Qiao Lin is the suitor (boyfriend) of Shanshan, the narrator of ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten.’’ He is described as extremely handsome. Shanshan has known him for about two years. Qiao Lin is quiet, so much so that Shanshan suspects he is either not particularly intelligent, a suspicion that remains after she attempts to ascertain Qiao Lin’s opinions on various subjects. Contemplating married life with Qiao Lin, Shanshan wonders whether they will be able to consummate their marriage, considering that they lack a strong romantic connection. Despite his good looks and his earnest, innocent nature, which Shanshan reveals when she twice describes him as a child, Qiao Lin is not a man whom Shanshan is able to envision herself loving.
Shanshan is the main character of ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten.’’ She narrates the story and introduces its other characters. Shanshan, who is thirty and considering marriage to the handsome but otherwise uninteresting Qiao Lin, reveals her sarcastic nature in the opening lines of the story when she compares her age to that of the People’s Republic of China, thirty. (At the end of a civil war in China, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party took over control of the government and declared that the nation was now the People’s Republic of China. It is this 1949 establishment of the People’s Republic to which Shanshan refers. The story, therefore, takes place in 1979, the year the Republic, and Shanshan, would be thirty years old.) Her wit comes into play when Shanshan observes that ‘‘for a republic thirty is still young. But a girl of thirty is virtually on the shelf.’’ In Shanshan’s culture, a thirty-year-old woman would not typically question whether or not to marry a handsome man she has known for two years, when there is no obstacle to the marriage. She is aware that people find her hesitancy about her possible marriage to Qiao Lin ‘‘preposterous.’’ Her humorous nature is revealed once again when she describes her boyfriend’s reticence and her application of a ‘‘small intelligence test’’ in order to determine the source of his apparent distaste for talking. As Shanshan describes Qiao Lin, he does not come off very well after these tests. Wondering, however, whether the problem really lies within herself, in her habit of persistently worrying about things that do not bother anyone else, Shanshan describes a typical Chinese marriage as ‘‘a form of barter or a business transaction in which love and marriage can be separated.’’ She questions what it is within herself that refuses to accept such an arrangement. Indirectly answering her own question, Shanshan thinks of her mother and her mother’s advice to not marry if she is uncertain about what she wants. The rest of the story is concerned with Shanshan’s developing understanding of her mother, who is now deceased, after she reads her mother’s diary.
Shanshan’s reluctance to marry Qiao Lin is put into a new perspective after Shanshan learns of her mother’s love for a man she could never have. Having witnessed on paper, and then again, through memories that her mother’s diary calls to mind, the love her mother felt for the man, Shanshan doubts that a man will ever love her in that way, ‘‘to the exclusion of anybody else.’’ In the end, the diary brings Shanshan closer to knowing her mother in a new way, as a woman with her own secrets. Still, she claims that she does not wish to follow in her mother’s path. Although she may desire to experience love as deeply as her mother did, the story confirms her belief that loveless marriages should be avoided, so that tragedies like that of her mother and her mother’s lover can be prevented. Shanshan would rather ‘‘wait patiently’’ for the right person, and feels that being single indefinitely ‘‘is not such a fearful disaster.’’
Zhong Yu is Shanshan’s mother. At the time the story takes place, Zhong Yu is dead. Through Shanshan’s memories and Zhong Yu’s diary, however, Zhong Yu operates in ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten’’ as a significant and influential character. Shanshan recalls a time when she and her mother discussed the topic of marriage, a conversation in which Zhong Yu suggested it was better for Shanshan to be alone than to marry someone who was not right for her. In the course of this conversation, Zhong Yu stated that because of her ignorance about what she wanted in life, she married someone she did not love (Shanshan’s father). Shanshan’s other recollections reveal that Zhong Yu never married after she and Shanshan’s father divorced, that she was a writer, and that she cherished a twenty-seven-volume set of stories by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Zhong Yu had asked Shanshan to cremate the diary and the Chekhov books with her when she died. As Shanshan reads these books, she begins to understand their importance to her mother. She realizes they must have been a gift from the man she loved. This, Shanshan begins to comprehend, is why her mother read something from the books every day, and why if Shanshan entered the room to find her mother staring at the books, Zhong Yu ‘‘either spilt her tea or blushed like a girl discovered with her lover.’’
Shanshan remembers that Zhong Yu could not even make eye contact with the man when he saw Shanshan and Zhong Yu on the street. Shanshan recalls how upset her mother was when the policeman scolded the man who had approached them. The diary further reveals that the man died some years later. In her diary, Zhong Yu wrote about how she never forgot her lover; in fact, she addressed her writing to him as if he were still alive, describing how her love actually continued to grow. Zhong Yu’s words further reveal her sense of torment at not being able to be with him, and she wonders whether anyone could possibly believe that with this depth of feeling and years of loving, she and the man ‘‘never once even clasped hands.’’ Shanshan describes the last of Zhong Yu’s diary entries, in which Zhong Yu states her wish that heaven existed and her belief that somehow the two of them (Zhong Yu and her lover) would ‘‘be together for eternity.’’
Zhong Yu’s Lover
Zhong Yu’s lover is not named directly. Shanshan suspects that her mother’s lover is the man whom she remembers meeting when she and her mother went out one evening. Shanshan learns through the diary that the man felt compelled by duty and gratitude to marry someone else, the daughter of someone who had saved his life for the political cause for which he had fought and for which the dead man had sacrificed his life. Shanshan remembers that a limousine once pulled up near where Shanshan and her mother were walking. A white-haired, distinguished-looking man stepped out, and Shanshan felt her mother’s hand tremble and grow cold. The man compared Shanshan favorably to her mother and spoke to her briefly about seeing her when she was little. Turning to Shanshan’s mother, the man critiqued a story she had written. After insisting that she had judged the story’s heroine too harshly, the man told her ‘‘the hero might have loved her too. Only for the sake of a third person’s happiness, they had to renounce their love.’’ Shanshan, looking back, knows it is for this strength, this ability to respect the other people involved, that her mother loved the man. Shanshan also understands that it was he who had given her mother the set of Chekhov novels she cherished. In the diary, Shanshan learns that the man died during the Cultural Revolution. Her mother reveals, through her writing about the man, that he held fast to his political beliefs even though they cost him his life.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Zhang Jie, Published by Gale Group, 2010