Ding Ling’s Miss Sophie’s Diary (1927) is a collection of the fictional journal entries of a twenty-year-old woman with tuberculosis in 1920’s Beijing. The titular Sophie is a complex and frequently unsympathetic protagonist. In early journal entries, she comes across as angsty, selfish, and impetuous. In later entries, darker and more contrarian aspects of her personality emerge. Sophie is a woman straining against the expectations of traditional Chinese society. She is not interested in money and status. She sees no value in chastity and longs for a forbidden romantic encounter with a strong man. She humiliates the kind and solicitous Wei, and obsesses over the married Singaporean Ling Jishi. Apart from her tuberculosis, Sophie is also mentally unwell. She is self-critical, socially inhibited, and eventually suicidal.

Ding Ling’s Miss Sophie’s Diary was written in the early 20th century, a period of rapid sociocultural change in China and around the world. It is a modern Chinese story with modern Chinese themes. Many of these themes are found in our modern stories, too: disaffection with traditional morality, feminism, materialism, mental illness, sexual identity, social alienation, and despair in a bizarre and confusing age.