Dream of the Red Chamber: the Story of the Stone

One thing I love about camping, is that it will get me started on a piece of great literature that might not compete well against all the distractions of modern edutainment.  I finally read The Dream of the Red Chamber.  Hongloumeng2.jpgI only borrowed it from my cousin 8 years ago.    It gets referenced in the Shanghai detective mysteries I’ve enjoyed, and most authorities rank it in the to 4 Chinese literature classics, but I was daunted by the sheer number of characters.  It’s been said that Russian literature is like mother Russia in that it is expansive and bleak, and if it’s true that national or ethnic values are present in literature, there’s logic to how densely populated this novel is.  At least one Chinese authority has told me these ideas are at best specious, and I invite insight from native Chinese language speakers and readers who familiar with the literature.

I’ve advocated Chinese popular culture and literature as opposed to high culture in the past, but I can see how this novel could work in a Sex and Gender in Chinese literature class.  It helped that I recognized the plot and the plot within a larger metaphysical plot from a later novel by Barry Hughart.  I’d been afraid that anyone found out about the twisted perverse fairy tale he wrote as his 2nd or 3rd novel, Id never be able to teach his Bridge of Birds, a brilliant reworking of the Cowherd and the Weaver Myth which is what we celebrate on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar (Aug 13th this year I thinK?)  Chinese Lover’s Day – the forgetting of which is like forgetting Valentine’s Day (I think this holds for much of Asia, but I’ll need to solicit feedback)..   Now I find that disturbing book was to The Dream of the Red Chamber what The Lion King is to Hamlet.    (Incidentally, the Bridge of Birds is to The Cowherd and Weaver tale what The Forbidden Planet was to  Shakespeare’s Tempest.)

It quickly became a captivating read. I want to think that in Chinese it’s referred to as The Story of the Stone more often than as The Dream of the Red Chamber, but I have no support beyond a vague recollection, but it helps me to think of it as the story of a stone from heaven and the doomed flower he watered.   I seriously want to talk about this book  with people who have read it.  We may have to start a Chinese Literature reading club (all texts must be simultaneously available in both English and Chinese).

Things to be wary of in finding good copy.  1) if you aren’t familiar with Wade-Giles to know whether ” ‘ ” indicates aspiration or not in the enunciation or production  – THEN GET A BOOK WITH PINYIN ROMANIZATION.  Seriously if they write “Peking” anywhere instead of Beijing – it isn’t translated well.  (move to rant elsewhere) .   2) find a Dramatis Personae or make one in a class.

This needs a good modern translator – familiar with English as a native.  I hate when nefarious treachery plays out in the women’s chambers and someone calls a young woman a “prostitute.”  The proper translation would have been one syllable, rhyming with oar.