According to Shanshan, marriage as it exists in the People’s Republic of China in the 1970s is typically a simple business arrangement. Love rarely factors in, and marriage and procreation are necessary duties to be performed. Shanshan sums up the Chinese view of marriage by saying that it is focused on ‘‘law and morality.’’ However, she craves a ‘‘stronger bond.’’ She understands that she will be judged harshly by her society if she does not marry. She suspects that her reputation will be ruined and that people will make assumptions about her political beliefs. Before the death of her mother, Shanshan discussed her relationship with Qiao Lin with her mother. Shanshan’s mother, herself divorced, advises Shanshan to wait until she knows what she wants to be happy, but she fears that Shanshan may not meet the right man. Shanshan thinks her mother sounds bitter about having married because she was talked into it before she knew what she wanted. In summarizing her own views on marriage, Zhong Yu states that she is a ‘‘wretched idealist.’’ Zhong Yu does not elaborate on this point. Through the course of the story, though, Shanshan discovers what hasty marriages have done to Zhong Yu and idealism. Having discovered believed to be true love, Zhong Yu figured out what she wanted—or rather whom she wanted— but it was too late. He was married to someone else, and she too had married, only to be divorced not long after. This is why she describes herself as both ‘‘wretched’’ and an ‘‘idealist’’; she was an idealist because she believed in the notion of true love, but she felt wretched because hasty marriages to the wrong people had thwarted her chances of transforming the notion of love into the reality of a loving marriage. Shanshan speaks to this point at the story’s end. If people had the freedom (from society’s pressures) to wait until they met their ideal partners ‘‘instead of rushing into marriage, how many tragedies could be averted!’’ Shanshan exclaims.
In ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten,’’ Zhang depicts a world in which love is often excluded from marriage. Shanshan’s parents existed in such a marriage, at least on Zhong Yu’s side. Shanshan speculates that in Chinese culture, marriage is about many things—business, duty, tradition— but seldom is it about love. Out of love for a man married to someone else, Zhong Yu never seeks a relationship again and instead clings to a love she cannot have. She treats objects such as the Chekhov books and her diary as stand-ins for her lover. She reenacts the ‘‘single stroll’’ she and her lover shared, and she admits that they never so much as held hands. The connection between Zhang Yu and her lover is depicted as an ideal form of love attained in the heart and mind but never allowed to blossom into a true relationship involving communication and contact. Rightly or wrongly, Shanshan assumes that having attained ‘‘undying love,’’ her mother must have ‘‘obviously died happy.’’ Shanshan’s response to this notion of love is to regard it as a tragedy to be mourned but not emulated. She does not wish to follow down this path, and she seems prepared to embrace the idea of waiting alone rather than risk marrying the wrong man when there is still a possibility of meeting the right one. Shanshan appears to still long for the idealized notion of love that she perceives from her mother’s diary. What she rejects is the idea of ‘‘an indifferent marriage’’ and the suffering it would inevitably entail.
An undercurrent of political tension runs through ‘‘Love Must Not Be Forgotten.’’ Communism as an ideology serves as a backdrop for the action of the story. It is introduced in Shanshan’s opening thoughts, when she compares her age to that of the People’s Republic. Initially, Shanshan refers to marriage as a type of business transaction and believes that this the typical way of viewing marriage. At first, it is tied to tradition, not politics. Later, at the end of the story, Shanshan more vigorously unites her culture’s view of marriage with politics. She states that not marrying is considered a ‘‘direct challenge’’ to traditional ideas and that if one does not marry, accusations of ‘‘having made political mistakes’’ will be made. One’s reputation will be maligned by ‘‘endless vulgar and futile charges.’’ Communism is referred to in relation to the man Shanshan’s mother loves as well. Shanshan notes that during the 1930s, the man ‘‘was doing underground work for the Party in Shanghai.’’ So entrenched was the man in his work with the Party that another man died to protect him. The man’s marriage to his comrade’s daughter (a comrade is a fellow believer in the communist or socialist ideology) is in part due to his sense of connection and loyalty to the deceased man as a fellow Communist. After Shanshan recalls meeting the man in the street when she was younger, in 1962, she realizes now how the man’s ‘‘firm political convictions, his narrow escapes from death in the revolution’’ contributed to the way Shanshan’s mother must have worshipped him. As Shanshan reads on, she finds that the man did die in the Cultural Revolution, probably in 1969. Shanshan believes, on the basis of her mother’s account, that the man was killed for questioning the government’s methods. However, the man kept his beliefs and, according to Shanshan’s mother, clung to his Marxist ideals to the end.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Zhang Jie, Published by Gale Group, 2010