Bing Xin (literally “ice heart”), original name Xie Wanying (1900–1999), was born in Changle, Fuzhou city, Fujian province. Her pen name comes from the verse “my heart is pure as ice in a jade cup,” written by the Tang poet Wang Changling (698–756). She was a notable poet, writer, translator, and author of children’s literature.
Bing Xin was born into a liberal-minded gentry family in 1900. Her father, a commander in the navy, and her mother, an educated woman, had three younger sons in addition to her. She lived in a warm and congenial family. Later, when her father was transferred, the family moved to Yantai, Shandong province. She enjoyed a happy childhood living by the ocean shore. Her writings are full of recollections of the ocean and her loving family.
At the age of thirteen, Bing Xin moved to Beijing to attend Bridgman Academy. The May Fourth Movement began when she was nineteen, shortly before she entered college. She approached her cousin, a newspaper editor, for help in getting published. She submitted essays written in the new vernacular style; these were well received and started her on a path to success. In 1921, she compiled some of her “fragmentary thinking” into a collection of free-style short verse which was published to considerable acclaim. In the summer of 1923, she graduated from Yenching University with honors and entered graduate school in the U.S. where she earned an M.A. degree. Afterwards, she returned to China and took up teaching duties at Yenching University. In 1929, she and Wu Wenzao (1901–1985) married; they made their new home on the Yenching University campus, and raised their family there. Bing Xin continued teaching and writing while caring for her children. In 1936, she accompanied her husband to Europe on a year-long study tour. During the War of Resistance Against Japan, she and her husband moved between northwestern and southwestern China. In Chongqing, she began to write a series of short stories—Guanyu nüren (About women). They were written in a distinctive style and were begun at the urging of a friend. After the war, she accompanied her husband, a representative of the Nationalist government, to Japan. Between 1949 and 1951, she taught at the University of Tokyo, the first foreign female professor to do so. During her leisure time, she continued to write short essays. The New China was established in 1949, and Bing Xin and her husband were eager to return to China, but their plans were thwarted by special agents of the Nationalist government. In 1951, Wu Wenzao was invited to teach at Yale University. He used the opportunity to complete the formalities necessary before leaving Japan. Bing Xin eventually returned to Beijing. She soon began a busy life as a writer, a translator, and a cultural ambassador. The short essays that she wrote during this time were compiled into the Xiao ju deng (Little orange lamp) and Yinghua zan (Singing praises of cherry blossoms). In addition, she also published a number of translations. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), Bing Xin and her family were denounced. She and her husband, both over seventy years old, were sent to the remote countryside. Fortunately, they were permitted to return to the city a year later. After the Cultural Revolution, she once again became enthusiastic about writing, and completed a number of excellent works. Even in 1995, when she had to stay in the hospital for a long period of time, she still continued to write. She passed away in 1999.
Bing Xin began publishing when she was nineteen years old and continued writing into her nineties. She is considered the “grandmother” of modern Chinese literature. She is also the evergreen tree of the literary arena in mainland China. She wrote in a variety of genres, including fiction, prose essays, and poetry. During the new surge of the May Fourth Movement, Bing Xin became well known in the literary world because of her novel Liangge jiating (Two families), a fictional reflection of family problems. Thereafter, she also published a number of novels which reflect certain sensitive social issues at that time. Because her works generally deal with social problems, they are called problem novels. In addition, she promoted her philosophy of love in some of them. After entering middle age, her style changed; this break with her earlier style can be seen in such works as Fen (Separation), and Guanyu nüren. After the Cultural Revolution, Bing Xin published several realistic novels which aroused strong reactions. Collections of short stories such as Kongchao (Empty nest), Mingzi and Mizi, and Ganshe (Interfering) all brought her to new heights of success. Bing Xin is the most famous female writer and poet in modern Chinese literary history. Her prose style is called the “Bing Xin style,” and her poetry is named “spring-water style”—both styles are eagerly imitated by younger writers. Representative prose works are Ji xiao duzhe (For the little readers) and Guanyu nanren (About men); her poetry is best represented in Fanxing (An array of stars), and Chunshui (Spring water). Generations of people have read her poetry. During her life time, Bing Xin also translated a number of foreign literary works, including The Prophet, A Collection of Indian Children’s Stories, and Selected Works of Rabindranath Tagore.