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The Dream of the Red Chamber (Centaur Classics) [The 100 greatest novels of all time - #56]

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"The tragedy of tragedies." —Wang Guowei "['The Dream of the Red Chamber'] is to the Chinese very much what 'The Brothers Karamazov' is to Russian and 'In Search of Lost Time' is to French literature… It is beyond question one of the great novels of all literature." —Anthony West “'The Dream of the Red Chamber' and 'The Tale of Genji' are the two greatest works of prose fict "The tragedy of tragedies." —Wang Guowei "['The Dream of the Red Chamber'] is to the Chinese very much what 'The Brothers Karamazov' is to Russian and 'In Search of Lost Time' is to French literature… It is beyond question one of the great novels of all literature." —Anthony West “'The Dream of the Red Chamber' and 'The Tale of Genji' are the two greatest works of prose fiction in all the history of literature." —Kenneth Rexroth "A masterpiece." —Frederic Wakeman "The Dream of the Red Chamber", the great classical Chinese novel written in the mid-eighteenth century during the reign of Emperor Chien-lung of the Ching Dynasty, has been widely popular throughout the last two hundred years and more. The Ching Dynasty (1644-1911) was the last feudal dynasty in China. Although it saw a period of relative stability, feudal society was already on the decline and all the contradictions inherent in it were sharpening. This classic novel (an erotic tale of love, sex and passion) is a masterpiece of realism takes as its background the decline of several related big families and drawing much from the author’s own experiences. It is a book about political struggle, a political-historical novel. Cao Xueqin focused on the tragic love between Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu and, in the meantime, provides a panorama of the lives of people of various levels in the degenerating empire. The author’s family were close to the Ching imperial house in general, and with Emperor Kang-hsi in particular. He died in 1763 without having finished his novel.


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"The tragedy of tragedies." —Wang Guowei "['The Dream of the Red Chamber'] is to the Chinese very much what 'The Brothers Karamazov' is to Russian and 'In Search of Lost Time' is to French literature… It is beyond question one of the great novels of all literature." —Anthony West “'The Dream of the Red Chamber' and 'The Tale of Genji' are the two greatest works of prose fict "The tragedy of tragedies." —Wang Guowei "['The Dream of the Red Chamber'] is to the Chinese very much what 'The Brothers Karamazov' is to Russian and 'In Search of Lost Time' is to French literature… It is beyond question one of the great novels of all literature." —Anthony West “'The Dream of the Red Chamber' and 'The Tale of Genji' are the two greatest works of prose fiction in all the history of literature." —Kenneth Rexroth "A masterpiece." —Frederic Wakeman "The Dream of the Red Chamber", the great classical Chinese novel written in the mid-eighteenth century during the reign of Emperor Chien-lung of the Ching Dynasty, has been widely popular throughout the last two hundred years and more. The Ching Dynasty (1644-1911) was the last feudal dynasty in China. Although it saw a period of relative stability, feudal society was already on the decline and all the contradictions inherent in it were sharpening. This classic novel (an erotic tale of love, sex and passion) is a masterpiece of realism takes as its background the decline of several related big families and drawing much from the author’s own experiences. It is a book about political struggle, a political-historical novel. Cao Xueqin focused on the tragic love between Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu and, in the meantime, provides a panorama of the lives of people of various levels in the degenerating empire. The author’s family were close to the Ching imperial house in general, and with Emperor Kang-hsi in particular. He died in 1763 without having finished his novel.

30 review for The Dream of the Red Chamber (Centaur Classics) [The 100 greatest novels of all time - #56]

  1. 4 out of 5

    Yu

    Zhuangzi said that the desire for money is difficult to overcome, but the desire for fame is more difficult. Well, how about love? Many believe that The Dream of the Red Chamber is emblematic of the climax of Chinese literature. I do think it is the best Chinese novel, but I wouldn't say it is the emblem because it departs greatly from the convention of Chinese literature and aims to reveal the hypocrisy of this convention which is its feigned integrity and disregard for love. It is through the Zhuangzi said that the desire for money is difficult to overcome, but the desire for fame is more difficult. Well, how about love? Many believe that The Dream of the Red Chamber is emblematic of the climax of Chinese literature. I do think it is the best Chinese novel, but I wouldn't say it is the emblem because it departs greatly from the convention of Chinese literature and aims to reveal the hypocrisy of this convention which is its feigned integrity and disregard for love. It is through the lens of love that Cao Xueqin reveals to the readers the dilemma, tragedy, and general condition of human life. It is hard to describe how much this book means to me. It not only defines how I understand my national identity, but also serves as a foundation for my cognition and interpretation of almost everything. Many times when life tosses me a certain peculiarity or uneasiness, I would remember and contemplate on a scene, a prose, a quotation, or a general idea about the fate of one of the character in this book, and suddenly I would feel easier and say to myself: this is life. The Dream of the Red Chamber isn't very popular among Western readers, and most well-read people on GR have never heard of this book, and even those who appreciate Chinese literature ignore it, probably finding it too long, too difficult, too boring (someone even said it's unaesthetic). I've heard people comparing it to The Plum in the Golden Vase, or categorizing it as a book about teenage relationships. So, I find it necessary to clarify that The Dream of the Red Chamber is objectively the single most important literary work in the history of Chinese literature, or even one can say East Asian literature. It is more important to Chinese literature than Shakespeare is to English literature. It is ridiculous to think that you know Chinese literature/culture/philosophy without having read this book (even though I know that most people in China no longer read this). Hundreds and thousands of scholars have devoted their lives to the study of every single word of this work. For many admirers for Cao Xueqin, myself included, we would be willing to sacrifice many years of our lives if we could read the original ending of this work which has been unfortunately lost. I consider it beyond my ability to review this book, especially in the language of English, so all I can do is an advertisement. This is the book to read if you want to encounter Chinese mentality at its most powerful, intricate, insightful, and sincere form.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ketchup

    I hate this book, and I'm Chinese. Ok, hate is a strong word. I'm repulsed by this book which I viewed as close to godliness in my childhood. I hate 'em little balls of prudishness. Sorry about this, translator(s), because I think you did a nice job on this book and I'm still giving you two stars. If I rated on your technicality alone I would give you a solid 3 or 4. I do like the English version in some ways better than the Chinese version(s) because it's so much more 'normal' for lack of a bette I hate this book, and I'm Chinese. Ok, hate is a strong word. I'm repulsed by this book which I viewed as close to godliness in my childhood. I hate 'em little balls of prudishness. Sorry about this, translator(s), because I think you did a nice job on this book and I'm still giving you two stars. If I rated on your technicality alone I would give you a solid 3 or 4. I do like the English version in some ways better than the Chinese version(s) because it's so much more 'normal' for lack of a better word. I felt that the prose style of the original was awkward and it somehow feels less distorted in the English version to a degree. This is because Xueqin used vernacular Chinese in composing his proses. Vernacular is straightforward, easily comprehensible, brash, raw, characteristic, and should remind me somewhat warmly of my Chinese neighbours. But Xueqin changed it all. He wrote in vernacular but all of his characters dialogues were so highly organized, so refined, so grammatically correct, it simply feels artificial as if he made several rough drafts of one conversation before inserting them into the characters' mouths. He 'eleganized' the beautiful, spontaneous street talk of vernacular. I hated that. It's like somebody decided to Shakespearize Dickens. English feels much more normal for some reason, bringing forthwith more unconscious magnitude in the dialogue. Then again, English also concealed the brilliancy of the original proses and descriptions, so there are wins and losses. Next, I have a problem with the central themes, which cannot be changed with translation. Due to its uncertainty of themes, the book can be read as a surreal, poetic metaphor or a realistic piece of fiction. But when you actually think about it, the plot boils down to this: rich noble bastards party hard. Party crashes. Go home. And it talks about this for roughly 80 chapters before we lose the original manuscript and read the flawed 40 chapters. This unfinished-ness added to the 'mysticism' surrounding the book and is a major topic still in modern Redology. Then this book is hailed as the height of Chinese literature. Dot dot dot. To be honest, the plot was good. It still is good. The ideas and philosophies are not. It stereotypes men and women to a huge degree with its kind of reversal sexism appeal. I especially had a problem with the author's 'ranking' of women in the 5th chapter (even if it is meant simply as a way of introducing dramatis personae, you can't ignore that Jing Huan Goddess proclaimed it herself that only the BEST women are recorded and the rest of the COMMON, VULGAR women are not. Who the hell does she or the author think they are?!). For some reason some see the book as a novel of feminism while it had minimum impact on the Chinese feminist movement. For another, they see it as a hidden way of expressing political satire. In this case take the book off the classics shelf now, why should we waste time on an author who doesn't even want to sit down and write a proper story? Another proclaim the book is mainly emphasizing the Buddhism idea of 'Kong Huan' in that everything, even the most beautiful, eventually amounts to nothing. The author does a bad job of this if that is the case, because his sadness, his losses and his flames are quite trivial and does not match up to the greater kindness and understanding of Buddhism. As I was reading it through in the future, I couldn't help but feel as if the author is writing these 80 chapters feeling narcissist-ly sorry for himself. There are a lot of unparalleled stories in the book, though, that outmatch the author's contemporaries. Unfortunately not every story is of equal quality, especially when you see how narrow the book's world really is. It's constraining to see these young people shut up in a false paradise wasting their lives away. Worst of all the author seems to take enjoyment in it too alongside his forgotten sadness. He beautified aspects of life that one would feel uncomfortable with--for example it's okay for young girls to throw temper tantrums because she's young & beautiful, but apparently it's not okay for old women to throw tantrums because they're "inferior" to younger virgin girls. Whut. He also did not really show the intensity of corruptive activities in the families. Last of all comes the poetry. The poetry is greatly emphasized in this novel, but upon reading it, it becomes clear that Qing dynasty poems were on the decline. The poems in the novel are most elegantly and skillfully composed. Yet they lack creativity, originality, and sophistication. The poems are mainly concerning either of the emptiness of human life or mourning about the, again, most trivial things, such as flowers, plants, people etc. The grandeur, mysticism of Tang, Spring and Autumn and Three Kingdoms era poets are sadly failing in the hands of Qing poets, and only begins to revive a little within chapter 78 in which Bao Yu composes a Song and a mournful Rhapsody, which were the loveliest to read. Well, the author can't really make the poems great considering they come out of the hands of adolescents, and the poems are the best parts of the book, the main reason why I go back to read it today. Overall, technically speaking, this book is not bad standing alone. Yet it has achieved nearly national veneration in Chinese lit and I'm not quite sure if it should be. In terms of surreal and romantic aestheticism it does not match up to Genji (Japanese, but earlier than this book by 700 years! If Murasaki can do it why not Xueqin?), in terms of realism and plotting wobbles before Plum of the Golden Vase, in terms of philosophy and mysticism, I think loses to Journey to the West, 100 Strange Stories, the Carnal Prayer Mat, and Tale of Scholars, at the top of my head. The book's surpassing virtue is its delicate poetry, sense of dreaminess and scattered cryptic messages which no one will ever be able to sort. Nevertheless one does admire his strength of weaving stories, and feels sorry that they could not read the completed work, but it is not the best.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steve Morrison

    One of the greatest masterpieces of literature, reading this was an incredible experience. Poignant, funny, metaphysical, tragic, allegorical, psychologically profound, and highly entertaining, it bridges the worlds of heaven and earth, dreams and "reality," and is a truly astonishing achievement. Reading does not get any better than this--it really is up there with Don Quixote, The Divine Comedy, War and Peace, Shakespeare, and anything else you might name. As one Western scholar on the work no One of the greatest masterpieces of literature, reading this was an incredible experience. Poignant, funny, metaphysical, tragic, allegorical, psychologically profound, and highly entertaining, it bridges the worlds of heaven and earth, dreams and "reality," and is a truly astonishing achievement. Reading does not get any better than this--it really is up there with Don Quixote, The Divine Comedy, War and Peace, Shakespeare, and anything else you might name. As one Western scholar on the work noted, to "appreciate its position in Chinese culture, we must imagine a work with the critical cachet of James Joyce's Ulysses with the popular appeal of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind – and twice as long as the two combined"...There is an excellent review here (http://www.complete-review.com...) if you are interested (it's listed in an alternate translation as "Story of the Stone").

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laszlo Hopp

    The copy I read was a downloadable Kindle version. I could not figure out the translator. The total location number was 36403. If I use a recommended page-equivalent converter number of 16.69, the page number comes to a little over 2100, which is close to the printed full version page number. At first, I couldn’t understand how this book became one of the four pinnacles of classical Chinese literature. – The other three are: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Outlaws of t The copy I read was a downloadable Kindle version. I could not figure out the translator. The total location number was 36403. If I use a recommended page-equivalent converter number of 16.69, the page number comes to a little over 2100, which is close to the printed full version page number. At first, I couldn’t understand how this book became one of the four pinnacles of classical Chinese literature. – The other three are: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Outlaws of the Marsh; all may have various different titles depending on the translation. – It starts out like a rather dull, uneventful, linear diary spiced with an occasional mystical dream of the main protégé, Bayou, an early teenage boy growing into young adulthood during the story. The details of his days and the days of a host of other main characters, mostly his relatives, are given in obsessive, almost painful details. But dear Reader, don’t be fooled by this slow start! Perhaps the following statement will demonstrate how the book grew on me: completing the first 20 % of the book took me more time than the rest of the 80%. The reason I hung on during these critical early pages was a fascinating look into a long-gone culture; a culture that until this day has been reflected in the life and mentality of nearly a third of the World’s population – East and South-East Asia, to be exact -. If one has my kind of enthrallment with various cultures, the “boring” details throughout the book actually provide an exquisite opportunity to observe and learn. In sharp contrast to the first part, around 50% into the reading the story accelerated and I had hard time putting down my Kindle. From here on, the life events of a few dozen main characters and countless minor participants became compelling. The story branched out into several exciting subplots only to be masterfully reunited in the final chapters. The Jia is an old, noble family in the middle period of the Qing-Dynasty China. One of their greatest social achievements came when the Emperor chose their oldest daughter as a favorite concubine. When the family learned that their daughter had gotten permission from the Court to visit her parents, for her welcome they built a magnificent garden with several living quarters. The rest of the story took place mostly in this garden and the surrounding two mansions belonging to two branches of the Jias. The main storyline focuses on the slow decline of this huge, influential family. However, there is an equally important second storyline running parallel with the first one as an organic component of it: Bayou’s somewhat mystical spiritual awakening. Most characters have multidimensional flesh-and-blood personalities without a hint of dogmatic profiling. The good, bad, and the ambiguous features are distributed among them with good sense, letting their vivid individualities shine through. Poetry is an important part of the characters’ lives. The book presents a good number of poems written by a few gifted family members. Although intellectually these poems gave me very little to hang on to, their moods nonetheless helped me understand the state of mind of those who wrote the poems and even the times they lived in. Not unlike James Joyce’s with his “stream of consciousness,” the author gives the reader free access to the most inner thoughts of several major characters, most notably to Bayou’s. This extra dimension of their personalities makes these characters even more intimate and accessible to the reader. One thing I especially enjoyed in the book was learning about the multiple elements of the Qing Dynasty China interwoven in the story: the arranged marriages; concubines; the “dowager” cult – incidentally this latter largely contributed to the fall of China during Emperor Dowager Cixi’s regency -; the bizarre look at suicide as an accepted and in fact frequently expected solution to life’s problems; Chinese Medicine with its reliance on pulse evaluation; the system of feudalistic servants whose status was not much different from slaves but who could become highly valued members of the families – in the book represented by Xiren and Pinger -; the influence of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism on every day life; the role of Chinese Opera in Chinese culture; the importance of jade in Chinese spirituality; etc. One peculiarity that stood out for me in the book is the physical and psychological fragility of the Jia clan members. Frequent crying, mental derangement, suicide, and consumption – i.e. tuberculosis – abounded in this wealthy family. I could not find any historical information regarding the incidence of mental disease and tuberculosis in 18th century China but based on the story it surely seemed high. Or, was this family struck by an unusual genetic burden due to intermarriage? As an example, Bayou, who himself acted at times as a schizophrenic, other times as a depressed or autistic youngsters, married his first cousin. In summary, this is a remarkable book for its documentation of an obscure historical time hardly accessible for most Westerners. It has a rich character set, the theme is timeless, and the intriguing subplots make it a persuasive reading. The book’s length is due to exquisite details. On one side, these seemingly unnecessary details don’t help much with the modern concept of story development yet, I would submit that they have other literary values. I can see that many potential readers will get discouraged to start or continue reading the book even after overcoming their reluctance due to the formidable page number. To such potential readers I would recommend reading one of the abridged versions readily available in popular bookstores.

  5. 5 out of 5

    E. G.

    Introduction, by Shi Changyu Chief Characters in the Novel and Their Relationships --A Dream of Red Mansions, Volume I Notes --A Dream of Red Mansions, Volume II Notes --A Dream of Red Mansions, Volume III Notes --A Dream of Red Mansions, Volume IV Notes About the Translators

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sophielihui

    Given the entire China is learning English as a second language, it's hardly necessary for people in the western countries to study the notoriously difficult Chinese language, for business or travel purposes. However, if there is one reasonable cause to learn Chinese, it would be to appreciate this book in its original language, which could be the greatest privilege for anyone who speaks Chinese. What about translations? One might ask. My answer would be: Given the chance, I will probably get rid Given the entire China is learning English as a second language, it's hardly necessary for people in the western countries to study the notoriously difficult Chinese language, for business or travel purposes. However, if there is one reasonable cause to learn Chinese, it would be to appreciate this book in its original language, which could be the greatest privilege for anyone who speaks Chinese. What about translations? One might ask. My answer would be: Given the chance, I will probably get rid of every last copy of the translated “A Dream of Red Mansions”. Because this legendary masterpiece, with its profound beauty and delicate language, is fundamentally untranslatable.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lysmerry

    Excellent 'Starter' Dream of the Red Chamber/Story of the Stone (two names for the same work). This is an abridged English version of an amazing Chinese novel called Dream of the Red Chamber or Story of the Stone. I would recommend reading this if you would like to know the general story, which you should, as it is one of the most important novels in history. This book is HUGE in China- it is considered, along with one or two other works, the pinnacle of Chinese literature. And it is much more nu Excellent 'Starter' Dream of the Red Chamber/Story of the Stone (two names for the same work). This is an abridged English version of an amazing Chinese novel called Dream of the Red Chamber or Story of the Stone. I would recommend reading this if you would like to know the general story, which you should, as it is one of the most important novels in history. This book is HUGE in China- it is considered, along with one or two other works, the pinnacle of Chinese literature. And it is much more nuanced than the 'Romeo and Juliet' story it is sold as. The story is more of the downfall of a great house and how it affects the young men and women living there. It is remarkable in that it is so much about women at a time when women's lives were considered unimportant. It is also defies Confucian mores in several ways, though adheres to them in others. Most points of the author's biography are unknown but it is thought that he belonged to a wealthy family that, much like the family in the book, came down in the world. The book was completed by someone else. It is also a good 'starter' version if you are interested in testing it before you delve into the much longer unabridged version. Which really, you must read. After reading this, I read the David Hawkes translation (5 volumes)which I highly recommend. Edit: I just wanted to add that the main reason I recommend this book as a starter is that it gave me in many places the same emotional 'punch' as the original, which I think it a remarkable achievement considering how greatly it has been condensed.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I just re-read this classic of Chinese literature as it's been years since I first read it. The Dream of the Red Chamber/Story of the Stone is unlike any work in the Western canon yet it fits into the Western tradition of great literature in a way few other examples of classic Chinese writing are able to, offering an engrossive narrative and a real feel for both character and place. There are aspects of this novel that may confuse the modern reader of it in English translation: the many titles a I just re-read this classic of Chinese literature as it's been years since I first read it. The Dream of the Red Chamber/Story of the Stone is unlike any work in the Western canon yet it fits into the Western tradition of great literature in a way few other examples of classic Chinese writing are able to, offering an engrossive narrative and a real feel for both character and place. There are aspects of this novel that may confuse the modern reader of it in English translation: the many titles and nicknames used for various characters, the cuts and transitions that are in places unlike Western narrative, and a wealth of Chinese traditions, manners, and morals that will due to their exoticism and antiquity alike will confound a reader not already aware of Qing Dynansty history and culture. That said, this book is as influential to Chinese culture as Dickens or Austen are to British culture and in movies, pop music, and certainly contemporary Chinese literature you'll still encounter references to Dream of the Red Chamber. The plot of the novel follows the lives of the Rongguo House and the Ningguo House of the noble and wealthy Jia clan and thus the drama and intrigue visited on these powerful families. Much of the emphasis is on plans to marry a son or daughter off to someone or who has the power in a certain household. If you enjoy Jane Austen, after getting over the cultural differnces and obscure way the story is told—magic factors in a great deal and sometimes it's hard to pin down what is metaphorical and what is supposed to be actual—you'll probably enjoy this book. In saying that, I do not mean to scare away readers nor to cite the cultural and historical differences as a problem or marker of something "less-than"or abnormal, but it must be understood that due to the specifics of the Qing Dynasty plus various editions of the novel and additions by various authors and editors, the book's study has become so complex and nuanced that there is even a name for the academic field of investigation of this one novel: Redology. No joke. In example, a work mentioned in the book Fei Yi Ji Ji Gao, a work within a work, has even been studied in detail and the jury of scholars is still out on the origins and authenticity of this work! All that said, this is a powerful, sweeping, epic and utterly engrossing book and it stands in my opinion as probably one of the top ten—possibly even top five—works of world literature ever written. Why only four stars then? This translation, and all translations I've read or examined appear to have their faults and be overall pretty cumbersome. I realize that translators and editors of a work this complex have their tasks cut out for them and I don't want to see anything done that would mitigate the true flavor of the original yet what seems to happen is that the language winds up somewhere between a faithful replication of the Chinese and something seeming like a bad script-writer trying to write dialog as people would have spoken in "Bible days". In places, the novel even seems like a parody of itself. If you thought the dialog in The Good Earth seemed fake and even comical with all the "ah, my pretty lotus flower!" platitudes, this book will make you want to tear your hair out. If you can get past that, it's a treat.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    Guardian article Read the novel here Hattip to Wandaful Opening: Chen Shih-yin, in a vision, apprehends perception and spirituality — Chia Yü-ts’un, in the (windy and dusty) world, cherishes fond thoughts of a beautiful maiden. This is the opening section; this the first chapter. Subsequent to the visions of a dream which he had, on some previous occasion, experienced, the writer personally relates, he designedly concealed the true circumstances, and borrowed the attributes of perception and spirit Guardian article Read the novel here Hattip to Wandaful Opening: Chen Shih-yin, in a vision, apprehends perception and spirituality — Chia Yü-ts’un, in the (windy and dusty) world, cherishes fond thoughts of a beautiful maiden. This is the opening section; this the first chapter. Subsequent to the visions of a dream which he had, on some previous occasion, experienced, the writer personally relates, he designedly concealed the true circumstances, and borrowed the attributes of perception and spirituality to relate this story of the Record of the Stone. With this purpose, he made use of such designations as Chen Shih-yin (truth under the garb of fiction) and the like. What are, however, the events recorded in this work? Who are the dramatis personae? A stone hurled by an Empress feels neglected, desolate and unfit... The Empress Nü Wo, (the goddess of works,) in fashioning blocks of stones, for the repair of the heavens, prepared, at the Ta Huang Hills and Wu Ch’i cave, 36,501 blocks of rough stone, each twelve chang in height, and twenty-four chang square. Of these stones, the Empress Wo only used 36,500; so that one single block remained over and above, without being turned to any account. This was cast down the Ch’ing Keng peak." So how long is a chang so that we can picture this thing? Answer: 3.58 metres or 11 feet 9 inches Ta-dah! Yet that is only half the story, this heavenly stone can expand or contract - become the apex of a mountain or lay in the palm of a curious hand. What fun! Not like Pauline Collins talking to 'rock' in Shirley Valentine*, this rock talks back. * Damn! couldn't find that clip of her talking to 'rock' yet did find this bit, which is smashing As regards the several stanzas of doggerel verse, they may too evoke such laughter as to compel the reader to blurt out the rice, and to spurt out the wine."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sheppard

    WHAT EVERY EDUCATED CITIZEN OF THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE GREAT CLASSICAL NOVELS OF CHINA----"THE DREAM OF RED MANSIONS" BY CAO XUEQIN, "THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST" BY WU CHENGEN, "THE ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS" by LUO GUANZHONG, "THE WATER MARGIN or ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS" by SHI NAI'AN, "THE SCHOLARS" BY WU JINGZI, AND THE EROTIC CLASSIC "THE JIN PING MEI" OR "GOLDEN LOTUS"---FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM RECOMMENDED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES VIA GOODREADS—-ROBERT WHAT EVERY EDUCATED CITIZEN OF THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE GREAT CLASSICAL NOVELS OF CHINA----"THE DREAM OF RED MANSIONS" BY CAO XUEQIN, "THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST" BY WU CHENGEN, "THE ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS" by LUO GUANZHONG, "THE WATER MARGIN or ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS" by SHI NAI'AN, "THE SCHOLARS" BY WU JINGZI, AND THE EROTIC CLASSIC "THE JIN PING MEI" OR "GOLDEN LOTUS"---FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM RECOMMENDED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES VIA GOODREADS—-ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Chinese culture is renown for its addiction to compiling "Lists of the Greats," from the Four Great Inventions of China (Paper, the Comnpass, Printing and Gunpowder) to the Four Great Beautiful Women (Yang Guifei, Xi Shi, Yang Jiaojun and Diaochan) to the Three Great Tang Dynasty Poets (Li Bai (Li Po), Du Fu and Wang Wei) to the Four Great Novels of Chinese Literature. Thus every educated Chinese person was expected to have read, or at least to have thouroughly read about, The Four Great Novels: The Qing Dynasty Classic the Hong Lou Meng, or "The Dream of Red Mansions" by Cao Xueqin, the Xi You Ji, or "Journey to the West" by Wu Chengen featuring the fabulous Monkey-King Sun Wukong, the great historical epic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by Luo Guanzhong, and the classic "Robin Hood" tale of gallant outlaws "Shui Hu Zhuan," or "The Water Margin" by Shi Nai'an. Chinese scholars generally added two additional novels as an "Apocrypha" to this "Canonic Prose Bible" of The Four Great Novels, which officially you shouldn't have read (like the Marquis de Sade or Lady Chatterly's Lover in the West), but which if you were a real intellectual you definitely should have: The erotic classic the Jin Ping Mei, or "The Golden Lotus" which was excluded from inclusion in the canon because of its sexual, immoral and pornographic content, despite its admitted literary excellence, and the "Ru Lin Wai Shi," or "The Scholars," by Wu Jingzi, also downgraded from classical status due to its bohemian counter-cultural satire on and rejection of traditional Confucian scholars and examination-passing officials as mindless conformists and intellectual ciphers. In the not so remote past, education centered on learning the cultural tradition of one's own nation was assumed to be an adequate foundation for functional adulthood and citizenship. Thus Chinese scholars concentrated on the Confucian heritage and with little effort given to understanding other civilizations and traditions, Christians were content with the Bible and their own national classics and Islamic nations were happy if one could recite the Koran by heart. In today's cosmopolitan globalized world of transnational business and the Internet familiarity with one's own national history, national culture and literature is no longer an adequate preparation for adult life in the globalized real world. Thus each educated person in the modern world must have a basic familiarity with World Literature in addition to his own national or regional literature, accompanied of course with a basic knowledge of World History, World Religions, World Philosophy and universal science. With the increasing importance of a "Rising China" in world affairs and culture it is thus incumbent on every educated person in the world to have some basic familiarity with these six classics of Chinese Literature. Thus World Literature Forum in this "Recommended Classics and Masterpieces of World Literature Series" provides the following very basic introduction to these works, perhaps in a globalized version of E.D. Hirsch's "What Every American Should Know" reformulated as: "What Every Citizen of the World Should Know in the 21st Century." THE IMMORTAL SAGA OF FAMILY DECLINE AND SPIRITUAL FATE, "HONG LOU MENG," OR "A DREAM OF RED MANSIONS" The theme and saga of family decline is a universal mofif in World Literature, embracing such classics as Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks," the English "Forsyth Saga" of Gallsworthy, "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waigh, and "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez. The Dream of Red Mansions is one of the great exemplars of this genre, movingly telling the tale of the decline of the Jia family, laced with Buddhist spiritual fore-fated melancholy, from success and influence in the Qing Dynasty Imperial Court, through demise, weakening of character, disaster and their fall into relative obscurity. Scholars and popular readers have agreed that the "Dream of the Red Chamber" (also variously entitled A Dream of Red Chambers or The Story of the Stone) is the greatest Chinese novel, though differences of opinion have developed as to the exact nature of its greatness since its publication. Indeed, in China there is a whole virtual branch of knowledge or cottage industry which is known as "Red-ology" in the interpretation of the work, about which a similar amount of criticism has been written as comparable with that of Shakespeare criticism in England of Goethe criticism in Germany. The Dream of the Red Mansion also serves as a veritable encyclopedia of imperial Chinese society and culture in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) introducing over four hundred characters hailing from all walks of life and social classes with intricate subplots and detailed descriptions of buildings, gardens, furniture, cuisine, medicines, clothing, poetry, etiquette, games performances and pastimes of the aristocracy and others. The novel has simi-autobiographical features as the author Cao Xueqin (1715-1763)also came from a declining family, successful in the early Qing Dynasty, but reduced in fortune and circumstances until the author died in relative poverty and obscurity whille completing his immortal epic in Beijing. Reduced to its most central characters, the story focuses on a young man of the Jia family, Jia Baoyu, coming of age surrounded by female cousins and slightly effeminate and romantic in his temperament, who falls in love with but cannot marry Lin Daiyu, a "poor relation" cousin who has a spiritual beauty that accompanies her declining health. His "Golden Days" are spent cavorting with these cousins and friends in aristocratic pleasures and cultivated pastimes such as writing poetry couplets to each other, watching Chinese Opera performances, and frolicing in the Pleasure Garden of the family estate. As the years go by, Jia Baoyu, protected and spoiled by his doting grandmother, interminably procrastinates in pursuing the twin adult responsibilities urged on him by his parents: His stern Confucian father urges on him the duty of studying hard, passing the Imperial Examination, becoming a court bureaucrat and restoring the family's declining material fortunes; His mother urges that he find an appropriate match as a wife from a successful aristocratic family that can extend and enhance the waning power and wealth of the extended family. Instead, Baoyu dallies in adolescent games and pleasures, sexual experimentation and petty intrigues, holding on to the "splendor in the grass" of the family Pleasure Garden, and feels that his love-bond with his poor cousin, the ailing Lin Daiyu is spiritually fated, which it proves to be to the unhealthy detriment of all. The immense novel also operates powerfully on a symbolic spiritual level with the opening chapter, from which the alternative title "The Story of the Stone" derives, literally containing the entire novel condensed into symbolic form. Following ancient Chinese Taoist and Buddhist myth, a stone rejected by a goddess who was repairing the sky is picked up by a Buddhist monk and a Daoist priest and taken to the world of the mortals, to be found eons later by another Daoist with the story of its worldly forefated experience inscribed upon it. Unfit for the pure unadulterated life and condition of heaven, the stone is forefated to suffer birth and death in mortal life below, yet also tragically retains alloyed within itself the divine substance of heaven. Before the stone enters upon mortal life and destiny, however, it, like the "Little Prince" of Exuperay, tenderly waters with sweet dew a lovely flower not of this world, who in turn incurs a karmic debt towards the stone, which must be repaid in the mortal world of human life. The story of the stone is thus the inscribed fate of the stone written on itself, suspended somehow ever-insecurely, as of all human endeavor, somewhere between heaven and earth, but also becomeing in reiteration or reincarnation the story and destiny of Jia Baoyu as an individual human mortal, who like the Biblical "sheep gone astray" of Isiah's Suffering Servant passage, or the miscast ploughman's seed, finds another more existential and singular destiny, fatedly unhappy in this world's material context. Thus we learn in the novel that Jai Baoyu was born with a jade stone in his mouth, trailing as it were Wordsworthian "clouds of glory" in his birth, and from thence relives the story of the stone in his ill-fated mortal life, while his beloved Lin Daiyu, a reincarnation of the beautiful other-worldly flower loved and watered by the stone in heaven, pays her karmic debt to the stone in her undying yet ill-fated love and devotion for Jia Baoyu in this world. Meanwhile, as each of the characters works out their spiritual destinies, the Jia family declines further and further in its worldly fortunes. THE "JOURNEY TO THE WEST," OR "XI YOU JI" AND THE MONKEY-KING Perhaps the most beloved novel by all Chinese people, from children to adults, is the immortal "Journey to the West" of Wu Chengen, which tells the story of the pilgrimage of the Buddhist Monk Xuanzong to India to obtain and translate Holy Buddhist Scriptures, aided by the magical Monkey-King, Sun Wu Kong, a lovable "Pigsy" or Zhu Bajie character endowed with gargantuan physical strength and appetites, and a down-to-earth and practical monk "Sandy" or Sha Hesheng. In the long narrative of their adventures they repeatedly are assaulted en route by demons and evil forces plotting to defeat the Tang Monk's spiritual mission, but which are always defeated by the combination of talents and forces of the pilgrim brotherhood, led by the rebellious and precocious genius and magical powers of the Monkey King, a figure derived from the earlier character Hanuman in the Indian Ramayana. As both the Journey to the West and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms have already been treated in greater depth in other blog entries in this series I will not go into great depth in their description. THE "ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS" OF LUO GUANZHONG The Romance of the Three Kingdoms tells the historically true story of the wars and struggles between the three kingdoms, Wei, Shu and Wu, which arose between 169 AD and 280 AD when the Han Dynasty Empire, comparable in scope and population to the contemporaneous Roman Empire, broke apart before again acheiving reunification. As a novel loosly based on real history but treated with artistic license, like Duma's "Three Musketeers" saga it tells the story of the "Iron Brotherhood" of devoted friends and heroes Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, who swear their "one for all and all for one" oath of allegiance to restore the Han Dynasty in the famous Oath of the Peach Garden, also vowing to protect the oppressed. They are opposed by the arch-Machiavellian dictator Cao Cao, whom they must defeat, but are aided by the genius general Zhuge Liang. The story of their struggle, ultimately successful but not before their deaths, has become as familiar to all Chinese, Japanese and Korean persons as the stories of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra are in the West. "THE WATER MARGIN" OR "ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS" CLASSIC OF OUTLAW GALLANTRY AND ADVENTURE----SONG JIANG THE "CHINESE ROBIN HOOD" The 14th Century classic "The Water Margin" (Shui Hu Zhuan), also known as "Outlaws of the Marsh" as translated by American epatriate Sydney Shapiro, and "All Men Are Brothers" as translated by the first female American Nobel Prize Winner Pearl Buck, is written in vernacular Chinese and attributed to the writer Shi Nai'an. The "Robin Hood-esque" story, set in the Song Dynasty, tells of how a group of 108 outlaws gathers at Mount Liang (or Liangshan Marsh) to form a sizable army of adventurous outlaws before they are eventually granted amnesty by the government and sent on campaigns to resist foreign invaders and suppress other rebel forces. As such it depicts many of the contradictions in feudal Chinese society, based on repression and exploitation of the mass peasantry by a corrupt and oppressive landed aristocracy and imperial bureaucracy, which generated, repressed and often co-opted its opponents. The novel focuses on the exploits of the outlaw Song Jiang and his thirty-six sworn brothers and their heroic adventures, reminiscent of the tales of "Robin Hood" of Sherwood Forest in the West. THE CHINESE EROTIC CLASSIC "JIN PING MEI" OR "THE GOLDEN LOTUS" The "Jin Ping Mei" or "The Golden Lotus," is a Chinese naturalistic novel composed in vernacular Chinese during the late Ming Dynasty by an unknown anonymous author taking the pseudonym "Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng," or "The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling." circulated first in surreptitious handwritten copies then printed for the first time in 1610. Its graphically explicit depiction of sexuality has garnered the novel a level of notoriety in the Chinese world akin to "Fanny Hill," "Lady Chatterley's Lover" or the Marquis de Sade in Western literature, but critics nonetheless generally find a firm moral structure which exacts moralistic retribution for the sexual libertinism of the central characters. The Jin Ping Mei takes its name from the three central female characters — Pan Jinlian (Golden Lotus), Li Ping'er (Little Vase), a concubine of Ximen Qing, and Pang Chunmei (Spring plum), a young maid who rises to power within the family of the decadent libertine Ximen Qing. Princeton University Press in describing the Roy translation calls the novel "a landmark in the development of the narrative art form----not only from a specifically Chinese perspective but in a world-historical context......noted for its surprisingly modern technique" and "with the possible exception of The Tale of Genji (1010) and Don Quixote (1605, 1615), there is no earlier work of prose fiction of equal sophistication in world literature." The Jin Ping Mei is framed as a spin off from the classical novel "The Water Margin." The beginning chapter is based on an episode in which "Tiger Slayer" Wu Song avenges the murder of his older brother by brutally killing his brother's former wife and murderer, Pan Jinlian. The story, ostensibly set during the years 1111–27 during the Northern Song Dynasty, centers on Ximen Qing, a corrupt social climber, libertine and lustful merchant who is wealthy enough to marry a consort of six wives and concubines. After secretly murdering Pan Jinlian's husband, Ximen Qing takes her as one of his wives. The story follows the domestic sexual struggles of the women within his household as they clamor for prestige and influence amidst the gradual decline of the Ximen clan. In the Jin Ping Mei, anti-hero Ximen Qing in the end dies from an overdose of aphrodisiacs administered by Jinlian to which he has become addicted and dependent in order to keep up his sexual potency. In the course of the novel, Ximen has 19 sexual partners, including his 6 wives and mistresses, with 72 intimately described sexual episodes, a level of erotic repetition reminiscent of the works of the Marquis de Sade and Henry Miller, in "Nexus," "Sexus" and "Plexus." Needless to say, the Jin Ping Mei through most of history was severely repressed by the puritanical Confucian authorities as criminal pornography, though its libertine anti-hero Ximen Qing receives full poetical justice and punishment for his crimes. Even today mention of its name, like de Sade in the West, will bring a blush of enbarassed shame to most Chinese cheeks, young and old. THE SCHOLARS, OR "RU LIN WAI SHI" BY WU JINGZI "The Scholars" written in 1750 by Wu Jingzi during the Qing Dynasty describes and often satirizes Chinese scholars in a vernacular Chinese idiom. The first and last chapters portray intellectual recluses, but most of the loosely-connected stories that form the bulk of the novel are didactic and satiric stories, on the one hand admiring idealistic Confucian behavior, but on the other ridiculing over-ambitious scholars and criticizing the civil service examination system, describing the officials and orthodox scholars who succeed in the system as mindless conformists and intellectual ciphers whose knowledge rarely exceeds the "Cliff Notes" and cram course exam fakery of the times, exemplified by the rote mechanical guidebooks to the "Eight-Legged Essay" for the Imperial Examination. Instead, the novel honors the somewhat bohemian and counter-cultural intellectual circles on the fringe of official society frequented by actors, poets, artists, bibliophiles and the true scholars of the heart who despise the official poseurs and consequently lead insecure lives and suffer financial decline. Promoting naturalistic attitudes over belief in the supernatural, the author rejects the popular belief in retribution: his bad characters suffer no punishment. The characters in these stories are intellectuals, perhaps based on the author's friends and contemporaries. Wu also portrays women sympathetically: the chief character Du treats his wife as a companion and soulmate instead of as an inferior. Although it is a satiric and counter-cultural novel, a major incident in the novel is Du's attempt to renovate his family's ancestral temple, suggesting the author shared with Du a belief in the importance of a true and authentic Confucianism as opposed to the poseur Confucianism of the ruling bureaucratic class. SPIRITUS MUNDI AND THE CHINESE NOVEL My own work, Spiritus Mundi, the contemporary epic of social idealists struggling to save the world and avert WWIII with a revolutionary new United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, also draws on Chinese tradition. Over a third of the novel takes place in China and the novel was written entirely in Beijing. One of the main characters of the mythic portion of the novel is the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, who along with Goethe guides the protagonists on a Quest to the center of the earth and to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy to save the world from a conspiracy to bring about WWIII. In China I knew Sydney Shapiro, the translator of "The Outlaws of the Marsh" and also worked with the daughter of Gladys Yang, the translator of the "Dream of the Red Mansion." World Literature Forum invites you to check out the great Chinese novelists of World Literature, and also the contemporary epic novel Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard. For a fuller discussion of the concept of World Literature you are invited to look into the extended discussion in the new book Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard, one of the principal themes of which is the emergence and evolution of World Literature: For Discussions on World Literature and n Literary Criticism in Spiritus Mundi: http://worldliteratureandliterarycrit... Robert Sheppard Editor-in-Chief World Literature Forum Author, Spiritus Mundi Novel Author’s Blog: http://robertalexandersheppard.wordpr... Spiritus Mundi on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17... Spiritus Mundi on Amazon, Book I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CIGJFGO Spiritus Mundi, Book II: The Romance http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CGM8BZG Copyright Robert Sheppard 2013 All Rights Reserved

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bre Teschendorf

    I found a all four volumes of this book on the street, in Berlin Germany. I had never heard of it before, but the book described itself as THE most relevant piece of Chinese Literature that there is; naturally I had to keep it and eventually read it. I didn't fall in love with this book until about half way through Volume II. I had a hard time following all of the characters, their relationships to each other, and the Chinese names, many of which were so similar (to me) that I would get easily c I found a all four volumes of this book on the street, in Berlin Germany. I had never heard of it before, but the book described itself as THE most relevant piece of Chinese Literature that there is; naturally I had to keep it and eventually read it. I didn't fall in love with this book until about half way through Volume II. I had a hard time following all of the characters, their relationships to each other, and the Chinese names, many of which were so similar (to me) that I would get easily confused. Eventually, I made my own family tree, with notes on it about "who's who" and that helped me to keep it all straight. Furthermore, things became more and more clear as I pressed-on and continued with the story. So by the middle of the second volume, I was completely immersed in the story and couldn't put the book down. China was all around me! I craved rice and ginseng tea, I dreamed about Daiyu, I spent hours on the internet researching the elements of the book and Chinese culture that I didn't understand. I have never been a person who is grossly interested in Chinese//Asian culture. Nevertheless, I found this book fascinating and worth reading. The charachters are complex and interesting. The various stories in the book are exciting and really grab and hold the attention. The use of poetry (so many poems!) was also fun to read. I gave it only 4 stars because, I believe that there are better English translations, of this book, than the translation I read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Zeny

    The truth is that if not for my Asian Literatures class, I wouldn't have mustered enough strength (despite interest) to read this novel. And I am particularly drawn to the idea forwarded by some academics that Hong Lou Meng is actually a critique to the reception of the public to fiction (and perhaps to reading in general). Also, it is a counter to the idea that in order to attain enlightenment, one must transcend the everyday world. A monk makes a stone nod. The stone is cast away by the Goddes The truth is that if not for my Asian Literatures class, I wouldn't have mustered enough strength (despite interest) to read this novel. And I am particularly drawn to the idea forwarded by some academics that Hong Lou Meng is actually a critique to the reception of the public to fiction (and perhaps to reading in general). Also, it is a counter to the idea that in order to attain enlightenment, one must transcend the everyday world. A monk makes a stone nod. The stone is cast away by the Goddess. And yet, in Hong Lou Meng, the exact opposite happens. The stone that has been cast off goes into the "Red Dust" and lives a mundane life as Chia Pao Yu. Upon death, his story was carved on his surface, and stands proud and visible as a mockery to the Goddess'rejection of him. The story, through presenting the everyday life of people, shows the reader that a full life, an enlightened life can be experienced through the mundane.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    The Story of the Stone is one of the "Four Classic Chinese Novels." The value to the Western reader is that it provides great insight into the daily lives and culture of the Chinese Nobility in the 18th Century. The problem for the Western reader is trying to figure out what to mark the Story of the Stone against. The first three volumes seem to be a Proustian tribute to a golden age of poetry experienced by the Wang-Jias a prominent clan of nobles who all live together in a huge compound. Volum The Story of the Stone is one of the "Four Classic Chinese Novels." The value to the Western reader is that it provides great insight into the daily lives and culture of the Chinese Nobility in the 18th Century. The problem for the Western reader is trying to figure out what to mark the Story of the Stone against. The first three volumes seem to be a Proustian tribute to a golden age of poetry experienced by the Wang-Jias a prominent clan of nobles who all live together in a huge compound. Volume four is Hubris as the family cut off from the world commit steadily more wicked and cruel actions leaving the floor strewn with the corpses of bullied servants, beaten concubines and innocent commoners. Volume Five starts out as Nemesis. Justice strikes. The bureaucracy discovers that two members of the family are guilty of fraud and lone-sharking. The police raid the Wang-Jia compound and confiscate most of the valuables they can find. Edicts then strip them of their estates. The Wang-Jias seem to be at the nadir of their fortunes like Job when a mysterious monk arrives. He explains to the family that one son Bao-Yu is the reincarnation of a Buddha immortal. With the monk's help Bao You recovers the family properties, fathers a son and then returns to the afterlife. The phantom-monk then warns the Wang-Jias that they lost everything through wickedness and that they would never fully recover what they had lost unless they practiced virtue. Finally the phantom-monk explains to them that the physical world is not real. Only the spirit world is real. Do your homework before launching into this massive work.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Philippe Malzieu

    After the success of Shi Nai An "Au bord de l'eau", it was the second Chinese novel to enter in the "Pléiade" collection. I was a little surprised. This is more the picaresque novel.It is almost a novel XIX° the rise and fall of the Jia House. And there are also Romeo and Juliette. The rhythm is slow, one needs to accept it. I had evil to locate me geographically. I visited in China a long time after its reading the house of the merchant Wang who was the decor of "Wives and concubines." I then un After the success of Shi Nai An "Au bord de l'eau", it was the second Chinese novel to enter in the "Pléiade" collection. I was a little surprised. This is more the picaresque novel.It is almost a novel XIX° the rise and fall of the Jia House. And there are also Romeo and Juliette. The rhythm is slow, one needs to accept it. I had evil to locate me geographically. I visited in China a long time after its reading the house of the merchant Wang who was the decor of "Wives and concubines." I then understood how this closed world functioned, all seemingly. The novel appeared to me much more clearly. It is necessary that I read again this book because I have the impression to be last with dimensions.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leonard

    Like a historical record, the novel vividly portraits forgotten customs as well as enduring intrigues of a wealthy but declining aristocratic family in the Qing dynasty, detailing sumptuous delicacies, colorful cotton-padded jackets, and the luxurious chambers’ wooden stools, chamber pots, woven screens and bedside heaters. To turn the pages of Dream of the Red Chamber is to relive the decaying luxury of a lost time. A Chinese Brush Painting of an Aristocratic Mansion Like a historical record, the novel vividly portraits forgotten customs as well as enduring intrigues of a wealthy but declining aristocratic family in the Qing dynasty, detailing sumptuous delicacies, colorful cotton-padded jackets, and the luxurious chambers’ wooden stools, chamber pots, woven screens and bedside heaters. To turn the pages of Dream of the Red Chamber is to relive the decaying luxury of a lost time. A Chinese Brush Painting of an Aristocratic Mansion

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Zad says don't read the abridged version by Wang, it's jibberish, but you know what Zad life is short. There's also a super-shortened one (96 pages!) by Hawkes for Penguin, ISBN 0146001761. Don't judge me. (no, go ahead and judge me, you might as well.) Zad says don't read the abridged version by Wang, it's jibberish, but you know what Zad life is short. There's also a super-shortened one (96 pages!) by Hawkes for Penguin, ISBN 0146001761. Don't judge me. (no, go ahead and judge me, you might as well.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Heidi-Marie

    I have spent 9 years trying to remember what "that Chinese book" was which I read within my first year of college. I cannot remember if I read it for extra credit in my Chinese class, or if one of my professors recommended it as a Chinese classic that I should consider reading. Part of me thinks I began it during the school year, and then part of it the following summer (when I was reading so much I can't remember all that I read). Either way, I finally did some research and this is definitely t I have spent 9 years trying to remember what "that Chinese book" was which I read within my first year of college. I cannot remember if I read it for extra credit in my Chinese class, or if one of my professors recommended it as a Chinese classic that I should consider reading. Part of me thinks I began it during the school year, and then part of it the following summer (when I was reading so much I can't remember all that I read). Either way, I finally did some research and this is definitely the book. Because of the few things I remember from it, I definitely remember the main character being born with a piece of jade in his mouth. Other things I remember: -I plowed through this book, determined to read it in spite of my inability to really connect with it. -Throughout most of it, I couldn't help thinking "soap opera!" -I was often confused by who was who, and how everyone was connected. -I was intrigued to see what would happen, even if I was not enjoying the actual story itself. -I don't know if I finished it. Isn't that awful? I'm pretty sure I did, because of how determined I was to finish. But I can't remember the end. Something is telling me that the female character we most wanted to NOT die, DID die. But then, isn't that very Chinese anyhow? I'm sure my take on this book would be different many years and Chinese classes later. But I don't know if I want to go through those 5 volumes again.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kyc

    I own this book, which is part of my obsession with the 18th-century Chinese novel of manners Dream of the Red Chamber - in its original, surely one of the world's greatest novels? This abridged translation was by Chi-Chen Wang, a former professor of Columbia University. His translation is skilful and readable, although highly abridged - at 60 chapters, about one-quarter to one-fifth the length of the original. The Hawkes translation still remains my primary recommendation for anyone wishing to I own this book, which is part of my obsession with the 18th-century Chinese novel of manners Dream of the Red Chamber - in its original, surely one of the world's greatest novels? This abridged translation was by Chi-Chen Wang, a former professor of Columbia University. His translation is skilful and readable, although highly abridged - at 60 chapters, about one-quarter to one-fifth the length of the original. The Hawkes translation still remains my primary recommendation for anyone wishing to immerse himself in this vast, encyclopedic novel; however, for many, this makes a fine "starter kit" for anyone wishing to familiarize him- or herself with Dream. Note that many episodes are given in paraphrase and this version focuses on the novel's principal plotline (the love triangle between Baoyu, Daiyu and Baochai). It also includes a passage in the frame narrative from the Jiaxu manuscript, which was missing in the Hawkes translation - a somewhat crucial (and to my mind no doubt authentic) restoration of about 1 page or so distinguishing the Stone from the Divine Luminescent Stone-in-Waiting (an important distinction if you want to make sense of the many asides the Stone make.) Update: Seems like this Anchor version is an abridgement of the 1958 Chi-Chen Wang (already abridged) version. The version I have is published by Graham Brash, no longer in print, at 574 pages. The Anchor edition is a mere 329 pages. If you don't mind having a drastically abridged version, it might suffice. But I still recommend reading the entire novel in David Hawkes's translation.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    This was like an 18th century Chinese Downton Abbey.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    So about ten years ago I read the English translation of this book by the Yangs. I loved it so much. Written in 1791 and spanning four volumes it was like nothing I'd ever read before. It focused on the lives of women, both elite women and their servants living in Qing China. I decided that I would like to read the original one day. My teacher told me that if I studied I might manage by the time I was 60. Well I managed when I was 41! I have been reading this since January. I read the dual langua So about ten years ago I read the English translation of this book by the Yangs. I loved it so much. Written in 1791 and spanning four volumes it was like nothing I'd ever read before. It focused on the lives of women, both elite women and their servants living in Qing China. I decided that I would like to read the original one day. My teacher told me that if I studied I might manage by the time I was 60. Well I managed when I was 41! I have been reading this since January. I read the dual language version which was 3500+ pages. I don't feel too bad needing the English as in China the sell massive dictionaries for the odd vocabulary in the book. It was just amazing to be able to read it in Chinese. There were many bits where I read the English, then the Chinese and the language was just so much more clear and descriptive. I definitely needed the English to understand but I feel like I am a step closer to reading it just in Chinese in another couple years. As it is I felt like it was a huge achievement to read over 1800 pages in Chinese! I finished volume I of the Yangs' translation of Dream of Red Mansions. This is the third time I've read this book and it's still one of my favourites. This time through I'm still really enjoying it. I'm noticing things that I thought were very strange the first time I read it now seem very familiar. It's odd reading it knowing how so many of the characters that are introduced to start with disappear and the main characters don't really appear till several hundred pages in. The first book has Xifeng getting rid of her unwanted suitors, the homophobia at the boys school, xifeng taking responsibility for the house, Baoyu and Xifeng as the victims of sorcery, the creation of the garden and the start of Daiyu and Baoyu's troubled relationship. The last time I read it I was quite dissatisfied with the last 40 chapters (reportedly by a different author) but this time I found apart from a few weak sections I really enjoyed them. Pinger came into her own, I was pleased that Granny Liu returned and was useful, the ending mirrored the beginning well. I was better able to keep track of the huge cast of characters.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Overall, this book--one of the four Chinese Classic Novels--was a marvelous read, although its intricacy cannot be overstated. Some compare it to Shakespeare, but it's more like a saga with little Shakespearean offshoots every few chapters. The cast of characters is enormous, and the overarching narrative truly does transcend space and time. My primary complaint about this book--a long, complex, elegant Chinese drama--is that it needs a better guide to the characters. There is a genealogy chart i Overall, this book--one of the four Chinese Classic Novels--was a marvelous read, although its intricacy cannot be overstated. Some compare it to Shakespeare, but it's more like a saga with little Shakespearean offshoots every few chapters. The cast of characters is enormous, and the overarching narrative truly does transcend space and time. My primary complaint about this book--a long, complex, elegant Chinese drama--is that it needs a better guide to the characters. There is a genealogy chart in the front, but it is incomplete, and there are so many distant relatives, recurrent unrelated characters, and servants not mentioned in the genealogy, that a list of dramatis personae (in addition to a thorough and complete genealogy chart) would have been very helpful. A glossary would also have been handy. Chinese terms and honorifics are usually explained when they first appear, but if I needed to double-check what a term meant, I had to find the page where it first appeared to do so. A glossary would have solved that problem. (Of course, knowing some basic Mandarin would have been even better, but unfortunately I lack that skill set.)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Spencer Rich

    A good introduction to the novel. I was first introduced to this version via a World Lit class at the University of North Carolina--Wilmington. It had such a deep effect on me that I re-read it several times and eventually read the five volume version numerous times. I would say that the five-volume translation has become probably my favorite of all-time, perhaps, next to Brave New World. It has all the genius of the Romantic-era novels of manners, e.g. Pride and Prejudice set against a backgrou A good introduction to the novel. I was first introduced to this version via a World Lit class at the University of North Carolina--Wilmington. It had such a deep effect on me that I re-read it several times and eventually read the five volume version numerous times. I would say that the five-volume translation has become probably my favorite of all-time, perhaps, next to Brave New World. It has all the genius of the Romantic-era novels of manners, e.g. Pride and Prejudice set against a background of Taoism, Confucianism, Zen, and other types of Buddhism. It also touches on traditional Chinese medicine. I can't recommend this novel enough. The only reason I don't give this five stars is because you really must read the whole translation.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pratyasha

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Halfway through the novel, I did not even know that the main leads had become lovers. So many characters, so little focus on the main leads, especially Black Jade. I'm not sure if it's because the book has the stories from the five (?) volumes all in one, but I always felt like I was missing out on some event or the other. The ending certainly felt rushed, with so many characters not having a satisfactory ending. I would have loved it if we got to know how Pao Yu felt about his experience in the Halfway through the novel, I did not even know that the main leads had become lovers. So many characters, so little focus on the main leads, especially Black Jade. I'm not sure if it's because the book has the stories from the five (?) volumes all in one, but I always felt like I was missing out on some event or the other. The ending certainly felt rushed, with so many characters not having a satisfactory ending. I would have loved it if we got to know how Pao Yu felt about his experience in the Red Dust. For me, the end was not as good as the start. I thought we would continue reading about their everyday events, when suddenly every character started meeting their end... I had no idea what was happening in the last few chapters. The author might have thought of giving the characters some kind of closure, but why did they have to kill them to do so? That is something I have not been able to fathom.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    Actually, I should not say that I have read this book, while I have not really read the English version of this work. Nevertheless, I think that among the translated versions of this work, the page number of this version looks at least convincing enough. About this work, there are enough positive reviews given from various perspectives already. One thing that I would like to note here is that it is not simply a love story like Romeo and Juliet. When paying attention to all details that the writer Actually, I should not say that I have read this book, while I have not really read the English version of this work. Nevertheless, I think that among the translated versions of this work, the page number of this version looks at least convincing enough. About this work, there are enough positive reviews given from various perspectives already. One thing that I would like to note here is that it is not simply a love story like Romeo and Juliet. When paying attention to all details that the writer chose to describe and to those 'nothing happened' plots, one would possibly facilitate oneself for entering the world of Chinese and obtaining the sophisticated perception on human life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chaitra

    I loved this book, so much like a daytime soap. The translation was great, it read easily. I felt it a bit rushed towards the end when everyone seemed to die in quick succession - the portion that wasn't written by Cao Xueqin. While every single person was realistically portrayed, Precious Virtue alone seemed to be more the personification of her name than a character. Because of this, I preferred Black Jade to her (anyone to her, actually). I loved this book, so much like a daytime soap. The translation was great, it read easily. I felt it a bit rushed towards the end when everyone seemed to die in quick succession - the portion that wasn't written by Cao Xueqin. While every single person was realistically portrayed, Precious Virtue alone seemed to be more the personification of her name than a character. Because of this, I preferred Black Jade to her (anyone to her, actually).

  26. 5 out of 5

    Missy J

    *3.5 This is the third out of the Four Chinese Classics that I've read. Although I have enjoyed this one more than Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel, Complete and Unabridged, Part One and Monkey: The Journey to the West, however, it wasn't mind-blowing or fascinating. Maybe the English translation just simply doesn't do its Chinese counterpart any justice. This book has a lot of characters. To put it really simple, the aristocratic family is obsessed with its maids. The main character Pao yu is i *3.5 This is the third out of the Four Chinese Classics that I've read. Although I have enjoyed this one more than Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel, Complete and Unabridged, Part One and Monkey: The Journey to the West, however, it wasn't mind-blowing or fascinating. Maybe the English translation just simply doesn't do its Chinese counterpart any justice. This book has a lot of characters. To put it really simple, the aristocratic family is obsessed with its maids. The main character Pao yu is involved in a love triangle, which ends badly. I don't understand how at the beginning the story of the old man, whose daughter got kidnapped and propelled him to become a monk is connected to the rest of the story. Maybe because I had difficulty keeping up with the characters and they were written not in Pin yin but in Romanization. I will take a break of Chinese classics for now.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Arguably THE most important work in traditional Chinese literature. Written in the 1780s and then compiled and edited about 100 years later, this is not a seamless novel, but more like a soap opera of a courtly family's life in decline. This edition is obviously not the entire work, but a good representation of the most famous scenes. A lot of times you'll see scrolls or paintings with scenes from Dream of the Read Chamber (also known as Story of the Stone) that have 4 or 5 of the most famous sc Arguably THE most important work in traditional Chinese literature. Written in the 1780s and then compiled and edited about 100 years later, this is not a seamless novel, but more like a soap opera of a courtly family's life in decline. This edition is obviously not the entire work, but a good representation of the most famous scenes. A lot of times you'll see scrolls or paintings with scenes from Dream of the Read Chamber (also known as Story of the Stone) that have 4 or 5 of the most famous scenes, like when Black Jade buries the flower petals rather than let them be swept to outside the compound by the river. The framework of this story is kind of odd in that a stone tells a Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest that he wants to be reborn in the Red Dust (a Buddhist term for the earth/suffering/samsara), and he is as a boy named Bao Yu (Precious Jade). This entire story is written down on the stone, which the monk and the priest copy out, and which the author edits. Like some Russian lit, the hardest part is keeping everyone names straight. It gets easier as you go along.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I can only just begin to grasp the importance, the amazing contribution to Chinese (and world!) literature that this story brought about. Quite a challenging read--even with some schooling in Chinese culture, I found myself stumbling, reviewing and contacting my professor to make sure I caught all the nuances, that I understood all the honorific titles (the family tree chart in the intro is most helpful!) However, it was absolutely worth it as this is a stirring and gorgeous tour-de-force! Even I can only just begin to grasp the importance, the amazing contribution to Chinese (and world!) literature that this story brought about. Quite a challenging read--even with some schooling in Chinese culture, I found myself stumbling, reviewing and contacting my professor to make sure I caught all the nuances, that I understood all the honorific titles (the family tree chart in the intro is most helpful!) However, it was absolutely worth it as this is a stirring and gorgeous tour-de-force! Even this abridged version (the original is increcibly long!) was quite complex and lyrical. A truly worthwhile story in and of itself, but especially recommended for those interested in expanding their horizons beyond Western literature and seeking to gain a greater appreciation for other cultures. An amazing, heartfelt study of how our cultures may be so different, yet our human-ness is universal.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    The Kindle edition of Dream of the Red Chamber was released earlier this year! Now you can own this 1200+ page epic for only 10 dollars! This book is one of the essential Chinese classics with well over 300 developed characters, Buddhist and Taoist philosophy lessons, and serves as a beautiful portrait of Qing dynasty China in the 1700s. It also broke new ground by using several dialects and common vernacular mixed in with the high language spoken at court. It is a semi-autobiographic, psycholog The Kindle edition of Dream of the Red Chamber was released earlier this year! Now you can own this 1200+ page epic for only 10 dollars! This book is one of the essential Chinese classics with well over 300 developed characters, Buddhist and Taoist philosophy lessons, and serves as a beautiful portrait of Qing dynasty China in the 1700s. It also broke new ground by using several dialects and common vernacular mixed in with the high language spoken at court. It is a semi-autobiographic, psychological novel that provoked much controversy for its refusal to shy away from sexual content. Sadly, this is NOT an easy read! It's quite slow at times and the entire story once you wade through the purple prose is about a rich playboy deciding which of his 2 first cousins he wants to marry. There is a lot of cousin banging in this book, because incest is wincest!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mistr3ssquickly

    I borrowed a copy of this book from a dusty stack of forgotten books in the back closet of the English department in my high school, where it had been discarded by teachers who were tired of students mispronouncing Chinese names and becoming bored by cultural traits unfamiliar to them. For fun, I read it over the summer, and where I did struggle to keep track of which character was which, at first, by the halfway point, I was sucked in completely to the story. It's a tale with no real beginning a I borrowed a copy of this book from a dusty stack of forgotten books in the back closet of the English department in my high school, where it had been discarded by teachers who were tired of students mispronouncing Chinese names and becoming bored by cultural traits unfamiliar to them. For fun, I read it over the summer, and where I did struggle to keep track of which character was which, at first, by the halfway point, I was sucked in completely to the story. It's a tale with no real beginning and no real end, yes the names all look the same to the unindoctrinated, but it is such a delightful read, so sad and so thought-provoking, I feel that anyone and everyone should at least give it a chance. Including teachers. Come on, now. Broaden your students' horizons!

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