红楼梦 – Dream of the Red Chamber

Recently I’ve been reading an English translation of Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the four great classical Chinese novels. I’ve had the book for a long time, given to me as a gift by my buddy Ana (which she picked up at the Strand, great store!). I did try reading it before when I first got it, but the huge cast of characters quickly overwhelmed me (there’s tons of relatives, waiting maids, and other minor characters) and I kinda let it slide. However, now that I am older and wiser, and also bored out of my mind in Syracuse, I find that I’m 7/8ths done with reading it. Plus, being the consummate wiki-er I am, I already know what happens plot-wise. Just reading to see how the writer plays it out.

For those not familiar, Dream of the Red Chamber is about the love triangle between the spoiled son of the rich Jia family, Jia Baoyu, and his beautiful but frail cousin Lin Daiyu and his other lovely cousin Xue Baochai. Overall the novel details social and political workings of the family and of the time (bribing officials to overlook bad behavior, wives scheming against other family members, painful deaths and suicides, etc etc), and shows the gradual decline of the wealthy Jia family. Also, you have to throw in some mystical elements like how Baoyu is the reincarnation of a magical stone and Lin Daiyu is reincarnated from a plant that the stone used to water…. Okay, it gets a little confusing. Oh, did I mention that Baoyu was born with a precious jade stone in his mouth? And that his name means… Precious Jade?!

Even before I was reading the translated version, I had a children’s version of the book that I bought from China years ago on a family trip. I’ll admit that I bought the book because of the colorful and pretty pictures. Ooh pretty pictures! Pretty girls in pretty clothes!

scanned from my book, the family at a meal with the matriarch in the center. Look at all that yummy drawn food!


Sometimes I do feel like things are lost in translation and I wish I could read Chinese! Oh well…. I’m thinking of reading other translations and seeing how they compare. As in, is Lin Daiyu really that annoying as she seems in the book? She’s super sensitive and does girly things such as – “Hmph! You said that so I’m never going to talk to you again! And I’m going to rip up this gift I was making for you!” Ugh… so annoying…

Baoyu surrounded by the ladies, whose company he prefers to men.

Also by reading the book I realized how rampant homosexuality was back in the day! There’s plenty of mention of ‘charming young boys’ and ‘handsome lithe youths’. Plus a lot of straight sex as well… Supposedly Baoyu had sex for the first time at the tender age of 13, and with one of his maids to boot! An interesting euphemism for the deed is “The Play of Cloud and Rain”.

It’s sexy time in the Jia household.

Anyway the story has a pretty tragic end, with the Jia family having their palaces confiscated and the love triangle not going well what with secret marriage plots and whatnot. But I haven’t gotten to that part yet!

Baoyu and his beloved cousin Lin Daiyu

So what with all the plotting and scheming and sex, it seemed natural for Dream of the Red Chamber to come to TV, which it did in 1987 and 2010. The 1987 version is supposedly to be super classic… However, I can’t tell since I cannot find a decent eng-subbed version of it! Ugh! However, the 2010 one was widely panned especially in terms of hair and costumes and was not considered to have the traditional touch of the older one. Still I wanna see both!

A scene from the 1987 version, Baoyu and Lin Daiyu
same scene from the 2010 version

The trailer for the 2010 drama.

Awesome. Now just to finish the book!

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