Nanjing 1937: A Love Story

Written by Ye Zhaoyan
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Love is a battlefield in Ye Zhaoyan’s tale, Nanjing 1937, one of China’s best-selling novels, now translated for English-speaking audiences.

Society has a strong point of view in this tale of an unlikely romance in the midst of war. Ding Wenyu is an eccentric scholar whose life is mired in drink and debauchery. Attending the wedding of a friend’s brother, Ding falls instantly in love with the young bride, Ren Yuyuan, a soldier in the Chinese army. Transformed by this unexpected emotion, Ding gives up his corrupt ways and begins a chaste courtship, because “men driven by desire are ruthless and warlike, whereas men who seek their ends in love become increasingly tender and soft.” Ding becomes the tender lover, Ren the reluctant pursued, and as their relationship intensifies so does the war.

The story ends just before the infamous Rape of Nanjing, when 350,000 citizens were massacred and 20,000 women were raped. Though much of the lyricism of language is lost in translation, Ye Zhaoyan’s story has the sweep of a great saga. Nanjing 1937 is a fascinating glimpse into Chinese culture and society.