December 15, 2004

The Dream of Red Chamber

The Dream of Red Chamber was written by a Chinese novelist, Tsao-Hsueh-chin in the 18th century. It is the theme of China’s fascinating and best-loved story. It is a Chinese ancient and modern first wonderful novel. Tsao Hsueh-chin depicts typical events and characteristic characters under typical circumstances, therefore, the decadence of the aristocrats in feudal society and the oppression of innocent and powerless young girls, boys, and slaves are vividly and classically presented. With such a broad social scene as the novel's background, Tsao Hsueh-chin describes with great care and precision a great number of vivid characters, both positive and negative, some primary and others secondary. Some characters, such as Pao-yu, Tai-yu, Hsi-feng , and Granny Liu have become popular characters for readers all over the world.
Tsao Hsueh-chin is very skillful in depicting characters that possess diverse individualities. For instance, Hsueh Pan and Hsueh Pao-chai are brother and sister, yet the former is a typical stupid dictator, while the latter is a standard feudal maiden. The author is also very successful in adopting various approaches to depict different characters according to their different social positions. He makes a point of reinforcing the main facets of the characters through multiple plots and from different angles, such as Pao-yu's love and sympathy for girls; Tai-yu's pride and aloofness, as well as her sentimental character; Pao-chai's hypocrisy, smoothness, and crookedness; Wang Hsi-feng 's wisdom and cruelty. All the features in their characters are described in remarkable, striking situations to leave unforgettable impressions on readers.
The novel gained much praise because of its artistic structure. But in order to fully present the rich and complicated social life, meet the demands of the development of characterization, and give out the purpose of exposing the conflicts and struggles within the Chia family, Tsao Hsueh-chin's novel gives special attention to the plot of the love story between Pao-yu and Tai-yu and to the waning prosperity, as well as the moral decline, of the Chia family. All the other characters and all of the many complicated events are related to these two main plot lines.

The novel was written in the 18th century, which was beyond the early 19th century. It is closely observed portraits of women, in particular, transformed the traditional Chinese novel and also challenged traditional gender norms.

The Chinese feudalism society is specially brutal to the woman. As we know, women were oppressed by the system rather than male. Under that system, women were dominated by male. Men outdo women. Women were treated as toys and tournaments.
Feminine liberty movements were inevitable of conflicting with men, though men were not the main object to struggle with.

Before the Dream of red Chamber, Chinese women have no respect and right in society. At that time, Tsao-Hsueh-chin was the only one who could see and appreciate women. He became the one that spoke out for women in his novel. Feminine tragedy had been played on the stage for hundreds of years in Chinese history. It was not occasional that Tsao was the first writer that pointed out it. He understood women and treated them with respects. He had a deep and insightful observation.

To be continue...

Posted by HuiLin at December 15, 2004 07:09 AM

Don't worry that The Red Chamber is a bit too early for the time period of our American Lit class. That's OK with me.

Was the story immediately popular, or did it only become a classic when communism came into power in China? I imagine that its anti-aristocracy slant would make it attractive.

Just curious... does this story mean anything to you? It was used as an example in Marshal McLuhan's book Understanding Media:

As Tzu-Gung was traveling through the regions north of the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would descend into the well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it into the ditch. While his efforts were tremendous the results appeared to be very meager.

Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort …. You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well.”

Then anger rose up in the old man’s face, and he said, “I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.” (63)

I mentioned that story on my blog a few months ago... if you've heard of it, or it means anything to you, I'd welcome your response to it in terms of the John Henry legend.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at December 15, 2004 02:44 PM

The Dream of Red Chamber is one of the four classic masterpieces in the history of Chinese literature. It is the first feminism novel. i read it when i was in high school. i was attracted to its aristocratic story and it describes with great care and precision in the novel. It feels like Tsao is talking about his own story. I mean how come he knows so much and specifically writes about the live in Red Chamber. He was the first person to put the aristocracy’s luxury life into a book. He must have experienced this kind of life. Was the decline of the Chia family the decline of Tsao family? Was Tsao used to be a loyal descendant?

Posted by: Hui Lin at December 15, 2004 04:39 PM

I am interested in The Dream of Red Chamber because I am inspired by the “The Scarlet Letter”. “The Scarlet Letter” plays a very important role in the literature history of the western world. The “Red Chamber” is a fascinating piece of work in the literature history of China. Both of them are feminism novels. Both of them have same main plot-line –love. Women in these novels would not surrender to the oppression of old brutal feudalism system. Women stood up and pushed for love, equality, respect, and independence. Hawthorn and Tsao had a deep understanding of feminine and had witnessed women were striving for their rights and life in the man dominance and control society. Although written two or three hundred years, they are still popularly in the world. They have played a significant role in the history of feminism movement.

Posted by: Hui Lin at December 15, 2004 07:36 PM
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