Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in Hoje Macau
Ten Chinese idioms that will teach you more about China than any expert you are reading
Dream of the Red Chamber is known one of the best-selling books of all time. Written in the 18th century, it is considered a masterpiece and acknowledged to be the pinnacle of Chinese fiction. “Redology” is the field of study devoted exclusively to this work. For example, Chairman Mao was a renowned Redologist. Though I myself am not a redologist, I leaf through the classic work just to keep the mark of the Chinese language in my DNA as an English language writer. Recently, I have collected ten idioms to share with my readers. Today I only want to discuss the revolutionary quality of this classic literary work.
I am a man, my love! 抱诚守真
Oh, my god! So all this time the experts have been trying to convince us that the classic work is about platonic love between the adolescent male and female lead Baoyu and Daiyu. One possible argument is that the mentioned story is based on karma. Karma is experience, and experience creates memory, and memory creates imagination and desire, and desire creates karma again. Say if you buy a hamburger, that’s karma. You now have that memory that might give you the potential desire for having a Big Mac, and you walk into McDonalds – and since the main protagonists are teens, this is most likely the setting – it’s karma all over again.
Desire is the starting point of all good stories, not a virtue, not an assessment, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything. And I’m thinking this is exactly why Dream of the Red Chamber is a ground-breaking masterpiece of literature appreciated by modern readers all over the world: the author admits that the Chinese have a body.
What do these bodies look like? This is a tough one, however.
I found out that most of his female characters are flat-chested and when she is not, he shunned direct description of her body and chose to focus on her attributes – her hair, her silk garment, her scent and her posh taste – and her inner strength. It’s a well-known secret that some juicy passages have been censored from the official edition. For example, the heated love affair between Keqin and her father-in-law was removed because the author showed it to a certain “old and wise” man. The author then explained his censor method in romantic details in his story, hoping the readers would understand his heartache. This is the part I found really funny. From now on, the author has learnt his lesson and he never showed his writing to anyone again. And from now on, his women became sexy and memorable beings because they were like real women even though their flesh and bones remained a mystery. Nevertheless, his artistic fire was devoted to his male lead, Baoyu and his bodily interest and expressions. I believe that it is in this rather accidental manner that Dream of the Red Chamber has liberated both (Chinese) men and women.