

Famous for: one-time residence of Eileen Chang, one of Shanghai’s most beloved female writers

In homepage to an esteemed author
Ti Gong

Changde Apartment

In homepage to an esteemed author
Ti Gong

The first floor of Changde Apartment, the former residence of the late Chinese writer Eileen Chang, is now home to L’s Book Cafe & Wine, a place for Chang’s fans to pay tribute to their literary idol. 

Shanghai author Eileen Chang (1920-95), one of the most renowned female writers in China, flitted from place to place all her life. But the Changde Apartment was undoubtedly one of her favorite stopping points.

She lived there for more than six years and finished some of her best-known novels on Changde Road.

This year marks the 98th anniversary of Chang’s birth. L’s Book Cafe & Wine on the first floor of the historical building has published two bookplates to commemorate her life.

Bookplates are a literary accessory for avid book lovers. Also known as exlibris, they have been gracing the inside front covers of books for centuries. They are often elaborately decorated slips of paper bearing the name of the book’s owner.

The two bookplates honoring Chang’s life are made of Chinese rice paper, which is used in fine calligraphy and painting. One is printed with the silhouette of the Changde Apartment; the other is printed with a portrait of Chang.

“I was so excited when I heard about them,” said 34-year-old Xu Xiaoling, a big fan of Chang’s. “It took me an hour to come here to buy the bookplates. It’s the first time that I have seen bookplates of her. For me, it’s a great way to commemorate her.”

e, it’s a great way to commemorate her.” Chang was born into a distinguished family with court ties in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). She suffered a great deal in her youth. After her parents divorced, her mother left her to the care of a drug addicted father. The experience gave her a poignant insight on humanity, reflected in works that propelled her to the status of one of the most influential female writers in China.

Most of her stories were set in Shanghai, and she was particularly good at writing wartime romances.

Her novels sometimes alluded to Changde Apartment, known as Eddington House in her day. It was a fine example of Art Deco in the city.

In 1939, three years after the apartment was finished, she moved there with her mother and aunt. Later, she went to Hong Kong for study. She returned to Shanghai in 1942 and lived on Changde Road with her aunt until September 1947. In that period, she finished some of her most famous, semi-autobiographical novels. They include “The Golden Cangue,” which illustrated the decadence of the idle rich; “Love in a Fallen City,” a collection of stories set in Hong Kong and Shanghai in the 1930s and 40s; and “Sealed Off,” the story of two strangers stranded briefly on a stalled tramcar in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation.

“Eileen Chang is to Shanghai what Charles Dickens is to London, James Joyce to Dublin, Victor Hugo to Paris, and Orhan Pamuk to Istanbul,” according to Chun Zi, an expert on Chang’s works. “To enter Chang’s world is to know Shanghai.”

Changde Apartment underwent restoration in 2008, returning the building to its original color. Workers peeled off several layers of paint on the exterior walls and restored the original dark cream color. Also, door handles, windows, staircases and other interior decor were restored to their look 80 years ago.

Today the building is private residences and off-limits to visitors. Instead, Chang fans have to settle for a cup of coffee at L’s Book Cafe & Wine.

The vintage decor and old Shanghai elements of the book cafe, such as framed paintings, leather button armchairs and an historical phonograph, allow visitors to experience the feel of authentic Old Shanghai. The café holds a full collection of Chang’s books, and some of her photos and manuscripts.

“It is reported that Chang used to write in a coffee shop on the first floor,” Xu said. “So, it’s very exciting that we can sit in the same place and read her books.”

According to Zhang Zhong, deputy director of Jing’an Cultural Bureau, many former residences of celebrities are not open to the public and cultural venues like the book cafe offer a great alternative.

Special Reports