Ding Ling (the penname of Jiang Bingzhi) was a writer and revolutionary who joined the Communist Party of China after the Nationalists executed her husband, the poet Hu Yepin, in 1932. She was jailed by the Nationalists in the 1930s and again during the Cultural Revolution. Her most famous work was Miss Sophie’s Diary which chronicles a young woman’s battle against the constraints of the old society.
Ding was born on October 12, 1904 in Linli County, Hunan Province. Ding Ling's father died when she was four years old. She was raised by her independent and strong-minded mother until she was taken to live at her uncle's home in Changde, western Hunan.
The Revolution of 1911, launched by Dr. Sun Yat-sen to overthrow the Qing rule, met with a warm response in Changde, causing Ding Ling to come into contact with the ideas of revolution and democracy at a very early age. At 17, she left her hometown for Shanghai, where she first studied in the girl's school run for the poor by the Communists and then entered Shanghai University.
In 1923, Ding Ling went to Beijing, the birthplace of the "new culture." Her original plan was to attend lectures at Beijing University. Unable to realize this goal, she had to educate herself. Besides reading many literary works by both Chinese and foreign writers, she learned how to paint, though she was reduced to living from hand to mouth.
In the summer of 1924, Ding Ling met Hu Yepin, a young writer; they got married in 1925. In December 1927, Ding Ling published her first short story "Meng Ke" and it captured the attention of the literary world. Two months later, she published "Miss Sophie's Diary," which brought Ding Ling fame and convincingly showed her great literary talent. This story, in diary form, describes how a girl suffering from tuberculosis tries desperately to find ideal love, but her search ends in despair. In October 1928, In the Dark, her first colleciton of short stories, was published. From then on, Ding Ling continued to produce many novellettes and short stories, including "Wei Hu" and "Shanghai in the Spring of 1930."
In 1930, together with her husband Hu Yepin, Ding Ling left for Shanghai, where a proletarian literary movement was developing. They joined the League of Left-Wing Writers headed by Lu Xun. In the spring of the following year, Hu Yepin was killed by the Kuomintang government. Ding Ling plunged without hesitation into the fighting ranks of the Chinese revolution. Apart from editing The Dipper, a literary magazine run by the League, she took an active part in the student and worker movement. In 1932, Ding Ling joined the Party. Soon afterwards, she published, in installments, her important work "Flood." Recounting a tale of how some peasants mature in their life-and-death struggle against a flood and how the local despots make use of it to exploit them, the story marked Ding Ling's maturity as a revolutionary writer, showing her new aspirations and the big step she had taken in moving closer to the laboring people. In 1933, the noted woman writer published the first part of her unfinished novel Mother, in which she presents a vivid image of a noble-spirited woman during the years of the Revolution of 1911.
In May 1933, Ding Ling was imprisoned by the Kuomintang government. Released from jail in the autumn of 1936, she went straight to Yan'an and started a new chapter in her life.
During the 12 years she spent in Yan'an, Ding Ling first worked on Liberation Daily's literary supplement. Immediately after the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japan in 1937, she took an active part in propaganda work and field service, going to the revolutionary bases and the fighting fronts in northwest, north, and northeast China. During this period, she wrote many novelettes and short stories, of which "When I Was in Xia Village," "Night" and "In the Hospital" are representative works.
In 1946, Ding Ling took part in land reform. Two years later, she completed the novel The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River, which won the Stalin Prize for Literature in 1951 and was eventually translated into many foreign languages. A depiction of the awakening and emancipation of Chinese peasants in the struggle against feudal forces, this novel marks the highest achievement in her creative writing.
After the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, Ding Ling went to Beijing once again. By then, she had become a writer with an international reputation. Apart from editing the magazines Literary Gazette and People's Literature, she began to work on a new novel entitled In the Days of Bitter Cold. However, Ding Ling spent most of her time on cultural exchanges with other countries and lecturing on literature. Most of her writing in this period was literary criticism, speeches, and essays, which were later reprinted in collections such as The Scenes of Northern Shaanxi and Random Notes on a Trip to Europe.
In 1955, Ding Ling suddenly came under fire and was accused of being the head of an anti-Party clique. Though this charge was dropped soon, she came under more severe attack in 1957 and was mislabeled a Rightist and expelled from the Party. The following year, she was sent to do physical labor in a reclamation area in the Great Northern Wilderness in Heilongjiang Province. After the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Ding Ling was persecuted again and was taken back to Beijing in 1970 where she was imprisoned for five years.
Not long after the downfall of the Gang of Four in 1976, the verdict against her was reversed, her Party membership and her political reputation were restored. Ding resumed writing and soon became a standing committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and vice-chairwoman of the Chinese Writers' Association. She published the story "Du Wanxiang," which relates her feelings during the hard times. Ding Ling was invited to visit the United States and France. In 1985, though in failing health, Ding Ling not only continued writing, but also started the literary magazine China. She died on March 4, 1986.