Tag Archives: A Dream of Red Mansions

The name’s Jia; Jia Baoyu…


It’s been awhile since A Dream of Red Mansions reared its ugly head, but according to “Jia Baoyu! You are the real murderer!”, a Japanese author, Ashibe Taku turned the story into Murder in the Red Mansions. That was published in 2004 and a translation was published on the Mainland in January. As you might expect (try to look surprised – you might even win an Oscar for your performance), the hysterical reactionaries are up in arms and down in brain cells about this particular parody. I’ll leave you to read the article on Danwei, but this is a red rag, and I’m a bull.

My name’s Jia; Jia Baoyu. I walk the mean streets of Beijing where every alleyway is populated by lowlifes, not all of them Party members. I’d been working late on a case the night before when I finally cracked it and was now heading into my office at mid morning. My assistant, Lin Daiyu, was sitting staring out of the window.
“Morning, Baoyu,” she said and, as she turned back to her desk, disappeared for a moment. She was the only person I’d ever met who was nearly two-dimensional. I encouraged her to eat, but it never seemed to help. “Did you get him?”
“Yeah,” I replied hanging up my hat and coat. “It was Chen Chencheng in Chaoyang with a chausuble.”
I picked up the post off the corner of Daiyu’s desk. Bill, bill, death threat; it was the usual stuff.
“So you were right again. How did you do it? Was it the fibres?”
“That’s what I thought until I realised I’d overlooked the dumplings. Only one person eats that type of dumpling, and they’re specifically made for only one person.”
“The archbishop!” Daiyu squealed, perhaps deserving a second exclamation mark.
“And if the archbishop had been there, as he must’ve, then it could only have been Chen Chencheng.”
“What happened to him?”
“I have no doubt his human rights are being violated in the pursuit of justice.”
“You’ve got a client, Baoyu,” Daiyu added as I turned towards the door of my office.
If Daiyu was going to say anything else, it was too late. I opened the door and there she was in a blue qipao so tight that I didn’t have to mentally undress her; in a blue qipao so tight that Buddha would have reincarnated himself as one of the dragons or phoenixes that decorated it just to cavort across that body. I closed the door of my office behind me.
“Sorry I’m late. Got a break on a case last night. Please, take a seat.”
As she turned to sit down, I could see the outline of her thong against the cloth of her dress.
“Now, how can I do you? I mean, what can I do for you?”
Wang Xifeng“My name’s Wang Xifeng.” Her accent said old money; not that I cared. If I could spend it, any money was good. But where her accent said old money, her eyes said, “Danger”; only I wasn’t listening. “This is Miaoyu.” Xifeng showed me a picture. Where’s this woman from? Babe City? “She’s an unshaved nun who’s been living in our garden for a few years now, but she disappeared a few days ago. We can’t afford to bribe the police, but I’ve been told you’re more easily corruptible.”
“You can corrupt me for ¥70 a day. Plus expenses. Now, tell me more. Do you think she left of her own accord or was abducted?”
“Some of the servants said she often talked about joining the Japanese AV industry…”
I was outraged, but made a mental note of Miaoyu’s name so that I’d know what to look for in the DVD shops – for research purposes, of course. I had tuned out for a moment and then tuned in again.
“…yellow industry is desperate for talent. They say you’re the best at what you do, Mr Jia.”
I’d successfully solved one case, and was now enjoying a morning of hot babes, bribery and flattery. If I’d known how things were going to turn out, I would never have taken the job.

I’m Dreaming of a Red Mansion

Is that the studio ending or the director’s cut?

Danwei reports that A Dream of Red Mansions rides again with the publication of an edition by Zhou Ruchang which cuts out the studio ending by Gao E. Liu Xinwu, who’s another Redologist, has his own ideas about the structure of DRM and is being touted as the man to finish the job the way it was meant to be done.

Green Bamboo certainly isn’t going to pass up this opportunity to propose its own ending to this literary classic.

I don’t know No. 9.

This actually came to me last night. Yesterday, Glen asked me what “irony” meant. Row happened to come into the office at that moment and said they were trying to find out whether there’s anything I don’t know. I think the answer is pretty obvious; just so long as they don’t ask me about 得, 的, or 地.

A random thought.

Is library porn when a copy of Fanny Hill ends up face down on Lady Chatterley’s Lover? I think the public has the right to be prurient about it.

A Dream of Dead Mansions

A Chinese Hallowe’en Story.

Jia Baoyu could hear some distant sound in his half-wakeful state, but not tell where it was coming from or who was making it. It sounded like a cross between six dozen crickets being fried in a wok and twenty screeching alley cats. It sounded like Xifeng scolding the servants. The noise was beginning to drag Baoyu out of semi-consciousness, and it was then that he noticed the bed. The soft, silk sheets seemed to have become all gritty during the night as if the had been sprinkled with sand. Baoyu suddenly sat up.

He was no longer in the room in which he had gone to sleep the night before. He thought, for a moment, that Xiren and Qingwen might have carried him out into the garden as a joke, but he was sitting in the middle of a blasted, barren wasteland. Above him, blood-red clouds whipped through the sky and the wind carried a stench that was almost as terrible as a public toilet in Beijing.

When Baoyu stood up, he saw that he was on an island around which was a broad sea of churning lava. When he looked more closely, he could see faces seething and raging in the ocean of molten rock. It horrified and fascinated him. From the island there led a causeway and since there was nothing to keep him in that place, Baoyu began to follow it. The way was straight and seemed to stretch on forever, disappearing into a strangely dark horizon.

Baoyu rested several times along the way and wondered whether there was an end to the path or whether he would eventual die of starvation, his spirit left to wander in this desolate place for all eternity. Perhaps Lin Daiyu or Xue Baochai might spare him a thought in their prayers. As Baoyu walked, he noticed that the day did not change. The sky was without a sun and the light came from everywhere.

Just as the sun would have been setting, he found that a huge gateway appeared out of the black mists into which the causeway had seemed to vanish. He could see a pair of tall bronze gates on either side of which were two curiously animated towers. It was only when Baoyu got much closer that he could see they were covered in spikes and on each spike was impaled some wriggling, writhing, rotting corpse. Down the stones ran a stream of rancid blood which, when it hit the lava, threw up clouds of noxious black steam. In front of the gate was a much small archway on the lintel of which were carved the words Lasciate ogni etc. although they meant nothing to him. As he passed beneath the arch, the gates slowly rumbled open, the metal ringing as if to announce his arrival.

So massive were the gates that Baoyu still had a long walk to get past them and when they eventually closed, he felt the ground shake and heard a metallic boom. He turned but could see nothing. The light had been snuffed out, although he could still see himself. He looked around. There seemed to be no way to tell what was forwards or what was backwards; no way to tell whether any way was right, or all ways were wrong. Even up and down seemed to lose all meaning. Perhaps Baoyu was moving or perhaps they came to him.

Suddenly he found himself in a room. Above Baoyu sat three men, Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus, the Judges of the Dead. Before them sat a large book with a heavy gold cover.

“Name?” said Rhadamanthus.

“Jia Baoyu,” squeaked Baoyu trying to sound brave and manly, but he was suddenly trembling in terror.

Aeacus turned the pages of the book. “Jia Baoyu,” he said to his fellow judges. “He wants to be a girl. Is this true?”


“We shall give you what you desire,” said Minos. “You shall be a girl. You’ll have to shave your legs…”

“…which shall be long and sexy…” intoned Rhadamanthus.

“…and wax your bikini line…” said Aeacus.

“You shall have big boobs…” continued Minos.

“…to which men will talk…” added Rhadamanthus.

“But I don’t like men,” protested Baoyu who had never, for a moment, considered shaving, waxing, or the consequences of big breasts.

“For speaking back to the judges…” said Aeacus.

“…you shall be a double-D cup…”

“…and a nymphomaniac.” Rhadamanthus banged his gavel. It rang the knell of doom.

Baoyu started to open his mouth, but some great force plucked him out of the courtroom. He woke up with a start and found himself in his bed, sending Xiren and Qingwen, who had been sleeping either side of him, tumbling onto the floor. As they stood up, grumbling, Baoyu started to tell them about his dream.

“I know you’ve always been self-conscious about them,” said Xiren sym­path­et­ic­al­ly, “but you’re just going to have to accept that you’re a double-D cup.”

Baoyu looked down. “Noooo!” he cried when he saw what the plastic surgeon had done.

Xiren and Qingwen looked at each other and started to giggle. “April Fool!” they chanted.

Baoyu looked puzzled until they explained that that was Hallowe’en – with Chinese characteristics.

A Dream of Red Mansions IV

Maximum body count.

So ends A Dream of Red Mansions.

This volume is about the ruin of the Jia family; the deaths of Lin Daiyu, the Old Ancestress, Xifeng, and various others; and the loss of Baoyu’s jade.

The family’s shaky state is made worse when a disgruntled toady contrives to get the estate raided by imperial authorities after he fails to get the favours he was hoping for out of them. In truth, they were unable to oblige.

The loss of Baoyu’s jade results in the loss of his wits, and the senior mistresses use his state to trick him into marrying Baochai who they consider to be a more suitable bride than Daiyu. When Baoyu eventually regains some of his wits, his thoughts often turn to Daiyu. Eventually, his jade is returned and his understanding with it. He takes the imperial examinations and comes seventh, but his divine personality is reasserting itself and he turns his back on the world.

After the raid on the family estate, the Old Ancestress goes into a decline. She does what she can to shore up the family’s finances before she dies. Xifeng is wrongly accused of mismanaging the funeral, but the money which the old lady had put aside is not issued and Xifeng is unable to do anything about it. The strain causes further internal haemorrhaging (another popular fate for Chinese women of the age, it seems). Not long after Concubine Zhao goes mad and dies.

Eventually, the family fortunes are restored after the emperor recognises their meritorious service to the empire and re-examines the contrived case against the Jias.

What annoyed me about A Dream of Red Mansions was the society. It reminded me of medieval literature such as The Nibelungenlied in which the etiquette of social relationships plays a major role. Many of the incidents in the story are based on misunderstandings because the rather stultified society prevents, say, Xifeng from explaining that it’s not her management of the old lady’s funeral that is at fault, but rather the failure of others. But neither author appears to have any critical view of it. Baoyu is not interested in a future as an imperial functionary because he’s the incarnation of a divine being.

I guess that’s Baoyu’s story. The incarnation of the divine being is distracted by his girl cousins and maids in the garden. His divine essence eventually reasserts itself. But since neither author seems to be critical of the society about which they are writing, I’m not certain whether, for example, this represents a call to reject the temporal in favour of the spiritual, which is one of the themes of medieval European literature.

And that’s the end of the four classic Chinese novels.

Of the four – Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, and A Dream of Red Mansions – I have a preference for this one, but that’s not saying much.

Three Kingdoms loses audience share once the original protagonists have died. Journey to the West is boringly repetitious because it’s an episodic collection of market tales. Outlaws of the Marsh turns into Three Kingdoms, but probably has the most interesting characters. I also think the story is interesting for what it doesn’t say, or fails to say about the relationship between the outlaws, their territory, and the central government.

Next up, Leucippe and Clitophon.

17.03.13. Edited HTML, made minor alterations to the text, and added tags.

A Dream of Red Mansions III

Out, damn’d xiaojie!

I got through Volume III in record time because I’ve been reading it on the otherwise dull bus trip to and from town, or at the lamian restaurant while I’m waiting for my order. This volume sees the end of the eighty chapters written by Cao Xueqin and the start of the forty which Gao E wrote to complete the story.

Volume III has a darker tone than the first two. Financial problems still plague the Jia family. Life in the garden is disrupted by the introduction of outsiders, which leads to social tensions among the lower orders. Even Baoyu is not immune when his mother unfairly dismisses Qingwen, one of his maids, who goes off and dies of that most romantic malady for girls of the age, consumption.

Baoyu’s father, Jia Zheng, sends him back to school to prepare for the imperial examinations (the college entrance exam of the day).

Early in the story, Xifeng, Baoyu’s cousin (both as his mother’s niece and by marriage), was made the household manager. Because she has been desperate not to be faulted in this role, she has made herself especially unpopular with the servants. When her husband, Jia Lian, takes the second You sister as his concubine, Xifeng ruthlessly destroys the girl who commits suicide by swallowing gold. She also orders the murder of the girl’s impoverished former fiancé, but the servant, knowing better, merely informs her that the deed has been done. But the morality of her actions is never questioned.

Xiren, another of Baoyu’s servants, believing, as everyone does, that Baoyu and Lin Daiyu are bound to get married, realises that she’s destined to become his concubine. She finds the subject hard to broach to the over-sensitive Daiyu as she attempts to manoeuvre herself for the inevitable union.

Meanwhile, Baochai’s feckless gay/bisexual/utterly confused brother, Xue Pan, marries Jingui who, as he discovers during that post-marital period when you repent at leisure, is a hell-spawned virago. She mows down Xue Pan’s concubine, Xiangling, like a German machine gun at the Somme, but is thwarted by her own maid, Baochan. Xue Pan also kills a waiter, but the family pulls strings and he wriggles out of the charge.

It only seems to be a matter of time before the House of Jia comes tumbling down.

A Dream of Red Mansions II

Attack of the Cylons.

I hit the end of the second volume on the bus back from Changzhou. The tale continues to meander on like a soap opera. The first part is largely taken up with a visit by the rustic Granny Liu who is out of her depth among the urban sophisticates and the butt of many jokes. The comedy, I’m guessing, has the Chinese in stitches, but in English you’re left wondering what’s so funny.

It’s then time for the Spring Festival (which means it’s the depths of winter and bloody freezing), and Baoyu and co. hold their poetry club. I don’t know whether the poetry’s much good, but it’s mostly about nature. We seem to be living in a world of prescribed subjects and rhymes. The trick seems to be to get the moon, jade, and plum blossoms in the poem as well as the odd chrysanthemum or two. The Romantics would’ve loved it.

But all is not well. Incomes are down and expenses are up. The death of an imperial concubine means that while the elders are away, a lot of jealousies flare up because of the presence of the family’s troupe of child actresses (who are little better than pampered slaves).

The great love affair between Baoyu and Daiyu remains largely undeveloped. He falls ridiculously ill when Daiyu’s maid, Zijuan, teases him that Daiyu is to be sent home. When Diayu hears about the maid’s jape, she falls ill (well, even more ill) as well. Daiyu’s now sounding so thin that she’d make supermodels look chunky.

Dr Wang: Please stand on the scales, Miss Lin.
Daiyu: I am standing on the scales.
Dr Wang: Try standing a little harder.

A Dream of Red Mansions I

Precious children

I’ve come to the end of the first volume of A Dream of Red Mansions. Like the other classic Chinese novels I’ve read, this one seems to be rambling and aimless. In fact, volume 1 is about 600 pages long. I know where things are meant to be going, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to get there.

So far, it’s really been a tale of precious (in the bad sense) adolescents living in a world of painfully petty social etiquette. It’s an odd sort of world, too, in which everyone has a bunch of maids running around after them, but the maids are not exactly subservient.

What’s the deal with Baoyu? He’s definitely a girly boy, but perhaps not in the gay sense. It’s hard to tell. He’s only marginally less precious than the consumptive Lin Daiyu who spends most of her time, it seems, blubbing and having tantrums. As is typical with the Chinese, there seems to be no reaction that’s not an extreme reaction.

Overall, this is a world of the immature. The main characters are in their mid-teens, which means that their parents are probably only in their thirties, and the Old Ancentress (as she is called) is probably about 48.

Well, there are three more volumes to go so things may get better. Actually, I should say, “become clearer”, because right now the story remains aimless.

The first three classic Chinese novels haven’t received my seal of critical approval. They all suffer from being long and rambling. The Three Kingdoms fell flat once the original protagonists had died. The Journey to the West was boringly repetitive once you got to the journey itself. Outlaws of the Marsh turned into a repeat screening of The Three Kingdoms (having been written by the same person).