Chen Danyan is a woman writer born into a middle-class family. She has lived a quiet, comfortable and happy life. Her family background and life experience are illustrative of the middle-class and their life style.
In her spacious sitting room, Chen Danyan begins, in a pleasant, well-modulated voice, to tell the story of her life to date. Her parents were well-educated, well-off revolutionary workers, and lenient towards her. During the years what were, for the majority, a major upheaval (referring to the Cultural Revolution 1966-76), she was fortunate enough to be free from fear and suffering.
Chen's works, such as The Wind, Flowers, Snow and Moon in Shanghai, and Descendants of Royal families are all set against the backdrop of Shanghai. When asked why, she explains, "I like a city that has a strong sense of history, and Shanghai has an eminently colorful past. Formerly semi-colonial city, Shanghai was a metropolis that absorbed foreign influence and that, superficially, resembled a European city in many aspects. However, on closer observation it may be discovered that Shanghai has its own unique culture and traditions. I write about, not Shanghai, which to my mind, is an extraordinary city. Its attributes have helped me to maintain a clear aim, while preserving my ideals. All my achievements stem from the inspiration I have drawn from this city."
The Shanghai cafes are excellent. One of her books, Where To Go Tonight, depicts vividly events that occur in cafes whose ambience she enjoyed. Chen Danyan goes to cafes as a matter of course, not only as a place to meet her friends, but also for the possibility of chance meetings with strangers, which might inspire a story. She thinks of a café as a place that embodies certain characteristics of a city. The favorable features of Shanghai cafes are that they provide a form of leisure pursuit and a place to get together with friends that does not entail spending large sums of money. They are also good places for small-scale companies to have business meetings. Certain cafes are also good places to keep up with the latest in fashion trends. Apart from cafes, Shanghai also offers film festivals, and art exhibitions, all of which can help one fully appreciate the beauty of life.
Having an innate love for travel, Chen Danyan has spent more time traveling than writing. Having been to Japan, Germany, Russia, and the USA, she says, "For me, a journey is quasi-roaming. It is not for the purposes of looking at the outside world, but to find myself by standing in front of the mirror which is the world." Under this premise, she has gradually matures into a wise and worldly woman whose works continue to excel. Having a more than sufficient income, money is not a major issue in her life. She can therefore go wherever she wants, at her whim. At the end of each journey, she writes of the beautiful women and dashing men she has seen, and the true and imagined stories they have conjured up.
When asked to answer the question, what constitutes a middle-class person, she answers, "this normally consists of having had a good education, having one's own business, thus providing a comfortable income. One also generally owns one's own house and car, use quality products, knows how to enjoy life, travels, and had both a rich material and spiritual life."
(Bilingual World March 28, 2002)