In Zhang’s ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten,’’ the narrator is a thirty-year-old woman contemplating marriage. Shanshan, the narrator, describes her suitor Qiao Lin as handsome but quiet. Unable to discern whether his silence derives from a contemplative nature, which makes him reluctant to speak, or from the fact that he simply has nothing to say, Shanshan asks his opinion regarding various topics and in reply receives childlike, one-word answers. Qiao Lin similarly has a simplistic answer to Shanshan’s question about why he loves her. Thinking a long while before responding, Qiao Lin tells Shanshan that he loves her because she is ‘‘good.’’ Shanshan’s reply is respectful, but her emotional response is a sense of loneliness and disappointment. She wishes for a bond stronger than the legal, moral one most people in her society accept as a typical marriage.
In contemplating her society’s view of marriage, Shanshan thinks of her mother, wondering what her mother would have thought about Shanshan’s ambivalence about marrying Qiao Lin. As Shanshan recalls, in the days before her death, Shanshan’s mother advised her not to leap into marriage to a man she is uncertain about. In this remembered conversation, Shanshan expresses her fear that there is no ‘‘right man’’ for her. Shanshan’s mother wants her daughter to be happily married but fears that Shanshan may never meet someone with whom she could be happy. Shanshan points out that her mother has done well enough without a husband. Mother and daughter then discuss how Shanshan’s mother never loved Shanshan’s father. Thinking of how her father left when she was quite small, Shanshan wishes her mother had remarried and wonders why she never did.
Shanshan’s thoughts lead her to her mother’s dying wish, that a set of prized books by Anton Chekhov and her diary, which she had titled Love Must Not Be Forgotten , be cremated with her after her death. Shanshan keeps the diary and begins to read it, discovering that for more than twenty years, her mother loved a man who was married to someone else. The diary reveals that Shanshan’s mother, who is named Zhong Yu, and this man were colleagues and that the man used to do secret work for the Communist Party in Shanghai. When an older man died in order to keep the man’s secret, Zhong Yu’s lover married the older man’s daughter out of his ‘‘sense of duty, of gratitude to the dead and deep class feeling.’’
Shanshan tries to remember whether she has ever met the man and recalls a spring night during her childhood when her mother and she attended a concert. A black limousine had stopped and an elderly gentleman got out and addressed her mother. In this memory, the young Shanshan feels the tension between the two adults; her mother’s hand grows cold. The man’s hand is freezing as well when he extends it to shake Shanshan’s hand. Zhong Yu says little to the man. Instead, the man does most of the talking. He speaks with Shanshan, reminding her of a time when he saw her as a very young child. He then addresses Shanshan’s mother, who is a writer, and mentions one of her stories in which Zhong Yu has ‘‘condemned the heroine.’’ The man chastises Zhong Yu, telling her, ‘‘There is nothing wrong with falling in love, as long as you don’t spoil someone else’s life.’’ Moments later, the man is asked by a police officer to have the limousine moved. After bidding Shanshan and her mother goodbye, the man departs to endure the lecture of the policeman.
Shanshan, once again in the present, begins to realize what this man meant to her mother. Shanshan sees that her mother was utterly devoted to loving the man, even though she could never have a relationship with him. Studying the diary, Shanshan determines that the man died several years after the incident with the limousine. Her mother’s hair went all white that year. Shanshan guesses that the man’s death was related to the Cultural Revolution, that the man probably had criticized government oppression, and that ‘‘because of the conditions then’’ her mother’s diary became vague. As Shanshan reads on, she becomes amazed that her mother continued to love the man so long after his death. Several paragraphs from the diary are recounted, in which Zhong Yu speaks of her longing and of how their love for one another remained hidden, despite the anguish they both felt.
The story ends with Shanshan questioning her society’s views on marriage. She states her opposition to the notion that by choosing not to marry, one’s ‘‘behavior is considered a direct challenge’’ to ‘‘the old ideas handed down from the past.’’ Shanshan longs for a society in which one may freely wait for the right person to marry, and she argues that making such a cultural shift would ‘‘be a sign of a step forward in culture, education and the quality of 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