Wandering Between Two Worlds: The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715-1745 1433115034, 9781433115035

Wandering Between Two Worlds: The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715-1745 is a biographical account of the first 30 year

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Wandering Between Two Worlds: The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715-1745
 1433115034, 9781433115035

Table of contents :
Contents
Acknowledgments
Foreword by Zhou Ruchang
Introduction: The Problem of the Biographer
1. “Thanks to Imperial Favor”
2. The Kangxi Emperor’s Man on the Ground: Cao Yin and Neiwufu
3. “Dressed in Silks and Delicately Nurtured”
4. “The Embroidered Jackets Raid”
5. “Buildings Rich and Elegant, People Lively and Numerous”
6. “Career Worms”
7. Reading and Rereadings
8. “Stirred Feelings Find Expression in Sound”
9. The Right Wing Imperial Clan School and the Dun Brothers
10. Participating in the Social World: Poetry, Painting, Music, and Gardens
11. The Question of Motivation
12. “No Need for Some Self-Important Being to Commend or Publish It’’

Citation preview

ASIAN THOUGHT AND CULTURE

Wandering Between Two Worlds The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715-1745

Ronald R. Gray

Wandering Between Two Worlds

ASIAN THOUGHT AND CULTURE

Sandra A. Wawrytko

General Editor Vol. 68

This book is a volume in a Peter Lang monograph series. Every title is peer reviewed and meets the highest quality standards for content and production.

PETER LANG

New York  Washington, D.C./Baltimore  Bern Frankfurt  Berlin  Brussels  Vienna  Oxford

Ronald R. Gray

Wandering Between Two Worlds The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715-1745

PETER LANG

New York  Washington, D.C./Baltimore  Bern Frankfurt  Berlin  Brussels  Vienna  Oxford

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gray, Ronald R. Wandering between two worlds: the formative years of Cao Xueqin 1715–1745 / Ronald R. Gray. p. cm. — (Asian thought and culture; vol. 68) Includes bibliographical references. 1. Cao, Xueqin, approximately 1717–1763. 2. Cao, Xueqin, approximately 1717–1763—Childhood and youth. 3. Authors, Chinese— 18th century—Biography. I. Title. PL2727.S2Z73 895.13’48—dc23 2014002010 ISBN 978-1-4331-1503-5 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-4539-1325-3 (e-book) ISSN 0893-6870

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data is available on the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de/.

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council of Library Resources.

© 2014 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York 29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006 www.peterlang.com All rights reserved. Reprint or reproduction, even partially, in all forms such as microfilm, xerography, microfiche, microcard, and offset strictly prohibited. Printed in Germany

C O N T E N T S

Acknowledgments ......................................................................................... vii Foreword by Zhou Ruchang ........................................................................... ix Introduction: The Problem of the Biographer .............................................. xiii 1. “Thanks to Imperial Favor” .................................................................... 1 2. The Kangxi Emperor’s Man on the Ground: Cao Yin and Neiwufu ..... 15 3. “Dressed in Silks and Delicately Nurtured”.......................................... 38 4. “The Embroidered Jackets Raid” .......................................................... 55 5. “Buildings Rich and Elegant, People Lively and Numerous” ............. 75 6. “Career Worms” ................................................................................... 98 7. Reading and Rereadings ...................................................................... 126 8. “Stirred Feelings Find Expression in Sound” ..................................... 155 9. The Right Wing Imperial Clan School and the Dun Brothers ............ 181 10. Participating in the Social World: Poetry, Painting, Music, and Gardens ......................................................................................... 193 11. The Question of Motivation ................................................................ 217 12. “No Need for Some Self-Important Being to Commend or Publish It’’ ...................................................................................... 232

A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S

This study is the result of nearly a decade of research and discussions. I would first of all like to thank the many Honglou meng scholars I have met in China for patiently answering my many questions. I would specifically like to thank Prof. Duan Jiangli of Beijing Language and Culture University, Prof. Liang Guizhi of Liaoning Normal University, and especially Cai Yijiang, for their great assistance and hospitality. I am also very grateful to my former student. Li Li 李丽 for her help procuring material, her research, and her careful editing in spite of the fact she was also working on her thesis at the time. Thanks also to Robert Wyss of Ohio University’s OPIE program for providing useful comments about the manuscript. Hats off to Terence “Moping, melancholy, and mad” Allred for his very careful reading and editing. I owe a strong debt of gratitude to my mentor, the distinguished Redologist Zhou Ruchang (1918–2012), a great scholar and gentleman in the traditional Confucian sense of the term, who was always supportive and willing to discuss the novel during the 10 years I had the pleasure of knowing him. I am also very grateful to him for taking the time to write an introduction to this book several months before his died in spite of being in bad health. Moreover, I also appreciate the friendliness of Zhou’s daughter Zhou Lunling. Most importantly, a strong thank you to my wife, Kyongsook Park, who has had to endure years of me endlessly talking about Honglou meng, for her support, and excellent translation, editing, and formatting skills. Several grants from Ohio University’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the College of Arts and Sciences helped make the publication of this book possible. In addition, several Humanities Research Fund grants made it possible for me to make a needed research trip to Beijing in May, 2013 and to purchase materials. Finally, a special thanks to Dean Howard Dewald for telling me about this fund and giving support.

F O R E W O R D

China has four classical novels: The Three Kingdoms 三国演义, Journey to the West 西游记, Outlaws of the Marsh 水浒传, and Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦. All Chinese know these works and never tire of reading them. Today, people use many different methods to study the characteristics and contents of these classics which have become part of the general cultural knowledge of educated people around the world. It is very interesting to note that Cao Xueqin, the author of Dream of the Red Chamber, was a descendant of the famous Wei general and politician Cao Cao 曹操 (155–220 A.D.). Cao Cao was the leader of the Wei Kingdom who eventually defeated the Shu and Wu kingdoms during China’s Three Kingdom Period (the novel The Three Kingdoms is based upon this period). Surprisingly, many readers are not aware of the relationship between these 2 individuals. I understand that Mr. Ronald Gray is writing a book to introduce Cao Xueqin to Western readers. Cao should be recognized as a genius who was also a sage. He was a gifted practitioner of literature, poetry, poetic prose, calligraphy, painting, garden design, architecture, aesthetics, philosophy, history, ethnology, and other fields. His special talents and wide knowledge are clearly demonstrated in Honglou meng, which is a very rare work of genius, and has been translated into many languages. I would like to take this opportunity to express my long held feelings. I have many foreign friends who study Dream of the Red Chamber, but their interests and energy are focused only on the novel, and they pay little attention to Cao Xueqin as a person. This approach to literature is very different from the approach of the Confucian philosopher Mencius 孟子 (371–289 B.C.), who said that you cannot completely understand an author by only reading his books or poems, you also need to understand his life and background. That is why it is necessary when reading a book or chanting a poem to clearly comprehend the period in the writer’s life in which the work was written in. Mencius referred to this as “Making comments on public figures and social affairs.” I want to emphasize this point in this preface: I know Mr. Gray is a scholar who is deeply interested in Cao Xueqin’s writings and life. He is particularly interested in the first 30 years of Cao’s life, before Dream of the Red Chamber was ‘born,’ and the special circumstances of this time. This period is very important.

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In my opinion, the Kangxi emperor’s (1662–1722) reign can be divided into three stages. During the first stage, he completely conquered China with military force. During the middle stage, Kangxi focused on developing Han traditional culture and used every means to promote the integration of Man and Han culture. And during the final stage, he suffered greatly because of the horrible political infighting among his sons over who would succeed him to the throne. In the end, Kangxi ruled China for 61 years, until theYongzheng emperor cleverly employed schemes and intrigues to usurp the throne. Consequently, when characters in Honglou meng state that they wish they could have “lived 20–30 years earlier,” this really means they did not live during this 30 year period of peace and prosperity, but rather during a time which seemed like “the end of the world.” This quote also directly refers to the 30 years before Dream of the Red Chamber was written. This 30 year span extended from the time Kangxi began his famous tours of the south of China to around the time Yongzheng stole the throne, and the “big four political cases” occurred, when Yongzheng tyrannically ruled the country and viciously punished Nian Gengyao, Long Ke duo, Li Xu, and Cao Xueqin’s father, Cao Fu. This resulted in tragic changes to Cao Xueqin’s family’s status and future. It also deeply influenced Cao’s philosophy, sentiment, and perspectives on life, society, politics, morality, and culture. Cao wrote in chapter one of his novel the antithetical couplet, “When false is taken for true, true becomes false; if non-being turns into being, being becomes non-being.” It encapsulates his strong sense of grief, indignation, and mental agony. But he also knew that he should carry out Kangxi’s wishes and wanted to write a book that fused together Man and Han culture. Mr. Gray edited the English translation of my book Cao Xueqin’s New Biography 曹雪芹新传,1 and is now writing a biography of Cao’s early life. I believe his book will contribute to cultural exchange between China and the West. I am old (94) and have lost my eyesight, so it is very difficult to write. But I would like to congratulate Mr. Gray on his undertaking with my short preface. Finally, I am reminded that Cao Xueqin was born in 1724, which was, like this year, the year of the Dragon. I hope people will remember his birthday.

1

Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber by Zhou Ruchang, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009).

Foreword

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I am unable to write as much as I would like because of my physical condition and I find it difficult to sort out my ideas, so I will finish with the hope that Mr. Gray and readers will forgive me.

Zhou Ruchang Chinese Ministry of Culture Tenured Researcher Art Research Institute of China Visiting Scholar University of Wisconsin Luce Scholar, U.S. Author of More than 50 books on Honglou meng Beijing, February 17, 2012 (Translated by Kyongsook Park)

I N T R O D U C T I O N

The Problem of the Biographer While the eighteenth century Chinese writer Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹 (1715– 1763) is widely considered to be China’s greatest novelist, we unfortunately know very little about his life. This is the starting point for any biographical inquiry into it. In fact, virtually nothing about his relatively short and tragic life is clear or easy to document, and what we do know would hardly fill a page. As Miao Huaiming has sadly noted, “facts are scarce and some are contradictory, a huge gap forms between the desire to know and the lack of information about him.”1 A useful parallel can be drawn with the life of William Shakespeare (to whom Cao has been frequently compared). Like Shakespeare’s, heated debates and controversy swirl around even the most basic facts of Cao’s life.2 Both men kept no diaries and left no letters, and no manuscripts of their works exist written in their own hands; we are still unsure of what they looked like, of their religious beliefs, and of their sexuality; their works are plagued by complicated and contentious textual disputes, and questions have long been raised about whether they were even the real authors of some or all of their writings. Although we know more about Cao Xueqin’s family background than we do about Shakespeare’s, we know much less about Cao as a person than we do about Shakespeare. What little we do know about Cao mainly comes from a few poems and remarks written by friends and second hand comments. Because Cao was never a government official, his name does not appear on any official records nor on the Cao clan registry. Consequently, the simple fact is there is not enough material for a full or satisfactory biography of him. Ironically, Cao Xueqin’s novel, Honglou meng 红楼梦 Dream of the Red Chamber was not published until nearly 30 years after his death, and it was not until 1921, with the publication of the lengthy article, “A Textual-Critical Study of the Honglou meng” by Hu Shi, that Cao was finally conclusively identified as the author of the work.3 The implications of this discovery for 1 2

3

Cao Xueqin (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 2010), p. 30. The nasty battles among Shakespeare scholars as detailed in Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups (New York: Random House, 2006) are more than matched by the rhetoric of today’s mainland Chinese Honglou meng experts in their writings. ‘Honglou meng kaozheng.’ Reprinted in Hu Shi Honglou meng yanjiu lunshu quan bian (The Complete Works of Hu Shih’s Research on Honglou meng). (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1988): pp. 75–120.

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studies of the novel were lamented by Haun Saussy in a famous 2003 article, “The Age of Attribution: Or, How the Honglou meng Finally Acquired an Author.” In it, Saussy argues that this discovery “caused Honglou meng studies to be buried under Cao studies, where they largely remain to this day except in certain countries where most reader’s unfamiliarity with Qing dynasty history makes a formal or thematic reading of the book a less tedious option.” 4 Saussy’s aversion to Chinese scholars heavy reliance upon biographical approaches to the novel is also present in the writings of many Western scholars who usually carefully steer clear of biographical speculations about Cao.5 In contrast, biographies of Cao which assume that the novel is essentially a disguised autobiography continue to be quite common and popular in China. In Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson caustically (but accurately) observes that because of the paucity of hard facts concerning Shakespeare’s life, investigators are basically left with only three possibilities: “To pick minutely over legal documents…to speculate…or to persuade themselves that they know more than they actually do.” As a result, “The urge to switch from subjunctive to indicative is, to paraphrase Alastair Fowler, always a powerful one.”6 While progress has been made in research on Cao’s family background thanks to groundbreaking work done by such scholars as Hu Shi, Yu Pingbo, Zhou Ruchang, Zhang Shucai, and Feng Qiyong, Bryson’s comment about Shakespeare is generally true and remains true of most Chinese biographical accounts of Cao’s life. Traditionally, Chinese biographers of Cao Xueqin have relied upon the following types of evidence to document his life: (1). The close study of existing governmental documents in the archives of the Palace Museum in Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taipei relating to his family. These include the numerous regular and secret palace memorials submitted by Cao’s grandfather Cao Yin, his son Cao Yong, his posthumously adopted son Cao Fu, and Cao Yin’s brother-in-law Li Xu, to the Kangxi emperor, as well as Cao 4 5

6

Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 25 (2003): p. 125. For a strong critique of an author centered model of Honglou meng studies, see Anthony Yu’s Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 16–19. The only biography of Cao Xueqin that has appeared in English is Between Noble and Humbles: Cao Xueqin and Dream of the Red Chamber by Zhou Ruchang, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009). This book is a translation of a 1992 biography of Cao written by Zhou. (New York: Atlas Books, 2007), pp. 15–16.

Introduction

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Fu’s memorials to the Emperor Yongzheng, and the literary works of Cao Yin. Biographers have also scrutinized local government records and gazetteers, and Manchu and Cao clan genealogical registers. (2). The close examination of comments, poems, and stories about Cao by close friends like Dun Cheng, Dun Men, and Zhang Yiquan, accounts of Cao’s life related to Yu Rui by older Cao family relatives, and analysis of long standing rumors about Cao Xueqin. (3). Detailed analysis of the numerous remarks on the novel and Cao’s life written by the mysterious editor, confidant, and critic Zhiyanzhai (Red Inkstone) 脂砚斋, and other individuals who made comments on manuscript versions of Honglou meng: Jihu sou (Odd Tablet) 畸 笏叟, Songzhai 松斋, Changcun 常村, Meixi 梅溪, Xingzhai 杏斋, and Xutang 煦堂. (4). Traditionally, it is common in Chinese literary criticism to read a literary work as an expression of Zhi or an author’s intent; therefore any literary creation is potentially seen as an autobiographical document. This is particularly true in the case of Honglou meng. Many Chinese biographers of Cao Xueqin continue to be mainly driven by the belief that the novel is heavily autobiographical and in large part concerned with depicting the life of its author. As a consequence, biographers minutely attempt to mine or “decode” the story’s possible allusions to actual occurrences in Cao Xueqin’s life, and ferret out his knowledge of nefarious doings in the Qing government or imperial family.7 7

As Anthony Yu has noted, “Because the novel has made extensive use of many aspects of traditional culture, twentieth-century Chinese criticism has tended to concentrate on reconstructing in minute detail the economic, social, intellectual, and cultural settings of the story…Combined with the interest in the author’s family (the autobiographical approach) and the determination to penetrate the glyphic rhetoric of the author, Chinese critical scholarship unwittingly has regarded the narrative more as a historical document than as a masterpiece of fiction.” “Cao Xueqin’s Hongloumeng” in Masterworks of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective: A Guide For Teachers, edited by Barbara Miller (New York: ME Sharpe, Inc., 1994), pp. 294–295. There has been a gradual turning away in recent years by Chinese scholars from the idea that Honglou meng is basically an autobiography or a historical document, and recognition of the fictive nature of the work. But the majority of Chinese biographies of Cao Xueqin continue to assume that the novel is primarily an autobiography. Recent, extreme examples of this autobiographical approach are Guoling Han and Zi Jun’s thesis that Cao Xueqin was involved in a plot that resulted in the assassination of the Emperor Yongzheng, see their Cao Xueqin Du Sha Yongzheng Di: jie Kai Yongzheng Baowang zhi mi (Cao Xueqin Killed the Yongzheng Emperor With Poison: Uncovering the Yongzheng’s Emperor’s Death),

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Wandering Between Two Worlds (5). Imaginative or historicist reconstructions of his life.8

The purpose of this book is twofold. First, it attempts to offer a relatively brisk but comprehensive account of Cao Xueqin’s formative years. It takes him from his birth in 1715 to the age of 30, when he probably began to seriously write his massive novel. This account does not purport to be exhaustive but simply aims to broadly paint the social, historical, and familial influences which formed Cao and eventually led to his decision to write Honglou meng. It tries to give the reader a concrete feel for what he would have been socially, culturally, and intellectually exposed to during his time in Nanjing and Beijing. I will also contend that one of the things that made Cao Xueqin such a fascinating person is the fact that he was interested—in people, their daily lives and motivations, and all aspects of material culture. He was also intrigued with the subjects of systems of beliefs and knowledge, and on a pratical level, processes—how things were done or carried out in the world. His avid curiosity about these topics is clearly reflected in Dream of the Red Chamber. This study also tries to capture Cao Xueqin’s strong sense of being an outsider which plagued him throughout most of his life. Martin Huang has written that Cao “almost seems to personify marginality…the question of identity must have been a constant source of anxiety throughout his life.”9

8

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(Beijing: Dongfang Publishers, 2007); and the novelist Liu Xinwu’s very popular series of books on the novel espousing his belief that the character Qin Keqing in the novel was a representation of the Emperor Kangxi’s deposed heir Yinreng. See in particular, Liu Xinwu’s jiemi Honglou meng (Liu Xinwu Decodes the Dream of the Red Chamber), (Beijing: People’s Press, 2005). An excellent example of the Chinese biographical methodology as applied to Cao Xueqin at work, can be found in the numerous writings of the noted mainland scholar Zhou Ruchang. See his highly influential Honglou meng xinzheng (New Evidence on Honglou meng), (Beijing: The People’s Literature Publisher, revised edition, 1976), 2 volumes. Recently one of Zhou’s biographies has been translated into English (Zhou, 2009). This biography presents a historicist treatment of Cao’s life, and also has a detailed bibliography of Zhou’s major publications. For accounts of Chinese Hongxue (the study of Honglou meng), see Louise Edward’s Men and Women in Qing China: Gender in The Red Chamber Dream (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001), pgs. 10–32; Du Zhijun’s “Xinshiqi hongxue sanshi nian: 1978–2008” (“Thirty Years of the New Hongxue: 1978–2008”), Honglou meng Xuekan 1 (2009): 1–36; Hongxue Tongshi (A History of Hongxue) by Chen Weizhao, 2 volumes (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publisher, 2005); and Liang Guizhi’s Shitouji tanyi (Finding the Lost Story of the Stone), (Taiyuan: Shanxi Guji Publishers, 2005), and Dushang Honglou (Climbing the Red Chamber Alone), (Taiyuan: Shanxi Guji Publishers, 2005). Literati and Self-Re/Presentation: Autobiographical Sensibility in the Eighteenth Century Chinese Novel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p 85.

Introduction

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These intense feelings of marginalization were largely the result of his affluent family’s fall from power following the confiscation of their property by the government in Nanjing in 1728 and the humiliating dismissal of his father Cao Fu from his position as Nanjing Textile Commissioner and his subsequent imprisonment for corruption; Cao’s unstable and ambiguous status as a bondservant; the gradual tightening up of the criteria for banner identity by the Qing government; and the general crisis of identity experienced by eighteenth century Chinese literati over their place in society and the increasing lack of governmental positions available to them. Specifically, this book will focus on how Cao, who was an exceedingly proud, sensitive, and highly independent individual, negotiated his way through his complex identity problems and eventually decided to carve out an alternative identity as a novelist. It will be argued that writing provided Cao Xueqin with a creative outlet to externalize his conflicted feelings of self, allowed him to articulate the deep nostalgia he felt for his early life in Nanjing, and enabled him to impose a sense of order, control, and understanding upon what had happened to him and his family. While I do at times indulge in some psychological speculations concerning Cao and his quest for identity using insights from such well known psychologists as Eric Erickson and Anthony Storr, I hope this is done in a way that is both illuminating and not too reductive. In spite of the tragic course of his life and reclusive later years, Cao Xueqin was in the final analysis, especially during his early years, an individual who was deeply involved in the world of eighteenth century China, if not in terms of social engagement, then as an extremely active (though largely detached) observer of the society he lived in. Through his special ability to realistically and objectively describe this world and imaginatively “see” it, while at the same time ask hard questions about it, Cao was able to construct a novel of the scope and depth of Honglou meng. The title of this biography, “Wandering Between Two Worlds,’ was chosen to illustrate the conflicting feelings Cao must have felt during his early years (also the word “wandering” has a distinctly Zhuangziesque flavor which Cao might have appreciated). It comes from “Stanzas From the Grand Chartreuse” by Mathew Arnold, about which more will be said later. My approach, while adhering to some of the methods Chinese biographers have used, will also take a different tack on Cao’s life by utilizing different sources and materials. Specifically, it will: (1). Take an interdisciplinary course by heavily relying upon the enormous amount of research that has been done by Western

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scholars on the Qing dynasty during the last 25 years. I will make use of research done in the areas of Qing dynasty literature (by such scholars as Robert Hegel, Zuyan Zhou, Martin Huang, Anthony Yu, Sophie Volpp, Qiancheng Li, David Rolston, Keith McMahon, WaiYee Li, and Haun Saussy),10 the late Ming, early Qing, “Cult of Qing” (Haiyan Lee, Maram Epstein, and Halvor Eifring), late imperial women and gender studies (Louise Edwards, Susan Mann, Matthew Sommer, and Francesca Bray), and education (Benjamin Elman and Kai-Wing Chow). Furthermore, I shall also rely upon findings from the burgeoning field of the New Qing History concerning Han/Manchu ethnic identity, multiculturalism, Neiwufu (the Imperial Household Department), the Manchu banner groups, the role of bondservants, and the lives and rule of the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors. (2). My operating philosophy is to strongly ground the discussion, as best I can, in what can be known, and to freely acknowledge what is only a possibility or simply conjecture (hence the reader is forewarned that they will encounter a smattering of hedges like “perhaps,” “it is plausible,” “it seems probable,” “it’s most likely,” etc.). Previous discussions of Cao Xueqin’s life have often conflated possibility with certainty, and were often based upon no more than hearsay, insubstantial second hand remarks, and highly questionable speculations involving the autobiographical symbolism of ambiguous word plays or inconsistencies in the story, in order to advance a new insight or theory. Because of the dearth of hard information about Cao’s life, much of this study should be treated with qualification. I am mainly concerned with sketching possible influences upon his development, based upon what we currently know with reasonable confidence about his times.

10

For comprehensive accounts of Western Hongxue (Honglou meng studies) , see Ronald Gray’s “Yingyu hongxue yanjiu zonglan”’ (“A Survey of Western Hongxue: Past and Present Writings”), Honglou meng Xuekan 132.5 (2009): 181–226, “The Stone’s Curious Voyage to the West: A Brisk Overview of the English Translation History of Honglou meng and English Hongxue,” Journal of Sino-Western Communications 3.21 (2012): 23– 40, and “Bibliography of Selected English Writings on Honglou meng: 1944–2004,” Tamkang Review 36.1–2 (2005): 271–294; pages 47–55 of Andrew Schonebaum’s essay entitled “Materials” in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), Edited by Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Liu (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2012); and Lucian Miller’s “The English Dream,” Tamkang Review 36.1–2 (2005): 251–270.

Introduction

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(3). I also believe it is worth risking the charge of circularity by guardedly utilizing the novel as a source in talking about Cao Xueqin’s life. There is no doubt that there are autobiographical elements in the story. Red Inkstone makes constant allusion to them,11 and the first chapter overtly refers to the novel’s autobiographical features. The distinguished translator David Hawkes has noted that Cao’s “idea that fiction could be created out of the author’s own experience”12 was unprecedented for his times. The problem has not been so much in using Honglou meng as a source of biographical information but in how far one wants to press this point. Problems have occurred in the past when individuals have blindly assumed too neat a match between characters and situations in the story with events and individuals in the real world. This biography was influenced by the writings of the noted scholar Zhou Ruchang. Although I disagree with some of his more controversial interpretations and conclusions, his contributions to the study of Cao Xueqin’s life and Honglou meng are immeasurable. This work contains a large number of detailed footnotes (a feature that sadly is becoming increasingly uncommon in books in this Internet driven age). They are mainly written with the hope that this book can also serve as a useful reference source for recent and current information about facets of eighteenth century Chinese life. I have relied upon the 5 volume David Hawkes and John Minford translation of the novel that was published by Penguin (in the text, quotes from this translation are referred to as SS and are followed by the volume and page number). I have also used the underrated 3 volume Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang translation which is published by Beijing’s Foreign Languages Press (it is referred to as DRM, followed by the relevant volume and page number). Five of the chapter titles come from the novel: chapter 1

11

12

Zhiyanzhai famously stated that references to the Zhen family in the novel stood for the “true facts” of the story. For an analysis of this claim, see Wu Shih-Ch’ang’s On the Red Chamber Dream (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 198. But, as Anthony Yu has warned, “Though the drift of Red Inkstone’s remarks does not amount to a total disavowal of Honglou meng as a work of fiction, Red Inkstone certainly tends to single out certain parts of the novel for praise because ‘there was really such a person’ or ‘this was what actually happened.’ The commentary, valuable as it is, thus also serves to convert fiction to history, and the modern student should use it with discretion” (Yu, 1994, p. 296). Introduction, SS, 1, p. 43.

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is from DRM, 1, p. 1; 3 (DRM. 1, p. 1); 5 (SS, 1, p. 87); 8 (SS, 4, p. 266); and 12 (SS, 5, p.375). This biography uses pinyin romanization throughout.

Ronald Gray Athens, Ohio December, 2013

C H A P T E R

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“Thanks to Imperial Favor” In order to understand Cao Xueqin’s special family background and how it formed him it is necessary to start with three Manchu institutions which had a major influence upon the status, livelihood, and fortunes of four generations of the Cao family. These institutions were the famous Eight Banners, the unique Manchu system of social and military organization; the booi (bondservant) system; and Neiwufu, the Imperial Household Department. Fortunately, thanks to recent research conducted by historians, we now know a great deal about these organizations. The Manchus were originally tribes of Jurchen stock that were direct descendants of the Jurchens of the Jin dynasty who controlled much of North China from 1115–1234. They lived in the area that was commonly known in the West as Manchuria, and which today includes the Northeast provinces of China known as Liaoning. The Manchus were generally a pastoral people who dwelled in an area of largely lowlands secured by mountains, and engaged in fishing, hunting, and limited agricultural activities. Even though they invaded China in 1644, established the Qing 清 (pure, clear) dynasty, which is now considered the most successful conquest dynasty in Chinese history, unified and greatly expanded the country, and ruled until 1911, little has been written in English about the Manchus as a group until recently. One reason for this neglect was the widespread belief that the Manchus, like other successful alien invaders of China, were quickly assimilated (in large part by the end of the eighteenth century) by China’s overpowering civilization, and that their many accomplishments as rulers were mainly due to their adoption of Chinese institutions, ways of governance, and customs. In short, historians have maintained that in order to effectively rule China, the Manchus had to become Chinese as a matter of course. This perspective resulted in scholars not taking seriously the Manchu’s distinctness as a people and considering culturally limited in comparison to the Han Chinese. This China centered and China bounded take on the Manchus increasingly began to be questioned starting in the early 1980’s with the opening up of the First Historical Archive of China in Beijing and the archives of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. These archives contain large collections of previously unexamined Manchu language documents such as palace memorials, court letters, dictionaries, record books, and genealogies. Researchers soon discovered that these documents offered an entirely new perspective on Qing dynasty history, a perspective that the Chinese records alone lacked. Previously it was believed that everything in

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the Manchu records was duplicated in the Chinese records, and there was no real need for scholars working with these documents to learn the Manchu language. This assumption turned out to be incorrect, for many of the Manchu records were not replicated in Chinese. The study of these Manchu language documents has resulted in far ranging implications for the field of Qing studies.1 Mark Elliott, a pioneer in Manchu studies, has written that “Being able to tune in Manchu voices is as if previously we had been listening to music being played by a soloist and all of a sudden we are now hearing a duet, with new harmonies and dissonances and syncopations: it is as if we found a new music.”2 These documents reveal that the Manchus were never completely assimilated or absorbed by the Chinese, and that the concept of a Manchu identity was continually in flux. They demonstrate that Qing rulers from the start were very worried about being culturally absorbed by their numerically greater Han subjects, and consequently made a concerted effort to keep their identity as a conquest elite separate from the Han Chinese. The achives also clearly show that the Manchus had their own agenda and sophisticated imperial ideology, utilized Inner Asian practices as much as Chinese in the way they governed, and diligently worked at projecting different images to their many subject people (which included Mongols, Tibetans, Jurchens, as well as Chinese). In other words, the documents reveal that Qing emperors did not view themselves as Confucian rulers, but as cosmopolitan and universal monarchs. As Elliott puts it, these records give an important: alternative to the usual significance of Manchu rule: I believe that the Qing dynastic enterprise depended both upon Manchu ability to adapt to Chinese political traditions and on their ability to maintain a separate identity. This is to say, the Qing claim to rule, quite apart from its Confucianesque qualifications, rested upon Manchu domination as a separate people in a sense that transcended either the narrow interests of the ruling family or simple considerations of Manchu military dominance over the Chinese…Manchu differences carried significant political 1

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It has been estimated that there are approximately 10 million Qing government files in the archives in Beijing, and that around 20% of them are partly or wholly in Chinese. For more information on these archives, see “A Profile of the Manchu Language in Ch’ing History” by Pamela Kyle Crossley and Evelyn Rawksi, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 53.1 (1993): 63–102; Mark Elliot’s “The Manchu language Archives of the Qing Dynasty and the Origins of the Palace Memorial System,” Late Imperial China 22.1 (2001): 1–70; and Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide by Ye Wa and Joseph W. Esherick (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley, 1996). “Manchu-Language Archives and the New Qing History,” National Palace Museum Quarterly 24.2 (2006): p. 14.

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weight, and the tension characterizing Manchu-Han relations was an inherent, permanent feature of the Qing order.3

These records also provided the foundation for the development of the school of the New Qing History, which aims to present a new history of Qing China that is less sinocentric, and more focused on the viewpoints of nonHan people.4 This revised narrative contends that if we want to obtain a complete picture of the Qing dynasty it is necessary to have a thorough understanding of the Manchus and how they viewed themselves. In essence, the New Qing History is firmly based on the premise that scholars need to take much more seriously than they have in the past the Manchus as a distinct people with an independent existence, the way they constructed their ethnicity, and the uniqueness of the Qing dynasty. It further argues that this period of Chinese history should no longer be simply treated as just another Chinese dynasty.5 3

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The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 9. This approach is in direct contrast to the traditional sinocentric way of viewing Chinese history, which, in the succinct words of Charles Horner, imagined China to be “culturally coherent in its sinicization, politically coherent in its Confucianism, governmentally coherent in its mandarinate, and geographically coherent as One China.” Rising China and Its Postmodern Fate: Memories of Empire in a New Global Context (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2009), p. 57. Michael Chang has noted that much of the New Qing History “takes its cues directly from the late [noted sinologist] Joseph Fletcher…In a letter dated 7 February 1979 and addressed to James Cole, then editor of Ch’ing-shih wen-t’i (Problems in Ch’ing History), Fletcher suggested “three things that we need to know more about” in the field of Qing studies: (1). The workings of the Qing empire as a whole…(2). The basis of central government, especially the monarchy…(3). Manchu studies. We need to know more about the early Qing, more about the Manchus, what their goals were, what kind of an empire they built.” A Court on Horseback: Imperial Touring and the Construction of Qing Rule, 1680–1785 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 9–10. Important works of the New Qing History include Evelyn Rawksi’s The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (Berkeley: University Of California Press, 1998); A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); The Manchus (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1997), and Orphan Warriors: Three Manchu Generations and the End of the Qing World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), by Pamela Kyle Crossley; Mark Elliott’s seminal work, 2001; Monarchs and Ministers: The Grand Council in Mid-Qing China 1723–1820 by Beatrice Bartlett (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); and China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing by William T. Rowe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009). For a very spirited critique of the central tenets of the New Qing History, see Ho Ping-ti’s “In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski’s “Presidential Address: Reenvisioning the Qing,” Journal of Asian Studies 61.2 (2002): 151–164. Ping-ti’s article is a response to Rawski’s famous address, “Reenvisioning the

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This fundamental change in historical perspective has altered the field of Qing studies and also sparked much interest in the subject. As a result, there has been a flood of new works on Qing dynasty related topics, from imperial institutions and governance, gender and ritual practices, the military, to detailed studies on ethnicity, cartography, imperial touring excursions, economics, Qing legal theory and practices, China’s relations with the West and world history, book publishing, art, protest movements, education, frontier expansion and empire. The New History also holds some important implications for the study of Cao Xueqin and his family which will be discussed later in this biography. There are several theories regarding the location of Cao Xueqin’s ancestral home. The noted Honglou meng scholar, Zhou Ruchang, who has extensively studied Cao’s family history, has argued that his ancestors were originally from Wuyang county in Jiangxi province where they worked as government officials, and were descendants of the offspring of Cao Wei 曹 玮, the son of Cao Bin 曹彬, an influential general in the Song dynasty, who was also the son of a noted general. Zhou also claims that during the Ming dynasty two brothers from the Cao family moved from Jinxian to Fengrun county in Jiagdong, which is located east of Beijing, and that one brother eventually made his way from Tieling in Liaodong province, and that Fengrun was Cao’s ancestral home.6 It has also been maintained by some

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Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History,” The Journal of Asian Studies 55.4 (1996): 829–850. For a more balanced and nuanced critique of he history, see Pei Huang’s Reorienting the Manchus: A Study of Sinicization (Ithaca: Cornell East Asian Series, 2011). Huang’s book is an interesting study of how the Manchus were influenced by Chinese institutions and culture. For a critical, anthropological take on the term “sinicization,” see John Shepherd’s “Rethinking Sinicization: Processes of Acculturation and Assimilation,” in State, Market and Ethnic Groups Contextualized, Edited by Bien Chiang and Ho Ts’ui-p’ing (Taipei: Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 2003), 133–150. Many mainland Chinese scholars have been quite resistant to the central tenets of the New Qing History. For example, volume 4 of the recently published work The History of Chinese Civilization, Edited by Yuan Xingpei, Yan Wenming, Zhang Chuanxi, and Lou Yulie (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) which covers the late Ming and Qing dynasties, and is an English translation of a work by Chinese scholars, contains no references to the New Qing History, and in the main fails to address in detail many of the issues this new approach takes. See Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber by Zhou Ruchang, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009), chapter 1, and his Honglou meng Xinzheng (New Evidence on Honglou meng), Second edition, 2 volumes (Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe, 1976. Very little was known about the Cao family until the publication in 1911 of Hu Shi’s 胡适 (1891–1962) important essay, “Honglou meng Kaozheng” (“A Study of the Dream of the Red Chamber”). See also Cao Xueqin Zuji Zai Fengrun (Cao Xueqin’s Ancestoral Home

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scholars that the ancestral home was really in Liaoyang or Shenyang in northeast China.7 Regrettably, the evidence marshaled for these (and other) possibilities is not conclusive, (a situation which, as we shall see throughout this book, unfortunately remains true of many elements of Cao Xueqin’s life), and so the actual location of the Cao ancestral home is still unclear.8 The first recorded contact between a member of the Cao family and the Jurchens (who did not officially adopt the ethnic name of Manchus or the concept of an unified state until 1635) 9 was in 1621 when a Chinese

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at Fengrun), Edited by Liu Jitang and Wang Changsheng (Tianjin Renmin Chubanshe, 1994), and Cao Xueqin Zuji Kaolun (Studying and Discussing Cao Xueqin’s Ancestral Home) by Wang Chang (Hebei Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 1996). See Feng Qiyong’s Cao Xueqin Jiashi Xinkao (New Thoughts on Cao Xueqin’s Family’s Social Standing), (Wenhua Yishi Chubanshe, 1997), and Duan Jiangli’s overview of the topic in “Honglou meng Yanjiu Lunbian” (Discussion of the Study of Honglou meng) in Zhongguo Gudai Xiaoshuo Yanjiu Lunbian (Discussions Concerning the Study of Classical Chinese Novels), Edited by Chen Xizhong, Duan Jiangli, and Bai Lanlin (Nanchang: Bai hua zhou Wenyi chubanshe, 2006), pp. 271–279. Duan concludes that Cao’s ancestral home was located either in Liaoyang or Shenyang. Also see Zhang Shucai’s work, Cao Xueqin Jiashi Shengping Tanyuan (Trying to discover Cao Xueqin’s Family Life), (Shenyang: Baishan Chubanshe, 2009). The topic of the Cao clan’s very early genealogy has been the subject of much debate. Zhou Ruchang believes (along with several other Chinese scholars) that it can be traced back to the famous Wei general and politician, Cao Cao 曹操 (155–220 B.C.). He contends that Cao Xueqin is a descendent of branches of Cao Wei’s offspring, the third son of the noted Song dynasty general and minister Cao Bin 曹彬 (930–999). Miao Huaiming is deeply skeptical about these claims that Cao Xueqin had famous ancestors, writing “Many Chinese people, for pride and honor, like to trace their family origins till they’ve found a famous person among their ancestors…Those tenuous links to the glorious families (like Cao Cao’s and Cao Bin’s) are not only hard to prove, but even if they were real, it wouldn’t have mattered to Cao Xueqin. Moreover, Cao Xueqin would not have known his family history anyway, because of the long gap in between.” Cao Xueqin, Translated by Gunsheng Yang Chen, Trevor Hay, and Bo Ai (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 2010), p. 8. The debate over Cao Xueqin’s ancestry continues even today. In 2012, the Chinese media carried a story in which a seventieth generation descendant of Cao Cao, Cao Zuyi 曹祖义, claimed that Rushan in Shandong province is the family hometown of Cao Xueqin, since it was Cao Cao’s hometown, and Cao Cao and Cao Xueqin were related. He also stated that chapter 51 of Honglou meng contains a poem which secretly alludes to this fact. See ‘ 以复旦大学 DNA 检验结果为据, 红学家 称曹雪芹祖籍在乳山,‘ http://www.edu.cn, retrieved April 5, 2012. According to the New Qing History, “in the seventeenth century there really was no such thing as Manchus. Instead, there were various groups of peoples along the northeast frontiers of the Ming empire, drawn from a wide variety of genealogical stocks and cultural traditions, with not a few of these people fully or partly of Han Chinese ancestry…the new Qing narrative saw the Manchus as actually having come into

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colonizer, Cao Xiyuan 曹锡远 (Cao Xueqin’s fifth-generation ancestor) and his family were captured in Shenyang by forces under the command of the famous Nurhaci when the city’s formidable system of moats and redoubts were breached through an opened east gate. Nurhaci 努尔哈赤 (1559–1626) was a powerful tribal chieftain of the clan known as Aisin Gioro, which founded the Qing dynasty.10 At that time, China’s Northeastern frontier was a vibrant area where different people and cultures interacted. According to Pei Huang, the settlers in Liaodong during this period “should be considered frontiersmen, for the Ming dynasty treated the region as a frontier. Because of differing historical backgrounds, one should not associate them with frontiersmen in American history. There were Chinese, Korean, and Jurchen frontiersmen. For all their differences [they] shared characteristics. They were energetic, restless, and adaptable. What concerned them most was a better life.”11 Nurhaci’s capture of Shenyang was part of a concerted attempt by the Manchus to consolidate their power north of the Great Wall. His campaigns were especially vicious, and captives were frequently abused and enslaved. Slavery had been an important part of the Jurchen life from as early as the fifteenth century since it was needed to provide labor for their farms and conduct servile tasks for the expanding nomadic society. They had two types of slaves: aha, which could be sold by their masters, and primarily worked in the fields; and booi (belonging to the household) or bondservants, who were in domestic service, and generally were not viewed as property. Both types were hereditarily servile people. Most booi were the offspring of Chinese and other residents of the northeast that had been captured by Manchus during the conquest.12 Manchu genealogical records indicate that Cao Xiyuan, like most of the Han Chinese captured during Nurhaci’s campaign, was treated as a spoil of war and made a bondservant. He and his family would have been placed into separate units (companies or battalions) of the famous Eight Banner system. Bondservants were usually put in the same banners as their masters, and became the property of the leader who was in charge of the banner. The

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existence over the course of the dynasty.” China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing by William T. Rowe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 12–13. We know very little about Cao Xiyuan, some believe that he and his son were military commanders. According to the work Qingshi gao (Draft of the Official Qing History), the Cao family had lived in Shenyang for several generations (Banner Legacy: The Rise of the Fengtian Local Elite at the End of the Qing by Yoshiki Enatsu (Ann Arbor: Center For Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 2004). Huang, 2011, p. 136. For a discussion of the frequently misundestood word booi, see Elliott, 2001, pp. 82–83.

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Eight Banner system was in essence a distinct form of military, social, political, and economic organization, and an instrument for empire building. This complex institution has been compared to “a cross between the Marine Corps [in the U.S.], the Civil Service, and the Veterans Administration, thickly overlaid with a combination of old-boy networks, political preferences, and partially articulated Affirmative Action policies.”13 Banners, which were ranked according to colors, were broadly divided into two kinds: The “Upper Three Banners” (Bordered Yellow, Plain Yellow, Plain White) and the “Lower Five Banners” (Plain Red, Bordered White, Bordered Red, Plain Blue, and Bordered Blue). They were carefully split along ethnic lines and place of origin. Banner bondservants did not in reality fight in engagements, but instead were used as drum companies and standard bearers. While Cao Xiyuan’s capture must have seemed to him and his family a horrific event, in hindsight it ironically led directly to the eventual rise of the Cao family to unimagined affluence and national prominence.14 Cao Xiyuan’s luck lay in ultimately being attached to a very important Chinese banner under the command of several high ranking and extremely powerful individuals, and in not being a Chinese bannerman, but rather a bondservant of Chinese origin.15 Initially, Cao and his family were members 13

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Elliott, 2001, p. 41. Eight Manchu banners were created in 1616, and in 1635, these banners were expanded to include eight Mongol banners. By 1642, eight Chinese banners were also organized. As Johanna Waley-Cohen has pointed out, the Eight Banner system “in effect created a hereditary aristocracy to parallel the Chinese merit-based civil service elite.” “Changing Spaces of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Qing China,” in Political Frontiers, Ethnic Boundaries, and Human Geographies in Chinese History, Edited by Nicola Di Cosmo and Don J. Wyatt (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), p. 331. It does appear that there were some members of the Cao family who lived in Liaodong but were not captured by the Manchu and lived as free men. The fact that the Cao family was bondservants of Chinese origin associated with a Manchu banner group and not Chinese bannermen cannot be stressed strongly enough. Moreover, this was an important factor in the family’s rise to prominence. Even today, Chinese and Western writers on Honglou meng sometimes fail to understand this fact. The family was also very lucky that they were captured when they were—1721. For, as Shelly Rigger points out, “From 1601 until 1623 anyone who surrendered to the banner forces were enrolled in a banner. Those who had Chinese surnames and customs traded them in for Manchu names and the banner life…in 1623, the banners found it difficult to digest the sudden influx of the Han. Conflicts between long-time banner members and the newly surrendered subjects of the Ming forced Nurachi to create special Hanjun (Han banners).” “Voices of Manchu Identity,” in Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), p. 189. If the Cao family had been captured just a couple of years later than when they were, they would have been placed in a Han banner, and not in the Manchu Upper Banner they ultimately were, and

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of a Lower Banner, the Bordered White, but because of political infighting among several banner leaders, they were then transferred to a Manchu banner, the Plain White, which was an Upper Banner, and under the command of the formidable Prince Dorgon 多 尔 衮 (1612–1650), the fourteenth son of Nurachi. Dorgon, the stepbrother of Nurachi’s successor Hong Taji (1592–1643), was a great military leader and statesman, and noted for his ambitious and high-handed behavior. When the Manchus entered Beijing in April, 1644, Hong Taji’s son Fulin (1638–1661) became the first emperor of the Qing dynasty (adopting the name of Shunzhi 顺治). Because Shunzhi was only five years old when he became emperor, Dorgon, and another Manchu leader, Prince Jirgalang, were appointed co-regents. Dorgon soon outmaneuvered Jirgalang, thereby becoming the most powerful Manchu leader during the early years of the dynasty. According to the historian Chen-Main Wang, “Over a period of six and one half years beginning with the entry of Manchu forces into China proper in 1644, Dorgon assumed a major role in overseeing the conquest of the Chinese heartland and in establishing key court policies that were to remain largely in effect throughout the entire Qing era.”16 When Dorgon suddenly died in 1650 at the age of 38, the Plain White Banner, which was by then the most opulent of all the banners, was placed under the control of Shunzhi’s mother, Empress Xiaozhuang 孝 莊 , who exerted a strong influence on the court until her death in 1688. The importance of the distinction between Upper and Lower Banners clearly can be seen today in the design of the Manchu Imperial Palace in Shenyang which was built by Nurachi in 1625 and modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing. In the eastern section of the palace, there is a large area that contains The Hall of Great Affairs 大政殿, where the emperors issued imperial edicts, greeted victorious soldiers, and assumed the throne. Running east and west are the Ten Princes Pavilions, buildings which served as offices for the chieftains of the Eight Banners, and where the emperor met with these leaders over national affairs. Each banner had a pavilion, and the three pavilions associated with the Upper Banners are located closest to The Hall of Great Affairs, symbolizing their special connection with the emperor.

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their future, as we shall see, would have been very different. For some unknown reason, the Cao family did not follow the usual practice of changing their Chinese surname into a Manchu. “Claiming Dynastic Legitimacy: Qing Strategies During the Dorgon Era,” in The Scholar’s Mind: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Mote, Edited by Perry Lin (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2006), p. 147.

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Shortly after the death of Empress Xiaozhuang, the Plain White Banner came under the direct control of the emperor. Because of this change, the Cao family became members of a third uniquely Manchu institution, an organization which would dominate their lives and provide their livelihood for several prosperous generations: the Imperial Household Department Neiwufu 内务府.17 Neiwufu was a multi-agency, self-contained bureaucracy designed primarily to cater to the private needs of the emperor, his immediate family, and close underlings in the Forbidden City. It also performed a large variety of other duties. Neiwufu’s motto: was enshrined in a plaque over the entrance to its office: “Government and imperial household working union” (Gongfu yiti). Under this rubric, it carried out a bewildering variety of activities. It was first and foremost the administrative unit in charge of palace affairs. It was in charge of the wardrobes, food, residence, and daily activities of the emperor and his family. It exercised jurisdiction over palace construction, security, rituals, and palace staff. But its activities extended far beyond the walls of the Forbidden City and the imperial villas. The Neiwufu was a major publisher, producing outstanding examples of printed works by ginseng trades. It ran textile factories in Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Jiangning that produced textiles for the court. Using the taxing powers of the state, it gathered precious objects such as sables, ermine, mink, and fox from parts of Mongolia and the northeast through the annual tribute system, reserving a portion for imperial use and disposing of the residue through the customhouses. The Imperial Household Department issued permits for the salt trade, the jade trade from Central Asia, and licensed “state merchants” to import copper for coinage during the early Qing. It issued loans at interest, acquired pawnshops, and derived revenues from its it many rentals in the imperial city.18

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The two other Upper Banners, Border Yellow and Plain Yellow, were also put under the control of the emperor and their bondservants attached to Neiwufu. Bondservants who were attached to the Lower Banners became at this time household servants of Manchu princes. Richard Rhoads notes that bondservants associated with the Upper Three Banners were “not subject to the jurisdiction of the banner, but governed by the Imperial Clan Court and the Imperial Household Department.” Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations in Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861–1928 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), p. 24. The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions by Evelyn Rawski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 179. As Preston Tobert points out, although duties like providing food and clothing for the emperor and overseeing his entertainments might appear to be mundane and ordinary, “but in fact their execution was endowed with a grandeur and elegance that made them not only impressive but also culturally significant.” The Ch’ing Imperial Household Department: A Study of its Organization and Principal Functions 1662–1796 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 39. Rawski’s and Tobert’s books provide excellent accounts of Neiwufu.

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Neiwufu’s social structure consisted of four groups. At the very bottom were state slaves (xin zhe ku) who performed the most menial tasks within the department. These individuals came from a wide variety of backgrounds and included unemployed bannermen who were made slaves because they had committed crimes, were the descendents of criminals, or were relatives of convicted high Chinese or Manchu officials. The second group consisted of indentured slaves and servants of bondservants. The largest group working in Neiwufu contained the descendants of Chinese, Korean, Mongol, Manchu, and Russian bondservants from the Upper Three Banners who had become bondservants in the seventeenth century. Members of this group were considered the emperor’s personal servants and property. Most were ordinary employees, and worked as guards or maintenance men in imperial villas, or the fify mansions owned by princes in Beijing, or the Forbidden City. The lucky ones worked as clerks or secretaries in offices in Neiwufu, in the imperial city, or as officers in the imperial bodyguard. The highest level group in the Imperial Household Department contained individuals who were officials in Neiwufu or held lucrative posts in one of the provinces.19 Early Qing emperors liked to employ Chinese imperial bondservants in important positions because they were formally their personal slaves which made them entirely dependent upon the whims of the emperor, thereby ensuring their loyalty. In addition, bondservants performed the vital role of mediating between the government and Han Chinese since the Manchu did not yet trust the Han, and were not confident enough of their Chinese language ability to comfortably occupy provincial posts. Chinese Neiwufu bondservants also assumed many of the positions previously held by eunuchs whom the Manchu strongly distrusted and felt to be partially responsible for the fall of the Ming dynasty. While Cao Xiyuan (through sheer happenstance) set the foundation for the rise of the Cao family by being eventually assigned after his capture to a prestigious Upper Banner, it was his son, Cao Zhenyan 曹 振 彦 , Cao Xueqin’s great-great grandfather, who firmly put the family on the path leading to the highest level of Neiwufu. One of the advantages associated with being an Upper Banner bondservant was that bondservant banner officers were allowed to take the Imperial Civil Service Examination and become part of the bureaucracy. Records state that Cao Zhenyan, who was born in 1610, obtained a licentiate’s degree, either as a Shengyuan 19

Torbert, 1977, pp. 65–69. Mark Elliot roughly estimates the total population of the Eight Banners in 1648 to have in the range of 1,299,142–2,444, 585 individuals (702,239– 1,321, 397 were males and 596,903–1,123, 188, females). 812,002–1, 527, 937 of these individuals were “bondservants/others” (2001, p. 364).

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(government student, a fully subsidized student who attended a Confucian school) or a Gongshi (“a hired employee, non-officials and non-functionaries hired for relatively unimportant tasks in many governmental agencies; after experience could be promoted into the lowest level of the officialdom”).20 In 1650, Cao Zhenyan was made department magistrate of Jizhou, Datongfu, in Shanxi province. It appears that he was either a very competent administrator or had an influential backer, for he quickly moved up the administrative ladder. In 1652, he was made prefect of Tatongfu in Shanxi, and from 1659 to 1668 he concurrently held the very lucrative posts of Salt Controller of Tang-che and salt taoti in Zhejiang.21 He died in office in 1668. Cao Zhenyan’s younger son, Cao Xi 曹玺, who was Cao Xueqin’s greatgrandfather, continued the family’s rise to power. Born in 1630, Cao Xi initially served as a palace guard for Emperor Shunzhi,22 and in 1663 was appointed to the very prestigious (and profitable) position of Textile Commissioner in Nanjing, one of the highest level posts an imperial bondservant could occupy at that time. This important position (of which more will be said in the next chapter), involved overseeing the three government silk factories in the city and the buying of needed raw materials.23 He was regarded so highly by his Neiwufu supervisers that he was awarded the honorary title of the President of the Board of Works for his service,24 and his paternal grandparents were given titles. These would be the 20

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A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China by Charles O. Hucker (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985), p. 295. Hucker’s dictionary is a first rate guide to the complex world of Imperial China’s governmental organizations throughout the various dynasties. Details about Cao Zhenyan’s life can be found in Spence, 1966, pp. 19–21, and Zhou, 1976. Torbert notes that the number of bondservants “who attained positions such as District Magistrate or Sub-Assistant Salt Controller was very small” (1977, p. 71). Only the Upper Three Banners could provide units that guarded the inner palaces in the Forbidden City. Jonathan Spence has written that Cao Xi’s appointment to the position of Textile Commissioner was significant because it represented a shift from the use of personnel from the regular bureaucracy to the imperial. Traditionally this post was filled by personnel from the Board of Works, but after 1663, bondservants would hold it (1966, p. 87). “One of the top-echelon agencies…in general charge of government construction projects, the conscription of artisans and laborers for periodic state service, the manufacture of government equipment of all sorts, the maintenance of waterways and roads, the standardization of weights and measures, the production of coins, and other forms of money, the exploitation of mountains, lakes, marshes, etc.” (Hucker, 1985, p. 294. Jia Zheng, Jia Bao-yu’s father, in Honglou meng, is employed by the Board of Works.

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highest honors the Cao family would ever receive. Cao Xi remained at this job until his death in 1784. Cao Xi’s swift rise was largely due to the fact that he was a capable and popular official. He was also quite generous, donating part of his salary for disaster relief. When he died, the people of Nanjing “mourned his death because he had eliminated corruption, lightened the burden of workers, and done good deeds for the locals. To honor this honest Commissioner, a memorial temple was erected. Several famous poets and prose writers, among them Xiong Cilu (the Emperor’s tutor), wrote elegies for him.”25 Another factor that contributed to the high status this generation of the Cao family enjoyed at this time was the special relationship Cao Xi’s wife, nee Sun 孙 (1632–1706), had with the Shunzhi’s emperor’s son, Prince Xuanye. One of the surest routes of upward mobility for bondservants of the Upper Three Banners was to have a daughter employed in the palace residences of the Forbidden City. Most of these women worked as maidservants for members of the imperial family. The most prestigious of these female banner positions were those of wet nurses and nurses. The sons and daughters of the emperor were each supplied with two, three, or even four wet nurses, who were selected by eunuchs based upon recommendations by Upper Banner supervisors and captains. These women usually were the wives of bondservants and bannermen. 26 Wet nurses in particular were 25 26

Zhou, 2009, p. 17. Spence observes that “a statue of 1661 laid down that the Upper Three Banner captains and palace overseers must send annual records of the daughters of those in their charge who had reached the age of 13 sui to the chief eunuch, who thereupon requested permission to bring them to the Emperor for inspection. Those selected were made female attendants to the Emperor, and could be later taken as imperial concubines…When an imperial birth was imminent, the chief eunuch instructed the captains and overseers to send in the names of women suitable for selection as wet nurses or nurses” (1966, pp. 23–24). In chapter 4 of Honglou meng, it is stated that one of the reasons for Xue Bao-chai’s family travelling to Beijing was for her to be presented to the court for possible selection as an imperial concubine or a wive for a member of the imperial family. Shuo Wang has described the selection process (Xinu, literally “elegant females” or “beautiful females”) Bao-chai would have undergone: “On the appointed day, girls were brought by their parents or relatives, together with their clan heads and local officials to the Shenwu Gate of the Forbidden City to await selection. Qing statues do not state how and by whom the Xiunu would be inspected. Other sources indicate that they were first inspected by court officials who matched those present against the list and chose as many as they needed to serve the palace. Some were immediately rejected and then were free to marry other bannermen with the approval of their parents and banner leaders. Those who passed the initial inspection were called jiming (registered) or liupai (keep the card) and would stay in the palace.” “The Selection of Women for the Qing Imperial Harem,” The Chinese Historical Review 11.2 (2004), p. 214. See also “Qing

“Thanks to Imperial Favor”

13

highly respected and treated well, and often rewarded with titles, commemorative steles, land for graves, and silver. They frequently established close and long lasting relationships with their charges. There are many stories throughout Chinese history of emperors providing their former wet nurses and their families with financial rewards, honors, and sometimes promoting their offspring or husbands to high positions.27 Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, wrote of his wet nurse, “In all my years in the palace I was only reminded by my nurse’s homely words that other men were the same as myself…I grew up in my nurse’s bosom, being suckled by her until I was eight, and until then I was inseparable from her as a baby from its mother…I see now that I had nobody who really understood humanity around me once my nurse had gone.”28 Cao Xi’s wife, nee Sun, was in her twenties when she became a wet nurse for Prince Xuanye, who had four nannies and wet nurses assigned to him. Because Xuanye had contact with his mother only on special occasions owing to strict court rules, these women exerted a strong influence upon him, and were looked upon as surrogate mothers. Traditionally, the duties of wet nurses did not only involve breastfeeding, but also entailed caring for the newborn and frequently teaching them the rudiments of morality, propriety, and language.29 Sun seems to have established an especially close relationship with Xuanye, for later in her life she was made a first-rank furen (a title of nobility meaning Dame-consort). In 1684, Sun’s former charge visited her when Cao Xi died, and in 1699 he summoned her to a special audience during a trip to the south.30

27 28

29

30

Imperial Women: Empresses, Concubines and Aisin Gioro Daughters” by Shuo Wang, in Servants of the Dynasty: Palace Women in World History, Edited by Anne Walthall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008): 137–158. The imperial concubine, Jia Yuan-chun, in Honglou meng, would have also undergone this selection process. In theory, even humble female bondservants had the chance to become imperial concubines. See Rawksi, 1998, pp. 173–174 for famous examples. From Emperor to Citizen: The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi. Translated by W. J. F. Jenner (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1964), pp. 71–72. See “Wet Nurses in Early Imperial China” by Jen-Der Lee, Nan Nu 2.1 (2000): 1–24, for a discussion of the importance of wet nurses. In Honglou meng, wet nurses, like Nannie Li, Jia Bao-yu’s former wet nurse, and Nannie Zhou, Jia Lian’s wet nurse, are treated with great respect because of their previous status as wet nurses. Specific details about specific male members of the Cao family during this time is sparse since they are almost never mentioned in Qing dynasty biographical references. This is because “if a man had no post in the in the provincial administration, and no literary friends, he not surprisingly disappears entirely and defies the historian’s efforts to disinter him” (Spence, 1966, p. 21).

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The Cao family’s status was raised even higher when Prince Xuanye in 1661 became the Emperor Kangxi 康熙 when he was only six. The family now consisted of not only high ranking imperial bondservants, but also bondservants with a special connection to the Forbidden City. While Kangxi was too young to have had much of an influence on Cao Xi promotion to Textile Commissioner in 1663, there is little doubt that he was a factor in his being allowed to continue at his post beyond the traditional three year period, and in making this position hereditary so that his son could inherit it. The noted American philosopher Sydney Hook has written in the final chapter of his autobiography that “The older I grow, the more impressed I am with the role of luck or chance in life.”31 Looking back on the trajectory of the Cao family’s fortunes during this period, Hook’s observation seems to be particularly true of them. Their swift rise to power and prestige in three generations while living under highly unstable and often limiting circumstances is quite remarkable. Luck, here defined as things that shaped the Cao family’s lives that were entirely outside their control, had a great deal to do with their good fortune: the luck of being associated with an Upper Banner, and more importantly a banner that was under the command of Prince Dorgon; the luck of being captured at the right place and time and being “old” rather than “new” bondservants; the luck of the early Qing emperors’ deciding on a policy of relying heavily upon qualified Chinese Neiwufu bondservants from the Upper Three Banners to take over the positions previously held by eunuchs and to act as mediators in the provinces; and the luck of nee Sun’s becoming a future Emperor’s wet nurse. But luck (and talent) is not sufficient for success. One must have, as the composer Hector Berlitz once wryly observed, a talent for luck. Cao Zhenyuan, Cao Xi, and nee Sun clearly did. They were all socially ambitious and keenly aware of how to take prompt advantage of the special opportunities presented by their unique status as Upper Banner imperial bondservants. In addition, it appears that they had the ability to perform the jobs they were given competently and efficiently, and were good at impressing the right people. But it was with the next generation that the Cao family reached the heights of influence and prosperity through their great talent for luck.

31

Out of Step: An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1987), p. 601.

C H A P T E R

T W O

The Kangxi Emperor’s Man on the Ground: Cao Yin and Neiwufu It is difficult to overstate the enormous influence of the next prominent member of the Cao family, Cao Yin, Cao Xueqin’s grandfather, upon the fortunes of the next two generations of the Cao family. Of all the members of this family, Cao Yin’s life is the most documented.1 Cao Yin 曹寅 was born on October 3, 1658 in Beijing and was the eldest son of Cao Xi. When Cao Xi was assigned the post of Textile Commissioner for Nanjing in 1663, he took Cao Yin and other members of his family with him. There Cao Yin received a rigorous traditional Chinese education from his father (who appears to have been a rather stern parent). He was reportedly a very precocious child and at the age of four was said to be able to differentiate among the four tones of the Mandarin language (which was a requirement for writing poetry). He also would have received a good grounding in the Manchu language. When Cao Yin was fourteen or fifthteen, he travelled up to Beijing in the hopes of finding a position in the Imperial Household Department. There are long-standing rumors that he served for a time as a study companion to the Kangxi emperor. It was a common court practice during this time for “imperial sons and grandsons entering the Palace School, [to be] assigned ‘boy companions.’ The boy companions…were not companions so much as personal servants who accompanied the young princes to classes. Selected from the banners, they rotated in their duties.”2 Unfortunately, there is no 1

2

Jonathan Spence’s book Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966) remains the best account of Cao Yin’s life. See also Zhou Ruchang’s Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (New York: Peter Lang, 2006) and Honglou meng Xinzheng (New Evidence on Honglou meng), Second edition (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1976), Volume 1, pp. 209– 299; Tu Lien-che’s essay on Cao Yin in Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944), Volume 2, pp. 740–742; and Cao Yin Yu Qingdai Shehui (Cao Yin in Qing Chinese Society) by He Jinjie (Hong Kong: Qingwenshuwu, 1989). For a recent collection of essays on Cao Yin, see Cao Yin Honglou meng Yu Zhenjiang (Cao Yin, Honglou meng and Zhenjiang) by The Cao Xueqin Society of Beijing (Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo Chubanshe, 2013). The groundbreaking research done in the 1920’s by Hu Shih and Yu Pingbo 俞平伯 (1900– 1990) established that Cao Yin was an ancestor of Cao Xueqin. The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions by Evelyn Rawksi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 174.

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hard evidence that Cao Yin was a companion.3 We do know that he obtained a position in the Imperial Procession Guard (luanyiwei), which accompanied the Emperor when he left the palace. The responsibility of this department concerned “all matters relating to the concrete embodiments of imperial pomp. It was in charge of the imperial carriages, ‘of maintaining the distinctions of their names and types and arranging them in correct order.’ It sent heralds to warn people of the Emperor’s approach, prepared equipages for the Empress and the concubines, and ensured the right insignia were displayed on all occasions.”4 To work effectively in this office required a great deal of attention to detail because the rules and rituals governing the movement and transportation of the emperor and his family were exceedingly complex and had to be followed rigorously. Imperial processions were logistically challenging, miles long events, involving thousands of colorfully clad participants in full regalia. These participants included Chinese and Manchu banner troops, imperial bondservants, companies of elite imperial bodyguards, imperial and horse guard units, household cavalry, footmen, attendants, eunuchs, royal princes, scholars, civil officials, and grooms. The emperor was carried in a yellow silk palanquin of state borne by twenty-eight men in red robes with gold flowers, and followed by a large numbers of carriages, additional palanquins, horses, elephants, and the imperial baggage train. The entire path of the procession was covered in imperial yellow sand. Strict protocol had to be followed regarding the proper display of banners, flags, insignias, ceremonial lanterns with fans, and imperial parasols, all of which were woven of the finest silk.5 Harsh punishment was given if any mishap occurred during the procession.6 Yin must have been good at his job for he was eventually promoted to the position of captain of the third bondservant company in the Plain White 3

4 5

6

It is interesting to note that the belief that Cao Yin was a companion of Kangxi still widely persists today. In 2003, Chinese Central Television played the miniseries Shaonian Kangxi (The Young Kangxi). In it, Cao Yin is conspicuously shown as a very close childhood companion of the young Kangxi emperor. Spence, 1966, p. 29. Cao Xueqin gives readers a slight taste of what an imperial procession was like in his description of the visit of Jia Yuan-chun in chapter 18 of Honglou meng. The complex rules and regulations regarding the use of imperial equipment was contained in the 5,000 page Chinese reference book Huang-chao li-qi tu-shi (Illustrated Regulations For the Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Ch’ing Dynasty), which was published in 1766. For a brief study of this work, see Margaret Medley’s The Illustrated Regulations For Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Chi’ng Dynasty (London: Han-Shan Tang, 1982).

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Banner (a post once held by his uncle, Cao Erzheng 曹尔正, who for unknown reasons was eventually dismissed from it). This post involved conducting mundane administrative tasks like distributing salaries, overseeing the payment of family allowances to unemployed or widowed bondservants, keeping accounts of equipment, and conducting regular examinations of weapons.7 Around 1687 (the precise date for all of Cao Yin’s early appointments in Neiwufu are still unclear), he was assigned the administrative position of department director in the Judicial Department. This job largely entailed some clerical duties such as maintaining records regarding judgments rendered and punishment given in legal cases involving eunuchs, and monitoring the running of prisons for minor defendants. It did not require many duties, so Cao had much leisure time. But it appears that Cao Yin was a person who did not like remaining idle. Because he was well educated for a person of his background, and possessed an outgoing personality, he soon had a wide circle of literary friends with whom he behaved like a literati, writing poetry, practicing his calligraphy, holding drinking parties, attending plays, taking long walking trips, and having picnics in the countryside around Beijing.8 One of his friends was the brilliant Manchu poet and master of ci (lyrical) verse, Nalan Xingde 纳兰性 德 (1655–1685). In 1679, a special examination was held in Beijing in an attempt to encourage Chinese scholars to work for the government. Onehundred and fifty scholars took the exam, and Cao Yin was able to meet some of these individuals. He must have made a good impression for he was able to form enduring friendships with several of these distinguished scholars who liked his poetry. Historian Jonathan Spence gives a revealing picture of what Cao Yin was like during this period in his life. “A contemporary recalled these days in a preface to a collection of Cao Yin’s poems dated 1713, with Cao Yin on duty at the palace with his lance, marching with a leopard’s tail flying behind him, or riding out in short jacket and tight leggings to hunt tigers ‘with the joys of a controlled touch on the taut bow.’ Then coming off duty, Cao Yin invites the two compilers to write poetry with him and sits there sucking his brush as they pick out the rhymes and select a theme.”9 He made such a favorable impact in artistic circles during his stay in Beijing that when his father died in 1684, he was able to persuade a group of famous scholars and 7 8

9

Spence, 1966, pp. 31, 34, 35. Spence’s biography of Cao Yin contains English translations of some of Cao Yin’s more revealing poems. Spence, 1966, p. 51.

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painters to contribute to a series of albums which were published in honor of his father. There are several good reasons for believing that the Kangxi emperor personally knew Cao Yin during this early period of his career. Cao would have been required to meet him when he received his appointments, and Kangxi would have also been aware that Cao was the son of his favorite former wet nurse and that his father held an important position and had been honored with a title of the first rank. Cao Yin’s office was also located in the Forbidden City, which would have increased his chances of encountering the Emperor. In addition, Cao was known for his exceptional archery, riding, and hunting skills, which would have been displayed during the times he accompanied the Emperor on imperial hunts beyond the Great Wall and imperial tours. These skills would have drawn further attention to him since they were greatly prized by Kangxi because he considered them important Manchu martial values. Finally, by all accounts, Cao Yin during his fifthteen years in Beijing was an able and conscientious official, whose abilities would have quickly caught the sharp eye of Kangxi who was always on the lookout for loyal and administratively capable bondservants to fill important confidential positions. In 1690, thirty-three year old Cao Yin was appointed to the prestigious post of Commissioner of Imperial Textiles in Suzhou, which is located on the world’s largest man-made waterway, the Grand Canal. Suzhou has been called the Venice of the East and is famous for its numerous beautiful gardens, elegant canals and bridges. In Honglou meng, the city is described as having “One of the two or three wealthiest and most fashionable quarters in the world of men.” 10 During the Qing dynasty, it was home to a flourishing community of painters, scholars, and wealthy merchants, many of whom built stunning, elegant gardens around their villas. Suzhou was also noted for its vibrant literary life, and had an impressive record of successful participants in the Imperial Civil Service Exams. The city was also renowned for its highly sought, excellent silk and cotton textiles. China has produced silk for more than 3,000 years, and silk fabrics have been used in virtually all levels of Chinese society for many different purposes besides clothing. “Silk fabrics of varying quality were not unusual clothing material for what one might call the middle gentry and the middle and lower-middle levels of the urban commercial classes. Furthermore, silk also figured in a large variety of social functions at various class levels: bolts of silk material were used as personal gifts between 10

SS, 1, p. 52.

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19

individuals, as religious offerings at temples and shrines, and as decorations on buildings during festive occasions in towns and village.”11 The post of Textile Commissioner officially involved managing government owned silk factories, personally inspecting all the workshops loom by loom on a regular basis, overseeing the purchases of raw materials for these factories, and making sure that the finished products were successfully transported to the court in Beijing. This silk was expressly made for court use as palace draperies, brocades, gifts from the emperor to officials and foreign emissaries, the daily clothing (such as court robes) of members of the imperial family (including the emperor), and foreign trade. As a result, strict regulations set by the Imperial Household Department governed the type of textiles made, the buying of materials, the shipping of products on the Grand Canal, and even the number and type of laborers used and the wages they were paid. If these rules were not carefully followed, officials were punished. The size of this operation was massive since each factory employed hundreds of skilled workers. There were also workshops for dyeing, twisting, and winding the silk. In 1685, five years before Cao Yin became Textile Commissioner, Suzhou’s Imperial Silkworks employed a total of 2, 330 artisans (regular and hired), and had 800 looms.12 The early Qing emperors preferred to use imperial bondservants to staff the position of Textile Commissioners because their special status made them entirely dependent upon them for their standing and self-esteem.13 11

12

13

“Sericulture and Silk Textile Production in Ch’ing China,” by E-Tu Zen Sun, in Economic Organizations in Chinese Society, Edited by W.E. Willmott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), p. 81. The importance of silk fabrics is clearly shown in Dream of the Red Chamber. There are throughout the novel detailed descriptions of silk clothing and discussions concerning the quality of different types of fabrics (see, for example, the long conversation between Wang Xi-feng and Grandmother Jia in chapter 40 over kinds of silk gauze). Silk is frequently given as presents during birthday celebrations and holidays, and the Imperial Concubine gives members of the family tribute silk on special occasions (such as her visit in chapter 18). Sun notes “that the most common types of silk fabric were known by their generic names, such as ch’ou (silk cloth), tuan (satin), chuan (gauze), sha (thin gauze), ling (damask), and chin (brocade)” (p. 94). All of these types of silk are mentioned in the novel. The Silk Industry in Ch’ing China by Shih Min-haiung, translated by E-tu Zen Sun (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978), p. 40. Pauline A. Chen captures in her recent fictional retelling of Honglou meng this strong sense of obligation imperial bondservants felt towards the emperor in a short speech given by Jia Zheng to Jia Baoyu regarding the Jia’s family special status as bondservants. “You must understand we are not like most people who become officials just because they have passed the Exams. We owe His Highness not just the ordinary duty of an official, but a—a personal loyalty.” He struggles to find the right words to express the deep-held convictions that gave him his sense of purpose. “For as long as the Manchus

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Chinese imperial bondservants were particularly favored because they could speak Chinese and serve as critical mediators between the central bureaucracy and the local Han gentry, thereby forming connections that were key in establishing the legitimacy of Manchu rule.14 Textile Commissioners were not ordinary officials because they were personally appointed by the emperor and members of his personal bureaucracy (Neiwufu). They were also independent of the regular metropolitan and provincial government and not subject to military law. Consequently, they were considered both an effective check on the official bureaucracy and an efficient tool for carrying out policies without having to go through unwieldy regular governmental channels.15 There were also additional unofficial duties to this position. One of the most important of these was to serve as the emperor’s man on the ground, that is, his personal secret informant. Commissioners had to carefully observe, monitor, verify, and report on the activities of top level officials, both active and retired, in the areas where they worked. They also had to provide the emperor with current news on a wide range of subjects, such as the price of essential items like copper (which served as a currency for small local purchases) and rice, the latest rumors being discussed on the street, and

14

15

have ruled China, we have been the ones His Highness turns to when he needs someone to trust.” The Red Chamber (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), p. 33. The importance of the role imperial bondservants played as mediators at this time can be seen by the fact that there was throughout most of the Qing period a dearth of governmental officials. In 1700, the population of China was approximately 200 million and rapidly increasing but the number of officials had not been increased by the Qing government over that of the Ming. Pamela Kyle Crossley notes that the country “had the same number of counties (around 1,500) in the Chinese provinces as the Ming had had, and therefore the same number of magistrates. The central bureaucracy and the inspectorates added the vast majority of Qing officials, who are thought not to have exceeded 23,000 and may have been closer to 15, 000.” The Wobbling Pivot: China Since 1800 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p. 26. It has been generally estimated that government personnel of all levels were only 1% of the total population and that the Manchus were outnumbered by the Chinese 100 to 1. Because of this massive discrepancy in numbers along with the Qing central government’s emphasis on small government, the regime was, as William T. Rowe has pointed out, “consistently forced to rely on indigenous, nonbureaucratic people and organizations (residential communities, lineages, merchants and artisanal guilds) to supplement its own personnel at the local level. These groups were seldom easy to control, and there was constant tension between the interests of the imperial state, the local society, and the functionaries who carried out most tasks.” China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 49. One of the central jobs of Imperial bondservants was to help ameliorate these local tensions. Spence, 1966, pp. 16–18.

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even current weather conditions.16 The informal, confidential reports they sent to the emperor, intended to augment regular government channels of communication, would later become institutionalized as the famous palace memorial system. As Cao Yin gained the confidence of the Kangxi emperor, the number of these unofficial duties he would perform and secret reports he would send would greatly increase. Although the official and unofficial responsibilities of Textile Commissioners were wide ranging, administratively demanding, onerous, and required a great deal of personal finesse as well as a good understanding of prevailing political and economic conditions, the position did offer several enjoyable advantages. First of all, it was one of the highest ranking and lucrative jobs in the country. The post also provided an excellent opportunity for a Commissioner to establish a close relationship with the emperor. Finally, the job gave an official easy access to other prominent officials in the area as well as members of the local gentry and literati. Cao Yin took prompt advantage of all these opportunities. As he had done in Beijing, Cao soon developed impressive connections with members of Suzhou’s famous community of poets, writers, and scholars. When he had free time, he spent much of it socializing with a group of famous individuals, nearly half of whom were eminent elderly scholars who had performed brilliantly on the government exams. They included You Tong, a favorite of Kangxi, who had obtained a senior licentiate’s degree and written a history of the Ming dynasty, Han Tan and Peng Tingqiu, both of whom had passed the highest level of the civil exam (the palace), and had worked for the Hanlin Academy (an elite scholarly institution founded in the eighth century) in Beijing for many years. During this period, Cao also kept up with his riding and archery activities. In 1692, Cao Yin was appointed to the office of Commissioner of Imperial Textiles in Nanjing. This was a big step up since the Nanjing post was the most prestigious of the three Textile Commissioner positions (the third office was in Hangzhou). News of the promotion must have been bittersweet for this was the position his father had held for twenty-one years.17 When Cao arrived in Nanjing at the end of the year, he discovered his father’s former mansion, which he was to occupy, deserted, the stately 16 17

Spence, 1966, pp. 91–92, 109–110. Zhou Ruchang has argued that Kangxi had wanted Cao Yin to inherit the position when Cao Xi died, “but his desire was realized only after nine years of complications. For political reasons, Kangxi called the Cao family back to Beijing and made Cao Yin a Langzhong in the Imperial Household Department. The purpose of this appointment was to let Cao Yin earn the basic qualifications for being a Textile Commissioner” (Zhou, 2009, pp. 6–7).

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grand hall turned into a stable, and the beautiful Persian lilac trees Cao Xi had planted, dying. He soon rebuilt the house, eventually making it one of the most luxurious residences in the city. Although Cao Yin would later concurrently hold additional positions in other southern cities, the Nanjing position would remain his main base, and he would, like his father, die in office. Nanjing is located on the southern bank of the Yangzi, the longest river in China, and is bounded in the east by the magnificent Purple Mountain and in the north by Tiger Mountain. At that time, it was a picturesque city of lakes and was surrounded by the world’s longest city wall which was fourtysix miles in circumference and fourty feet high. It was also a place “of rolling ground and a few hills, with some waterways running through it, of large open spaces, some of which have always been devoted to intensive commercial gardening and many temples with groves and gardens…[it] remained a very open kind of urban concentration that included many activities and uses of space that we do not ordinarily associate with large cities in the premodern West.”18 During the Ming dynasty, Nanjing was the capital of China until the third Ming emperor moved the capital back to Beijing. During the Qing dynasty, it was an artistic center, home to numerous renowned painters as well as writers like Kong Shangren 孔尚任 (1614– 1718), who wrote the play The Peach Blossum Fan (Taohuashan), Wu Jingzi 吴敬梓 (1701–1754), the author of the celebrated novel The Scholars (Rulin waishi), and the well known poet and essayist Yuan Mei 袁枚 (1716–1798). Nanjing was also a major commercial center and silk weaving was a key industry. During the early Qing, the Imperial Silkworks consisted of three factories containing 335 imperial satin and 230 regular looms.19 In total, Cao Yin had approximately 2,500 artisans to supervise. In addition, he was also in charge of “all the servants of a large yamen: secretaries and storekeepers, sedan-chair carriers and umbrella holders, coachmen, runners and guards. Lastly, there were the children serving an apprenticeship: generally these were the sons of weavers already employed in the government factories.”20 Every three years, Cao would supervise the transportation of finished silk to Beijing, and ensure that yearly quotas were being correctly met. 18

19

20

“The Transformation of Nanking, 1350–1400” by F.W. Mote, in The City in Late Imperial China, Edited by G. William Skinner (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977), p. 142. Shih, 1976, p. 41. The vast majority of looms were not located in the imperial factories. In Nanjing, the looms in the Imperial Silkworks constituted only 2% of all the looms in the city. Silk was also produced in the city for export to central Asian markets and the entire Yangtze basin. Spence, 1966, p. 91.

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The most luxurious fabric in China was kesu silk from Nanjing. The city’s textile factories produced three kinds of fabrics: “ceremony cloths for religious ceremonies at the imperial ancestral temples, gift fabrics to be bestowed on various civil and military officials, and miscellaneous fabrics for daily use.”21 Gift fabrics included imperial patent scrolls and the many fabrics woven for daily imperial use included famous high quality ceremonial dragon robes.22 The production of these items was a highly specialized process involving a complex division of labor because of the different kinds of silk and the different looms used in the weaving of the fabrics. Because these items were very expensive and intended for court use, the imperial textile factories were located in Nanjing’s Manchu city, which was located in the southeast part of the city. The Imperial Silkworks were on the grounds of the former Ming Imperial Palace, which was destroyed when the Manchus brutally captured Nanjing in 1645. While walled Manchu cities were set up in eighteen places in China, the one in Nanjing was the largest after Beijing (encompassing an area of nearly three miles), probably because the imperial textile factories were located in it.23 21

22

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Shih, 1976, p. 39. The market for Nanjing silk throughout China quickly grew during the eighteenth century since the city also provided fine gauzes and silks for temples in China and the number of temples during this period throughout the country was rapidly increasing. Nanjing textile factories were also responsible for making presentation silks for all ranks of civil and military officials. This was a large amount because the bureaucracy also increased during this century. Textile Commissioners had to be very careful about precisely following the Imperial Household Department’s guidelines concerning the making of silk because imperial and official clothing was a very sensitive issue for the new Qing rulers since they were very concerned with maintaining their Manchu identity while at the same time keeping order in a thoroughly Confucian society. As a result, “court attire was essentially Manchu…As an essentially nomadic people from the north, the Manchus were not accustomed to silk but had worn wool and furs suitable for riding and hunting; deer skin rather than gold brocade was the fabric for the ruling class. Men’s robes had a vent at the front and back for riding…These styles were incorporated into official Qing dress…Court attire was nonetheless for use in ceremonies, so changes in cut that preserved Manchu identity had to conform with the stylistic changes of Han ritual.” Chinese Silk: A Cultural History by Shelagh Vaiker (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004), p. 176. For color photographs of and details about the types of silk court clothing the textile factories were producing, see Silks For Thrones and Altars: Chinese Costumes and Textiles by John E. Vollmer (Paris: Myrna Myers, 2003). The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China by Mark Elliott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 417. For a detailed account of the Nanjing textile industry and the Cao family, see Jiangning Zhizao yu Caojia (Jiangning Textiles and the Cao Family) by Zhou Ruchang (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2006).

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Cao Yin must have performed his numerous duties well, for by the time Kangxi visited Nanjing in 1699, six years into Cao’s stay in the city, he was becoming a royal favorite, and Kangxi was starting to give him special personal assignments. These commissions included acting as a purchasing agent of exotic foreign objects for the Emperor, reporting on the trade environment in Nagasaki, Japan for Chinese merchants, and possibly acting as an intermediary between Europeans and the emperor.24 Cao was extremely fortunate in winning the confidence of Kangxi who is now widely considered one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. The second Qing emperor ascended the throne when he was seven years old, but did not assume the reins of power until he was fifteen. At that time, the dynasty was in trouble because much of the southern and southeastern regions of the country remained under the control of former Ming commanders. In 1673, a young but determined Kangxi decided to eliminate these rebels and initiated a bloody civil war, known as the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories, which lasted for eight years. The rebellion was crushed by 1661, and by 1663 China was finally united. After establishing Manchu control over the country, Kangxi next moved to secure China’s northern and eastern borders, thereby ushering in a rare period of extended peace. His rule was, on the whole, competently administered, generally tolerant, and conciliatory. Confident, plain spoken but intellectually inquisitive, Kangxi was interested in a wide range of subjects, from Western science and technology, mathematics, optics, astronomy, to medicine, and music. He was also a patron of numerous scholarly projects. Even though he became ruler at a young age, he quickly grew into a shrewd and decisive leader. Politically, he worked to gain and keep the support of China’s ruling class and the native gentry (although a number of famous scholars rejected this attempt). Culturally, he judiciously adopted elements of the Chinese system of governance, while at the same time carefully preserving Manchu identity. He was in the main able to maintain this delicate balance without making most Chinese feel that their cultural traditions were threatened.25 24

25

See Spence, 1966, pp. 116–128, for a description of what these imperial commissions were like. For informative accounts of Kangxi and his reign, see Jonathan Spence’s “The K’ang-Hsi Reign,” in The Cambridge History of China: Volume Nine, Part One: The Ch’ing Empire to 1800, Edited by Willard J. Peterson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 120–182, and his Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of Kang-Hsi (New York: Random House, 1974); Reign of the Kangxi Emperor: Conference Proceedings Asian Civilization Museum Singapore 21 March 2009 (Singapore: Asian Civilizations Museum, 2010); and

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25

In the economic sphere, Kangxi’s reign was a period of large scale public and water control projects. The Yellow River was dredged to prevent flooding, and the Grand Canal was extensively repaired. The ostensible purpose of his celebrated 6 Southern Tours of the Yangzi South, or Jiangnan region of China in 1684, 1689, 1699, 1703, 1705, and 1707, was to inspect water conservancy projects.26 Four of these tours would bring prominence to the Cao Family and demonstrate Kangxi’s strong affection for Cao Yin. Kangxi devoted a great deal of time to diligently investigating the state of the sophisticated river works and dikes which controlled floods and supplied transport and irrigation between the Yangzi delta and the Yellow River during these trips, but there were several additional reasons he made such journeys. Michael Chang, who has extensively studied eighteenth century imperial touring practices, has argued that Kangxi’s tours were “not merely an exercise on demonstrating imperial concern about flood control, as it is usually portrayed. It was also the culmination of a larger revival of imperial touring in the early 1680’s to assert enthno-dynastic dominance. According to this ideological formulation, the Manchu court was a model of martial discipline, diligence, and benevolence; imperial tours were the most important rituals through which such ethno-dynastic virtues might be spread throughout the realm.” 27 This touring philosophy was an outgrowth of Kangxi’s overall strategy of carefully balancing gestures of cultural accommodation to the Chinese with subtle, and at times, overt demonstrations of ethnic differences. On a practical level, Kangxi also viewed the tours as an excellent opportunity to escape from the confines of Beijing, learn about conditions in the country, and have discussions with and evaluate officials. These imperial outings were impressive affairs. For the 1699 tour, the Emperor was accompanied by seven of his sons and the Empress Dowager. This trip was especially memorable because Kangxi, for the first time during his tours, gave a public exhibition of his formidable archery skills on horseback in front of military and civil officials in Hangzhou. During the exhibition, “After the first arrow had hit the target, [Kangxi] moved on to something harder; he dropped the reins and rode straight toward the target, but just as he was about to shoot the horse shied sharply away to the left;

26

27

Lawrence D. Kessler’s K’ang-hsi and the Consolidation of Ch’ing Rule (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976). Kangxi was an avid traveler. Michael Chang writes that “between 1681 and his death in 1722, the Kangxi emperor embarked on a total of 128 imperial tours, an average of approximately two-three per year.” A Court on Horseback: Imperial Touring and the Construction of Qing Rule 1680–1785 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 73. But hei is most famous for his Southern Tours. Chang, 2007, p. 86.

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quickly the Emperor changed his grip on the bow and shot, the arrow hitting the target as the horse galloped past.”28 This tour lasted 102 days. During this trip, Kangxi sailed down the Grand Canal with a large retinue. Temporary booths and pavilions along with excited crowds were present through much of the route. When the imperial flotilla arrived in Suzhou prefecture, the welcome was extraordinary: Those gathered along the route to greet the procession stretched on continuously for hundreds of li; however, they were most numerous in Suzhou. The various local officials were in front. Government students and licentiates were behind them. Local elders were next, finally followed by ordinary residents. People came by water and land. Above each boat flew a yellow banner saying “XXX from YY district welcomes the imperial procession.” The same [banners showing people’s names and places of origin] could also be seen on land. Virtually all of the large thoroughfares were finely festooned, some with yellow stages, one hundred paces wide, were set up in front of Suzhou’s old postal relay damask. Lavishly adorned stages, one hundred paces wide, were set up in front of Suzhou’s old postal relay station and the foot of Tiger Hill, and lantern-bedecked arches and pavilions stretched across bridges and alleyways.29

The flotilla entered Nanjing in April, where Kangxi was again grandly received. During his weeklong stay in the city, he honored the Cao family by staying in Cao Yin’s official yamen and residence with its surrounding gardens which served as his temporary palace.30 There he had an emotional reunion with his sixty-eight year old former wet nurse, Sun, whom he fondly referred to as “an old lady from our house.” Zhou Ruchang has written about the symbolic importance of this special occasion for the Cao family: The April appearance of lilies is considered symbolic of a loving mother in traditional Chinese culture. For this reason, Kangxi wrote “Hall of Remembrance for Xuan Flowers” (萱瑞堂) in honor of his nanny, and the characters were inscribed on a large plaque. This phase has two connotations in Chinese, one reveals the Emperor’s respect while the other implies Cao Yin’s love of his mother. This commemorative plaque was made of the best wood, of an azurite color, and the 28 29

30

Spence, 1966, pp. 130–131. Chang, 2007, p. 1. Instructive paintings and scrolls were made of Kangxi’s Southern Tours. See for example, the impressive scroll series done by Wang Hui (1632–1717) and others entitled The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour. Chang, 2010, reprints several of these pictures in his article, as does Zhou, 2006. Several well-printed paintings can also be found in China: The Three Emperors 1662–1795, Edited by Evelyn S. Rawski and Jessica Rawson (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005), pp. 86–87. Kangxi was actually well-acquainted with this residence. He first visited it in 1684 when he was on a Southern Tour to give his condolences to the Cao family after the death of Cao Xi. He first stayed at the yamen in 1689 “when Sang-ko was commissioner and it became his Nanking Palace for all subsequent Southern Tours” (Spence, 1966, p. 139).

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concaved inscription was finished in dark paint. On the edges of the plaque were nine golden red dragons with intertwining heads, which appeared to move as if they were alive. This wonderful work of art was symbolic of the sacred and incomparable power of the emperor, and through him the Chinese empire. More importantly, this plaque signals his growing partiality for Cao Yin. Therefore, this occasion can be said to mark the zenith of the influence of the Cao family, and clearly shows that the wealth, fame, and honor they enjoyed during this period derived from their standing as royal favorites.31

Cao Yin provided opera performances (Kangxi was a devotee of Jiangsu’s Kunshan kunqiang opera, so much so that he had the Nanjing playwright Kong Shangren debut his famous tragedy The Peach Blossom Fan at the Forbidden City) and opulent banquets for the visit. Cao’s warm and thoughtful hospitality apparently deeply impressed the Emperor for Cao Yin also hosted Kangxi on all of his other Southern Tours in 1703, 1705, and 1707. These visits gave Cao Yin an excellent chance to do what he did so well—socialize and bond with members of the region’s bureaucracy, noted local scholars, and senior officials who had accompanied the Emperor. These exceptional acts of favor bestowed on the Cao family by Kangxi became an illustrious part of the family’s lore. Cao Xueqin even makes a clearly proud but critical allusion to the visits in Honglou meng. In chapter 16, Nannie Zhao breathlessly tells Wang Xi-feng and Jia Lian about the Zhen family, who live “south of the Yangtze, oh, how rich and great they were! That family alone entertained the Emperor four times. No one who was told such a thing, if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, could believe it. Don’t talk about silver treated like dirt, every precious thing you could name was heaped up like hills, no one bothering to check the wicked waste.”32 Hosting the Emperor would have been an extremely expensive and time consuming endeavor for the Cao family even though the Nanjing yamen had served as a temporary palace since 1689. Honglou meng directly refers to this fact in chapters 16, 17, and 18, which are replete with detailed discussions and descriptions of the elaborate, lavish, logistically demanding, preparations for the very short visit of the imperial consort to the Jia compound. This event would have been a considerably less taxing endeavor than hosting an Emperor for several days who was extremely fond of luxury and expensive presents, and who was accompanied by an entourage that was infamous for its strong sense of entitlement. When Wang Xi-feng in the novel raises the obvious question of how one family could pay for such a costly event, Nannie Zhao respondes “Why, madam, the truth is they were just spending 31 32

Zhou, 2009, pp. 19–20. DRM, 1, p. 219.

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the Emperor’s money on the Emperor. Otherwise who would waste so much on an empty show?”33 She is largely correct. Cao Yin would have probably used some public funds to pay for some of the visit (a common practice Kangxi was aware of, but frowned upon). Spence concludes that Cao Yin would have found the visits very costly but ultimately within his means, for the needed palace had only to be prepared once, and then refurnished only when needed.34 Finally, as Dream of the Red Chamber shows, if the visit was successful, the hosts would have been later rewarded with special, expensive gifts from the Forbidden City.35 But it was through the new medium of the palace memorial system that was personally developed by Kangxi that Cao Yin had the opportunity to make his biggest impact on the Emperor. This novel information gathering system was devised by Kangxi so he could obtain reliable information on what was happening in different areas of the country. Kangxi was particularly interested in obtaining credible intelligence about what was occurring in the area south of the Yangzi river, specifically Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui provinces, for this region was still politically troublesome. This area was also an extremely important economic hub because of its production of rice. It was also critical since it provided many of the officials who worked in the regular bureaucracy. Besides, Kangxi genuinely liked the southern region, admired its natural beauty and way of life, was comfortable dealing with its scholars and literati, and keenly aware of the great benefits that could be had if he curried favor with them. The palace memorial system was first informally used in 1693, and from then on primarily utilized by bondservants in the south like Cao Yin to directly communicate with the emperor.36 Around 1700, this informal and highly secret mode of communication was institutionalized and expanded to include high level bureaucrats and provincial officials who had been personally selected by the emperor. (Routine memorials were sent through the Office of Transmission to the Outer Court in the Forbidden City). Special, rigorous rules governed the sending of these memorials. The first of these was that these reports could only be written by the memorialists themselves. In a very early message to Cao Yin, Kangxi strongly warns him that “If you encounter anything which would cause doubt or perplexity, you may send 33 34 35 36

DRM, 1, p. 219. Spence, 1966, p. 156. See, for example, the end of chapter 18, and the beginning of 19. See Silas H.L. Wu’s excellent Communication and Imperial Control in China: Evolution of the Palace Memorial System 1693–1735 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), for a comprehensive history of this system.

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me secret palace memorials to secure my instructions. Whenever you prepare a palace memorial you may not ask anyone else to write it for you. There would be most serious consequences once people came to know of this [matter]. Be careful! Be careful! Be careful! Be careful!”37 These memorials were small in size, and consisted of long pages of paper which had to be “folded over in concertina fashion, so they could either be open out flat or folded back into a thin booklet, 20 centimeters high and 10 centimeters broad…Inside this wrapping [white paper outer] was a large white envelope, fastened with white paper tape; down the tape was again written his name and official title, with the same seal and phrase. Inside this was a thin white envelope, with the same seal over the top and joints; over the top seal was written the character ku (closed), and over the bottom seal was written feng (sealed). On the front of the envelope was written the two characters tsouche—a palace memorial. Inside this thin envelope was the actual memorial.”38 Memorials could not be more than three hundred characters in length, and usually had eighteen characters per line. Cao Yin would have used a house servant to transport the messages to Beijing since this was a more secure system than using the public postal express facilities. Once the memorials arrived in the capital, they were submitted at the gate of the Forbidden City. Palace guards then gave them to chancery eunuchs, who quickly transported the memorials to Kangxi, who read them and wrote his response, which was also carried back to Nanjing by the servant who delivered the memorial. (The entire journey took about a month).39 These memorials were so important that they could quickly make or break an official’s career. To get a flavor of what the content of these secret reports were like, the following is a memorial written by Cao Yin on November 11, 1711 concerning a demonstration that had occurred in the south in response to an infamous civil service examination scandal: Cao Yin, the Superintendent of the Imperial Manufactory and Commissioner of the Transmission Office, reverently inquires after Your Majesty’s well-being. Both Chiangnan and Chekiang provinces have enjoyed a plentiful harvest this year. The price of the autumn harvest rice ranges from 6 to 7 jian. Because of this year’s plentiful harvest, the people feel at ease about the prospects for the next year. They all praise the great peace and are enjoying a peaceful life. Unfortunately, however, all the xiu cai [men qualified to take the Provincial Examination] in Yangzhou have complained very strongly about the result of this year’s examination in Chiangnan. They all declare that “this year’s zhuren quota has been enlarged on account of the emperor’s immense kindness. By doing this the emperor meant to encourage and 37 38 39

Quoted and translated by Wu, 1970, p. 45. Spence, 1966, p. 220. Spence, 1966, p. 119.

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Wandering Between Two Worlds select the impecunious ones. But the new zhuren winners have been chosen on an extremely unfair basis; it is quite obvious that abuses have occurred.” Therefore, the xiu cai in the Yangzhou area congregated in a noisy crowd. They tore down the shrine which had been erected in honor of the chief examiner, Zuo Bifan. The violent demonstration temporarily subsided after they heard that the deputy examiner was actually responsible for the scandal. Both the Governor-General and Governor have prepared their impeaching memorials. At the present time, two persons, Wu Bi and Cheng Guangkui have been put under arrest. Both of them are sons of wealthy merchants. Rumor says that there are a great many more people who are on the list who are not versed in literature at all. All these local conditions and the weather conditions are herewith enclosed to keep your majesty informed.40

Cao Yin became very skilled at writing these memorials. As the above example shows, he was well aware of of importance of striking the proper balance between following the decorum associated with addressing the emperor, and concisely, objectively and clearly providing the central facts connected with the topic under discussion. He soon became known to Kangxi (and other high officials) as a man who could get things done swiftly, quietly, and efficiently. Over time, Kangxi’s communications with Cao Yin became increasingly more affectionate, paternal, and protective.41 Cao must have considered himself very lucky to hold a highly prestigious job in the south. Given his considerable interest in poetry, essay writing, book collecting, and calligraphy, and outgoing nature, there were few places in China during this time that would have been more congenial to his personality and concerns. During the early and middle Qing dynasty, lower Yangtze cities were the desired home of China’s men of leisure, collectors, writers, poets, artists, dramatists, scholars, and bibliophiles. The book printing industry and library collections in the region were first rate, and the restaurants, drinking establishments, teashops, courtesans, exquisite gardens, and villas, and sophisticated nightlife of these cities were unmatched. Cao Yin, in typical Cao family fashion, quickly took advantage of the numerous opportunities offered by his position and location. As he did in Beijing and Suzhou, he rapidly established close relationships with important members of the region’s literary and scholarly communities. He also became a well known patron of scholars and writers, and developed into a serious collector of antiques and rare books, eventually acquiring a personal library which contained over 3,200 books. Cao also worked hard on his writings. His collected works, Lianting Ji 楝亭集, were printed in 1712,

40 41

Quoted and translated, Wu, 1970, p. 143. Spence, 1966, gives several English translations of selections from Cao Yin’s palace memorials.

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and included several books of poetry, and essays. He even had time to edit a volume of articles on food and beverages. Cao Yin was also extremely intrigued by drama, and had his own private opera troupe which gave performances at his residence, was highly praised for his knowledge of dramatic techniques, and was the author of several plays.42 The first of these, entitled A Narrow Escape From the Tiger (Hukou Yusheng), is based on an essay by Bian Dashou and concerns the final days of the Ming dynasty. The second drama The Lute Player’s Return (Houpipa ) is a sequel to a famous Ming dynasty drama The Lute Player (Pipaji) and is about the life of the Han dynasty scholar Cai Yong and his daughter. Cao’s next position would give him further opportunity to indulge his passion for this genre. In 1704, Cao Yin was appointed Salt Censor (xunyan yushi) for the Lianghuai Salt Monopoly. This was also a very lucrative position, and was to be held concurrently with his job as Textile Commissioner. Lianghuai Salt Censors were traditionally drawn from a select group of Chinese and Manchu Bannermen. China has processed salt for more than thirty centuries. Unlike the west, where salt is directly added to food, in China, food was traditionally fermented or pickled in salt. During the Qing the salt trade, which was a monopoly controlled by the state, was a crucial and consistent source of revenue for the government. This industry was considered so vital that the occupation of salt producer was hereditary in order to guarantee a stable supply of workers. The distribution of salt was granted to contractors who were required to obtain government certificates. Once they obtained the licenses, these merchants moved the material from specified salt depots to secondary merchants in market areas. These secondary merchants then placed the salt in storage buildings at district capitals, and eventually sold the material to retailers in the district. While the salt merchant system in theory operated on a competitive basis, the right to salt licenses eventually became hereditary and a monopoly developed.43 Immense wealth was made in the salt industry by both the merchant contractors and the salt inspectors who were supposed to supervise them. Cao Yin’s job as Salt Censor was to oversee and check the distribution of the salt, prevent smuggling in the trade (a widespread problem), monitor lower level 42 43

Zhou, 1976, Volume 1, pp. 354–360, Volume 2, pp. 811–821. For details about the salt industry and salt merchants during the Qing period, see Ping-ti Ho’s classic “The Salt Merchants of Yang-Chou: A Study of Commercial Capitalism in Eighteenth Century China.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, XVII (1954): 130–168, and Antonia Finnane’s Speaking of Yangzhou: A Chinese City, 1550–1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), especially chapters 3 and 6.

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officials, and keep the emperor informed about salt related matters. Salt Censors also had the very important job of issuing salt certificates. Cao Yin had to supervise an area that was huge, covering four rich provinces in central China which had around 230 merchants. The total income of the salt trade in this region was about two and a half million taels a year.44 This position, like that of Textile Commissioner, was exceptionally demanding and required a sophisticated understanding of complex, local economic conditions. Also, officials had to be extremely careful in their supervision because the profits generated by the trade went directly to the Imperial Household Department, and were put in the emperor’s personal treasury. Compounding these difficulties was the fact that Lianghuai salt merchants’ rate of profit was not that high during Kangxi’s rule, and merchants were frequently unable to meet their tax requirements. This of course is not to say that they were poor, as salt merchants were generally very wealthy for the times, but rather that their economic situation was not particularly stable (as it would be during the second half of the eighteenth century). This was a problem which would eventually result in major troubles for Cao Yin and his family.45 There were, however, several major benefits associated with this post which would have greatly pleased Cao Yin. Among these were that the job entailed moving to Yangzhou since the city served as the headquarters of the Liaghuai Salt Administration. The Salt Censor was the senior salt official in the town and his yamen was based in the Old City. Yangzhou is located near Nanjing and close to the junction of the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal. It was known as an important commercial city and admired for its vibrant theatrical life, having many types of local theater which performed famous dramas. This would have greatly appealed to Cao Yin. Yangzhou’s powerful salt merchants were critical patrons to numerous scholars, poets, and artists who came to the city, lavishly entertained them in their beautiful gardens and provided needed funds. A famous guidebook of the time indicates that “during the eighteenth century few men of letters of note of the lower 44

45

Spence, 1966, p. 166. A tael was one Chinese ounce of silver, weighed 37.5 grams, and in theory, was worth around a thousand cash or silver coins. To put the purchasing power of a tael into perspective, in chapter 39 of Honglou meng, Grannie Liu states that 20 taels would “keep a farmer and his family for a year” (SS, 2, p. 265). In chapter 8, Qin Bangye, the father of Jia Bao-yu’s close friend Qin Zhong, who is a Secretary in the Public Buildings Department of the Board of Works, is distraught because he cannot afford to pay Qin Zhong’s school fees of 25 taels, and has to scramble to borrow the money. And in chapter 51, it is mentioned that one tael was the standard fee for a doctor to make a home visit. For a good account of the economic environment when Cao Yin was Salt Censor, see Spence, 1966, chapter 5.

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Yangtze area had not associated themselves at one time or another with some salt merchant families in Yangzhou. Suffice here to say that this kind of association was to their mutual advantage, for if the scholars received no mean material aid from the merchants, the merchants in turn derived enhanced social prestige from their intimate relationships to the scholars.”46 Cao’s position also provided him with additional chances to expand his already dense social network of connections to the literati world and to gather more firsthand information to report to Kangxi.47 Because of the rule that no Salt Censor could hold the office for two consecutive years, Cao Yin was Salt Censor for the years of 1704, 1706, 1708, and 1710. Interestingly, he alternated in holding this post with his brother-in-law and close friend Li Xu 李煦. Li Xu was born in 1650 and his ancestors had also been captured by the Manchus and made bondservants in the Plain White Banner.48 He briefly served as a secretary in the Grand Secretariat (the most illustrious and powerful body in the central government) and a prefect in Guangdong. When Cao Yin left the post of Suzhou Textile Commissioner, Li Xu took his place. Li’s promotions appear to have been based upon his extensive administrative experience. Kangxi also selected Li to be a secret informant (in fact, according to court records, Li was the first official to submit a secret report to the Emperor),49 and assigned him special imperial commissions. But Kangxi apparently did not have the same warm feeling about Li as he did about Cao Yin. One scholar has observed that “This difference in relationship was reflected in the emperor’s attitude toward them after both became secret informants. In general, the vermilion endorsements noted on Cao Yin’s palace memorials were much more

46 47

48

49

Ho, 1954, p. 158. Frederick Wakeman Jr. has pointed out that the official elite in the Jiangnan region that Cao Yin was meeting and developing connections with, were “not dominated by single powerful gentry lineages in one or two powerful counties. Nor did a single city dominate the region. Instead, the entire Yangzi basin, wealthiest of all parts of China, was characterized by a broadly distributed political elite with a strong sense of self-identity, laterally connected by common cultural symbols. The elite met across lineage lines and district barriers because of its wide horizontal dispersal. This meant that the normal medium of gentry cohesiveness—poetry clubs, philosophical societies, academies—were unusually strong in this region.” The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China, Volume 1 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 99. This was precisely the type of socializing that Cao Yin was very good at: participating in poetry clubs, belonging to different associations etc. Li Xu’s sister, Li, married Cao Yin. We know little about her but she almost certainly served as the model for grandmother Jia in Dream of the Red Chamber. Wu, 1970, pp. 36–37.

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affectionate than those on Li’s memorials; some overtone of ‘family talks’ could be detected in the former.”50 This reference to talks about family is revealing for Kangxi was directly involved in both of the marriages of Cao Yin’s daughters. On November, 30, 1706, Cao Yin’s eldest daughter married Prince Narsu, a member of the imperial clan and the Bordered Red Banner. To celebrate the event, Kangxi personally held an imperial banquet on January 8, 1707 to honor the couple. A year later, she gave birth to a son who inherited the princedom, and later became Prince Fupeng 福彭 (1708–1749). In 1709, Cao’s second daughter was sent to Beijing to marry a member of the Imperial Guard who later became a prince. These marriages further raised the status of the Cao family, and formally made them relatives of the Emperor. During this time, Cao Yin was also promoted to the position of Commissioner of the Third Rank in the Tongzheng (Office of Transmission, a central government agency which oversaw the collecting, recording, and offering of court memorials). He was also given the imposing job of overseeing the printing of several notable publication projects. In 1705, Kangxi showed Cao great favor by entrusting him with the block-carving and printing of the first of the great eighteenth century court sponsored literary projects, The Complete Poems of the Tang (Quantangshi), which consisted of 48, 900 poems written by more than 2,200 authors. He was also commissioned to print the phase dictionary Peiwen Yunfu, which was finished after Cao Yin’s death. In order to complete these massive projects, Cao had to set up a printing establishment in Yangzhou and finance much of the project himself. Both of these works are considered first rate examples of Chinese xylography. It is natural to ask, in view of all of these honors showered upon Cao Yin and his family, why were they not released from their status as bondservants? Formally, they were the emperor’s slaves forever, but there were also three special circumstances in which they could have been freed. The most common way occurred when a member of a bondservant’s family became an imperial concubine, and the emperor showed his appreciation by freeing her family. While the Cao family was technically related to the imperial family and Cao Yin’s mother was a royal favorite, they did not have a family member who was an imperial concubine. Secondly, individuals who were captured and made bondservants at the end of the Ming dynasty could be released from their status for humanitarian reasons. Lastly, some bondservants were freed when the central government made major changes

50

Wu, 1970, p. 39.

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in personnel in the banner groups.51 The precise reason the family was not freed is still unclear. Perhaps Kangxi simply wanted them to remain bondservants because that insured they would remain completely loyal to him. The upshot is that in spite of Cao family’s tremendous wealth and power, their personal and familial ties to the throne, and the fact they were now formally part of the upper class, they nonetheless continued to have a deeply uncertain future since they remained the personal slaves of whoever was emperor, and were subject to his whims, and therefore could be completely broken by him at any time. Today, one cannot help but be impressed by Cao Yin’s relentless energy, competency, and the remarkable way in which he deftly managed to carry out his numerous, complex, and very onerous responsibilities during his time as Textile Commissioner, Salt Censor, the Emperor’s secret informant, imperial host, confidential adviser, agent of special imperial commissions, court favorite, and literatus. Cao was also disciplined and talented enough to make time to write poetry, essays, and plays, become a patron of the arts, and edit, print, and collect books.52 Amazingly, he was also able to successfully traverse the vicious world of officialdom of that time without incurring powerful enemies. But probably his most demanding task concerned the very complicated chore of keeping his official financial house in order. During the early years, Cao was quite successful in doing this, but during the final years of his life this juggling act became more and more difficult. His longstanding economic problem was simple in nature, but extremely difficult to solve. The problem was that the expenses associated with operating the Nanjing imperial textile works and carrying out Kangxi’s imperial commissions were unremitting and always escalating. As a consequence, Cao Yin had to dip into salt revenues and also take periodic costly loans from salt merchants to help cover these deficits. Further exacerbating the problem was the unavoidable fact that the government profits generated by the Lianghuai Salt Monopoly were erratic, and Cao could only use them when he was Salt Censor every two years. Kangxi was aware of the pitfalls associated with this off the cuff, juryrigged system for producing needed revenue and did not directly criticize Cao Yin for using it. As Spence notes, “In the last resort, the existence of the 51

52

Spence, 1966, pp. 38–39. See also chapter 3 of Preston M. Torbert’s The Ch’ing Imperial Household Department: A Study of its Organization and Principal Functions 1662–1796 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977). Zhou Ruchang has contended that Cao Yin was one of the best poets of the Qing dynasty, see Cao Xueqin jiashi xinkao (A New Study of the Family Background of Cao Xueqin), (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1980), p. 317.

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debts did not matter to the Emperor as long as he had a tight control over the salt merchants. For it was really the salt merchants who were paying the Emperor for his court fineries and his diversions. The duty of Cao Yin and his colleagues was to see that they continued to do so.”53 The breaking point came several years into the period when Cao Yin and Li were alternating serving as Salt Censors. At that time, they used the enormous sum of 10 million taels, which came from salt trade profits and loans from salt merchants to help defray debts incurred by the Nanjing and Suzhou textile mills. “From this point onward, [both of the men’s] personal financial situations became increasingly precarious as they attempted to balance such complex transactions. In addition, they had to deal with the burdensome demands of princes and influential functionaries, who often asked for money, curios, and even people.”54 While there is evidence that Cao Yin was prone at times (like most officials) of financial irregularities and that his accounting practices were frequently suspect, he was also, in the final analysis, in an economically no win situation since his problems were largely systemic in nature. Unforeseen and extractable factors like the drought of 1707 and the floods of 1708, salt smugglers, and fluctuating salt prices strongly impacted upon market conditions and the resulting taxation revenue. Kangxi was usually tolerant about these problems and ultimately only concerned that surplus revenues were regularly received and major mishaps did not occur. He was unfortunately also temperamentally reluctant to investigate high ranking officials in Cao’s area who were much more corrupt that Cao Yin and on whom Cao had reported. This persistent reluctance by Kangxi resulted in an exacerbation of the problem of corruption.55 Cao Yin suddenly died in Yangzhou of malaria on August 24, 1712. He was fifty-one. When he contracted the disease in July of that year, servants were quickly sent to Beijing to request quinine from the Emperor because this rare medicine was only kept in the Forbidden City. A very worried Kangxi immediately sent the medicine, but by the time it arrived Cao Yin had already died. During the last years of Cao’s life, his health had begun to fail, and the heavy debts of the Nanjing textile factories weighed heavily on his mind. According to a memorial Li Xu wrote to Kangxi after Cao’s death, Cao Yin strongly lamented the economic fix he had gotten himself into. Li 53 54 55

Spence, 1966, pp. 271–272. Zhou, 2009, p. 44. See Spence, 1966, p. 186, for an excerpt from a 1704 memorial in which Kangxi warns Cao Yin about making trouble about the egregious corruption of the region’s Governor General.

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states that Cao told him “At the Nanjing Textile Commissioner’s yamen revenue deficits have accumulated over the years and are more than 90,000 taels; and in accordance with the edict received last year that the deficit accumulated by the Lianghuai salt merchants should be paid off by officials and merchants together, I should have paid off 230,000 taels. Yet I have no possessions I can sell, no resources I can convert. Though my body must die, my eyes shall remain open.”56 Cao Yin’s great ability and winning personality, his inheritance of the old Cao family’s talent for luck, and their special background as imperial bondservants and royal favorites, had brought the family to the pinnacle of influence and standing during the early part of the eighteenth century. Ironically, many of the factors that contributed to Cao Yin’s triumphs would also lead directly to the Cao family’s eventual fall.

56

Spence, 1966, pp. 261–262.

C H A P T E R

T H R E E

“Dressed in Silks and Delicately Nurtured” Cao Yin’s sudden death in 1712 plunged the Cao family into a very precarious situation. They now held no official position, their personal ties to the court were diminishing (Cao Yin’s mother, Lady Sun, the beloved former wet nurse of Kangxi had died in 1706), and they owed hundreds of thousands of taels to the government because of Cao Yin’s financial irregularities. Their future was looking increasingly bleak. Luckily, Kangxi decided to step in and again show the family special favor. On August 27, the provincial governor of Jiangxi, Lang Tingji, sent a palace memorial reporting that after Cao Yin’s death, a large group of local officials, civilians, merchants, and textile factory owners had appeared in front of his yamen to plead that he appoint Cao Yong 曹颙, Cao Yin’s only son, to be the next Imperial Textile Commissioner for Nanjing. Lang sent their petition to Beijing, and the Emperor quickly appointed Cao Yong to his father’s former position. Moreover, Kangxi became so concerned about the Cao family’s situation at this time that he cancelled some of Cao Yin’s debts, appointed Li Xu Salt Censor for Yangzhou, and told Li he could use the income from his one year appointment to help pay off Cao Yin’s massive debts. This greatly alleviated the situation and one year later Li Xu was able to turn over to the government 586,000 taels to cover Cao Yin’s debts. Cao Yong was only nineteen when he took over his father’s post on February 2, 1713. He did not have any prior administrative experience but had briefly worked in the Imperial Household Department in Beijing. Cao Yin left debts of 230, 000 taels from when he was Salt Censor.1 When Cao Yong received the money from Li Xu to cover these debts, he immediately offered the balance of 36,400 taels to the Emperor for the imperial stables. Kangxi knew that the Cao family could use the money to defray some of Cao Yin’s private debts, so he sent 30,000 taels of the balance back to Cao Yong. Two years later, in 1715, tragedy again suddenly struck the Cao family when twenty-one year old Cao Yong unexpectedly died in Beijing. Greatly complicating matters was the fact that he had died without a son to succeed him. While Cao Yong lacked his father’s noted gregariousness and quiet efficiency, he was a conscientious but very cautious official. His death was a 1

Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor by Jonathan Spence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 266.

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major setback for the family. Now only two immediate living relatives of Cao Yin remained—his wife, Lady Li (who would be the model for Grandmother Jia in Honglou meng), and Cao Yong’s wife, Ma. The family was facing for the first time the lack of a successor and the potential dying out of the family line. Kangxi once again came to the family’s rescue and came up with a neat solution to their problem. He commanded in a special edict that one of the sons of Cao Xuan’s 曹宣, Cao Yin’s younger brother, be adopted by Lady Li and made Cao Yin’s posthumous son.2 The Emperor also ordered that this son be appointed Nanjing Textile Commissioner, thereby making him the fourth consecutive member of the Cao family to hold this post. The son selected to be adopted was Cao Xuan’s fourth son, Cao Fu 曹頫. Cao Fu assumed the post of Textile Commissioner on April 6, 1715. It is not known what his exact age was when this occurred, but it is believed he was in his late teens. Cao Fu was considered studious and hopes were high that he would successfully perform his new responsibilities. The Cao family was also feeling that things were improving for them because it appeared Cao Yin’s official and private debts were to be finally paid off, thanks in large part to Kangxi’s generosity. It is highly probable that Cao Xueqin was born in the midst of this turmoil. While nearly all aspects of Cao’s life still remain unclear and subject to much debate, there is good evidence for believing he was born in the spring of 1715.3 2

3

Cao Xuan had died several decades earlier, probably in 1785. The practice of adopting relatives as heirs was common during this time, especially in South China. A ceremony, feast, and ancestral sacrifices would be held to formalize the adoption. Ann Waltner has observed that adoption in “early Qing China was a complex and difficult institution, and many of the problems surrounding it centered on the issues of the loyalty of the adopted son. The potential for conflict between loyalty owned the two set of parents, natural and adoptive, was a very real one.” “The Loyalty of Adopted Sons in Ming and Early Qing China,” Modern China 10.4 (1984): p. 441. Cao Fu’s special situation enabled him to circumvent much of these conflicts because he was adopted after the death of Cao Yong and a blood relative. Determining the year Cao Xueqin was born oddly largely turns on when one believes he died. Generally speaking, there are two theories concerning his year of death. The first argues that he died on the last day of the lunar year Renwu, which would have been on February 12 during the 27th year of the Emperor Qianlong’s reign, which was 1763. The evidence for this claim is based on a note in the Jinyan annotated manuscript version of Honglou meng dated August, 1774, which states “On the last day of the year Renwu, the book not yet finished, Xueqin had exhausted his tears and passed away.” Quoted in On the Red Chamber Dream: A Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the Eighteenth Century by Wu Shih-Ch’ang (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 51. The second theory, which is espoused by Zhou Ruchang and others, maintains that he was born on February 12, 1764, and that the manuscript note was a mistake and off by one

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His birth would have been treated as an auspicious sign, for it occurred during a period when Kangxi was once again showing great favor to the Cao family. Cao was assigned the given name Zhan 霑 , which has rich connotations in classical Chinese literature. Zhan “is a synonym and an archaic form of zhan 沾, meaning to wet, to soak, to be wet, to be soaked. When it is used in this archaic form, it means to soak with the timely rain or to be soaked in the rain. The word is always used in its symbolic sense: to grant great favor, to shower (or be showered) with heavenly favor (i.e. Imperial) benevolence.”4 It is quite possible that this name was an allusion to the fact that this happy occasion had occurred during the time Kangxi had

4

year. Zhou also believes that several poems written by the Dun brothers, Dun Cheng and Dun Min, and Zhang Yiquan, who were close friends of Cao Xueqin, further supports this date. The evidence seems to support either year as being correct. The reason why determinating the year of Cao Xueqin’s death is important in establishing the time of his birth is that at the time of Cao’s death, it was said that he was “in his 40’s” and “less than 50.” But, if we take this statement to be true and add what we know was occurring with the Cao family fifty years prior, then it seems quite plausible that he was born in 1715. For overviews of this controversy, see Wu, 1961, pp. 103–113, and Duan Jiangli’s essay “Honglou meng Yanjiu Lunbian” (“Discussion of the Study of Honglou meng”) in Zhongguo Gudai Xiaoshuo Yanjiu Lunbian (Discussions Concerning the Study of Classical Chinese Novels), Edited by Chen Xizhong, Duan Jiangli, and Bai Lanlin (Nanchang: Bai hua zhou Wenyi chubanshe, 2006), pp. 268–270. Both Wu and Duan believe that Cao Xueqin died in 1764. Wu believes he was probably born in 1715 (as does Jonathan Spence and Honglou meng’s English translator David Hawkes). Duan contends that he was born in 1725 (as does Zhou), but they both assume that he was fourty when he died, which is problematic because it makes Cao Xueqin much younger than the biographical evidence appears to support (See Wu, 1961, pp. 107–110 for a strong critique of their position). For an argument that Cao was born sometime between 1716 and 1718, see C.T. Hsia’s The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), pp. 366–367. One scholar has recently gone so far as to argue that Cao Xueqin could not have been the author of Honglou meng because there are too many inconsistencies regarding the possible dates of his birth and death, see Honglou san lun (Three Different Ways of Thinking About the Red Chamber) by Xu Naiwei (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2005) for this argument. Wu, 1961, p. 118. Cao Xueqin, like all males in traditional China would eventually have several names: a courtesy name (zi), which was a given name used in place of one’s given name when a male reached twenty. It signified entry into adulthood. Cao’s courtesy name was Meng Ruan 梦阮 (Dreaming of Ruan Ji), which was a reference to the famous poet Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210–63). He also would have had a hao, an alternative courtesy name which was usually self-selected. The hao was frequently very personal and for Cao Xueqin would have reflected his personality and status as an educated literati, or goals in life. It was possible to have more than one hao. Cao’s were Xueqin, Qinxi Jushi 芹溪居士 (the Dweller of Qin Creek), and Qinpu 芹圃(Cao Xueqin’s Garden).

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allowed Cao Fu to be adopted and then appointed Textile Commissioner.5 Moreover, this name takes on added importance when it is noted that it is now generally thought that Cao Fu was Cao Xueqin’s father.6 Cao Xueqin was born in the palatial official residence of the Nanjing Textile Commissioner, which was built in 1662 by Cao Xi and located on Lijixiang Dajie. This large residence with its graceful sea of distinct sloping roofs in the southern architectural style consisted of three areas. The first, the west section, was the most elegant and contained a field to practice archery, and a beautiful garden with rugged and convoluted rockery designed to channel the vital energy of the earth. The garden had a quaint and mossy central pond. The west area also housed a handsome theater in which the family’s personal theater company performed. The east side of the mansion was comprised of offices. The middle section of the residence was made up of the family quarters, five buildings deep with an exquisite small garden.7

5

6

7

The assigning of this particular given name has been taken as additional evidence that Cao Xueqin was born in 1715. There are essentially two theories regarding the family lineage of Cao Xueqin. The first is that Cao Yin was his grandfather and that Cao Yong was his father, and that he was born shortly after Cao Yong’s death. We do know that Cao Yong’s wife, nee Ma, was seven months pregnant at the time of his death. The problem is that some years ago, a clan register of the Liaodong branch of the Cao family was discovered which revealed that Cao Yong’s son was named Cao Tianyou 曹 天 佑 . Moreover, there was no connection in the records between this name and Cao Xueqin. The second theory maintains that Cao Xueqin’s grandfather was Cao Yin’s younger brother, Cao Xuan (1660–1705), and that his father was Cao Fu. Initially many scholars believed in the first theory, but today most believe that the evidence strongly points to Cao Fu as being Cao Xueqin’s father. For discussions on this topic, see Zhou Ruchang’s Honglou meng xinzheng (New Biographical Study of Honglou meng) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1976), Volume 1, pp. 58–80, Volume 2, pp. 544–547; Wang liqi’s Naixuetang ji (A Collection of Essays From the Snow Braving Hall) (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1986); Cao Xueqin jiashi xin Kao (A New Study of the Family Background of Cao Xueqin) by Feng Qiyong (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1980), pp. 99–141; Wu, 1961, p. 115; Spence, 1966, pp. 301–303; and Cao Xueqin Ping Zhuan (A Critical Biography of Cao Xueqin) by Li Guangbai (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 1998). Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber by Zhou Ruchang, Edited by Ronald Gray and Mark Ferrara (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009), p. 63. For drawings of this large residence and a map of its location in Nanjing, see Zhou Ruchang’s Jiangning Zhizao yu Caojia (Jiangning Textiles and the Cao Family) (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2006), pp. 38–39, 62. Duan Zhijun’s recent history of Nanjing, Gudu Nanjing (The Ancient Capital Nanjing), (Beijing: Qinghua Daxue Chubanshe, 2012), contains four pictures of the yamen (pp. 214–217), and a map of the neighborhood surrounding the mansion (p. 221).

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As Cao was growing up he would have soon learned about two of the family’s most treasured heirlooms: a wooden plaque in the mansion’s hall which reproduced a scroll written by Kangxi to commemorate his meeting Cao Xi’s wife, Lady Sun, and a pavilion built by Cao Xi that was located amidst a picturesque garden of bamboo, flowers, willows, pear trees, chinaberry, and magnolias. It was a common practice in China at this time to hold a special banquet (tangbing) three days after the birth of a boy to wish him a long life. An important ceremony was held one year after the birth (zhousui) to celebrate his first birthday. On this occasion, an ornamental lacquer plate holding assorted objects would be carefully placed in front of the child. It was believed that the object he picked up would foretell his future. We do not know what Cao Xueqin selected but it is interesting to note that when Jia Bao-yu in Honglou meng undergoes this ceremony, he picks “rouge, powder-boxes, hair ornaments and bangles!”8 One immediate concern for parents following the birth of a child during this period was illness. According to records, the rate of child mortality for both sexes of the Qing nobility during the early eighteenth century was 400 per 1,000 (which were comparable to that of European nobility).9 Because the mortality rate was so high, families used a variety of methods in attempts to protect newborns. These included prayers and charms. As mentioned in chapter 22 of Dream of the Red Chamber, it was common for affluent families to write the name of a newly born male on paper and post it in public places so that people could see it in order that he not die young. Smallpox was a special worry for smallpox epidemics had killed many children in China and around the world in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The Manchus were more afraid of this infectious disease than any other because it was rare in the region they came from and the majority of their population was not immune to it. This fear was particularly true of the imperial family since several prominent members including the Shunzhi emperor had died from or 8

9

DRM, 1, p. 34. Zhou Ruchang states that Bao-yu’s choice is a direct allusion to General Cao Bin, one of the founders of the Northern Song dynasty, who Zhou believes was an ancestor of Cao Xueqin. Zhou argues that this scene in the novel is highly autobiographical and that Cao Xueqin refers to the General “to evoke the injustices he had suffered, as well as to explain why he was regarded as unworthy of his family’s ancestry” (Zhou, 2009, p. 51). “Infant and Child Mortality among the Qing Nobility: Implications for Two Types of Positive Check” by James Lee, Wang Feng and Cameron Campbell, Population Studies 48 (1994): pp. 398, 399. Of course, the child mortality rate for the general Chinese population at the time was much higher because they did not have access to the medical care and the affluent living conditions the nobility did.

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contracted the disease. This concern over smallbox became so pronounced that in order to protect individuals from it, the Manchus established numerous shelters (bidousnuo), in remote places or locations surrounded by water in order to isolate those who were ill. Shunzhi enacted the rule that no one could become emperor if they had not had the disease, and in 1687, Kangxi decreed that all lineage children had to be inoculated against smallpox after their first birthday. Cao Xueqin would probably have been innocated since by the early eighteenth century the government had mandated that all Eight Banner children had to be inoculated.10 Qing dynasty children were greatly indulged during their first two years of life. Cao would have been fed when he was hungry, constantly played with, and given large amounts of attention by everyone in the family. This very early pampering was thought to help reinforce and cement the importance of the Chinese model of close, very intense relationships within a very specific group of people. The stages of growth in traditional China were much more fluid and less precise than that those of today, with comparatively few rituals marking the transition from infancy to adulthood. Infancy generally lasted from birth to the age of three or four. Basic discipline mphasizing obedience, respect, filial piety, decorum, and the importance of status and gender differentiation, started around four.11 10

11

Lee, Feng, and Campbell, 1994, p. 402. For an informative study of this subject, see Chia-Feng Chang’s “Disease and Its Impact on Politics, Diplomacy, and the Military: The Case of Smallpox and the Manchus (1613–1795),” Journal of the History of Medicine 57 (2002): 177–197. Chang contends that the Manchus great fear of smallpox helped “shape Manchu military, political, and diplomatic structures during the conquest and the first half of the Qing dynasty” (p. 177). One of the reasons why Kangxi held Cao Yin’s wife, nee Sun, in such high regard related to smallpox. When the young Kangxi was inoculated for the disease, he failed to react to it, and was consequently vulnerable to catching it. Accordingly, he was quarantined in a secluded Buddhist temple in the suburbs of Beijing. During this lonely period, he was carefully attended to by two nurses, one of whom was nee Sun (Passage to Power: K’ang-hsi and His Heir Apparent, 1661– 1722 by Silas H.L. Wu (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), p. 17). This alarm over smallpox is also present in Dream of the Red Chamber. In chapter 21, Wang Xifeng’s daughter contracts the disease, and the family has to follow strict quarantine rules and made offerings to the Goddess of Smallpox. “Children of the Dream: Te Adolescent World in Cao Xueqin’s Honglou meng” by Lucian Miller, In Chinese Views of Childhood, Edited by Anne Behnke Kinney (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995), p. 219–220. For discussions of childhood socialization practices in traditional China, see A Tender Voyage: Children and Childhood in Late Imperial China by Ping-chen Hsiung (Stanford University Press, 2005); chapter 10 of China’s Cultural Heritage: The Ch’ing Dynasty 1644–1912 by Richard J. Smith (Boulder: Westview Press, 1983); Mao’s Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture by Richard H. Solomon (Berkeley: University of California Press,

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Discipline for males began to be more pronounced during the juvenile period which roughly lasted from ages five to fifthteen. This change in care “was radical and painful. Whereas indulgent females previously had been dominant influences in his life, now males began to exert pressures, both directly and by way of female caretakers, for conformity to social custom. The child quickly learned he had graduated from the years of indulgence and was confronted with stern demands that he acquire the social habits which would enable him to get along in society.”12 During this period, fathers, who could be physically very affectionate towards their children during the infancy stage, were now rarely involved with the physical care and became increasingly distant emotionally, but were active in inculcating their sons in correct social behavior and ritual duties.13 The bond between sons and mothers was less complicated. In elite families, mothers had the very important role of supervising or carrying out the daily care and nurturing of sons and their early education. They were also involved with disciplining and character forming activities. For many Qing men, their mothers would be the only woman they would know well and could give unfettered love to. In addition, she was one of the few persons in whom it was acceptable for him to confide his real feelings of filial piety. But as Maram Epstein has observed, the love of one’s parents during this dynasty “was not a simple or natural act. The establishing of early affective bonds between a son and mother was complicated by polygamous family structures which might put into competition the feeling a son might have for his birthmother and his formal mother, his father’s primary wife, or his adoptive mother, not to mention the wet nurses to whom much of a wealthy child’s early primary care and contact fell.” 14 We have no tangible information about Cao Xueqin’s mother. Some commentators, such as Wu Shichang, have speculated that she may have died before he grew up because there are several interlinear remarks by Zhiyanzhai reflecting upon the

12 13 14

1971); and Michael Harris Bond’s Beyond the Chinese Face: Insights From Psychology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). Solomon, 1971, p. 47. Hsiung, 2005, pp. 108, 163–164. “Sons and Mothers: The Social Construction of Filial Piety in Late-Imperial China.”In Love Hatred, and Other Passions: Questions and Themes on Emotions in Chinese Civilization, Edited by Paolo Santangelo and Donarella Guida (Leiden: Brill, 2006), p. 288. The usual way of resolving these conflicts at that time was to stress the formal mother’s bond over that of the birth mother. In Honglou meng, we can see this conflict in action in another form in the battles between Jia Tan-chun and her birth mother, Concubine Zhao, who claims Tan-chun does not properly respect her, and between Zhao’s son, Jia Huan, and his formal mother Lady Wang.

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tragedy of losing one’s mother during childhood, written on sections of the manuscript versions of Honglou meng in which Cao Xueqin describes Lady Wang’s love of Jia Bao-yu.15 The power of fathers in traditional China was almost unchecked. This can be seen in chapter 33 of Dream of the Red Chamber when Jia Zheng nearly beats to death Bao-yu over a mistaken infraction. Legally, a son or grandson that assaulted or even subjected a father or grandfather to verbal abuse could be killed (but not the converse) because the act was considered a major violation of the principle of filial piety.16 Children were taught at an early age that filial piety (xiao or hsiao) was the most important Confucian virtue and that submission to, and respect for, authority figures like parents, grandparents, elder members of the family, and teachers was an essential component of this piety (along with perpetuating sacrifices to one’s ancestors). As Cao Xueqin grew through his juvenile period, he would have become aware of the increasingly complex web of rules, rites, fixed notions of morality, and carefully defined Confucian hierarchy that characterized the complex world of upper class Chinese life.17 The frequent and numerous public and private Confucian ceremonies he participated in would have defined, affirmed, and maintained his precise relationship and obligations with others These rituals were held to be very important since they were seen as concrete embodiments of the Confucian principle of li (the rules of propriety), and were thought to be important ways in which individuals both expressed and developed their humanity. Cao would have also taken part in elaborate, tightly choreographed, family ceremonies very similar to the ceremonies depicted in Dream of the Red Chamber. These rites would have occurred on special occasions like New Year’s observances at the family’s ancestral temple (as seen in chapter 53 of the novel), funerals (13, 58–59, 63–64,110), birthday celebrations for elder family members (71), and marriages (97).18 15 16 17

18

Wu, 1961, p. 120. Smith, 1983, 217. In Confucianism, the five cardinal social relationships were between, father to son, elder brother to younger brother, husband to wife, friend to friend, and ruler to subject. Each of the members in these relationships had obligations and responsibilities to the other. Confucius held that the father to son relationship should serve as the model for the family and society. While growing up, Cao Xueqin probably would have been also instructed in some Manchu practices, and perhaps like Cao Yin, even the Manchu language. Geremie R. Barme has written that “Although they were ethnically Han Chinese, the Cao family had been accorded Manchu status and lived according to Manchu mores. Their womenfolk wore elaborate Manchu headdresses and did not bind their feet.” The Forbidden City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), p. 65. Cao definitely would have worn a Manchu style queue (bianzi), which was required of all Chinese males. This single pigtail

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In imperial China, a person’s social identity was defined by one’s social relationships, by being connected to specific other people through complex bonds of duty, affection, and accountability.19 As Lucian Miller has noted, “the self in traditional Chinese culture is typically transient, conditional and evolving over an entire lifetime according to role and circumstance…The Western concept of growing up is alien to the Confucian view of life, where aging is viewed as a lifelong process.”20 Cao Xueqin would have started his education at the early age of around three, probably under the supervision of his mother. Confucianism would have provided the basis for this education. According to the tenets of Confucianism, education was not just a matter of knowing a certain body of knowledge, but also morally being a certain type of person, that is, developing one’s humanity through the cultivation of human heartedness (ren) and the social virtues. As Simon Leys has concisely put it, traditional Confucian education in China was not “about having, [but] about being.”21

19

20 21

was worn down the back. The front top of male’s head was also shaved. Its use was taken by the Manchu as a sign of submission by the Han to their new government. There were practical and religious reasons for its use by the Manchus “since they were traditionally hunters who rode horses in mountainous terrain and the shaved front of their head enabled them to see more clearly. The Manchus believed that the soul resided in this pigtail and when a soldier or military officer died, the pigtail was sent back to his hometown to be buried.” Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History by Victoria Sherrow (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006), p. 82. Modern cross cultural psychology has characterized East Asian societies like China as cultures that are generally (but not exclusively) collectivist in nature and have an interdependent conception of self. The noted psychologist Richard E. Nisbett writes that relatively interdependent societies like China “have a preference for collective action…a preference for blending harmoniously with the group…an acceptance of hierarchy and ascribed status…a belief that the rules governing proper behavior should be universal…[therefore] The person always exists within settings—in particular situations where there are particular people with whom one has relationships of a particular kind— and the notion that there can be attributes or actions that are not conditioned on social circumstances is foreign to the Asian mentality.” The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why (New York: The Free Press, 2003), pp 61, 50. This collectivist attitude toward society and interdependent notion of self obviously was much stronger during the time of Cao Xueqin. Honglou meng provides numerous examples of this form of East Asian social cognition at work. See also The Handbook of Chinese Psychology, Edited by Michael Harris Bond (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), and Bond, 1992, for further information on this topic. Miller, 1995, p. 220. The Analects of Confucius, Translated and Notes by Simon Leys (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997), p. xxix. As Thomas Lee has observed, traditional Confucian education assumed a “static approach to understanding personality and personal talent [that] led to the belief that there was no real development in terms of

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Notwithstanding this widely taught belief, for many affluent Chinese families during this period the overiding purpose of education was mainly to prepare their sons to successfully pass the Imperial Civil Service Examination and become part of the bureaucracy, thereby ensuring their elite position in society. Cao would have first learned how to write Chinese characters. The method used to teach this was simple: a character was written in red ink in outline on a sheet of paper and the student was told to fill in the outline with black ink. The student then had to write the character itself, making sure he followed the correct stroke order and properly held the brush. The number of characters would be expanded but students would not initially be taught their meaning. Cao would next have begun work on an increasingly difficult series of texts which had to be thoroughly memorized, vocalized through repeated recitation and punctuated, before meaning was explicated, and comprehension occurred. 22 The first of these texts would have been the widely used Primer of One Thousand Characters (Qian zi wen). This moralistic Confucian essay famously begins with the lines, “The sky was black and the earth was yellow/The universe was vast and a dark whole,”23 and consists of 1,000 different, basic ideograms, in 250 rhyming lines, with four characters per line. Then would come the Three Character Classic (San zi jing), which opens with the well known Confucian belief that “Men in the very beginning of their life/Are naturally good/Their natures are similar/And their habits become widely different,”24 followed by the work A Hundred Surnames (Bai jia xing). Cao’s formal education would have started at age seven, with his father or some other suitable male now overseeing his learning. The Cao family, like all well-to-do families, would have hired a tutor to instruct him and possibly a special room in usually a detached building would have been

22

23

24

talent and ability. It is in the realm of moral growth that one could expect change.” Education in Traditional China: A History (Leiden: Brill, 2000), p. 285. “Learning to Read in Late Imperial China” by Li Yu, Studies on Asia, Series II, 1.1 (n.d.): 7–28. Benjamin A. Elman gives a list of texts used and the order in which they were studied in his article “The Social role of Literati in Early to Mid-Ch’ing,” in The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 9, Part 1., The Ch’ing Dynasty to 1800, Edited by William J. Peterson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 374–375. A Chinese-English Collection of the Best Chinese Traditional Primers, Book 2, Compiled and Translated by Guo Zhuzhang (Wuhan: Wuhan University Press, 2004), p. 103. Wuhan University Press has published in English ten of these primers. For a detailed discussion of the importance of primers in Qing dynasty education, see Limin Bai’s Shaping the Ideal Child: Children and Their Primers in Late Imperial China (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2004). Guo, 2004, p. 3.

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selected to hold classes in.25 Instruction would have focused primarily on the classic Confucian Four Books which formed the essential Confucian corpus. The first of these works was Lunyu (popularly known as the Analects of Confucius), which consists of short sayings of Confucius on a wide variety of topics, including education, the purpose and use of ritual, political theory, and ethics, snippets of conversions between him and his disciples, as well as anecdotes about his life and personality. The second and third works would have been The Great Learning (Daxue) and the Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong). Both of these books were believed to have been written by two of Confucius’s disciples, and discussed how to conduct personal relationships, the connection between self-cultivation and external practical aims, and the importance of rituals. The Great Learning is rational in approach and emphasizes correct procedure and method while the Doctrine of the Mean concentrates on reality, psychology, and metaphysics. After these three books were carefully studied, Cao would have moved on to Mencius (Mengzi), which contained the sayings of the philosopher Mencius (c. 372–289 B.C). All of these books took a holistic and moral attitude towards knowledge.26 This learning process would have consumed much of Cao’s time when he was growing up, was extremely regimented, exacting, and almost completely involved brute memorization and repetition based on oral recitation and copying. The Japanese historian Ichisada Miyazaki has decribed what classroom instruction at that time would have been like: 25

26

It remains unclear whether Cao Xueqin had any brothers. Some scholars like Wu Shichang and David Hawkes believe that he had a younger brother who wrote a preface to Honglou meng that is included in the first chapter of some versions of the novel. Wu also thinks, based upon a comment on a manuscript version of the novel, that Cao had an older brother who died young in Nanjing (1961, pp. 119–120). Zhou Ruchang argues that Cao had a half-brother who later made problems for him (Zhou, 1974). David Hawkes has pointed out that the Jiaxu manuscript of Honglou meng contains an undated and unsigned remark, possibly by Red Inkstone possibly concerning the matter. He notes that “their meaning which has been much disputed, is something like this: ‘‘A Mirror for the Romantic’ was the name of a book that Cao Xueqin once had. It had a preface by his brother Tangcun 棠村. Now that Tangcun is dead, I am reminded of the old when I look at the new.’” “The Translator, the Mirror and the Dream,” Renditions 13 (1980), p. 10. If Cao Xueqin did have a brother (or brothers), he or they would have probably joined him during this period of formal education. Cao Xueqin’s classroom instruction would not only have involved the rigorous studying of texts, but also included the learning of ceratin rules regarding behavior. For example, students would have been given instructions on proper gait and posture, correct attire and appearance. For other examples of what some of these rules would have been, see “A Schedule For Learning” in Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, Edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Second Edition (New York: The Free Press, 1993), pp. 195–198.

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With their books opened before them, the students would parrot the teacher, phrase by phrase, as he read out the text. Inattentive students, or those who amused themselves by playing with toys hidden in their sleeves, would be scolded by the teacher or hit on the palms, and thighs, with his fan-shaped “warning ruler.”…Students who had learned how to read a passage would return to their seats and review what they have been taught. After reciting it a hundred times, fifty times while looking at the book and fifty with the book face down, even the least gifted would have memorized it. At first the boys were given twenty to thirty characters a day, but as they became more experienced they memorialized one, two, or several hundred each day. In order not to force a student beyond his capacity, a boy who could memorize four hundred characters would be assigned no more than two hundred. Otherwise, he might become so distressed as to end by detesting his studies.27

Once students memorized a book, they would next read detailed commentaries on it and answer practice questions regarding specific passages.28 The next group of texts Cao would have to master after the Four Books were the Five Classics: The Book of Changes (Yijing), a highly influential work of philosophy and divination; The Book of Songs (Shijing), an ancient anthology of poems; The Book of History (Shujing), a collection of speeches and public pronouncements made by rulers or high officials during the first three Chinese dynasties; The Records of Rites (Liji), a collection of essays concerning topics relating to ceremony and general propriety; and The Spring and Autumn Annuals (Chunqiu), a chronology of events between 722 and 481 B.C. in Confucius’s home state of Lu. The number of characters in each of these books differed widely. The Analects had 11, 705, while the Book of Changes contained 24,107, and The Records of Rites, The Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean, totaled 99,010. The final number of Chinese characters that needed to be memorized in these nine books was over 400,000 (it needs to be pointed out that these were not over 400,000 different ideographs; the majority of these characters were often repeated in several of these books). Nonetheless, the numbers are still astonishing. Miyasaki estimates that if a pupil memorized 200 characters a day, it would take six years to finish the entire process.29 27

28

29

China’s Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China by Ichisada Miyazaki, Translated by Conrad Schirokauer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), pp. 15–16. For a discussion of the role commentaries in played in traditional Chinese educational practices and their influence upon interpretations of Confucius’s philosophy, see Transmitters and Creators: Chinese Commentators and Commentaries on the Analects by John Makeham (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). Makeham focuses on four prominent commentaries on the The Analects. Miyazaki, 1976, p. 16. Miyazaki’s numbers have been the source of some debate. For an analysis, see Benjamin A. Elman’s A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late

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Because most students were not lucky enough to have photographic memories, instruction was also given on mnemonic techniques. Oral recitation exercises involving chanting and vocalized readings (where students rhythmically moved their bodies while reading texts out loud) were performed using four character songs and rhyming characters. The Kangxi emperor even got involved with this memorization problem. In 1711, a special thesaurus arranged by rhymes was published on his orders to help students write classically literate essays. This reference work made it easier for candidates to memorize phrases and allusions.30 Like all children, Cao Xueqin would have found time in spite of these educational demands to pursue the numerous free time activities the sons of affluent, literati families enjoyed. While it is doubtful he would have been granted the freedom Jia Bao-yu enjoyed, Honglou meng does accurately portray the pastimes of young wealthy males. Cao would have undoubtedly derived pleasure from many of the same leisure activities while growing up in Nanjing. These amusements would have included playing the qin (a musical instrument similar to a zither), Chinese chess (weiqi), painting, composing poetry, flying kites,31 honing one’s skills on the family’s archery field, writing and guessing over lantern riddles, practicing calligraphy, flower collecting, making flower sprays, singing, setting off fireworks, watching plays in the family’s private theater or at the homes of friends or relatives, and participating in numerous games: word, guess-fingers, cards, and drinking. The reading of novels, vernacular fiction, and dramas was another widespread free time activity. (But, as shown in Honglou meng, this had to be done in secret for young people were not permitted to read works that did not belong to the respectable literary genres of poetry, philosophy, and history, and which were not written in classical Chinese because of their

30 31

Imperial China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 267–268. Elman quotes Wang Chang, a private academy teacher during the Qing dynasty, who estimated that 200,000 characters could be memorized in 690 days. The laborious nature of memorizing these ideographs is clearly depicted in the sections of Honglou meng dealing with Bao-yu’s education. In addition to these works and commentaries, students also needed to be acquainted with other historical, literary, and classical works. According to Zhou Ruchang, there is some anecdotal evidence that Cao Xueqin was, like Cao Yin, an extremely precocious student and was able to memorize these characters when he was very young, (see Zhou, 2009, p. 80). Elman, 2000, p. 81. Cao Xueqin appears to have been especially fascinated with kites. Honglou meng contains a memorable scene involving the flying of kites and there is longstanding rumors that Cao even wrote a book on the subject.

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possible bad influence). Cao Xueqin may have obtained some of these works from Cao Yin’s well-stocked library. Strolling and playing in the yamen’s lovely gardens also would have provided a pleasant refuge from the demands of study. Cao would have also greatly looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed the many Chinese festivals. The Dragon Boat Festival, where boat races were held on lakes and rivers, the Mid-Autumn Festival, when families gathered, exchanged mooncakes, and enjoyed performances, and the Lantern Festival were especially popular with children. There would have also been excursions outside and within the city. Nanjing was located at the base of a mountain range, whose highest peak was the famous Purple Mountain. This mountain contained many temples and shrines, and the tomb of the first Ming emperor. It was a very common social practice during the Qing dynasty to visit temples for religious purposes and ceremonies, for their fairs, markets, the natural beauty of their surroundings, and for their historical importance. Furthermore, since Nanjing was considered one of the infamous ‘furnaces’ of China because of its extreme heat during much of the year, a trip to the mountains provided a good respite from the weather. Therefore, it is very likely that Cao Xueqin would have made several excursions to this area with his family. Nanjing itself would have been a great source of amusement. The city’s large Linggu Temple, which was built in 1381, was a very popular attraction as well as the Confucian Temple Fuzimiao. But probably the city’s most famous draw at that time was night boating on the Qinhuai River. The center of Nanjing’s night life was the Fuzimiao area which was located along the river. First class restaurants, drinking establishments, and night markets, all displaying evocative colored lanterns lined this location. The back alleys behind the Confucian temple were home to Nanjing’s celebrated courtesans. Cao and his family, like the residents of the city, would have visited this district, rented a boat, and enjoyed the exciting and enchanting scenery. The Qing dynasty writer Wu Jingzi, in chapter 24 of his famous eighteenth century novel, Rulin waishi, brilliantly describes what it would have been like for a local like Cao to experience this unforgettable part of town: The Qinhua River, which flows through Nanjing measures over three miles from the east to the west ford; and, when its water is high, painted barges carrying flutists and drummers ply to and fro on it day and night…No matter what small alley you enter, you are bound to see at least one house where a lantern is hung to show that tea is sold; and inside the shop you will find fresh flowers and crystal-clear rain water on the boil. These tea-shops are always filled. At dusk, bright horn lanterns hang from the taverns on both sides of the road, several thousand lanterns on each main street

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Wandering Between Two Worlds making the highways as bright as day, so that passer-by need not carry lanterns with them. Late at night, when the moon is up, boats playing soft music glide up and down the Qinhua River, enchanting all who hear them with their clear, tender strains. Girls in the houses on both banks roll up their curtains and lean over the railings to listen quietly, dressed in light gauze and with jasmine flowers in their hair. In fact, as soon as the drums sound in the lighted boats, screens are rolled up and windows are opened on both sides of the river, until you fancy yourself in paradise or fairyland. There are the government singsong girls from the courtesan’s quarter too, in their bright, fashionable costumes, who welcome traveler’s from all parts. Thus everyday seems like the Spring Festival and every night like New Year’s Eve.32

It is difficult to adequately capture today how little time adolescents in an upper class Chinese family spent alone. As shown in Honglou meng, they were nearly always surrounded by people—mainly servants—servants to accompany them on outings outside the mansion or when moving within the mansion, servants to instruct, observe, or monitor their behavior, servants who slept near them at night and tended to their most basic daily needs. The number of servants who were assigned to each child was extremely large. In chapter 3 of the novel, it is stated that Bao-yu has “one wet-nurse…four other nurses to act as chaperones, two maids as body-servants to attend to [his] washing, dressing, and so forth, and four or five maids for dusting and cleaning, running errands, and general duties.”33 When Bao-yu moves into Happy Red Court in Prospect Garden, he is “allotted two old women and four maids in addition to [his] existing maids and nannies, and there were other servants whose sole duty was sweeping and cleaning.”34 In chapter 52, the large entourage of male servants that escort him when he leaves the mansion is described in detail.35 Conseqently, Bao-yu frequently complains about his lack of personal freedom and space, at one stage grumbling “I never sleep alone, I am always surrounded by maids and serving women,”36 and periodically attempts to escape from them. These powerful feelings of confinement, being controlled, and lack of freedom must have also been felt by Cao Xueqin. But there were distinct advantages in being surrounded by this army of attendants. For example, it was not unusual for close relationships to be formed between the children of an affluent family and some of the maids and servants who were formally assigned to them. As Honglou meng clearly shows, 32

33 34 35 36

The Scholars by Wu Ching-Tzu, Translated by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1957), p. 270. SS, 1, p. 105. SS, 1, p. 459. SS, 2, pp. pp. 543–547. SS, 2, p. 439.

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a sharp distinction in upper class families was drawn in status between senior maids who always attended their masters or mistresses, and junior maids who were under the orders of the senior maids and only served their masters or mistresses when summoned, and it was common for members of a family to become personally close to their senior maids or servants. Moreover, some wealthy families, like the Jia family in the novel, even treated their elder servants the same as they did members of their own family. According to records, the Cao family had in 1725 a total of 114 servants. It would have been natural for Cao Xueqin to form a close relationship with some of his personal maids during childhood and adolescence, as Bao-yu does with Xiren and Qingwen, given the large amount of time he would have spent with them and the very circumscribed world he inhabited while growing up.37 Further evidence for this attachment can be found in the large amount of thought and attention he gave to sympathetically plotting the plight and unstable standing of the numerous maids in his novel and the complicated network of associations that defined their lives. 38 Before Honglou meng appeared, maids were much more fully defined characters in Chinese drama

37

38

There was, as Francesca Bray has observed, in imperial China a deep suspicion of a male who spend too much time cohorting with females. She states that “Men who tarried in the inner quarters [the portion of the domestic quarters of a home set aside for women] were [considered] not true gentlemen and were likely to come to a bad end. Baoyu, the hero of the eighteenth-century novel The Dream of the Red Chamber, is the despair of his ambitious father, for he avoids the outer sphere entirely and spends all his time with female relatives.” “The Inner Quarters: Oppression or Freedom?,” in House, Home, Family: Living and Being Chinese, Edited by Ronald G. Knapp and Kai-Yin Lo (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), p. 262. While it is impossible to know, it would have been highly unusual that the young Cao Xueqin would have been given the same freedom to associate with female relatives that Bao-yu was granted in the novel for the sexes in late imperial China were usually segregated relatively early in life. For an informative essay on the significance and role of maids and other servants in the novel, see Marsha L. Wagner’s “Maids and Servants in Dream of the Red Chamber: Individuality and the Social Order,” in Expressions of Self in Chinese Literature, Edited by Robert E. Hegel and Richard C. Hessney (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985): 251–281. Also see the recent article “The Capillaries of Power: Hierarchy and Servitude in The Story of the Stone” by Christopher Lupke, in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), Edited by Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Liu (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2012), pp. 283– 295. In it, Lupke notes that the Jia family’s (and by implication, Cao Xueqin’s) sympathy for the plight of maids may have been because of their bondservant background and possibly the “family recognize in their contractually obligated servants some of the subjugation that their ancestors previously experienced under the Manchus” (p. 284).

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than in fiction because they structurally served as intermediaries and interlocutors for the main characters in plays.39 It appears to be the case that Cao Xueqin generally had a conventional upper class upbringing in Nanjing up until 1725. While his family’s at times problematic financial situation, unstable standing as bondservants, and political problems (which will discussed in the next chapter) did create worries, most of the family’s difficulties were no different from those of other wealthy government officials in the region at the time, and the young Cao was probably shielded from them because of his young age.40 Although Cao Xueqin was a highly sensitive and observant individual and must have detected an undercurrent of increasing anxiety in his family during the final years of their stay in Nanjing, the Cao family’s proud and illustrious history, Kangxi’s continual support, and the family’s persistent luck in overcoming crises must have led him to think that no major disaster could possibly befall them.

39 40

Wagner, 1985, p. 252. In chapter 106 of Honglou meng, several stewards attempt to reassure Jia Zheng about the Jia family’s precarious financial situations by saying “Don’t worry, sir,” they said. “This happens to every family. Why, even the princes, if you work out their expenses, don’t have enough to live on. They just keep up appearances and get by for as long as they can” (DRM, 3, p. 373).

C H A P T E R

F O U R

“The Embroidered Jackets Raid” At approximately 8 in the evening of December 30, 1722, when Cao Xueqin was seven years old, an event occurred in a restored garden and palace to the northwest of Beijing named Changchun yuan (Garden of Delightful Spring) which would soon have direct and long-term consequences for the Cao family: the death of the Emperor Kangxi. The last years of Kangxi’s life had been sadly consumed with the problem of who would succeed him as emperor for he had 35 sons, 20 of whom grew to maturity. Traditionally, according to Manchu practices, the title of heir apparent was not automatically conferred on a ruler’s eldest son. Instead, after he died leading nobles and his close relatives held a special conclave to select a qualified candidate to be the next leader from a pool of the emperor’s sons and close kin. Kangxi broke with this tradition in 1674 when he personally selected two year old Prince Yinreng 胤礽 as his heir apparent. He had special affection for Yinreng and constantly doted on him, in part because his mother, Empress Xiaocheng 孝诚, had died while giving birth to him. He may have chosen Yinreng to be his heir in memory of her since he was devastated by her death, or because she was related to a noted noble family. Kangxi was closely involved in Yinreng’s early education, and personally selected his tutors who were all famous scholar-officials. While Yinreng was intelligent, handsome, capable of great charm, and skilled at archery and horsemanship, he was also extremely spoiled, arrogant, and as time went on, he became increasingly troubled, emotionally unstable, and prone to violent behavior. Kangxi initially refused to believe reports of Yinreng’s unseemly conduct. In 1696 and 1697, Yinreng was made Regent, or acting ruler in Beijing while his father led a large expeditionary force in a bloody and protracted campaign against the tenacious Zunghar leader Galdan (1645–1701) in northern China. When the swirling rumors about Yinreng became too widespread to ignore, Kangxi decided to use the secret memorial system he had developed to quietly determine the truth. In 1703, he sent a message to a trusted official named Wang Hongxu (1645–1723) in the south ordering him to investigate these increasingly troubling stories. Several weeks later, Wang sent to Beijing a long report detailing the numerous crimes and vices the heir apparent and his associates, who included high ranking provincial officials, members of the Imperial Household Department and Imperial Bodyguard, had committed. These crimes included kidnapping and illegal trafficking in young girls and boys. Yinreng was also accused of having these children sent

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to his palace in Beijing and sexually abusing them. Silas Wu has pointed out that these crimes were ironically “partly a side effect of Kangxi’s patronage of southern culture, specifically, his love of southern opera, known as Kunshan style. By now, thanks to Kangxi, it had become a great vogue in Beijing. Manchu princely families, fascinated by southern culture, strove to keep up with wealthy scholar-officials and renowned art patrons… [Furthermore] it was legal for wealthy people to buy youngsters from poor families, provided that the bargain was conducted with the consent of the youngster’s parents. The children were to be made concubines (if girls) or bondservants, or to be trained as entertainers in privately owned theatrical troupes.”1 Although Kangxi was much shaken by the report, he waited to act against Yinreng until October 17, 1708. In a highly emotional incident that occurred in an imperial hunting camp in Inner Mongolia in front of numerous Chinese and Manchu officials, the Emperor commanded that the Crown Prince be delivered to him in chains. He then angrily accused Yinreng of corruption, insulting high officials and members of the royal family, immorality, and being an unfaithful son. Frequently weeping, Kangxi also made the surprising claim that Yinreng and his accomplices had attempted to assassinate him in his tent the previous night. He then decreed that Yinreng be immediately stripped of his title, placed under arrest, and sent to Beijing for imprisonment and that several of his close friends and advisors be executed.2 1

2

Passage to Power: K’ang-hsi and His Heir Apparent, 166–1722. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), p. 96. It is mentioned in Honglou meng that the Jia family purchased girls from the south for their private theatrical troupe. Andrea Goldman has observed that “To the extent that the court influenced salon performance, its concern was directed towards frugality among banner (especially Manchu) households and official misappropriation of public funds for private entertainment. A handful of edicts from the early eighteenth through the early nineteenth century forbade officials to maintain private acting troupes. Nevertheless, as veiled autobiographical evidence from the novel Dream of the Red Chamber suggests, even in the mid to late eighteenth century wealthy bondservant families such as the Cao household bought poor children, who were then raised as servants and trained to perform for family ceremonies.” Opera and the City: The Politics of Culture in Beijing 1770–1900 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 98. Silas Wu also notes that of one the duties of Li Xu, Cao Yin’s brother-in-law, was to buy children for Kangxi’s own acting troupe (1979, p. 96). Wu’s book provides an excellent account of the Succession Crisis. See Wu, 1979, chapter 10, for a detailed account of this incident. For information on what Kangxi actually told Yinreng, see Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking by E. Backhouse and J.O.P. Bland (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1914), pp. 247– 253.

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As soon as Yinreng was deposed, an intense jockeying for the position of heir ensued among Kangxi’s sons. Complex factions and alliances of officials, imperial relatives, and military leaders quickly formed around specific sons. Roughly speaking, there were three main factions (not all the sons were directly involved in the struggle for power). The first was composed of the disgraced Yinreng, and Kangxi’s third son Yinzhi (1677– 1732). The second was made up of the fourth son Yinzhen (1678–1735), the second son, Yinlu (1695–1767), and the thirteenth son Yinxiang (1686– 1730). The third faction consisted of the eighth son, Yinsi (1681–1726), the ninth Yintang (1683–1726), the eldest Yinti (1688–1755), and the fourteenth Yinzheng (1688–1756), along with others.3 Not long after making this decision, Kangxi began to have strange dreams and then doubts about his decree and started to believe that Yinreng was simply insane. This belief was reinforced when it was discovered that Tibetan Lama monks under the direction of the Emperor’s eldest son, Prince Yinti, had placed evil spells on Yinreng. As a result, in 1709, Yinreng was again made Heir Apparent and Yinti imprisoned.4 But Yinreng did not hold this title for long. In 1713, Kangxi’s sympathy for the Crown Prince whose behavior had gotten even worse than it had been previously, had reached the breaking point. He was also fed up with the relentless and vicious factional infighting for position by his ambitious sons. 3

4

Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber by Zhou Ruchang, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), p. 29. It is not commonly known that the Kangxi emperor often relied on the Confucian classic The Book of Changes when he was deciding whether and how to punish individuals over misdeeds. Richard J. Smith recounts an incident in 1688, when “during a severe spring drought and in the midst of the factional struggle at court, the Kangxi emperor ordered his diviners to consult the Yijing. They selected the hexagram kuai (‘resolution,’ number 43), which refers to a ‘breakthrough,’ as in nature when a cloudburst occurs, or in human affairs when inferior people begin to disperse. The line statement of greatest concern to the emperor were those connected to the yang lines in the first and fifth places. The former line statement reads in part: ‘The exemplary person acts with perfect resolution. But if he should encounter such a rain that would be as if he were in water, and though he [might] feel anger [because of the criticism], there would be no one to blame.’ The latter line statement reads: ‘The pokeweed is dispatched with perfect resolution. If this one trends the middle path, he shall be without blame.’ From these indications the emperor determined that a purge of the bureaucracy was necessary, and he therefore removed from office all the senior members of the Grand Secretary Minju’s threatening clique.” The I Ching: A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), pp. 118–119. Smith notes that Chinese officials used this book as a divination device, and that Kangxi also used it for general guidance. It is not known whether Kangxi used the I Ching when he was deliberating over what to do with Yinreng.

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Father Ripa, an Italian missionary and painter associated with the court, was an eyewitness to the dramatic family showdown that occurred on October 29 of that year in the Garden of Eternal Springs: When we arrived at the imperial residence, to our great terror we saw in the garden of that great palace eight or ten mandarins, and two eunuchs upon their knees, bareheaded, and their hands tied behind them. At a small distance from them the sons of the Emperor were standing in a row, also with their heads bare, and their hands bound upon their breasts. Shortly after, the Emperor came out of his apartments in an open sedan, and proceeded to the place where the princes were undergoing punishment. On reaching the spot he broke out with the fury of a tiger, loading the heir-apparent with reproaches, and confined him to his palace, together with his family and court. In a public manifesto he subsequently disposed the unfortunate prince as suspected of treason; and to prove to the nation his incapacity of reigning, amongst other things he accused him of being guilty of an atrocious offense, which the laws of China, though promulgated by heathens, hold in the greatest abomination.5

After this incident, Kangxi refused during the rest of his reign to designate another person as heir apparent, and harshly punished any official who recommended he do so. His health also began to decline. He later stated that he never got over the deep disappointment and shame over Yinreng’s behavior and the unsavory political machinations and corruption of many of his other sons (one of the things that came out during Kangxi’s investigation of Yinreng was that many of his sons as well as members of the Manchu and Chinese elite were exceedly corrupt). In spite of Kangxi’s unprecedented public condemnation of his sons, their factional infighting continued until his death. The Cao family must have watched these fierce political maneuverings with growing concern. They were generally safe as long as Kangxi remained in power but were not guaranteed that the security associated with being royal favorites would continue when a new emperor took over. The family also had to be very careful about directly involving themselves in the Succession Crisis, for they might end up on the losing side and the political fallout could be catastrophic. The legitimacy of the ascension of the next Qing emperor remains mired in some controversy even today. The official record states that on the day of his death, Kangxi summoned in the middle of the night Prince Yinzhen who had been in the southern part of the capital at the Temple of Heaven since December 16 preparing to offer important Winter Solistice Sacrifices in place of his ill father. Shortly before dawn, Kangxi ordered Lungkodo, the 5

Memoirs of Father Ripa During Thirteen Years of Residence at the Court of Peking in the Service of the Emperor of China, Selected and translated by Fortunato Prandhi (London: John Murray, 1846), p. 83.

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powerful commander of the Beijing garrison forces, and seven of his sons to his bedside. When they had assembled, he praised Yinzhen and then read his will which declared that Yinzhen should succeed him. When Prince Yinzhen arrived, he had a final discussion with his father but was not informed that he had been selected to be emperor. After Kangxi died, Yinzhen was then told by Lungkodo that he would be emperor. Most historians today believe that Prince Yinzhen’s assumption of the throne, while occurring under unusual circumstances (none of his brothers or half brothers were present when he had a final conversation with his father— they were in another room, and it was well known that Lungkodo was a close friend of the new ruler), was probably legitimate. At the time, rumors and elaborate conspiracy theories spread throughout the capital and the situation was extremely tense. Father Ripa has describes the tense atmosphere in Beijing at this time: On the 20th of December, 1722, I was talking after supper with Father Angelo in the house of his Majesty’s uncle, where we resided, when I heard a number of voices within the palace. Being acquainted with the manners of the country, I instantly caused the doors to be locked, and remarked to my companion that either the Emperor was dead, or else that a rebellion had broken out at Beijing. In order to satisfy myself as to the cause of the disturbance, I climbed up on the wall of our dwelling, which skirted the public road, and saw with astonishment an innumerable multitude of horsemen, riding furiously in every direction without speaking to each other. After watching their movements for some time, I at last heard some persons on foot say that the Emperor Kangxi was dead. I was afterwards informed that he had appointed as his successor, his fourth son, Yinzhen, who immediately began to reign, and to be obeyed by everybody.6

The situation in Beijing during this transitional period was so uneasy that the city was placed under martial law for a week. One of the reasons for the controversy over Yingzhen’s selection was the widespread belief that Yinti, who had the same mother as the new ruler, and was at the time Commander in Chief of Northern Armies and serving at his military post in the northwest, was the son Kangxi intended to succeed him. Unofficial accounts of Kangxi’s last meeting with his sons note that Kangxi had really picked Yinti to succeed him and that his will was altered but because the new Emperor had the solid backing of Lungkodo who kept Beijing under tight control, little could be done. Notwithstanding these doubts, there is evidence that Kangxi had been quite pleased with Yingzhen

6

Ripa, 1846, p. 119.

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and had frequently discussed policy matters with him because of his filial behavior and efficiency in carrying out the duties assigned to him.7 7

Concerning Yinzhen’s ascension, Wu, 1979, thinks that Yinzhen was Kangxi’s choice. Jonathan Spence argues there is little evidence that he seized the throne, (see The Search For Modern China (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990), p. 74). Madeline Zelin also believes there are no grounds for thinking there was a coup, (“The Yung-Cheng Reign,” in the Cambridge History of China: Volume 9, Part 1: The Ch’ing Dynasty to 1800, Edited by Willard J. Peterson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 184–187. 220). Pei Huang contends that “In view of the confusion in which Yongzheng succeeded to the throne there is reason to doubt the legitimacy of his accession. Nevertheless, such confusion resulted from the competition which in turn gave rise to the problem of legitimacy. If it is hard to prove the legitimacy of his accession, it is equally difficult to judge him as an illegitimate ruler. Whoever ascended the throne would be considered illegitimate by unsuccessful competitors. At any rate, Yongzheng was the lucky competitor.” Autocracy at Work: A Study of the Yung-cheng Period 1723–1735 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974), p. 80. Tom S. Fisher concludes in “New Light on the Accession of the Yongzheng Emperor,” that “It is doubtful that we will ever be able to make a definite judgment about the legitimacy of Yongzheng accession. Circumstantial evidence, such as the seeming consensus of informed opinion in the late Kangxi period regarding the prospects of the fourteenth son, the new emperor’s treatment of his younger brother, and widespread existence of contemporary rumors cast doubts on Yongzheng’s story…It is quite likely that Yongzheng was not Kangxi’s successor, but an attempt to conceal usurpation is not the only possible explanation for Yongzheng’s policies and behavior.” Papers on Far Eastern History 17 (1978), pp. 130, 136. The historian Geremie R. Barme mainains that the evidence against Yongzheng “is circumstantial. His critics maintain for example that Yongzheng peremptorily abandoned the Palace of Heavenly Piety, his father’s formal residence, to live in the Hall of Mental Cultivation. However, as successor and chief mourner, it was his obligation to do so during the 27-day morning period. Other alleged evidence of irregular behavior prompted by guilt was Yongzheng’s decision to be buried in a mausoleum far [hundreds of kilometers] from his father…This decision was interpreted as an attempt to avoid the torment his father’s ghost would inflict on his unfilial soul. And yet it is documented that when he fell ill Kangxi delegated Yinzhen to conduct ceremonies in his stead at the Altar of Heaven, a clear indication that he was indeed the chosen successor.” The Forbidden City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), pp. 61–62. Feng Ergang, who wrote the first comprehensive biography of Yongzheng, Yongzheng Zhuan (Biography of Yongzheng) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1985), has concludied that the evidence appears to show that Yongzheng became emperor legitimately. “Although we are not yet altogether certain about what happened with the succession, and which side is correct, it is reasonable to think that Yongzheng’s political enemies manipulated all suspicion behind the will in an attempt to put a dark image on Yongzheng; Imperial Chinese tradition had lead certain schools of thought in believing that Yongzheng’s whole reign can be discredited simply because his succession of the throne did not come as a will of his father” (p. 123). Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence against Yongzheng was the belief that he had altered his father’s will. This was based upon the theory that he had changed the section in the will which stated the number 14 (referring to Kangxi’s

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The new Emperor’s (reign title Yongzheng 雍正) brief rule was always tainted by questions over his legitimacy, and was a topic he remained acutely sensitive about throughout the rest of his life. 8 In spite of this stigma, Yongzheng turned out to be an intelligent, conscientious, fiscally adroit, and capable ruler. Headstrong but also insecure about his rule, he took his responsibilities very seriously and worked long hours, starting his day at 4 a.m., meeting with advisors in the afternoon, and often working until midnight reading and commenting on large stacks of court documents and palace memorials (on some nights he would read as many as 60 of these memorials). Today the Yongzheng emperor is considered one of the greatest rulers of the Qing period.9 While he was frequently cold blooded, secretive, suspicious, and stern in manner, Yongzheng’s private persona was considerably more complex and interesting than his forbidding public persona. His incisive comments on palace memorials “reveal that he could be humorous, sardonic, and even whimsical at times.”10 This surprisingly whimsical side can also be viewed in a series of paintings called “Yongzheng at Play” he ordered done by court

8

9

10

fourteenth son Yinti being the new emperor) to four (which meant Yongzheng). The problem with this theory is that one of characters used for four (于) was not a character that was written on official documents during the Qing period or even a commonly used character for that time. Yongzheng was so sensitive about these widespread rumors that he issued in 1730 a detailed, point by point refutation of them. Yuri Pines has recently gone so far as to claim that Yongzheng “was arguably the most administratively astute ruler in China’s long history.” The Everlasting Empire: The Political Culture of Ancient China and Its Imperial Legacy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), p. 71. Patricia M. Thorton contends that “The reign of the Yongzheng emperor represents a significant departure in the history of Chinese statemaking, a key transitional period during which the general pattern that characterized traditional imperial modes of governance were briefly overlaid with more distinctly centralized and bifurcated technologies of power associated with modern statehood. The more muscular and robust expression of state control pursued by Yongzheng, characterized by economic historian Gao Wangling as an ‘unfinished experiment’ in big government, stand in marked contrast to the more minimalist governance observed during the long centuries that proceeded his ascension to the throne.”Disciplining the State: Virtue, Violence, and State-Making in Modern China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007) p. 22. For good accounts of Yongzheng’s reign, see Zelin, 2002, pp. 183–229 and her The Magistrate’s Tael: Rationalizing Fiscal Reform in Eighteenth Century Ch’ing China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); Huang, 1974; Treason By the Book by Jonathan D. Spence (New York: Viking, 2001); Hummel, Volume 2, 1943–1944, pp. 915–919; and F.W. Mote’s Imperial China 900–1800 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 887–911. Mote, 1999, p. 891.

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artists that are now in the Palace Museum Collection in Beijing. These thirteen curious “costume portraits” show him dressed as a meditating Tibetan Lama, a Daoist outwitting a dragon, A Confucian scholar with a qin, a Buddhist monk, a Mongol nobleman, a pensive fisherman, a recluse, a barefoot archer gazing at a bird in flight, and even clad in European clothes and an odd wig attacking a tiger in a cave with a nasty looking trident.11 The subject matter for some of these unusual paintings could have come from Yongzheng’s deep and scholarly interest in religious and philosophical matters. He was especially fascinated with Chan Buddhism and Daoist longevity theories, and even published and edited works on both of these philosophies.12 It is often overlooked that Yongzheng also had a highly developed aesthetic sense. Geremie R. Barme has pointed out that “As a prince Yinzhen had showed himself to be a person of great refinement, the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming Yuan) just north of Kangxi’s Garden of Delightful Spring, being a monument to his imagination and style. Numerous pavilions and studios—many of which were inspired by lines of poetry or lyrical fancy—were scattered in a vast manmade landscape of hillocks, lakes, and streams. As emperor, he would move the court there and effectively run the empire from this garden demesne.”13 Yongzheng was 44 years old when he became emperor and clearly had spent much time thinking about what policies he would pursue if he became ruler, since from the start of his reign he acted quickly and decisively. He first rapidly moved against his brothers whom he deemed a threat and their followers. On December 20, Prince Yinti was recalled to Beijing, and told to reside at a resort north of the city. In August of 1724, he was officially 11

12

13

These paintings can be found in China: The Three Emperors 1662–1795, Edited by Evelyn S. Rawski and Jessica Rawson (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005), pp. 248– 251. Regina Krahl has stated that these “paintings have been interpreted as masquerades, somewhat comparable to the fashionable fancy-dress events indulged in by the European nobility of the time. Yet such frivolity seems out of character for this conscientious ruler. The Kangxi emperor made deliberate and exemplary efforts to master all roles that his vast and varied empire might demand of him by learning about different concepts, beliefs, and interpretations of the world. The Yongzheng emperor may have felt the same duty to present as the polymath he may not have been, and the commissioned paintings may have been his visionary performance of different roles; and there were many roles he had to fulfill, to satisfy the wide-ranging expectations in his multi-cultural empire” (Rawski and Rawson, 2005, p. 243). Fang Chao-Ying states that Yongzheng “perhaps even had an ambition to unite Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism into one religion” (Hummel, 1943–1944, Volume 2, p. 918). Barme, 2008, p. 62.

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ordered to become guardian at Kangxi’s tomb, but in reality he was a prisoner and closely guarded by the military. The former heir apparent Yinreng died in prison in 1725. Princes Yinsi and Yintang received the worst treatment, their respective names were changed to Acina (Cur) and Seshe (Swine). Both died in prison in 1726 from abuse or were murdered. Yongzheng also ordered other brothers arrested as well as close relatives and worked on reducing the ability of princes to control bannermen, which was an important source of their power. Finally, Yongzheng harshly punished individuals who criticized him and even former supporters, fearing that they might possibly reveal scandalous things about him. Emperor Yongzheng’s notorious and bloody purge has been viewed by some as further evidence that he had usurped the throne but this criticism is unfair since there is little doubt that he ultimately behaved no differently than any of his rivals would have in order to consolidate his power and eliminate potential competitors. For much of his anxiety and paranoia was rooted in the fact that: suspicion and fear were the norm in the Qing imperial clan. The imperial household and closer relatives rarely if ever joined in informal pleasures in the palace; the Son of Heaven maintained his august severity and the princes all bore the terrified demeanor of innocents on the way to be slaughtered. Compared with the historical record of all other dynasties, the estrangements within the imperial clan and between ruler and servitors was extreme, and constitutes another of the Qing period’s special characteristics.” In that dismal atmosphere, Prince Yinzhen, later the Yongzheng emperor, spent his entire life. He could be close to very few people.14

There is a marked tendency in much of the Chinese scholarship concerning Cao Xueqin’s life to emphatically make Yongzheng (both on a personal level and in terms of his ability to rule) as evil as possible because of questions about his legitimacy as emperor, the scope and intensity of his political purges, and most important what he did to the Cao family. It is hard not to believe that some of these scholars vilification of Yongzheng is rooted in an attempt to underscore by way of contrast the the honesty of the Cao family. In other words, the reasoning often seems to be if Yongzheng was personally morally dispicable and pathologically vindictive, then the family must have been innocent.15 The historical record of Yongzheng’s rule does not bear out this interpretation. But it is true that from the perspective of the 14 15

Mote, 1999, p. 888. For example, Zhou Ruchang has consistently maintained the position that Yongzheng was an exceptionally vicious and corrupt ruler, and strongly influenced perceptions of Yongzheng. See his Honglou meng xinzheng (New Evidence on Honglou meng) (Beijing: Huayi chubanshe, 1998), pp. 472–524, and Zhou, 2009, pp. 29–32, 40–49.

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Cao family, of all the possible successors to Kangxi, Yongzheng was probably the worst for them personally primarily because of his negative feelings about bondservants.16 Yongzheng was keenly aware of his father’s administrative failings during the last years of his reign and was firmly determined to rectify them. Days after assuming the throne, “An audit of the Board of Revenue’s funds disclosed a balance of 8,000,000 taels, an amount that totaled just over a fourth of the central government’s annual tax quota. Audits of provincial and local government accounts that followed shortly after revealed that deficits were widespread throughout the empire, a situation [the Emperor] viewed as dire.”17 Yongzheng believed that his father’s lax and vacillating treatment of officials was responsible for these widespread debts and the country’s growing corruption. Therefore, he made fiscally malfeasant officials his first target. As Madeline Zelin notes, his: first policy initiative was to declare a frontal attack on the problems of government deficits and official and clerical peculation. Almost immediately after Kangxi’s death, the Yongzheng emperor issued two edicts laying the the blame for deficits not on the people but on the corrupt activities of officials and their clerks…The emperor’s first impulse was to combat corruption by instituting an audit of all provincial treasuries…However, rather than create conflicts between the central government and the provinces by sending imperial commissioners to pry into local affairs, he odered the governors and governors-general to investigate the deficits of their subordinates. No one would be punished for having shortages in his yamen treasury or for having failed to detect such shortages in those of his underlings, but all deficits had to be repaid in three years. Moreover, officials were warned against trying to settle their accounts with the government by extorting from the common people or further falsifying local records.18

In addition to this new policy of holding officeholders directly responsible for deficits, Yongzheng also began to keep a sharp eye out for and was quick to act against any officials who were in the main honest but simply not up to snuff in their positions, as well as to any hints of cliques among these officials. While his father took a more personal and extrabureaucratic approach towards governance, Yongzheng was inclined to take an institutional and bureaucratic view. This heavy handed national campaign against corruption must have sparked concern in the Cao family. Further complicating matters was 16

17 18

It is interesting to note that Yongzheng’s nemesis, Prince Yinti, had a reputation for liking bondservants. Thorton, 2007, pp. 29–30. Zelin, 1984, pp. 78, 80–81. Chapters 2 and 3 of Thorton’s 2007 book present a good overview of Yongzheng’s policy regarding corruption.

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Yongzheng’s intense dislike and distrust of imperial bondservants whom he considered corrupt, arrogant, and unreliable. He strongly believed that his father had been far too lenient in his treatment of bondservants and was determined to closely monitor, and if necessary, make an example of them.19 He also thought that officials who worked in the Salt Censor and Textile Commissioner’s office were incompetent and failed to provide accurate information. 20 Moreover, like his father, Yongzheng was especially interested in the southern region of Jiangsu and the condition of its local finances. As he did against his brothers, Yongzheng struck hard and fast against what he deemed were corrupt or inefficient officials. During the first year of his reign, thirty-seven out of fourty-five senior censors and government board ministers lost their jobs or were moved. 21 He also did not hesitate about holding even high ranking commissioners liable for outstanding debts. This vigorous and at times ruthless campaign soon touched the Cao family. In late December of 1722 or January of 1723, Li Xu, Cao Yin’s brother in law and close friend and the person the Cao family had greatly relied on since Cao Yin’s death for support and advice, was sacked from his position as Suzhou Textile Commissioner, a post that he had held for more than 30 years. Furthermore, an investigation was made regarding his finances which eventually resulted in most of his wealth being confiscated. 22 While Li remained free (but under official surveillance), the damage had been done. For the next couple of years, other officials in the region, many of whom the Cao family knew well, were also prosecuted. In 1726, Hu Feng-hui, who took over the post of Suzhou Textile Commissioner after Li Xu, was dismissed because of his support of several individuals who had been involved in the succession war and for dishonesty. Hu was the brother-inlaw of Nian Gengyao 年羹尧 (1679–1726), a high ranking official who 19

20 21 22

As Zhou Ruchang notes, another reason for Yongzheng’s distrust of bondservants was that “During his early political struggles, Yongzheng quickly realized the complex role bondservants played in politics despite their low status. Some Manchu officials were significantly influenced by their Han Chinese bondservants and became less strict with them. As a result, some of these bondservants became disobedient and arrogant, and in the worse cases actually betrayed their masters and escaped. The Yongzheng emperor asked his official advisors how to stop this worrying trend. The new policy followed strict Manchu rules governing slaves and servants” (2009, p. 66). Spence, 1966, p. 283. Spence, 1966, p. 283. According to Zhou, the Imperial Household Department report stated that “Li Xu owed 380,000 taels. His estate was estimated at 128,000 taels, and he still owed the government 250,000 taels” (2009, p. 41).

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because of his association with Prince Yinti was stripped of his rank and forced to committ suicide. Not long after his dismissal, Hu, his wife, and concubine, hanged themselves. That same year, Sun Wen-cheng, an old friend of Cao Yin who was Hanzhou Textile Commissioner, came under investigation and was eventually fired from his post and his estate seized. And in 1727, Li Xu was arrested for sending gifts to the maid of Prince Yinsu, and thrown in prison. Cao Fu had a rocky start as Textile Commissioner. In 1716, the year after he had assumed the position and just when the family started to think that they were financially on track, it suddenly became clear that Li Xu had hidden other large debts Cao Yin had incurred related to the salt industry. As a consequence, the Board of Revenue ruled that the Cao family was responsible for these new debts which totaled 110,000 taels, an amount the family did not have. Then Li Xu in a memorial finally admitted to Kangxi that Cao Yin’s salt administration debts were 143,000 taels higher than originally reported.23 Kangxi once again generously arranged for the debts to be covered by using the salt revenue surpluses. Cao Yin’s debts were finally paid off five years after his death in 1717. Cao Fu, who lacked administrative experience and never thought he would one day be Textile Commissioner, must have quickly felt overwhelmed trying to deal with the complicated matter of resolving Cao Yin’s debts while also trying to learn his onerous official duties. Kangxi, on the other hand, must have started to wonder what exactly was going on in regards to the Cao family’s economic situation, for he soon asked Cao Fu about the state of the family’s finances. In his response, Cao Fu revealed that although the family had no savings, they did own in addition to their Nanjing residence, three houses in Beijing, some land, a pawnshop, several fair sized rice fields, and an old house in Yangzhou.24 From this point on, the situation became progressively worse and even Kangxi began having doubts about Cao Fu’s ability. After he became emperor, Yongzheng grew increasingly irritated with Cao Fu, criticizing in memorials Cao’s job performance and financial irregularities. The fact that Cao Fu was a bondservant and that the Cao family was close to his father did not help the situation. Finally, in January of 1728, Cao Fu was dismissed from his position, and arrested for indecent behavior, and the Cao family’s home, residences, servants, and assets were confiscated. The charges according to the decree issued by Yongzheng were: “The Nanjing Textile 23

24

Spence, 1966, pp. 271–272. Spence estimates that the total debts of Cao Yin at the time of his death were around 600,000 taels. Spence, 1966, p. 273.

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Commissioner, Cao Fu, mismanaged his office and put the textile department into considerable debt. I frequently extended his debt payment, but rather than working to clear that debt, Cao Fu, secretly transferred property and his assets. What disgusting behavior completely devoid of gratitude!”25 It appears that the government raid did not come as a big surprise to the family for there is strong evidence that they were warned shortly before it occurred and therefore had time to secretely move some valuable items away from the residence. Moreover, given the toxic political environment at the time and the fact that many close associates of the family were losing their positions, they probably knew it was only a question of time before they got into trouble. Be that as it may, confiscations were extremely terrifying and harsh events. Chapter 105 of Honglou meng presents an accurate rendering of what a raid was like: a horde of feared Embroidered Jackets (the imperial secret police) or the military would suddenly surround a victim’s dwelling, all exits would be blocked, the women and men in the family would be herded into separate rooms and held under close guard. Senior stewards and maids servants would be removed for questioning. The property would be roughly but carefully searched from top to bottom, and a detailed inventory taken. Goods would be carted off and rooms padlocked and sealed with strips of white paper proclaiming them state property, often with the remaining servants inside. During the search, items would frequently be damaged or stolen by the Embroidered Jackets. Confiscations were one of Emperor Yongzheng’s favorite ways of punishing officials. While they were not unique to the Qing dynasty, they did commonly occur during this dynasty. Confiscations were one way an emperor could enrich the imperial treasury. The Board of Revenue and Board of Civil Appointment set precise rules regarding the classification of possessions of discredited officials. Property was first grouped in terms of real estate, land and houses. “Houses were further categorized into living quarters and premises for commercial reasons. They could be either sold or rented…Second, personal belongings, including personal effects, money, and other precious articles like curios and antiques, were to be confiscated outright and sent to the Imperial Household. Finally, there were family members, including servants and bondservants.” 26 If the charges stood, servants would have been sold off or made slaves, and family members imprisoned, sent into exile, made slaves, and even forced to commit (or independently committed) suicide. 25 26

Zhou, 2009, p. 71. “The Economic Role of the Imperial Household in the Ch’ing Dynasty” by Chang TeCh’ang, Journal of Asian Studies 31.2 (1972): p. 266.

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According to the official inventory of the Cao family’s properties submitted by Sui Hede, Cao Fu’s replacement, the family’s belongings consisted of houses in twelve locations, totaling 483 rooms (including servant quarters). The family’s estates consisted of 323 acres. They also had 114 retainers and servants, 100 pawn shop tickets, and assorted old clothes, tables, chairs, and minor odds and ends. In addition, the Cao family servants stated that they were owed 32,000 liang (1 liang equaled 50 grams) of silver. What is not listed in the inventory is revealing: there is no mention of Cao Yin’s prized and massive library, nor is there any listing of art treasures, antiques, or high quality silk textiles and clothes—evidence that they were warned that a raid was going to occur and were able to transport these items safely away.27 Cao Fu was taken to Beijing under guard for further interrogation and imprisonment, and the family’s residences in Nanjing and Beijing along with most of their servants were given to Sui Hede. But the punishment was not as bad as it could have been since Yongzheng also ordered that a small number of family members (including Cao Xueqin) and servants be allowed to move to Beijing, and a seventeen and a half room house with six servants be prepared for them in the Chinese section of the city. This generous concession which was done for the sake of Cao Yin’s widow may have been due to efforts to help the family by relatives and friends like Prince Fuping, the son of one of Cao Yin’s daughters who married into the royal family, and who was in good standing with Yongzheng at the time.28 Zhou Ruchang has argued that Yongzheng was not as harsh as he could have been with the Cao family because he felt guilty over wrongly persecuting them for political reasons.29 27

28

29

For comparison purposes, it is interesting to contrast the confiscation inventory of the Cao family with the inventory of goods of the Jia clan (who did not receive advance warning of their raid) which is presented in chapter 105 of Honglou meng. The list shows that the Jia’s holding were considerably larger than that of the Cao’s. The most infamous confiscation inventory was that of the powerful Qianlong era official Heshen (1750– 1799), whose estate was valued at the incredible amount of nearly 10 million ounces of silver. See The Search For Modern China: A Documentary Collection, Edited by Pei-kai Cheng, Michael Lestz, and Jonathan Spence (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990), pp. 89–91, for an astonishing listing of Heshen’s household property. “Ts’ao Hsueh-chin” by Chow Tse-tsung, in the Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, Volume 1, Edited by William H. Nienhauser Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 793. Chow also thinks that “the emperor’s favorite brother Prince Yin-hsiang, who descendents were later found to have preserved Cao’s novel” (p. 793) may have also helped the Cao family. But there is no hard evidence he did this. Zhou, 2009, p. 74.

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It is still widely maintained that Cao Fu and the Cao family were really punished by Yongzheng for political reasons and that the confiscation was directly connected with Yongzheng’s purge of supporters of his rival brothers.30 Zhou Ruchang strongly believes this to be the case as do other noted scholars including Wu Shichang, who argues that Cao Yin’s “friendship with Prince Yintang, once reputed pretender to the throne…was probably the chief cause of the persecution in 1727–1728. Cao Xueqin’s suppressed but unabated bitterness against the government would be better understood in the light of this root of trouble.”31 Jonathan Spence has written that “it is quite possible that the Cao family, like Li Xu, were enough in contact with members of the Yintang and Yinsu factions to make their dismissal justifiable to the Emperor.”32 The problem with this interpretation is that the existing evidence does not bear out this conclusion and it seems more likely that other non-political factors were involved in Yongzheng’s decision. We do know that a stir was caused during the confiscation of the Cao family’s property when two five foot high gold plated lions that had been given to Cao Fu by former Crown Prince Yintang were found in the Cao family temple. According to a report submitted to Yongzheng by a nervous Sui Hede, in 1716 Yintang “had sent his guard’s officer Chang Te to Nanjing to get [these lions] cast. Afterword, because the casting was poor, he handed them over to Cao Fu to be deposited in the temple. So much I have discovered; I do not know the original purpose of the casting, nor dare I conceal it.”33 It was also later learned that Li Xu had sent gifts to Prince Yinsi’s serving maid when he was imprisoned, and once gave Yinsi a gift of Suzhou sing-song girls. Zhou Ruchang has observed in Li’s defense that “it was a common practice for princes to demand money, goods, rare curios, as well as beautiful girls, from Imperial Textile Commissioners. Such requests had in the past been obeyed, but now they were considered a monstrous crime for which the commissioners and their families were being held 30

31 32 33

Zuyan Zhou in Androgyny in Late Ming and Early Qing Literature (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003), states that “most critics tend to see politics as a hidden factor for the precipitating decline of the Cao family’s fortunes” (p. 276, note 144). Zhou Ruchang asserts that one of the reasons why the Cao family got into trouble was because they “were bondservants and therefore knew the inside story of the succession battle following Kangxi’s death. So, while Cao Fu and other bondservants were base slaves, they could still be troublesome and consciously or unconsciously reveal Yongzheng’s usurpation” (Zhou, 2009, p. 47). Wu, 1961, p. 115. Spence, 1966, p. 289. Spence, 1966, p. 289.

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accountable.” 34 The family’s exact relationship with these two princes remains unclear. While it is true that the Cao family would have been in trouble even if a close relationship had not existed between them and the disgraced princes, and that the raid occurred when a major political purge was happening in China, nonetheless there were sufficient others reasons for Cao Fu being cashiered. It is now clear that Cao Fu was too young, lacked relevant experience, and simply was not prepared for the very demanding post of Textile Commissioner. His selection for the position was completely unexpected for it was assumed that Cao Yong would continue as Commissioner for many more years and there was no plan to make Cao Fu his replacement. Although he was known for his love of study and was considered a traditionalist in taste and action, it soon became apparent that he was in over his head and lacked confidence. With Cao Yin and Cao Yong gone, the only member of the family he could have relied upon for advice who was a high official was his uncle and mentor Li Xu, who was loyal to the family, but did not have a great reputation as an administrator and was generally known “as a man of compromise [who] sometimes lacked honesty.”35 Because of all these factors, Cao Fu’s job performance was in the main deficient, and he was “overcautious as an informant and rash as a financier.”36 By the end of his reign, even Kangxi’s legendary tolerance, and affection for the Cao family was beginning to be severely tried by Cao Fu’s inefficiency.37 If Kangxi was disappointed with Cao Yin’s effectiveness, there was no chance that Yongzheng would tolerate it. Yongzheng expected his officials to be practical men, with concrete experience and technical knowledge (as long as they were not overtly scholarly). He greatly valued individuals who were forthright and loyal, but not afraid to offer their opinions and even disagree with him. He liked smart and tough minded administrators who sent reliable reports. Unfortunately, Cao Fu possessed few of these qualities. However, he was able to get by the initially dangerous years of Yongzheng’s reign without incurring his wrath, but on February 8, 1727, a pointed memorial was sent by the Langzhou Salt Censor Ga Ertai which evaluated the job performances of officials in Ga’s area. In this report, Ga wrote that Cao Fu “was young and lacked talent. He has let his household steward run

34 35

36 37

Zhou, 2009, p. 33. Communication and Imperial Control in China: Evolution of the Palace Memorial System 1693–1735 by Silas H.L. Wu (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 39. Spence, 1966, p. 281. See Spence, 1966, pp. 277–282.

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the textile office. He really is just a commoner.”38 When Yongzheng read this memorial, he wrote the ominous comment “This man is no good” next to Cao Fu’s name. Later that year, Cao Fu was criticized for the poor quality of the silk products that were being sent to the court (the material was too thin, rough, and the color was bad). As a consequence, he was penalized by having his salary docked and was prevented from receiving regular supplies for one year. In the midst of these serious matters, Cao Fu was attempting to resolve the complex issue of how to cover the outstanding debts his position had accrued. Records show that he transferred and hid assets to cover these debts. At that time, if it could be shown that an official did not repay debts within a specified timeframe and falsified records to conceal shortages, these were sufficient grounds for that official to be relieved of his duties and harshly punished, for these were the types of crimes Yongzheng’s corruption campaign was intended to eradicate.39 Cao Fu’s basic problem was that he simply lacked Cao Yin’s sophisticated knowledge of economic matters and agile ability to juggle the numerous complex fiscal and political balls that were necessary to be Textile Commissioner. Greatly compounding all this was the unpleasant fact that the intensely competitive world of the Qing bureaucracy had become even more vicious since Yongzheng had assumed the throne. The major reasons for this were the big changes he had made to the palace memorial system that Kangxi had initiated. Simply stated, Yongzheng’s new memorial system had two goals: “to crush antagonistic forces and to rehabilitate the bureaucracy.” 40 In 38 39

40

Quoted in Zhou, 2009, p. 68, In defense of Cao Fu, it should be noted as Madeline Zelin points out, that one of the major problems with Yongzheng’s crusade against corruption was that “The emperor’s hard line on official peculation precluded any consideration of the difficulties faced by the bureaucrat in the field” (1984, p. 81). Nancy Park has observed that because corruption was so widespread in China during this period, “For Qing emperors, the main issue was whether an impeachment was in the state’s interest. As long as the principal goals of protecting public order and preserving the state were met, Qing monarchs usually refrained from prosecuting alleged offenders. However, as Joanna Waley-Cohen has argued, when corruption was conducted on so large a scale that it affected national revenues, or if it posed a grave threat to the state, bureaucracy, or populace so that the disadvantages of inaction outweighed the advantages, Qing emperors had no compunction about laying down the law.” “Corruption in Eighteenth Century China,” The Journal of Asian Studies 66.4 (1997): p. 997–998. While Yongzheng during the first years of his reign took an extremely hard line approach to corruption, his attitude later devolved to the approach described by Park. Wu, 1970, p. 66. Wu’s book contains a chapter detailing the changes Yongzheng made to the memorial system. His book remains the best account of the system.

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essence, he greatly expanded the numbers of officials who could submit memorials, thereby increasing the number of informants. The new system was also intended to be a concrete way to motivate and threaten members of the bureaucracy since officials were required to keep a close watch on each other and submit periodic reports. Because of this elaborate system of mutual surveillance and secret reporting, individuals had to be even more on their guard, and those who held high positions were in greater danger of getting into trouble.41 This new system would have resulted in even more problems for someone like Cao Fu, who never seemed able to learn how to be a resourceful official while also covering his back. Ironically, Cao Yin may have been a factor in the decision to raid the Cao family, for Yongzheng was infamous for turning on advisors or their families who had been close to his father. In the end, Yongzheng simply did not feel the strong bonds of affection for the Cao family that Kangxi had. In his eyes, Cao Fu must have been a perfect example of why he disliked and was suspicious of bondservants, and why it was necessary to rigorously control them. In addition, during this time, there began a general decline in the use of imperial bondservants in part because there was increasingly little need for their role as mediators since the Manchus were becoming more competent in the Chinese language and culture and because the Han Chinese in general were becoming more accepting of them as rulers. Furthermore, it had always been the plan of the Qing rulers to have capable Chinese perform much of the bureaucratic work and have loyal Chinese monitor them. But the tipping point for Yongzheng regarding Cao Fu was not mentioned in his initial official denunciation and dismissal proclamation. It was not until the early 1980’s that several government documents were discovered by the historian Zhang Shucai which give details about an additional charge against Cao.42 According to these documents, at the end of 41

42

Park states that “For officials, the most important consideration in deciding to initiate legal proceedings against a colleague was whether such a move was in their personal interest. On the one hand, as members of the bureaucracy they were responsible for maintaining order within their ranks and could be subject to administrative sanctions if they failed to do so. On the other hand, they were constrained from prosecuting their colleagues because of the knowledge that taking action was not devoid of risks to themselves” (1997, p. 998). Geremie R. Barme has claimed that Yongzheng’s new secret memorial system “created an atmosphere which facilitated abuses of power. The imperial bureaucracy was gradually paralyzed by caution while a second, shadow bureaucracy of officials reporting directly to the emperor, actually ran the country” (2000, p. 64). “Xin faxian de Cao Fu huozui dangan shiliao qianxi” (“A Study of Newly Found Documents Concerning Cao Fu’s Guilt”), Honglou meng yanjiu jikan 10 (1983): 313– 317.

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the fifth year of Yongzheng’s reign (1727), Sai Lenge, the Provincial Governor of Shandong province, sent a confidential report to Yongzheng stating that Cao Fu during a trip to Beijing transporting silk, had extorted money (silver), gifts, horses, and laborers, from several post stations. After Yongzheng read this damning report, he immediately ordered an investigation and when the charges were confirmed, dismissed Cao Fu from his position. The documents also reveal that Cao Fu had continually failed to reimburse the government over debts related to 800 liang in silver that Cao Yin had received as a bribe from a man named Zhao Shixian. Cao Fu was initially ordered during the first year of Yongzheng’s reign to return the money in three years.43 When he failed to pay back the full amount by the end of this time period, Yongzheng did not punish him and even extended the due date several times.44 But Cao Fu continued not to pay back the amount. The documents also show that Cao Fu remained in prison for six years because of his failing to repay the total amount owed and had to wear a cangue (a large, heavy, wooden collar that was fixed around a prisoner’s neck and enclosed his neck and arms). Based upon these documents and the other charges against Cao Fu, Zhang contends that the main reason Cao was removed from his post was because of economic crimes he had committed as well as poor job performance. While it was true that political considerations played a role in any decision made by Yongzheng to impeach officials, the existing evidence appears to support the conclusion that politics was not the overriding reason for Cao Fu’s dismissal. It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for Cao Fu’s situation. He was suddenly thrust at a young age having no real experience or preparation into an extremely demanding, politically sensitive, high ranking position for which he was ultimately temperamentally unsuited. A special confluence of factors led to his (and his family’s) downfall: he had the wrong background 43

44

According to Zhou Ruchang, Cao Fu also owed money for deficits related to the salt trade. Moreover, further “Adding to Cao Fu’s woes was a rare drought that gripped the southern Yangzi River region beginning with the ascension of Yongzheng. By the spring and summer of the second year of his reign, there was no trace of rain and snow. The crops had begun to dry and brown, the locus began breeding, and a general feeling of insecurity pervaded every citizen, which stemmed from these signs of eminent danger that were seemingly everywhere” (Zhou, 2009, pp. 35–36). Zhou Ruchang thinks that one reason why Cao Fu did not have any major problems with Yongzheng during the initial years of his reign was because “in 1723, Cao Xueqin’s eldest uncle, Fu nai was first promoted to the position of Deputy General of the Bordered Yellow Banner and then elevated to the post of Vice-Minister in the Ministry of War” (Zhou, 2009, p. 47).

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(scion of a prominent imperial bondservant family) for the time; had to work under a headstrong Emperor who disdained bondservants, was intolerant of corruption, and especially suspicious of officials who worked in the Imperial Textile Commissioners office; he signally lacked the specific personal skills—confidence, ability, financial acumen, and good political instincts— that ere required for this type of job; and he had the bad luck of holding his position during a problematic period, when the importance of bondservants was declining, when the bureaucratic world was more vicious than ever before, when officials were under extremely close scrutiny, and in the midst of a political purge. For Cao Xueqin, the frightening confiscation of his family’s property and servants, and the resulting sudden arrest and imprisonment of his father, and his family’s swift decline from power and station formed the most influential event in his life. He would never truly recover from its effects. From then on there would always be a before and after—before the confiscation and all that came after—and he would spend the rest of his life struggling to deal with its implications.

C H A P T E R

F I V E

“Buildings Rich and Elegant, People Lively and Numerous” In chapter three of Honglou meng, Lin Dai-yu travels to Beijing via the famous Grand Canal. Shortly after arriving in the capital, she peeps through the gauze window of her sedan chair and is astonished to “see streets and buildings more rich and throngs of people more lively and numerous than she had ever seen in her life before.”1 Her perception was not unusual, most travelers (and Dai-yu is coming from the urban and cosmpolitan city of Yangzhou) to Qing dynasty Beijing were also amazed by the city. Even the exhausted and demoralized Cao family, coming from a cosmopolitan city like Nanjing must have found the capital imposing.2 Beijing, at that time had a population of over 700,000 1

2

SS, 1, p. 87. The novel also mentions that the main reason why Xue Pan wanted to visit the capital was “to see the sights of the great metropolis” (DRM, 1, p. 62). The Cao family after the confiscation would have almost certainly travelled to their new home in Beijing by taking the Grand Canal. This complex system of interrelated inland waterways was begun in the fifth century B.C., and by the time of the Qing dynasty passed through four provinces: Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, and extended from Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north. It is the oldest and longest man made waterway in the world with a total length of over 1,200 miles, and was the main route to the capital. There was an imperial road built alongside the Canal, but as Richard Smith has noted, land transportation during the Qing dynasty “was at best costly and uncomfortable…Even in the North China plain the roads were deeply rutted and usually either dusty, muddy or flooded. Springless two-wheeled carts, wheel barrows, and sedan chairs provided the principle means of transportation, cheap by day but expensive by the mile. The cost of transporting goods by land in many area of China might be anywhere from 20 to 40 times the usual standard for easily navigable rivers.” China’s Cultural Heritage: The Ch’ing Dynasty 1644–1912 (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983), p. 18. Crime and local violence was another problem (especially in the north) on the Canal owing to the many laborers and boatmen who worked on the waterways. For an account of the rigors of traveling from Nanjing to Beijing by land, see Tai Ming-shih’s, a Qing dynasty scholar, account of his 1695 journey, in Inscribed Landscapes: Travel Writing from Imperial China, translated by Richard E. Strassberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 389–397. Cao Yin and Cao Fu would have taken the Grand Canal on their trips to Beijing since it was a common practice for government officials to take special barges to the capital. Ray Huang in a study of the Canal during the Ming dynasty states that finding a boat for private hire on the Canal was very easy and fares were generally inexpensive, and that it was quite rare for travelers to cover the length of the Canal zone by land, “[but] passengers who could not risk the delay often stayed away from the Canal and took the land route.” The Grand Canal During the Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Michigan, 1964, pp.221, 231. (Governmental courtiers, who operated under severe time constraints, were able to make the 745 mile trip between Nanjing and Beijing in usually five to seven days). In short, in all likelihood the Cao family travelled by the Canal to Beijing because: although they were

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people and was equal in size and population only to Edo, the Tokugawa capital of Japan. But it was unmatched by any other world capital in terms of the in greatly reduced circumstances, they could have still probably afforded to do so since good competitive rates were easy to find at every port; because it was the usual route taken by affluent families to get to Beijing, and the family was in all likelihood concerned with keeping up appearances befitting their previous status, and because they were likely in no big hurry to get to the capital (there are indications that they were on rather bad terms with family members who lived in Beijing). We do not know precisely when they travelled, but if it had been in the winter, they may have been forced to travel some of the northern length of the Canal by land since this section would have been frozen and traffic halted until the spring. The trip, while melancholy for older family members who would have been greatly worried about their future, must have held the promise of high adventure for the young Cao Xueqin and been for him a much needed distraction from what had just happened to his family. Given his insatiable curiosity, wide-ranging curiosity about people and how things worked, Cao would have been fascinated with the many sights and river life on the Canal. It would have probably been the first time he had left the precepts of Nanjing as well as his first extended exposure to the world outside his pampered upbringing. The colorful and bustling sights and sounds of Canal life, the constantly changing scenery, heavily populated cities, and walled towns located along the waterways would have been both frightening and absorbing. The stately and endless pageant of massive single mast Imperial grain barges (at that time there were over 10,400 in constant operation), which were 80 feet long, and had flat bottoms, decorative private junks, and sampans, carrying such goods as sugar, tea, salt, tea, cotton, porcelain, cooking oil, copper (for casting coins), meat, vegetables, and wool, slowly moving alongside elegant, red barges with large windows transporting officials, dragon boats, lighters (used to ship grain through shallow sections of the Canal), crowded military carriers, special vessels operated by palace eunuchs, carrying confiscated goods, and immense rafts constantly hauling valuable wood and brick for imperial buildings, would have been spectacular to view. But the charms of the trip would have almost certainly eventually worn off and the hushed conversations between family members, worried looks of elder relatives, and changes in their behavior, impacted upon him. Interestingly, nearly all the scenes involving the Grand Canal in Honglou meng seem to subtly reflect strong feelings of anxiety about the future, homesickness, loneliness, and even anger. In chapter 3, Lin Dai-yu sadly takes the Canal to Beijing after bidding a tearful goodbye to her father, fearful about her uncertain future with the Jia family. In chapter 48, Hsiang-ling recalls a forlorn scene on her trip on the waterway after she is sold to Xue Pan, “On our way to the capital that year, our boat moored by the bank one evening. There was nobody about, nothing but a few trees and the smoke from some distant cottages where supper was being cooked rose up, a vivid blue, straight to the clouds” (DRM, 2, p. 118). In chapter 12, Jia Lian and Dai-yu take the Canal south because her father is very ill. In chapter 118, Jia Zheng, while taking Lady Jia’s coffin to be buried the south is delayed on it by a military convoy. Because of this delay, he finds himself short of money, and writes a letter to Steward Lai’s son, Lai Shangrong, whose yamen is nearby, asking for a loan. Lai sends only a small sum, then reconsiders and sends Zheng more, who by this time is greatly offended, and angrily returns all the money. In chapter 99, it is mentioned that a barge is being sent for Tanchun by her future-in-laws so that she can make a long trip south for her upcoming marriage. And in the final chapter of the novel, Jia Zheng is caught in a snow storm on the Canal and moors his boat in a deserted section of the waterway, where he has a final, emotional meeting with Jia Bao-yu.

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beauty and harmony of its geometrical design (Marco Polo compared the layout of the city to a giant chess board), diversity of its population, elegance of its imperial architecture, sophistication of its systems of administrative governance and food security, and the efficiency of its maintenance of public order. This meticulously designed city was based on geomantic and mythological principles and was considered the center of the Chinese empire.3 Wide and spacious avenues ran from north to south in straight lines, east to west, and wall to wall, creating a chess board pattern. Beijing’s central axis runs through the entire city, beginning at Qianmen (Front South Gate), continues through the Forbidden City, and ends in the Drum and Bell Towers in the north. But the grandeur of the capital largely resided in its aesthetically pleasing use of open space. The first thing visitors coming upon the city noticed were its massive and well maintained city walls which encompassed an area of fourteen square miles. While these walls were not as large as those of Nanjing, they were still impressive because they enclosed three different cities within the city itself, and were picturesquely set, unlike Nanjing’s city walls, on a plain. John Fairbank, the doyen of American sinology, has described in his autobiography his unforgettable first view of the city. He notes that well into the twentieth century, “Approaching [the city] by rail across the brown winter plain still had the emotional impact it had during the five hundred 3

Although much of the layout of Beijing was based upon typical Chinese city planning principles, the capital also had some unique design features. As Ian Johnson notes, Beijing was also viewed “as a spiritual whole. Over the city’s landmarks was traced the body of Nazha, a young god credited with taming the waters of the Beijing plain. Like an astrological figure drawn over the stars, Nazha’s eight armed body was made the basis of Beijing’s layout. His head lies in the south of the city and his feet in the north—south being the most auspicious direction and most Chinese maps pointing south, not north. His head was represented by the Zhengyang Gate, two wells inside the gate were his eyes, the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) was his brain, the pathway to the Forbidden City was his gullet. His right hand was the Chaoyang Gate, and in that hand rested the East Peak Temple. Each body part, each organ had its counterpart in the city.” Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004), pp. 102– 103. For informative histories of the city which discuss Beijing during the Qing dynasty, see Lin Yutang’s Imperial Peking (New York: Crown Books, 1961); Beijing: From Imperial Capitol to Olympic City by Lillian M. Li, Alison J. Dray-Novey, and Haili Kong (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Jasper Becker’s City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); The Search for a Vanishing Beijing: A Guide to China’s Capital Through the Ages by M.A. Aldrich (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006); Old Peking: City of the Ruler of the World, Edited by Chris Elder (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Beijing—A Concise History by Stephen G. Haw (New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2008).

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years since the city walls were built. For Beijing, until the 1960’s was the world’s most populous walled city…The crenellations, on top of the fortyfoot façade, the regular rows of bastions jutting out two bow shots apart, the sheer visual length of the walls, four miles on a side punctuated by corner towers and nine tall gates in the Northern City, five miles by two-and-a-half with seven gates in the Southern City—all this display of square, man-made strength rose clean from the plain, as yet hardly uncluttered by suburbs. There was no other sight like this in the world. The first glimpse was overwhelmingly awesome, as the builders had intended.”4 Michael Dutton has observed that traditional Chinese urban planning derives from the compound household form: “Walls within walls and, behind those walls, more walls. Here is the story of both house and city in traditional China.”5 This was especially true of Qing Beijing. As one noted historian has put it, “Walls within, walls without, enclosure nested inside enclosure, cities within cities—compartmentalization was fundamental to [Beijing’s] history and identity before the twentieth century.” 6 As a result, walls were not simply used “to keep people out, but to order those within. Beijing the city of walls was also Beijing the city of hierarchies. Different classes built different dwellings using different colors and living in different parts of the city.”7 The nineteenth century Russian writer and diplomat, E.P. Kovalevsky, who lived in the city for some time, observed that even business life in Beijing was “hidden inside the houses and shops. You do not see houses from the street: they are concealed in a labyrinth of small courtyards and not one window looks out from behind the walls of these courtyards: this is the real East, where the internal life of a person is deeply concealed from outside gazes and where the division of society into families is most clearly defined.”8 The Cao family would have probably entered the capital through the outer east gate, Dongbianmen, which was located in the Outer or Chinese city.9 They then would have been unceremoniously plunged into Beijing’s bustling and crowded street life. To get a flavor of what they would have 4 5 6

7 8

9

Chinabound: A Fifty-Year Memoir (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1983), p. 38. Streetlife China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 193. Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400–1900 by Susan Naquin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 6. This defensive and compartmentalized use of walls was apparent in 2003 during the SARS crisis when many residential and administrative sections of the capital locked connecting gates, and the city quickly became a place of vast partitioned walls. Streetlife China, p. 193. “Excerpts From E.P. Kovalevsky’s Journey to China,” Translated By Alison Dray, Papers on China, 22A (1969): p. 59. Lin Yutang, 1961, p. 37.

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seen when they first entered the capital, it is useful to quote the British diplomat George Stanton’s initial impressions of the city in 1793: Beijing exhibited, on the entrance into it, an appearance contrary to that of European cities, in which the streets are often so narrow, and the houses so lofty…Here few of the houses were higher than one story; none more than two; while the width of the street which divided them was considerably above one hundred feet. It was airy, gay, and lightsome. The street was unpaved and water sprinkled on it to keep the dust down. A light handsome building was erected across it, called by the Chinese Pailoo, which word has been translated to mean a triumphal arch. In front of most of the houses in this main street were shops painted gilt and decorated. Over some of them were broad terraces, covered with shrubs and flowers. Before the doors several lanterns were hung, of horn, muslin, silk, and paper, fixed to frames, in varying the form of which, the Chinese seemed to have exercised their fancy to the utmost…A procession was moving towards the gate, in which the white or bridal color, according to European ideas, of the persons who formed it, seemed at first to announce a marriage ceremony; but the appearance of young men overwhelmed with grief showed it to be a funeral, much more indeed than the corpse itself, which was contained in a handsome square case, shaded with a canopy, painted with gay and lively colors, and preceded by standards of variegated silks…The crowd was not a little increased by the mandarins of rank, appearing always with numerous attendants; and still more by circles of the populace around auctioneers, venders of medicine, fortune-tellers, singers, jugglers, and story-tellers, beguiling their hearers of a few of their chen or copper money, intended probably for other purposes...Tradesmen with their tools, searching for employment, and peddlers offering their wares for sale, were everywhere to be seen.”10

When the Manchus captured Beijing in 1644, they settled in the center of the city and soon kicked out around 200,000 of its previous Han Chinese residents. Consequently, Beijing consisted of three cities: the Imperial, Inner (or Tartar), and Outer. The Imperial City was majestically located in the heart of the capital. It occupied an area of nearly two square miles, had heavily guarded encircling vermillion walls that were twenty-six feet high, and contained the magnificent Forbidden City (which was the official residence of the emperor and the ritual heart of the state), as well as the Altar of Land and Grain, the Ancestral Temple, imperial workshops, beautiful lakes linked to palace canals, and lush gardens. This City was solely occupied by high ranking officials, the emperor and his wives and concubines, bondservants, and eunuchs. The Inner City, which had walls that were 14.7 miles in circumference and fourty feet high as well as nine gates, was exclusively Manchu and banner territory, and comprised the neighborhoods of Eight Banner groups, which provided key military support 10

An Authentic Account of an Embassy From the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China, Volume 2 (London: Stockdale, 1797), pp. 115–117, 118–119, 124.

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for the throne, government offices, the palatial homes of members of the Imperial family, academies, monasteries, numerous temples, the Imperial College and Confucian Temple, the Bell and Drum Towers, state granaries, and the site of the Imperial Civil Service Examination Hall. The Outer City, which covered an area of ten square miles, was where the Chinese population lived. It had less imposing walls that were thirty feet high and seven gates. This City, which was also referred to as the Chinese City, was the commercial and entertainment center of Beijing and also contained two imperial temples: the famous Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Agriculture.11 The Cao family’s new home would have been a courtyard house located at 207 Guangqumen Neidajie, in Suanshikuo in the Outer City.12 It stood on the East side of the city and faced south of Chongwen Gate, one of the three gates of the Outer City. They originally had three houses in Beijing, but these had been confiscated. While the courtyard house comfortably consisted of seventeen and half rooms, and the family still had six servants, it was still a massive change in circumstances given the family’s previous palatial dwelling in Nanjing and other residences, and former large land holdings. Beijing was during this period conspicuously a city of hierarchies where segregation, walls, and the colors of these walls precisely defined status and where distinctions between the Eight Banners groups were more visible than any other city in China. The fact that the Cao family was now living amongst the general Chinese population and in a district inhabited by individuals with 11

12

For photographs of what remains of these architecturally magnificent buildings today, see Classical Architecture of Beijing’s Dongcheng District by Dongcheng District People’s Government (Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers, 1998). Also see Beijing Walks by Don J. Cohn and Zhang Jingqing (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1992). Beijing’s precise population at this time remains unknown. It is believed that it was in the region of 2 to 3 million during the eighteenth century, and that around two-thirds of this population resided in the Inner City. Nearly 60% of this population consisted of members of banner groups. See Fighting Famine in North China: State, Market, and Environmental Decline, 1690’s-1990’s by Lillian M. Li (Stanford: Stanford University, 2007), p. 146. In 2003, the Chinese Honglou meng society announced that this courtyard house had been found. Based upon historical records, The Complete Map of the Capital in the Qianlong Reign, and four screen doors discovered inside the courtyard inscribed with the Chinese characters straight, upright, standard, and just (duan, fang, zheng, and Zhi), which some believe to have been the motto of the Cao family (and which were also used by the Jia family in the novel), an investigative committee concluded that this dwelling was the former residence of the Cao family. Incredibly, the house was later demolished to make room for a major road (Beijing Review, September 29, 2003). Interestingly, while the residence no longer exists, a very short walk south from where it was located is a long hutong that still contained numerous decaying courtyard houses from roughly the same period.

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low status occupations, and not in the coveted western section of the Inner City, where they had previosuly had houses in the Plain White Banner area near the seat of imperial power, must acutely have driven home to the family and constantly reminded them of their abrupt drop in standing and influence. Further adding to the humiliation they felt at the time was the family’s apparently cold treatment by relatives who lived in the capital.13 The house like all traditional Beijing courtyard rsidences would have consisted of a walled enclosure to ensure privacy and quietness, and several courtyards with blossoming shade trees and possibly flower beds. 14 Courtyards, from which most residents could view a full sky since most buildings in the city were only one story high, provided space for outdoor activities and light for the inner areas of the house. The Cao residence would have been constructed on a north-south plan, with the family’s living quarters in the back where they received the most exposure to the sun. Hierarchy was strictly observed in the placing of people in these rooms: starting from the left would have been the married son, then the parents, and finally the grandparents. Rooms for servants would have been located near the front gate, and a small spirit screen would have been placed behind this gate to protect the family from evils spirits who it was believed travelled in a straight line. The courtyard house the Cao’s occupied: was one of the simplest designs for Beijing, and included five main rooms in the north, the three rooms on both the east and west sides, and the south side contained a kitchen, bathroom, and perhaps a warehouse. It is true that this enclosed courtyard home was quite ample for a single family, but we must remember that the Cao’s were still banner-men and had to be treated differently from ordinary Han, even if they were convicted of criminal offenses. Moreover, living in a home outside the city walls made it clear to everyone that the political position of the Cao family had greatly declined.15

13

14

15

There was a branch of the family that had lived in Beijing for a long time and which included three older brothers of Ca Fu, but the Cao family was supposedly on bad terms with them. Moreover, considering what had happened to the Cao family, it would been natural for their Beijing relatives to avoid them during this critical period for it could have been potentially very dangerous for them to try to help. Tellingly, Honglou meng is replete with incidents where poor characters are treated badly by wealthy relatives. In the spring, if an individual climbed a pavilion or stood on one of Beijing’s hills, they would have seen a virtual forest of fine green and flowring trees since so many dwellings had trees in their courtyards. Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber by Zhou Ruchang, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark. S. Ferrara, Translated by Liangmei Bo and Kyongsook Park (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), p. 74.

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The great delights of these courtyard houses, which the family over time would have learned to appreciate like all courtyard inhabitants of Beijing, were simple and seasonal: Residents found pleasures in nature and in subtle changes of the atmosphere in their courtyards at different times of the day, before and after rain, and in diverse seasons. The changing patterns of light and shade; the buzzing of insects in the linden trees in early summer; the touch of autumn amid chrysanthemums; conversations and tea; painting and calligraphy…During warmer weather much of the family life, including meals and entertainment of guests, took place outdoors in the courtyards.16

Unlike their formal mansion in Nanjing, the numerous sounds and rhythms of the constant street life in the Outer City would have been hard to escape from in the house the family now occupied. These noises would have included the persistent cries and songs of innumerable food vendors, knife sharpeners and coal peddlers and their carts, the loud shaking of the watchman’s rattle, the steadfast movement of passersby in the hutong outside the residence, and the faint sounds of the Drum and Bell Towers.17 While being forced to live in the Outer City was a major drop in station for the Cao family, it did provide several advantages that could not be found in other parts of the capital, especially for a young, relentlessly curious, and artistically inclined individual like Cao Xueqin. For the Chinese City during the Qing dynasty peformed the important role of relieving “the cultural pressure on the Inner City…by providing extensive opportunities for temporary visits, commerce, craft production, and many forms of entertainment… In the Outer City, however, Inner City restrictions gave way to permissions both open and tacit, to a general understanding of many things that people could do…the throne maintained an underlying dominance [here], but it usually did not involve itself directly in local matters.”18 As a result, the Outer City offered many fascinating diversions and services that Cao Xueqin would have had access to which was not available in other parts of Beijing.

16

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Li, Dray-Novey, and Kong, 2007, pp. 79–80. George N. Kate’s classic work The Year’s That Were Fat: Peking 1935–1940 (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1952), gives a captivating account of the joys of traditional Beijing courtyard house living. One famous Beijing rhyme about peddlers entitled “A Pair of Baskets” states: “With a pair of baskets are provided all the small peddlers/With pole and baskets they go over the city/To sell onions, to sell garlic, to sell green vegetables/The man who beats the drum/And the other who cries: I buy objects of silver/Ohe, (who has got) head ornaments let him come and sell.” Old Peking Rhymes, Edited by Zhao Xiaoyang (Beijing: Beijing Library Press, 2006), p. 154. Li, Dray-Novey, and Kong, 2007, pp. 73, 95, 73.

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The Cao residence was in a relatively good location and near one of the city’s main gates which provided easy access to the Imperial City.19 The district in which they lived was known for making beautiful paper flowers for Manchu and Chinese women to wear fashionably in their hair. If Cao Xueqin walked from the house along the main street north to Chongwen Gate and then procceeded through a long and narrow alley to the west, he would have come after several miles to Zhengyang Gate. The area located around the main road leading to this Gate contained Beijing’s famous commercial and entertainment district.20 Densely clustered around this road (which was called Qianmenwai and was an extension of the capital’s north/south axis) were numerous restaurants, teahouses, hostels, inns, singsong houses, banks, and bordellos. The reason why Beijing’s entertainment district was located immediately outside the Imperial and Inner Cities was that establishments like shops, theaters, brothels, and restaurants were not permitted in both of these locations. One Western traveler at the time wrote this about the area: [It] is the grand emporium of all the merchandize that finds its way to the capital, and tends to ornament and gratify the adherents of the court. Here, relieved from the strict discipline that prevails in the court, the citizens give themselves up to business or dissipation; encouraged and led on by voluptuous courtiers, who have nothing to do, but display their grandeur, or please their appetites…[The district] is constantly thronged by passengers and tradesmen, Chinese shopkeepers are in the habit of advertising their wares, in long projecting signs, hung out in front of their houses, painted in the gayest colors; while the bustling crowd perpetually thronging the principal avenues, contributes to enliven and animate the scene.”21

Beijing’s famous playhouses which performed various types of Chinese opera were also located here. This would have been one of Cao Xueqin’s favorite parts of Beijing for he was fascinated by Chinese drama, which had a large influence upon his writing. When he had time off from his studies, he probably would have secretly visited this district. Nearby, in the Xuannan area south of the Xuanwu Gate was Liulichang where the city’s many wellstocked bookstores and antique stores were located. Beijing was the largest commercial publishing center in China, and had 112 publishing houses. Liulichang was especially renowned for its annual fair, when masses of 19 20

21

The house was also located less than a 15 minute walk away from Chongwen Gate. The author was able to walk to the entertainment district from where the house was originally located in a straight shot on Zhushikou Dong Dajie to Qianmen Dajie in May of 2013 in a little under 30 minutes. Cao would have known of a much shorter route using the city’s numerous hutongs (a network of narrow lanes which lie between the city’s avenues). Quoted in Elder, 1997, p.117.

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people came from around the country (as well as members of tribute missions) to purchase items such as books, antiques, and paintings. People also regularly came to this area to buy high quality paper, brushes, ink, calligraphy, rubbings, and scholarly curios. Chinese officials who served in the government but who were not allowed to dwell in the Inner City also had residences here. This entertainment and cultural district was one of the few places in the capital where banner and non-banner officials and common people would mingle, and was therefore a place of concern to the authorities who periodically attempted to limit Inner City residents from visiting the area because of its potentially corrupting influences.22 Closer to and south of the Cao family’s residence in the eastern Outer City was a popular cluster of ponds which dated back to the Jin dynasty in which goldfish were raised and then sold. People liked to stroll here during the summer. Below the ponds, and not a long walk from the Cao’s residence, was the august and austere Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) which is widely considered the most beautiful of Beijing’s temples. The extensive grounds surrounding this Temple were built in 1420, and the stunning, three-tiered, white marble, terraced altar in 1530. Every year, the emperor would visit Tiantan one day before the Winter Solstice. Across from this Temple was another imperial complex, the much smaller Temple of Agriculture. Slightly beyond Tiantan was Tianqiao (Sky Bridge), where Cao would have enjoyed acrobatic and storytelling street performers, fortune tellers, and food and craft vendors.23 Beijing in the eighteenth century was home to roughly 550 temples.24 Very close to the Cao residence was the landmark Buddhist Temple of Prosperous Peace, which was built in 1454, and further on was qing zhong hutong (The Alley of True Loyalty), that contained a temple which honored the Song dynasty General Yue Fei. Also to the west was a Chinese style Mosque, which had a plaque written by the Kangxi emperor. Some distance 22

23

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Government fears about the corrupting influence of drama were not unique to Beijing. During England’s Elizabethan period, playhouses could not be located in London itself but only in the city’s suburbs. For an idea of the kinds of street life Cao Xueqin would have seen in Beijing, see Photos and Photographs in Old Peking by the noted photographer Hedda Morrison (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). This is a rough extrapolation from Susan Naquin’s numbers for 1644 (440) and 1800 (636). See her Peking: Temples and City Life 1400–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). Naquin’s work is an exhaustive study of Beijing’s temples, their history and the various social and cultural roles they played in people’s lives. For a study of Beijing Daoist temples, see Vincent Goossaert’s The Taoists of Peking 1800–1949: A Social History of Urban Clerics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).

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south of the residence was Sleeping Buddha Temple, as well as several abandoned temples.25 Temples were one of several Qing institutions that stood between the family and the state, and provided a world outside these two groups for people to participate in. They also serveed as Honglou meng shows, a wide variety of important social functions. They were places to worship and learn, to exchange the latest gossip and political news. They were also used as lodgings, refuges for individuals in trouble or transients, and as places to hold fairs (where books and crafts could be bought), and to view entertainments like dramas. 26 Moreover, temples also served as venues for displaying art, places for poetry and discussion clubs, and even operated as libraries. Because Beijing had no public areas or park like spaces for people to congregate in, temples were used. While emperors occasionally closed down these religious centers, they did have degree of autonomy from the government and some received imperial patronage.27 25

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Zhou Ruchang has argued that these temples had a strong influence upon Cao Xueqin. See Zhou, 2009, pp. 111–112. Temples and clerics also play key social and thematic roles in Honglou meng and are used to reveal characters’ personalities. Yiquin Zhou points out that “Altogether, there are thirteen temples and fifteen clerics whose names are known and numerous passages that mention a nameless temple or cleric or an undifferentiated group of religious professionals. Named or anonymous, the ubiquitous temples and clerics play an important role in providing Honglou meng with its much admired mimetic richness and conveying its complex philosophical message.” “Temples and Clerics in Honglou meng,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 71.2 (2011): pp. 263–264. For a discussion of the temples in Beijing Cao might have visited, See Zhou, 2009, chapter 15. Another popular institution that stood between the family and the state and that the Cao family might have used was the huiguan (native-place lodges or guildhalls). These places were set up in the capital based upon regional loyalties and were where individuals from the same provinces could obtain lodging, eat together, and socialize. Huiguan also provided places for people to discuss provincial events and network. Richard Belsky notes in Localities at the Center: Native Place, Space, and Power in Late Imperial Beijing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), that “fundamentally, huiguan promoted cooperation among, facilitated the interests of, and alleviated the problems faced by people who identified themselves with localities in the provinces. Among their many functions, huiguan typically promoted social networking among compatriots, provided meeting places, offered banqueting facilities to celebrate festive occasions, and maintained altars to local deities and notable local personages so that the ritual ties to the native place might be observed and reinforced” (p. 58). Beijing had a large number of huiguan (by the end of the eighteenth century, there were 220 in the city). Most huiguan outside Beijing were for merchants, but in the capital, the majority of them were lodges for scholar officials, provincial authorities, candidates for the imperial examination, and other elites. The Cao family may have visited the huiguan for their province in order to obtain the latest political news and to establish or reestablish connections with officials they knew.

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While Beijing at that time was an immense and crowded city, the main streets were wide and spacious and the city quite walkable although distances could be far. It is easy to image a young, avidly curious Cao Xueqin, neatly clad in a full length side fastening ordinary silk gown with long and tapering sleeves, overlaid with a hip length jacket and black cloth shoes—the standard dress of Han Chinese men, excitedly exploring the capital on foot accompanied by a servant, eagerly observing, listening, storing, and immersing himself in the city’s vibrant cultural and political atmosphere and enjoying the capital’s endless, fascinating diversions. These amusements would have been wide ranging, from watching the imperial elephants being taken on their yearly trip through Beijing for their bath in the Inner City’s moat, the Mongolian merchants leading their famous long caverns of camels, and Chinese shadow shows, to attending crowded temple fairs, purchasing crickets and gourd cricket cages, building and flying kites (the city has long been China’s kite capital), strolling through the flower market which also sold the capital’s famous yellow pigeons, listening to teashop storytellers, shopping for the “Four Treasures of the Study” (paper, a writing brush, inkstick, and inkstone) and browsing for books in Liulichang, and visiting Beijing’s renowned jade retailers and workshops.28 Beijing’s special celebrations, colorful seasons, and unique customs would have presented the young Cao with an exciting variety of activities to participate in or watch, such as the Inspection Tour of the “God of the City” in the eastern section of the Chinese City, when an image of the City God is borne in a spirit chair carried by eight men accompanied by individuals dressed as demon soldiers or judges. He also would have attended the yearly temple fair at the celebrated Temple of Exalted Origin with its extremely beautiful Buddha paintings, and watched middle-aged and elderly men indulge in Beijing’s time-honored tradition of exercising their pet birds by 28

Stone imagery is pervasive in Honglou meng. While stone lore is commonly used in traditional Chinese literature (see Jing Wang’s The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin and Journey to the West (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992, for a detailed discussion), Cao Xueqin might have also developed his deep interest in this subject (he later became a painter of stones) because he was virtually surrounded by the material in Beijing for it was widely used for a variety of purposes in the capital. Virginia Stibbs Anami in her book Encounters With Ancient Beijing: Its Legacy in Trees, Stone and Water (Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 2004), documents how stone was utilized in the city’s temples, sculptures, tablets, stone halls, bridges, stone slabs (steles), paths, pagodas, Forbidden City garden rockeries, eunuch tombs, and used to depict animals, Buddhas, and dancers. In addition, there were numerous villages outside the city that were entirely made of stone. Anami believes that th capital’s extensive use of stone shows that Beijing’s heritage was based upon the special relationship between man and nature.

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letting them out of their beautifully designed cages, and the birds would briefly fly around parts of the city and then promptly return to their cages.29 Cao Xueqin would have also savored some of the culinary preferences and taken part in several of the free time activities Manchu Bannermen had brought to the city. As Jasper Becker notes: It was the Manchu bannermen rather than members of the court who gave Beijing a flavor like no other part of China. As a hereditary leisured class, they developed interests and tastes somewhere between the working class and aristocracy, which spread and created a general Beijing culture. They introduced popular dishes like dajiang mian, a noodle dish with various sauces, and sacima, a fried rice-bun, as well as slice mutton hotpots, roast Peking duck, and flat wheat-cakes. The soldiers brought with them a taste for hunting, riding, hawking, fishing, and carrying for steppe birds, pigeons and swallows, and breeding exotic creatures, tiny lapdogs and goldfish with exaggerated fins and bulging eyes. The bannermen liked all kinds of harmless boyish pastimes, which they called ‘small games,’ like cricket fighting, or collecting carved whistles to attach to tails of swallows and pigeons. They also enjoyed a low-life comedy patter routine called ‘cross-talk’ in which two characters talk at cross purposes raising laughter with verbal puns.30

One area of the Inner City Cao appears to have been well acquainted with was the Back Lakes District which is located in the western Inner City, near the Bell and Drum Towers. This area is noted for its Front Lake (Qian hai) and large Rear Lake (Hou hai). During the Qing dynasty, this district contained many palatial courtyard houses of members of the Manchu aristocracy as well as numerous beautiful pavilions, towers, and halls. Silver Ingot Bridge (Yin ding qiao) that divides the two lakes (and gets its name from its resemblance to a Chinese “shoe” ingot, which was a form of money), is noted for its sunrise view of the Western Hills. It has been argued that the 29

30

The two classic accounts of Beijing festivals and traditional daily life are The Adventures of Wu: The Life Cycle of a Peking Man by H.Y. Lowe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); and Annual Customs and Festivals in Peking by Tun Li-ch’en, translated by Derek Bodde (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1965). One way of visualizing the many inviting diversions and possibilities that Beijing would have offered a highly inquisitive boy like Cao Xueqin is to unfold a reprint of the famous map The Complete Map of the Capital During the Reign of Qianlong which is printed on 500 pages and contains the outline of every building on every street in the city, and examine the areas Cao may have visited. Becker, 2008, p. 129. To get an idea of what Manchu humor was like, see Mark C. Elliott’s translation of a zidishu (a storytelling text that was sung, unique to Beijing, and performed for banner audiences), entitled “Eating Crab.” “The “Eating Crabs” Youth Book,” in Under Confucian Eyes: Writings on Gender in Chinese History, Edited by Susan Mann and Yu-Yin Cheng (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), p. 262– 281. This funny tale concerns the relationship between a henpecked Manchu husband, his exacting Han wife, and some crustacean foes.

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Ning-guo and Rong-guo family mansions in Honglou meng were located here and that the story contains several references to this district.31 Prince Gong’s Mansion, which some scholars have argued served as the model for Daguan yuan is also located here. Cao Yin’s daughter, who married Prince Ping, lived near this Mansion. During the Ming dynasty this area was open to the public and many literati would picnic around the lakes and eunuchs wash imperial horses. During the Qing period, emperors would sometimes view in the winter imperial troops conducting maneuvers on the two lakes. Beijing, like all great capitals, would have exuded a tangible sense of power and influence, and Cao Xueqin must have closely paid attention to how power was organized and exercised in the city, for he displays in Honglou meng an easy familiarity with and comprehensive understanding of the numerous organs of government, positions in it, and how power flowed.32 31

32

The evidence for placing the mansions in this area rests upon several clues in the story. The first is a line from a poem Xue Bao-chai writes in chapter 18 which states that the dwellings are “West of imperial walls the garden lies” (SS,1, p. 367), which some have taken to mean that the mansions were located in the Houhai area. Furthermore, several scholars have claimed that a number of the places mentioned in chapter 57 of the novel are located in an area near Beijing’s Drum Tower. It has also been argued that Bao-yu’s sneaking out of the Jia mansion to go to a temple outside the city in chapter 43 shows that the dwelling was located near the city’s North Gate (Deshengmen), which was also in the Houhai area, and that Second Sister’s new house in chapter 64 is located on a hutong named huazhi which is the name of a real alley that was located 900 meters from the Drum Tower. For discussions of the relationship between Dream of the Red Chamber and Beijing, see Honglou meng yu Beijing (Honglou meng and Beijing) by Hu Wenbin (Shanxi: Shanxi Renmin Chubanshe, 2008), and Cao Xueqin yu Beijing (Cao Xueqin and Beijing) by Zeng Baoquan (Beijing: Zhongguo funu Chubanshe, 1993). Among the numerous governmental departments and official positions mentioned in Dream of the Red Chamber are: Board of Rites (chapters 53, 63, 78 and 110), Board of Punishments (100, 101, 103, 105), Board of Justice (120), Board of Civil Office (100, 101), Cabinet Office (104), Imperial Board of Astronomy (95), Council of Ministers (119), College of Physicians (42), Department of Sacrifices of the Board of Rites (53), Ministry of Works (88), Imperial Victuallers (53, 63), War Department (79), Military Provost (79), Board of Commissioners (13), Court of Censors (68), President of Court of Censors (68), Sub-Prefect by Purchase (2), Secretary in the Public Building Department of the Board of Works (8), Chief Examiner (119), Chief Secretary to the Empress (16), Commissioner of Education (85), Education Officer (71), Eunuch Chamberlain of the Household (85), Eunuch Chamberlain (104), Eunuch Chief of Security (18), Eunuch Master of the Imperial Bedchamber (16), Eunuch Chamberlain of the Da-ming Palace (13), President of the Board of Revenue (13), Captain of the Imperial Bodyguard, 5th rank, Inner Palace (13), Co-President of the Board of Commissioners (13), Chief Commissioner of Police, Metropolitan Area (14, 18), Grain Intendant for Kiangsi Province (96, 118), Privy Purse (4), Area Commander for Cheng-an (15), Minister of War (53), Commandant of the Metropolitan Barracks (4), Commander in Chief Northern

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He would have obviously obtained information about such matters from members of his family and family lore, upper class friends, and by virtue of living in the capital, where he would have been attuned to the latest street gossip and perhaps even seen some events first hand.33 On the flip side, living in the Outer City would also have directly exposed him to all manner of people of widely differing classes and occupations. These individuals would have included actors, unemployed scholars, painters, Mongol traders, Muslims, Buddhists, Lama and Daoist monks, itinerant workers, street food vendors and peddlers, tradesmen, foreigners on tribute missions, diplomats, street performers, musicians, imperial examination candidates, merchants, 34 thieves, and awestruck tourists—most of whom he would have never encountered or had very limited contract with if the confiscation had not occurred. Because he was a highly perceptive individual who also possessed a sharp eye regarding human nature, he undoubtedly was quick to discern by living in Beijing (and by undergoing what had happened to his family) the underside of Manchu rule, and the slowly festering problems that would start to appear during the reign of the next emperor, Qianlong, and continue throughout the Qing dynasty. These problems concerned the systemic court and bureaucratic corruption and vicious infighting over position, the overt royal favoritism, the clash between Manchu and the Han values in the bannermen and their, at times, problematic status, literati’s increasing dissatisfaction with traditional

33

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Provinces (4), Commissioner of the Embroidered Jackets (105), Imperial Purveyors (4, 79), Mayor of the Metropolitan Prefecture (103), Lady Secretary Imperial Palace (2), Grand Secretary (96), Senior Secretary (101), Commandant of the Haimen Coastal Region (119), Privy Councillor (95), Permanent Secretary in the Board of Works (119), Lieutenant Colonel Metropolitan Barracks (14), Sub-prefect (2), Imperial DirectorGeneral of the Nanking Secretariat (2), Undersecretary in the Board of Works (3), Grand Preceptor (103), Superintendant of Shipyards and Harbor Maintenance SoochowYangchow Area (16), Minister of Works (311), and Censorate (2). Zhou Ruchang believes that the novel’s many references to the titles of high officials “were a skillful way [for Cao Xueqin] to indirectly discuss families who [actually] worked in the Imperial Household Department” (Zhou, 2009, p. 149). We shall see in chapter 9, that Cao also had a remarkable knowledge of the ins and outs of the Qing legal system. Cao Xueqin family’s connection to the throne, and his apparent knowledge of the life of high officials and detailed knowledge of governmental organizations as shown in Honglou meng, have lead some scholars like Wang Mengyuan and Cai Yuanpei (1868– 1940) of the ‘hidden meaning school’ (suoyin), to argue that the novel is in effect a roman a clef or historical allegory based upon the private lives and political battles of the early Qing emperors. But the evidence they present for their position is highly tenuous and problematic. For whom he appears to hold in disdain as did most members of his class.

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Confucian values and lack of job opportunities, and the increasingly widening gap between social policy and practice. Beijing in the eighteenth century was home to an unusual collection of Westerners. The Jesuits established a small mission in the capital during the late Ming dynasty and by 1640 had converted several hundred members of the imperial court, including some fourty eunuchs and fifty palace women. The German Jesuit and astronomer Johann Adam Schall von Bell, who arrived in 1623 and later became close to the Shunzhi emperor, was allowed to build churches in the capital in 1640 and the 1690s. The Kangxi emperor, who was famous for his study of Western science and mathematics, enjoyed Western music, loved foreign wine, and respected Western medical practices, also developed close relationships with several Jesuits and employed some of them as advisors. In 1655, the Dutch sent a mission to Beijing and were granted permission to periodically trade with China. In addition, a “Russian House” was built in the Imperial City in 1694 so that Russian diplomats and merchants would have a place to stay while doing business. This was the first official residence for members of a European country to be constructed in Beijing. And in 1727, a permanent Russian ecclesiastical mission was also set up in the city. In response to this foreign presence, the Chinese government in 1729 created the first official office of Western studies, the Xiyong Xueyuan. There is no evidence that Cao Xueqin had contact with any of these foreigners, but he may have seen them on the streets or even been introduced to some by his well connected friends.35 But it is also clear that he had a strong interest in things Western for Honglou meng is replete with Western goods. These objects can be found in both mansions of the Jia clan and include eighteen clocks and watches (chapters 6, 14, 105), European wine (60), glass bowls imported via the great southern coastal port of Canton (3), expensive wooden furniture (3), spectacles, and a Western style painting (41). Jia Bao-yu owns an European toy ship (57) and a large dressing mirror (17), both of which would have been imported from the West. Bao-yu is also knowledgeable about snuff (52), and gives his maid Qingwen a container with 35

There were around six Jesuits stationed in Beijing during this time. While Kangxi was quite friendly with court Jesuits until he died, Yongzheng disliked them, in part because they had connections to Manchu circles at the court that were directly involved with the Succession Crisis. Consequently, many Jesuits in the provinces were deported, but the Beijing Jesuits retained their positions as technical specialists in areas like astronomy, mathematics, and as court painters. While Qianlong continued this practice of employing Jesuits to work at the court, he also ruled that Qing citizens, particularly bannermen, could not convert to Christianity. See Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579–1724 by Liam Matthew Brockey (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 175, 70–79.

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the material which has a picture of a naked Western woman on the cover to help her clear up a terrible cold (52). Furthermore, he also prescribes a Western plaster called “yi-fu na” to Qingwen for a headache (52).36 Cao Xueqin would have had knowledge of these Western items because Cao Yin, Cao Yong, and Cao Fu were involved in foreign trade as Textile Commissioners, and the family’s house in Nanjing most likely would have had some Western objects. Cao Yin in particular, had a good knowledge of Western objects since, as was mentioned in a previous chapter, he was a purchasing agent of exotica for the Kangxi emperor. Moreover, there is also strong evidence that Cao Yin had extensive contact with European traders.37 The Cao family’s interest in Western objects was not unusual for the time. In the eighteenth century, foreign goods were greatly prized by wealthy families and the Qing court. Historian Frank Dikotter has noted that the term “‘Ingenious’ or ‘exquisite’ (qiaqiao)… became inextricably linked to foreign goods and also appeared in novels of the early Qing punctuated by exotic objects.”38 While it was not uncommon for early Qing novels to mention Western products like clocks, textiles, and even cannons, Europeans rarely appeared in early Qing fiction, and when they did, they were commonly depicted in strongly negatively terms as being untrustworthy, arrogant, and

36

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Additional objects include “foreign carpet…foreign crab-apple, foreign tea, foreign silver-plated tea kettles, foreign enamel, foreign paint, a gold-plated side table with foreign cloth table cover, a foreign painted tea tray, various foreign fabrics, foreign candy, and rose perfume.” China on the Sea: How the Maritime World Shaped Modern China by Zheng Yangwen (Boston: Brill, 2012), p. 235. Spence, 1966, pp. 120–122. Zhou Ruchang has speculated that Cao Xueqin himself may have had contact with a Westerner when he was young. He writes that “Naturally businessmen from foreign countries stopped there [Nanjing] to buy silk. One such British businessman named Philip Winston came to Nanjing and soon became acquainted with Cao Fu, who invited him to a banquet in hopes of learning about Western textile production. Always a generous host, Cao Fu composed poems at the table for Mr. Winston to celebrate the occasion. In return, Winston told Bible stories and possibly tales from Shakespeare. He was an eloquent speaker and his stories were fascinating and vividly told. Qing dynasty customs forbad women and children from mixing with male company, but naughty Cao Xueqin eavesdropped on these enchanting stories and was fascinated by them. When he was discovered listening, Cao Fu grew quite angry about his aberrant behavior and continued disobedience and he had the child scolded and punished. This account of Cao Xueqin comes to us from the book Dragon’s Imperial Kingdom (1874), written by William Winston about his grandfather Philip Winston. Since our knowledge of Cao’s youth is so limited, I cite this intriguing account here because it is little known” (2009, p. 81). Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate this book. Exotic Commodities: Modern Objects and Everyday Life in China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), p. 27.

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physically unattractive.39 Dream of the Red Chamber is an exception to this rule. In chapter 52, Xue Bao-qin tells a captive audience about encountering a beautiful blond possibly Western girl in a southern seaport. The girl is presented in a favorable light and can even write passable Chinese poetry (an ability that greaty impresses Bao-qin’s audience). 40 Jiaming Han in a fascinating article on Western images in Honglou meng has argued that since Bao-yu is the character in the story most closely associated with Western objects, this connection “must be an intentional device. Baoyu is young and curious; he is tired of conventional life and wants to experience different things. He lives at a time when Western influence has just been felt by more openminded urban, upper class Chinese. Because of his alienation from conventional life, Bao-yu has an intuitive response to the West or Western objects which others lack because they are not so alienated.”41 Cao Xueqin’s 39

40

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“Cannon, Clocks and Clever Monkeys: Europeana, Europeans and Europe in Some Early Ch’ing Novels” by W.L. Idema, in Development and Decline in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Edited by E.B. Vermeer (Leiden: Brill, 1990), p. 487. Zheng Yangwen argues that the novel’s description of the girl is unclear “because it portrays a mishmash of several countries and cultures. Zhenzhen could have referred to a people in Central Asia, even though the Chinese also braid; whereas yellow or blond hair is normally associated with Europe. This pastiche of a foreign teenage girl might have come from the various foreign paintings and objects that the author Cao had been exposed to when his forefathers were at the zenith of their power. It seems unlikely that foreigners would have brought a teenage girl to China, although it is possible in the case of Central Asians…The outfit the girl wore is even more confusing: a chain-mail style jacket made with foreign brocade woven with gold thread, if translated literally. This again is a mishmash of several styles. We don’t know whether this was made in Europe or elsewhere, but we do know that foreign brocade had made its way into the Chinese market, primarily attracting women, the most important consumers of fabrics. Golden thread in clothing was a symbol of wealth and status…What is special is the so called chain-mail style, not the metal tunic we might normally picture, but possibly an overcoat with a primitive zapper and hood, a style new to China. Cotton padded jackets and coats were common but overcoats with a zipper and hood, combining the functions of a jacket and a hat, were new, and possibly in vogue” (Zheng, 2012, p. 232). “The Image of the West in A Dream of Red Mansions,” in Images of Westerners in Chinese and Western Literature, Edited by Sukehiro Hirakawa (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000), p. 51. For a detailed discussion of Western objects in the novel, see “Cong Honglou meng suoji xiyang wupin kan gushi de Beijing” (Discussions of the Western Objects in Dream of the Red Chamber) by Fang Hao, in Fang Hao luishi zidang gao (Taipei: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, 1969): 1:413–496. In addition to utilizing this Occidental discourse, Cao Xueqin in chapter 63 of Honglou meng also displays a decidedly Orientalist attitude (which is ironically somewhat similar in tone to common eighteenth century Western attitudes regarding China) towards the foreign pages (and foreign peoples on the frontiers of China) the Jia family had taken captive “by previous members of the family in their various military campaigns and later graciously bestowed

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interest in the West may also have been prompted by similar feelings of alienation, given his own intense dislike of the Chinese educational system and strong sense of being an outsider. When Cao was excitedly exploring Beijing, he would have been on his guard about crime, especially in the Chinese City with its fluctuating and generally impoverished population.42 But he also would have found Beijing a

42

on them as bond-slaves by His Imperial Majesty. They were invariably employed as grooms, being useless for any other kind of work” (SS, 3, p. 237). Most of these captives were Tartars or Tibetans. In the novel, Jia Bao-yu dresses up his maid Parfumee as a boy and gives her the foreign name of “Yelu Hunni,” saying “Yelu is an old Kitan surname and ‘Hunni’ is what the Xiong-nu used to call ourselves” (SS, 3, p. 238). In the Yang translation of the novel which relies upon a different manuscript version than Hawkes, Bao-yu initially gives her the name of “Hsiung-nu,” which literally means male slave and is a homophone for Hun. He then amends it to “a tribal name – Yali Hsiung-nu, [stating] Those are names used by the tribes who have been a scourge to China since the days of Yao and Shun, and who plagued us so much during the Tsin and Tang dynasties” (DRM, 2, 390). Bao-yu then proclaims in the Yang translation that “We’re lucky to be living now under the rule of an Emperor directly descended from the sage King Shun, an age when virtue, humanity and filial piety as vast as heaven are manifest…That’s why all the unruly barbarians who made such trouble in previous dynasties now submit to us with folded hands and bowed heads, according to Heaven’s will, without our having no resort to arms; and distant tribes have surrounded to our rule. So we should make fun of them to add to the glory of our sovereign” (DRM, 2, p. 390). Interestingly, at the same time Cao Xueqin was writing Dream of the Red Chamber, Qing officials were starting to take a more systematic study of non-Chinese frontier cultures. Laura Hostetler writes that “A careful look at the development of ethnographic texts in local gazetteers and histories from the early seventeenth to the mid eighteenth century shows that the quest for knowledge about non Chinese peoples on the empire’s internal frontiers, carried out by official representatives of the Qing state, was increasingly characterized by the rigor of direct observation and empirical method.” Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Qing China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 5. For a discussion of traditional Chinese racial attitudes see Frank Dikotter’s The Discourse of Race in Modern China (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1992), pp. 1–25. Dikotter concludes that “Chinese attitudes towards outsiders were fraught with ambivalence. On the one hand, a claim to cultural universalism led the elite to assert that the barbarian could be ‘sinicisized,’ or transformed by the beneficial influence of culture and climate. On the other hand, where their sense of cultural superiority was threatened, the elite appealed to categorical differences in nature to expell the barbarian and seal the country off from perverting influences of the outside world. In both cases, the foreigner was never faced: the myth of his inferiority could be preserved. Absorbed or expelled, he remained a nonentity” (p. 29). Officially, “All people without a justifiable cause (e.g. to sit for civil examinations, to come for trade, and to come for news of official appointments) were banished from the city.” Beijing: The Nature and Planning of A Chinese Capital City by Victor F.S. Sit (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995), p. 80. This meant that much of the Chinese City’s population was transient.

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remarkably safe and well ordered city given the times. The Inner City had 1, 219 street gates which were used to close off the capital’s more than one thousand narrow lanes at night to unknown individuals.43 There were also 753 wooden sentry boxes, and hundreds of watch posts. Each of the city’s banners had a central guard station in the Inner City, and the Chinese Army of the Green Standard had guard stations in the the Outer City. In addition to these numerous stations and gates, there were also constant, well coordinated patrols by uniformed policemen (the Inner City had an impressive ratio of one policeman to every 30 households), heavily armed with swords, knives, whips, and long poles to capture thieves around their necks.44 The capital also had a strictly regulated curfew, and “Once darkness fell in Beijing, a person of any rank needed a good reason to be walking in the streets. If anyone wished to pass a street-gate after the curfew, the private on duty referred the decision to the officer in charge of the beat. The only legitimate reasons for passing streetgates at night were errands for the emperor and important government offices, or matters of life and death.”45 The Beijing government also kept extensive, up-to-date census records of the city’s occupants and attempted to keep track them.46 While security in the Chinese City was not as tight as that of the Inner City, the capital’s overall security arrangements and maintenance of order was vastly more sophisticated and effective than those of most European or other Asian capitals.47 43

44

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The following account of Beijing’s maintenance of order and policing practices is based upon Alison Dray’s excellent article, “Spatial Order and Police in Imperial Beijing,” The Journal of Asian Studies 52.4 (1993): 885–922. Dray, 1993, pp. 897, 906. The loud sounds of the night police shaking their wooden rattles or smacking pieces of hollow bamboo together during their patrols became a comforting stable of everyday life for residents of and visitors to Beijing and was frequently mentioned in accounts of the city (and in Honglou meng). Dray, 1993, pp. 896–897. In spite of all these concerted efforts at spatial control and policing, the system was not foolproof. Chapters 111 and 112 of Honglou meng shows how easy it was for a well-organized group of thieves (with an inside connection) to enter the mansion of an upper-class family, steal goods, abduct a person, and quickly escape the city. Dray believes that the success of Beijing’s police in large part also rested on two special characteristics of the capital’s population being controlled. “First, more than half of the residents of the Inner City were tied directly, either by occupation or by family relationships, to the court or government. Second, a traditional social ethic among all the people of the city meant that each watched each other. Self-policing units such as families, clans, trade guilds, and hostels held great authority to discipline the individual, the residents of Beijing not only deferred to family or group authority, but also generalized that deference to political and governmental authority” (p. 911). Frank McLynn points out in Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England (New York: Routledge, 1989), that “At no stage in the eighteenth century did England

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One aspect of Beijing life that must have taken the Cao family time to acclimatize themselves to was the city’s at times harsh weather. The capital’s climate was in several ways quite different from that of the south. Beijing’s weather is similar to Chicago’s, having a short spring, humid and rainy summer and a cold, dry winter. The best season in the city is autumn, when its renowned bright blue skies are most apparent. But the most difficult element new residents to the city had to deal with was the capital’s infamous spring sandstorms of fine yellow dust which originates from the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia, combines with the local dust and thickly and grittily blankets and permeates everything in the city and ominously darkens the sky. The famous Jesuit Matteo Ricci has described in a late Ming dynasty journal entry how these sand and dust storms impacted upon residents’ life: Very few of the streets in Peking are paved with brick or stone, and it is difficult to say which season of the year is more objectionable for walking. The mud in winter and the dust in summer are equally obnoxious and fatiguing. As it seldom rains in this province, the surface earth dissolves into a coating of dust, which even a slight wind raises, blowing into houses, where it covers and soils nearly everything. In order to overcome this dust nuisance, they have introduced a custom which is probably unknown anywhere else. During the dust season here, nobody of any class would think of going out, either on foot or in conveyance, without wearing a long veil, falling in front from the hat, and thus sheltering the face. The material from this veil is fine enough to see through but no dust can penetrate it. It has other advantages also, namely, that one is recognized only when he wishes to be. He is saved innumerable salutes and greetings and can travel in whatever style and whatever price he pleases.48

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possess a central police authority…Consequently law enforcement was a patchwork process, carried on by a number of disparate bodies…well into the nineteenth century the state relied largely on rewards as its main weapon against crime and public disorder…The high levels of crime , totally inadequate or non-existent policing, plus the lavish rewards offered for apprehension of criminals provided the ideal breeding ground for the distinctive eighteenth century phenomenon, the thief taker” (pp. 17, 21, 22). Peter Ackroyd has observed in a comprehensive history of London, that “It became customary in the early eighteenth century for travelers into London to gather for mutual protection, beginning their perilous journey only on the sounding of a bell; at night they would also be accompanied by link boys carrying lights. The same flaring torches were necessary for journeys within the city itself... It was reported that eighteenth century London “swarms with pick-pockets, as daring as they are subtle and cunning”… it was [also] reported that “115,000 persons in London were regularly engaged in criminal pursuits”… We may surmise, therefore, that in a period of affluence and ‘conspicuous’ wealth, crimes against property were as numerous as crimes against people – and this despite the fact that the larger the crime involved in theft or cheat, the greater the possibility of being hanged.” London: The Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2000), pp. 258, 259. China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matthew Ricci: 1583–1610, Translated by Louis J. Gallagher (New York: Random House, 1953), p. 310. Qing Beijing’s widely

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The Cao family also would have had the misfortune to experience in November of 1731 a devastating earthquake. While earthquakes rarely occur in North China, when they do strike, massive damage results. This particular earthquake, which lasted for over 10 days in a series of strong tremors, destroyed large parts of Yuanming yuan (Summer Palace) and houses, buildings, and streets in the city and razed surrounding villages. More than 100,000 people were killed. In spite of the Cao family’s ongoing troubles, the young Cao Xueqin must have found living in Beijing during this particular time in history a very interesting experience. For this period was what is now called the “High Qing” era of Chinese history. During this time, China underwent an uncommonly long period of peace and prosperity. There was vigorous agricultural and economic growth, and prosperity began to spread throughout society to surprising levels. The population resumed steady growth, and a rise occurred in literacy, popular education, middle-brow culture, and a broad urban class began to expand. The country enlarged its borders, and obtained its highest attainable material progress before its confrontation with the West. For the Cao family, Beijing’s complex and important webs of connections offered possibilities to be pursued. Beijing was known as a city where fortunes constantly changed, where individuals who were previously out were suddently back in (especially when an emperor died) and political rehabilitation was not uncommon. 49 This fact must have given

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commended on muddy, unpaved, and dusty streets were certainly not unique in major capitals during this period. Stacey Schiff has given a graphic description of the streets of eighteenth century Paris, writing that they “amounted to pungent rivers of filth, their mud so acidic that it rotted through a dress or a stocking in the course of an evening...The slippery stew which was a Paris thoroughfare accounted for the city’s most singular danger. No man who had the means walked through the filth of the streets, and no man who had the means hired a driver with any respect for the individual who did. A stroll through Paris was an exercise in sulking in doorways and leaping into shops and running for one’s life so as to avoid the fate of thousands sacrificed each year to carriage wheels.” A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005), p. 46. Thomas A. Metzger has written that during the Qing period, “officials who had fully acquired the status of a criminal often later fully assumed their status as officials. In Qing times, such bouncing back into office was supposed to be blocked by two laws, but they involved loopholes or ambiguities. First, officials could be dismissed from office with the injunction ‘never to be appointed [again]’ and then reappointed through an imperial ‘favor.’ Second, an article based on the idea of excluding ‘morally deficient’ officials held that even with a pardon, an official guilty of any offense with a corrupt character could not return to office; the pardon applied only to punishments beyond his dismissal. However this article was criticized…as unclear and too severe, and in fact some officials

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the family some hope that their circumstances would eventually change for the better.

dismissed on account of ‘private offenses’ were reappointed without a pardon. Neither was an official necessarily barred from reappointment if he received a sentence of penal servitude or even actually served it.” The Internal Organization of Ch’ing Bureaucracy: Legal, Normative, and Communicative Aspects (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), pp. 262–263. Therefore, there was during this period a chance that Cao Fu could have been rehabilitated but apparently he was not, possibly owing to his status as a bondservant and because the Cao family was soon to undergo another purge.

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“Career Worms” Once the Cao family had become settled in Beijing, their attention would have become focused on Cao Xueqin and his preparations for the Imperial Civil Service Examination since he was of the age when students began the final stage of the lengthy and arduous process of preparing for it. Hopes would have been placed on Cao since Cao Fu was imprisoned and he was his son. This exam would have provided the only reliable route for restoring the family’s tarnished name and was the most popular, prestigious, and primary method during this period by which individuals could increase their (and their family’s) social status since a successful examinee was usually guaranteed a coveted official civil service appointment.1 But the fact that 1

“Entry to the examinations was open to all with the exception of the following and their immediate descendants: watchmen, executioners, yamen torturers, laborers, detectives, jailors, coroners, play actors, slaves, beggars, boat people, scavengers, musicians, and a few others.”A Scholar in Imperial China by T.C. Lai (Hong Kong: Kelly and Walsh Ltd., 1970), p. 1. Wealthy families were able, at times, to circumvent the entire examination route. For example in Honglou meng, many of the members of the Jia family have examination degrees which were purchased (which was legal) or hold titles that were inherited. In chapter 118, Aunt Li asks Lady Wang how Jia Lan and Bao-yu could take the provincial examination when they had not obtained the first degree. She is told that when “his grandfather was Grain Commissioner he bought him and Bao-yu the rank of Imperial College Student” (DRM, 3, p. 543). Lawrence Zhang has recently noted that that a substantial number of officials who had degrees entered the civil service through purchases of offices because of difficulties obtaining positions. Zhang states that “almost one in five of those holding jinshi and juren degrees opted to purchase appointmen, even those with the necessary qualifications for office placed a high value on the institution of office purchase…As far as the study of social mobility is concerned, the greatest difference between office purchase and the civil service examination is that the the former guaranteed a right to office for everyone who paid, whereas the latter merely granted the possibility of office to those who earned a degree, with those holding jinshi degrees most likely to gain an actual appointment. The presence of a large number of elites - and elites they certainly were, given that they were able to afford such offices who bought guaranteed posts for themselves or family members challenges the prevailing notion that intermittent access to official posts during the Qing was sufficient for families to maintain elite status. The opportunity to purchase offices eliminated the uncertainty inherent in the civil service examinations, and gave those with monetary resources a definite advantage in gaining positions as agents of the Qing state.” “Legacy of Success: Office Purchase and State-Elite Relations in Qing China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Stuides 73.2 (2013), pp. 294–295, 263–264. Obviously, the Cao family given their reduced circumstances, almost certainly would have had not the economic resources to

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Cao Xueqin even had to participate in this exam in the first place was another indication of the family’s greatly reduced status since they were previously able to be part of the elite culture without having to fight for position as individuals who took the exam did.2 At this stage of Cao Xueqin’s education, attention would have started to concentrate on the close study, analysis, and mastery of the structure and stylistic complexities of the notorious Octopartite Composition (zhiyi, baguwen), commonly known as the Eight Legged Essay, which formed the heart of the civil service exam.3 For the test, examinees were required to write an essay of a fixed number of words, divided into eight sections (legs) on a topic from the Four Books or Five Classics using the appropriate rhetorical devices, rubrics, and quotations. This essay had to be written within the framework of the Zheng-Zhu Neo-Confucian school of thought.4

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purchase an office for Cao Xueqin and would have been forced to simply hope that his exam results would be sufficiently high for him to obtain a a position. One reason they were able to do this was because the high positions the Cao family held were hereditarily inherited thanks to the continual support of the Kangxi emperor. Moreover, “the purchase of [metropolitan degrees] and of official positions started in 1675. [And] bondservants with sufficient funds were allowed to take advantage of this procedure to gain entrance into the regular civil bureaucracy.”The Ch’ing Imperial Household Department: A Study of its Organization and Principle Functions, 1662–1796 by Preston M. Tobert (Cambridge: Havard University Press, 1977), p. 70). Anthony Yu points out that Cao Xueqin makes a a mistake about the contents of the civil service examination in chapter 81 of the novel in the section where Jia Zheng and Jia Dai-Ru complain about Bao-yu’s fascination with poetry. “That both the father and the tutor echo each other without premeditation in calling versification a gross hindrance to academic success may surprise those readers who know something of the premodern Chinese examination system. Although it cannot be denied that the content of the various degrees since the Tang period placed overwhelming emphasis on prose annotation and exegesis of canonical classics and histories, specifically literary writings, somewhat ignominiously classified as ‘Miscellaneous Compositions (za wen),’ did have a place in the jinshi degree. Probably instituted in 681, this degree added the requirement of composing one poem (the choice varied from a twelve-line regulated verse with six end rhymes to a longer poem known as pailu, with tonal metrics and rhyme scheme serially extended) and one fu (rhyme prose or rhapsody).” Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 182. John Minford has noted interesting similarities between the rhetoric used in the Octopartite Essay and that of traditional Latin Prose Composition (see SS, 4, pp. 389–390). For an English translation of an actual late Qing dynasty (1903) Octopartite Essay, see Lai, 1970. David S. Nivision has compared the exceedingly sober tone of the Eight Legged Essay “with a sermon on a text from sacred scripture.” “Protest Against Conventions and Conventions of Protest,” in The Confucian Persuasion, Edited by Arthur F. Wright (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969), p. 194.

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To prepare for this exam, students would, like Jia Bao-yu, laboriously study piles of model examination essays as well as collections of real essays, and practice writing compositions on topics assigned by their teachers. The Chinese examination system consisted of a succession of difficult tests. The district or preliminary exams (shengyuan), which were the lowest level, were held twice every three years and conferred on the successful examinee the degree of government student. The next level was the provincial (juren—which had three main sessions: one on the Four Books, another on the Five Classics, and the third on topics relating to policy formulation), where successful candidates received the “recommended man” degree. The coveted metropolitan examination (jinshi) followed (which also consisted of three sessions), and offered the “advanced scholar” degree.5 The highest examination was the Palace exam which was held in the Hall of Preserving Harmony in the Forbidden City. The emperor himself usually oversaw this exam and high officials were readers. The top graduates of this test usually were sent to work in the prestigious Hanlin Academy, the country’s top research institute.6 If a candidate obtained the first degree, he 5

6

The three degrees have been compared, respectively, to a Western Bachelor of Arts degree, Masters degree, and a Doctoral degree. For detailed accounts of the differing examinations and their levels, see China’s Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China by Ichisada Miyazaku, translated by Conrad Schirokauer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976); Benjamin Elman’s A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); and Elman’s recent Civil Examinations and Meritocracy in Late Imperial China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013). For a comprehensive annotated bibliography of past and recent Chinese and Western writings on the exam system, see The Chinese Imperial Examination System: An Annotated Bibliography by Rui Wang (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2012). It should be pointed out that while the purpose of the exam was to provide a vast sorting mechanism by which the most competent candidates would be meritoriously selected, a wide-variety of skills were actually being tested. These series of examinations did not just gauge examinee’s knowledge of the Confucian classics and the ability to write a coherent essay since being educated in the Confucian sense was ultimately about morally being a certain type of person. Consequently, the exam was also designed to be a measure of the personal characteristics of the candidate and a test of how well-socialized they were in values that the Chinese establishment greatly prized: namely, obedience, discipline, having an excellent memory, and the ability to work hard and long. Moreover, As Iona D. Man-Cheong points out, “Although education was a process that initiated the candidate into an ideology of government service, examinations inculcated and trained him in discipline, attitudes, and behaviors. Obliged to reenact a continual repetition of preparing and sitting examinations and to reiterate the same principles in a variety of ways, the candidates were drilled into submission.” The Class of 1761: Examinations, State, and Elites in Eighteenth-Century China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), p. 22. This traditional attitude toward examinations is still present in the college

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could wear the belt and cap of a low ranking official and become a teacher or private secretary, but if he failed, he would not be considered a scholar. Failure at the intermediate level meant that a candidate would lose the chance to be an official, and an inability to pass the highest level usually meant that an individual would not receive continual promotion. The competition in these examinations was extremely intense for government quotas greatly limited the number of passing applicants at all levels. There were also special quotas set for Manchu, Mongol, and Chinese bannermen. The odds for an examinee passing the lowest level of the exam were around one in sixty, and only one in 6,000 for passing the metropolitan exam.7 We can only speculate about what Cao Xueqin was feeling during his mid and late teens, a formative and difficult period in his and anyone’s life. But it is possible to describe the various social, political, and familial influences and pressures he was almost certainly under. In addition, Honglou meng also provides some telling indications of what he was probably thinking.

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entrance examination system in East Asia today. For a short discussion of this special test culture, see Ronald Gray’s review of the book Dragon Gate: Competitive Examinations and Their Consequences by Kangmin Zeng, TESL-EJ 5.2 (2001). Benjamin Elman, “Social Roles of Literati in Early to Mid-Ch’ing,” in The Cambridge History of China, Volume 9, Part One: The Ch’ing Empire to 1800, Edited by Willard J. Peterson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 284. Elman has pointed out the problematic social implications of these numbers: “By 1700, there were perhaps 500,000 licentiates [individuals who had passed the preliminary examinations] in a total population of perhaps 200 million or a ratio of one licentiate per 400 persons. Although the ratio of licentiates to population was less competitive than in Ming times, the odds against a successfully preliminary examination examinee entitling him to an official civil appointment became more formidable. In late Ming and Qing, their status was much less special, and became a social necessity to remain a member of the elite…As population increased during the late empire, the increasing pool of potential candidates for a much more slowly expanding number of metropolitan, provincial, and local official positions (20,400 civil positions c. 1500; 24,680 c. 1625) meant that the vast majority were never appointed to a position could pose a local order problem, both in terms of unfulfilled expectations leading to rebellion or manipulation of fiscal tax exemptions from the required labor service. Officials also feared that an overproduction of [these graduates] would lead to a loss of local discipline, deviant views of literati learning, and weakening of local paternalism. There were good reasons that provincial and metropolitan examination compounds looked more like prisons than schools” (Elman, 2002, pp. 383– 384). Furthermore, as Preston Torbert notes, the odds were further stacked against bondservants who took the exam. “It is impossible know how many booi took advantage of this privilege, which was not extended to other bondservants, but the total number who passed at the highest level may have been less than half a dozen for the seventeenth and eighteenth century” (1977, p. 70).

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It is hard to adequately describe the enormous anxiety participants preparing for the civil service recruitment system felt during this time in their lives. Because it took such a long time for persons to study for these tests, family’s expectations were so high, and so much rode on passing it, and since such low numbers of individuals were successful and the line between passing and failing was so thin, these exams dominated the emotional and daily lives of candidates both young and old (individuals who had failed the exams were allowed to retake it as many times as they wanted and it was not uncommon for there to be people in their 40’s or 50’s who were still taking the tests). Benjamin Elman has argued that “Growing up as a male member of an elite family in Ming and Qing times presupposed a long-standing pattern of socialization. Adults defined childhood for millions of young men in terms of a regiment for daily examination preparation. Male anxiety and literati frustrations went hand in hand. What I call “male anxiety” was an elite and intellectual phenomenon generated by the historical experiences of men in individual and family life. Indeed, as Judith Zeitlin has noted, Ming doctors had diagnosed a particular form of emotional stasis (yu 郁), whose discernible symptoms of anxiety (siyu 思郁) they associated with failed examination candidates continually frustrated in their quest for success.”8 Complex religious and mantic arts rituals were frequently followed by examinees and their families in attempts to counter these deep feelings of anxiety and insure success. These included employing fortune tellers to discover which quotations from the Four Books would be used as topics during the exam. Fortune tellers also utilized techniques like astrological signs, fate prediction methods from the Yijing, spirit writing, geomancy, the careful study of portents in the dreams of candidates, and the use of bamboo divination sticks to find lucky years for examinees to take the test. (Conversely, individuals also employed some of these methods to discover why they failed). 9 On a private level, many candidates would visit Buddhist and Taoist temples to appeal to local deities for help. The Cao family no doubt used some of these techniques when Cao Xueqin was preparing for the exam. 8 9

Elman, 2000, p. 298. Allan Barr has observed that one way individuals dealt with exam failure was to believe that the recruitment system “functioned as an instrument of divine retribution. A rich anecdotal literature developed over the centuries which related success and failure to one’s own moral behavior, in this life or a previous life, or the conduct of one’s ancestors.” “Pu Songling and the Qing Examination System” by Allan Barr, Late Imperial China 7.1 (1986), p. 101. Also see chapter 6 of Elman, 2000, for a detailed discussion of this topic and how candidates dealt with failing the exam.

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Cao Xueqin’s personal feeling about the civil service examination system clearly comes out in Honglou meng in the character of Jia Bao-yu. Throughout most of the novel, Bao-yu is depicted as periodically raging against the exam system and the burdensome studying it required.10 Most of his complaints center on his hatred of self-serving, social climbing, and disingenuous individuals who he calls “career worms” (ludu 禄蠹), who only use the exam system to foster their naked ambition. In chapter 115, he explains to Xue Bao-chai why he believes Zhen Bao-yu to be a ludu: “He talked a lot and there was nothing the slightest bit profound or illuminating in what he said; he just sprouted on at me about “literary composition and public affairs,” and “loyalty and filial piety.” Isn’t that the way a worm talks?”11 In chapter 36, he famously tells her, “Why should a pure, sweet girl like you want to go imitating that ghastly crew of thievish, place-hunting career worms,” he would say, “bothering her head about “fame” and “reputation” and all that sort of rubbish?”12 Interestingly, Bao-yu’s objections to the examination system primarily rest upon Confucian grounds. His criticisms draw upon a sharp distinction between Confucius’s original beliefs and the imperial form it took when it was adopted by the government and soon became a tool to impose conformity and an avenue for ambitious individuals to obtain official position.13 He also points out that Confucius never endorsed in his writings the idea of a government exam system. Moreover, Bao-yu in several places in the story strongly defends the Four Books. For example, in chapter three, 10

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Bao-yu’s negative opinion about the exam system remains consistent throughout the entire novel. Even his taking of the exam at the end of the story and subsequent successful result can be read as a criticism of the system. As Zuyan Zhou correctly points out, “Baoyu’s final participation in the civil service examination has often been lamented by critics as a stigma of his ‘conformism’…In seeing Baoyu’s ‘conformism’ in this episode, however, one is blind to the fact that he takes the examination only after he resolved to retreat from the world. Hence his ‘entry’ serves as a springboard for ‘exit’; his ‘conformism’ only leads to ‘non-conformism.’ In taking the examination but declining the office, Baoyu inadvertently conveys a final note of mockery of the power structure.” Androgyny in Late Ming and Early Qing Literature (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003), p. 268. SS, 5, p. 277. SS, 3, p. 195. The novel also depicts in chapter 9 the Jia family’s clan schoolroom not as a serious place of study for the examination, but as a site for fighting and homosexual liaisons for money. The schoolboys’ bad behavior derides the importance of examination preparation and the core Confucian belief that the educational process involves the learning of the values of self-cultivation, order, and obedience. In chapter 36, Bao-yu also tells Bao-chai that the imperial form of Confucianism that she defends is based on “the ancients who had nothing better to do than coin maxims and codes to control stupid, uncouth men” (DRM, 1, p. 519).

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he maintains that “most works, apart from the Four Books, are made up.”14 In chapter 19, his maid Xiren recalls him saying that “apart from that classic on ‘manifesting bright virtue’ [The Great Learning], all the rest are trash produced by fools of old who didn’t understand the Sage.”15 And in chapter 36, it is stated that Bao-yu in a sudden rage, “going further in his anger against the ancients, burned all the Confucian classics in his possession except the Four Books.”16 This loathing of the entire examination system was not unusual in Cao Xueqin’s time. Paul Ropp has observed that examinees complained about the system “never more intensely than in the early Qing period.” 17 David Nivison in his seminal paper, “Protests Against Conventions and Conventions of Protest,” has maintained that these complaints are quite understandable given the examinee’s situation: if one had to read and imitate such essays [Eight Legged] as if one’s life depended upon it for the years needed to acquire sufficient skill to satisfy the examiners, one 14 15 16

17

DRM, 1, p. 49. DRM, 1, p. 278. DRM, 1, p. 519. One must of course be careful about blindly assuming that Bao-yu’s (who appears to have been based on two people Cao Xueqin knew) personality and opinions precisely mirrored those of Cao Xueqin’s. Martin Huang has argued that Bao-yu “is an autobiographical reconstruction of certain aspects of [Cao Xueqin], whose significance, however, can fully be understood only in the context of the representation of female characters, who are, at least, in part displacements of many aspects of the autobiographical self. In a word, Cao Xueqin displaces his autobiographical self (selves) in more than one character in the novel.” Literati and Self-Re/Presentation: Autobiographical Sensibility in the Eighteenth Century Novel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 77. Virtually all of the female characters in the novel do not understand Bao-yu’s career worms comments and rants about the civil service system. They support the system for the usual reason—that it provides an avenue for social advancement and fame. The sole exception is Lin Dai-yu, “who, ever since they were little children together, had never spoke to him about the need to ‘get on in the world’ or ‘make a name for himself’” (SS, 2, p. 195). But it should be noted that in chapter 82, she does say, much to Bao-yu’s chargin, in reference to the Eight-Legged essay, “When I was young and your kinsman Mr. Chia Yu-tsun was my tutor, I read a few essays too. Some of them showed good sense, some were quite subtle. Though I didn’t altogether understand them, I thought quite highly of them. I don’t see how you can condemn them so sweepingly” (DRM, 3, pp. 16–17). Based upon what we know about Cao from his friends and acquaintances, and what was commonly felt by many literati at the time, it does seem that Bao-yu reflects many of Cao’s beliefs about the examination system, government service and officials. It is also worth noting that in Honglou meng the more male characters are involved in the governmental system, the more corrupt they become, and frequently the least corrupt individuals are those who are outside the system. Dissent in Early Modern China: Ju-lin wai-shih and Ch’ing Social Criticism (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1981), p. 93.

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could readily imagine that ennui would soon give way to intense distaste. The necessity of finding antithesis in the theme in order to carry the essay through was particularly galling, since it was a purely formal requirement which took precedent over whatever meaning the classical passage might contain. Candidates had to be prepared to distort, or even invent, meaning in the assigned text, and had by long practice to learn this art thoroughly…[Therefore], the idea of doing away with the examinations entirely, and of filling the ranks of government servants by recommendations of “virtuous” men from below was resurrected again and again.18

Nivison also notes that much of the criticism of the examination system was done (like Bao-yu’s) from the perspective of traditional Confucian principles, but that a fundamental tension ultimately existed between the Confucian emphasis on self-cultivation and the requirements of the exam system which stressed ““profit” over “right” in [an examinees’] own personal ordering of values.” 19 He concludes that Chinese intellectual’s frequently expressed distain for both the examination and examiners was “but the exposed part of an iceberg whose bulk is the pervasive revulsion of independent-minded men against the social pressures to conform, to accept the vulgar conventions and values, to chase after the pretty tags of so-called success, to court favor with the “best” families in town. Beneath this disposition was always the conception of the Superior Man, who cannot be moved by mere things.”20 This was clearly a disposition that Cao Xueqin had. Generally speaking, the majority of the attacks against the examination system during the early Qing focused on the detrimental effects of the test and the unfair way in which it was scored. Critics held that because the exams fostered intense competition among candidates and conferred extravagant rewards on successful applicants, they fundamentally undermined traditional Confucian moral values like altruism, humility, selfcultivation, integrity, filial piety, and family unity. It was also believed that the examinations’ focus on conservative Neo-Confucian orthodoxy greatly 18 19 20

Nivison, 1960, pp. 194, 186. Nivison, 1960, p. 200. Nivison, 1960, p. 201. There are several reasons why in the face of all these criticisms, no significant change to the examination system occurred during the Qing dynasty. First of all, the government was very aware that the value of the system lay in it being the main vehicle for selecting officials. They also acutely understood that it could be used as an instrument of indoctrination, which “allowed unparalleled success in the use of normative and ritual means for control.” China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing by William T. Rowe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 33. Secondly, as often occurs in any meritocracy, once individuals have successfully passed the selection process, and become officials themselves, their objections to the system frequently disappear and they become protective of it since it enabled them to get into power, and resist changing it.

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lowered intellectual standards and had a bad influence on scholarship. Finally, it was widely contended that the examiners themselves were often inefficient, corrupt, failed to take the time to carefully read essays, and did not use a rigorous and fair criterion when assigning scores.21 This hatred of the government recruitment system was also present in several famous literary works written by authors who lived during Cao Xueqin’s time. Pu Songling 蒲松龄 (1640–1715), who repeatedly failed in his attempt to receive a second degree, and as a result was forced to work as a tutor and private secretary to wealthy families, penned several short stories which strongly criticized the examination system in his renown work Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio (聊斋志异). In these stories, Pu portrayed both examination officials and candidates as exceedingly dishonest, ignorant, and arrogant, and the selection process as arbitrary and unfair. In one tale, a ghost carps about the recruitment system in words that could have been spoken by Jia Bao-yu: “Those who are successful throughout all examinations know nothing about the historical classics. When they are young, study is only a steppingstone to an official career. Once they pass the examination and become officials they never study again. After being appointed as officials for more than ten years in taking care of official writings, even these ‘men of letters’ cannot know anything of real learning.”22 Pu’s characters can’t win even when they pass the test. In a story called “An Otherworldly Examination,” a man named Song Tao passes the metropolitan exam, but asks for leave before he takes up his post to care for his mother until she dies. On the day she passes away, he also dies.23 Pu is also noted for a biting satire he wrote that brilliantly describes the seven changes an unsuccessful examinee undergoes during the exam process. It deserves quoting in full: When he first enters the examination compound and walks along, panting under his heavy load of luggage, he is just like a beggar. Next, while undergoing the personal body search and being scolded by the clerks and shouted at by the soldiers, he is just like a prisoner. When he finally enters his cell and, along with the other candidates, stretches his neck to peer out, he is just like the larva of a bee. When the examination is finished at last and he leaves, his mind in a haze, and his legs tottering, he is just like a sick bird that has been released from a cage. While he is wondering when the results will be announced and waiting to learn whether he passed or failed, so nervous that he is startled by the rustling of the trees and the grass and is unable to sit or stand still, his restlessness is like that of a monkey on a 21 22 23

Ropp, 1981, p. 93 and Allan Barr, 1986, pp. 94–96. Quoted in Ropp, 1981, p. 99. This story can be found in pages 6–9 of John Minford’s translation of Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

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leash. When at last the results are announced and he has definitely failed, he loses his vitality like one dead, rolls over on his side, and lies there without moving, like a poisoned fly. Then, when he pulls himself together and stands up, he is provoked by every sight and sound, gradually flings away everything within his reach, and complains of the illiteracy of the examiners. When he calms down at last, he finds everything in the room broken. At this time, he is like a pigeon smashing its own precision eggs.24

The great Qing novel The Scholars 儒林外史 by Wu Jingzi 吴敬梓 (1701–1754) is famed for its protracted harsh and ironic take on the civil exam system. Wu was also a lower degree holder who repeatedly failed to pass the upper levels of the exam and had to eke out a precarious living as a writer in Nanjing and Yangzhou. According to Ropp, Wu’s acid critique “put flesh and blood on the bones of early criticisms by portraying in vividly human terms what his predecessors dryly described and lamented. He was the first to create sustained satire aimed specifically at the examination system and its creation— the Chinese intellectual elite. While humorous and occasionally even frivolous, Wu’s method raised examination criticism to a new level of educative effectiveness by making it human and believable.”25 Wu also expanded the range of previous criticisms by realistically demonstrating how the corrupting influence of the exam system itself touched even those who did not participate in it, and by cleverly exposing the hypocrisy of the examiners by having them attempt to defend it in their own words. In spite of these frequent resentments about and heated attacks on the recruitment system, most candidates eventually became grudgingly reconciled to its use. As Iona D. Man-Cheong points out: The phases of the average candidate’s examination career resembled a coming-ofage story. It began with total immersion and individual subjectification when entering the examination compound for the first time, was followed by a growing awareness and even resentment of the underlying logic of training, and, finally, reached the mature insight that acceptance of subjectification also involved negotiating the complex intersection of throne and bureaucracy, together with the cultural politics of the powerful Confucian educated elite. Even non-conformist practices that resisted or rejected mainstream thinking and behavior still operated with reference to dominant frameworks and were therefore equally bound by them.26 24

25 26

Quoted by Miyazaki, 1976, pp. 57–58. For a detailed discussion of Pu Songling and his attitude towards the civil service recruitment system, see Barr, 1986, who asserts “that Pu’s dissatisfaction with the system was accompanied or even overshadowed, by a deep sense of the omnipotence of fate” (p. 88). Ropp, 1981, p. 117. Man-Cheong, 2004, p. 22.

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But it is hard not to sense that Cao Xueqin’s loathing of the examination system and what it symbolized was more persistent and went deeper than that of what most literati felt at that time. Unlike most critics, he appears to have been deeply pessimistic about the entire exam process and made no real attempt to offer any ideas regarding its reform. Much of his dissatisfaction was of course rooted in what had happened to his family. Robert Hegel has described the intense inner conflict that Cao must have experienced: “When his family was cashiered in 1728, Cao Xueqin was deprived of any place in the political realm that had been the mantle of Confucian moral superiority; assertions of his own moral sense might necessarily have involved subverting that system which had found his family wanting. His dilemma was profound: to perform as a good Confucian when the Way did not prevail necessitated either complete withdrawal from society…or social engagement of an influential sort.”27 During the early years of Cao’s stay in Beijing, his family would have strongly pressured him to fulfill his familial responsibilities and rehabilitate their name by working within the system and participating in the examination process. He would probably have made a serious attempt to do so since it would have been very difficult for him to ignore these pressures, especially given the family’s precarious situation. Greatly complicating matters for the family was the Qing government’s changing attitude towards ethnicity and the banner system. Beginning with the Kangxi emperor, the early Qing rulers became more and more disturbed by what they saw as the rapid decline in bannermen of the traditional Manchu values of archery, horsemanship, frugality, hunting, and obedience, and native cultural practices like shamanism, martial skills, knowledge of the Manchu language, and the overall lack of banner military preparedness.28 Reports by officials complaining about the sharp pace of Manchu acculturation and the lack of martial preparedness began to be sent to the capital. An added problem was that the banner population had grown to be so large that it became unfeasible for the government to support them all. The Yongzheng emperor became so alarmed over the acculturation rate of bannermen that he instituted several banner registration reforms in an attempt to determine “who was really Manchu (or Mongol, or Chinese banner), who was originally a slave or a captive, and how many of the latter 27

28

“Unpredictability and Meaning in Ming-Qing Literati Novels,” in Paradoxes of Traditional Chinese Literature, Edited by Eva Hung (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1994), p. 162. It is interesting to note that archery practice in chapter 75 of Honglou meng becomes a guise for members of the Jia family (who are either Manchu or members of a banner group) and their upper-class friends to indulge in gambling and heavy drinking.

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were illicitly serving as soldiers, fraudulently collecting salaries to which regular bannermen were properly entitled…Because it could no longer be assumed that everyone in the banners belonged there by virtue of their descendants, it was necessary to isolate Manchu impersonators so that the court could be confident that the banner people upon which it lavished so much money were indeed descendants of the original conquest population.”29 Because of these concerns, “Manchu” as an ethnic or racial term which had been in the past ambiguous and quite flexible in meaning, began to slowly harden and the criteria for being a Manchu began to become more explicitly and rigidly defined. 30 In spite of these reforms, problems concerning the banners persisted and became so pronounced that during the early years of the Qianlong emperor’s rule (he assumed the throne in 1736), “The looming bankruptcy of the banner system—in both the literal and moral senses—was one of the most serious issues Qianlong faced in his first few decades on the throne.”31 Qianlong, like his father, strongly believed that the rate of Manchu acculturation was occurring too quickly. He also thought that the banner system as a whole was being seriously undermined by banner members’ laxity, high living, and wastefulness. As a result, he aggressively moved to shore up and standardize Manchu identity. One way he did this was to require all bannermen to submit to the court detailed genealogies, showing deaths, marriages, and adoptions, in a further attempt to investigate whether they had the requisite background to receive the numerous privileges they enjoyed as members of a banner group. Qianlong also ordered “the reregistration of Hanjun as Manchus. Traditionally, the Hanjun were also considered part of the Qianlong Manchu population, membership in a banner defined a clan as Manchu. But beginning under the Kangxi emperor, the court began changing the registration of some clans from Han banners to Manchu banners if they could 29

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The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China by Mark C. Elliott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 329. For a discussion of this new state version of Manchu ethnicity, see “The Qianlong Retrospect on the Chinese-martial (hanjun) Banners” by Pamela Kyle Crossley, Late Imperial China 10.1 (1989): 63–107. The topic of ethnicity is a controversial one in the New Qing History. Crossley’s interpretation represents one take on the topic. Mark C. Elliott offers another. In his groundbreaking book The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), Elliott argues that Manchu ethnic identity was essential a product of the Eight Banners system where different tribes of Jurchens were successfully institutionally integrated. I will discuss Crossley’s position on Manchu ethnicity in some detail because she directly applies her conclusions to the Cao family. Emperor Qianlong: Son of Heaven, Man of the World by Mark C. Elliott (New York: Longman, 2009), p. 55.

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show biological connections to banner members from Nurgan. This implies that the Hanjun affiliation extended to banner members recruited in the Ming-administered province of Liaodong was no longer considered qualification for full Manchu status. If it had been, reregistration would not have been necessary.”32 The upshot was that whereas “before the Manchu designation had absorbed Han Chinese. Now the Manchus were beginning to push some clans back into the Han category.”33 The government’s sudden interest in family histories and concern over establishing the proper identity of bannermen must have made the Cao family very worried since these inquiries could strip away advantages that the family had enjoyed for many years and potentially take away the few remaining benefits they now depended upon.34 It must also have raised some questions in their (and Cao Xueqin’s) mind regarding the precise nature of their station and possibly even their ethnicity. The noted Qing historian Pamela Kyle Crossley has attacked Jonathan Spence’s depiction of Cao Yin and his progenitors as: “balanced between” the culture of China and the culture of Manchus since the time Spence published Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor, our general ways of talking about culture have changed surprisingly little. I would not expect myself to be alone in objecting to the idea that any culture is properly described as a balance, mixture, or amalgam of two or more others. The culture of which the Cao’s were exemplars was not in its own context “between” or “hybrid.” It was a coherent one with a history and a discrete geographical contour. It may, however, have been without a future…In the lifetime of Cao Xueqin, the Qianlong court distilled the regional 32

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“Voices of Manchu Identity” by Shelly Rigger, in Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers, Edited by Stevan Harrell (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), p. 195. Rigger, 1995, p. 195. Cao Xueqin appears to allude in Honglou meng to these worries concerning imperial genealogical inquiries and how they might be interpreted. Tina Lu has noted that the emperor in the novel “is not just interested in every deed of his subjects. He also wants to know how they are related to each other. Several times, he inquires into the genealogy of the Jias…In chapter 104, after a number of Jias appear in criminal cases of varying degrees of seriousness, the novel’s emperor makes inquiries the Jia lineage, and even though Jia Zheng earlier praised the emperor’s record keeping capacities, it is clear that this confidence is at least partially misplaced. The emperor might aspire to encompass all knowledge of his subjects both past and present, yet he fails to know something as obvious as Jia Zheng’s identity as the father of his recently deceased favorite concubine, Jia Yuan-chun.” Accidental Incest, Filial Cannibalism, and Other Peculiar Encounters in Late Imperial Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), pp. 207, 208. There is some controversy over whether there was an alteration in the Cao family’s registration as Manchu because of Cao Fu’s conviction. See Crossley, 1989, p. 84, for a short discussion of and a list of writings on this topic.

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cultures of Liaodong into what it conceived as two categorical and contrasting realms, one “Chinese,” one “Manchu.” Thus “balanced between” reflects not a demonstrable amalgam of two antecedent cultures but the imposition of retrospective incoherence upon what in its own time was a coherent—though not homogenous—cultural milieu…Obscuring the terminology of the seventeenth century by calling this group “Han” or “Chinese” bannermen is like editing the word “water” from our language and permitting only “hydrogen” and “oxygen” to be used.35

While Crossley may be correct about the elastic nature of Manchu ethnicity, and some of the problems associated with characterizing a culture as a mixture or balance of several others, it is important to reiterate that the Cao family was not Chinese bannermen but bondservants of Chinese origin who were attached to a Manchu banner group and were later employed by Neiwufu. As a consequence, as we have seen, their standing was inherently problematic, extremely unstable, and wholly contingent upon the emperor’s desires. Furthermore, their high position entailed that they act, in part, as mediators between the Manchu government and local Chinese officials, gentry and merchants, and even as spies. Therefore, it would have been natural for individuals like Cao Yin and Cao Fu to feel, at times, some tension in performing their roles because of their original racial identity as Han Chinese and because they still remained technically slaves who had been captured by the Manchus several generations before. Zuyan Zhou has noted in a 2013 study of Honglou meng that “recent scholarship has brought to light [Cao Yin’s] ambivalence regarding his ethnic identity. As an elite bondservant and a member of the Manchu establishment he yet maintained a close relationship with Ming loyalists.”36 Zhou goes on to argue that Cao Yin even had “a spiritual bond with Ming loyalists [which] cannot but [have] compromised his fidelity to his Manchu master. Growing up in the late 17th century when bondservants started to be gradually relegated to the margin, Cao Yin with his biological Chinese roots, would have most likely experienced a crisis over his dubious ethnic identity. Ambivalence to his 35

36

A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 49–50. Daoist Philosophy and Literati Writings in Late Imperial China: A Case Study of The Story of the Stone (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2013), pp. 280–281. Interestingly, Spence observes that Cao Yin in his palace memorials to Kangxi “considered himself Chinese enough to refer to himself as ch’en, your official, whereas his two sons considered themselves Manchu enough to always use the term nu-ts’ai, your slave. Li Xu apparently was torn between the two; he was ch’en until 1715, both ch’en and nu-ts’ai through 1715, until the summer of 1716, after which he was always nuts’ai.” Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor, Bondservant and Master (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 223.

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bondservant identity is often believed to lie behind the numerous expressions of alienation that can be found in his poetry.”37 Moreover, these Cao family worries, the confiscation and forced move to Beijing, coupled with the government’s decreasing need of bondservants and the their problematic origins and history, would have been brought into sharp focus and they would have felt increasingly anxious, confused, and possibly conflicted over their social and cultural identity, status, and specific role in the increasingly new ethnic or racial atmosphere the government was implementing. These feelings of insecurity, marginalization, and hopelessness would have been especially pronounced in a sensitive and highly perceptive person like Cao Xueqin who must have felt that all the markers of his family’s standing and identity were being eroded over time.38 While these unsettling changes in his family’s situation were occurring, Cao would have been entering a key stage of his life when notions of personal identity are being formed. An individual’s identity is commonly 37

38

Zhou, 2013, p 281. Zhou also states that “The political alienation detectable in Cao Yin’s writings grew into bitter resentment in his grandson” (Zhou, p. 282). Huang, 1995, has surmised that the Cao family’s “unique case of racial ambiguities might be related to the seemingly confusing and sometimes contradictory ‘racial references’ in Dream of the Red Chamber. On the one hand, there are amble suggestions in the novel that the Jia family is Manchu, or at least, a family deeply influenced by Manchu culture, but, on the other hand, there are also many places where anti-Manchu sentiments are quite visible, though probably never so systematically or self consciously represented by the “allegorist” [school of Hongxue]”( p. 184.). Dore Levy maintains in an e-mail to the author that the family is clearly Han Chinese, stating “The piece of evidence I regard as most important is that when Bao-yu is introduced in chapter three, he wears his hair in a queue (‘bian’)—a hairstyle no Manchu would be caught dead affecting. The fact that any Manchu of any rank can jerk the Jia’s chain is another— consider how Jiamu is allowed to stand all day waiting for Yuan-chun, before a middlelevel eunuch informs her that the Imperial Concubine won’t arrive until after sunset; or the effect that the chamberlain of the Prince of Zhongshun (a prince unknown to Jia Zheng) makes the old man sweat when he asks for the whereabouts of Jiang Yu-han - Jia Zheng’s distress and mortification leads him to beat Bao-yu nearly to death. It gets even more obvious in the last 40 chapters, especially since events there parallel events that we have historical records of, but even if you don’t count the last 40 chapters. I feel quite sure about this. [In regards to David Hawkes’s objection that the Jia women’s feet do not appear to be bound], I think Hawkes underestimates how fast a woman can travel when her child is in danger. And remember—Chinese women were used to their bound feet, even peasants, who still worked the land and did all the housework. It may not have been efficient, but I am sure that when they needed to move, move they did” (May 27, 2005). For a detailed discussion of Manchu styles of greetings, ways of address, hairstyles, and clothing in Honglou meng, see Song Deyin’s “Honglou meng zhong de mansu chutan” (“Initial Research on Manchu Customs in Dream of the Red Chamber”), Honglou meng Xuekan 4 (1984): 269–292.

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conceived of as a composite of six influences: social (friends, organizations), economic (job, profession), ascriptive (ancestry, age), political (state, ideology), territorial (city, hometown, neighborhood), and cultural (ethnicity, nationality, clan).39 Expanding upon this, the noted psychologist Erik Erikson has posited that there are eight key stages or developmental crises that occur throughout an individual’s lifetime, and that have to be confronted or settled in order for a person to grow psychologically. His insights regarding the fifthh stage, identity vs. identity confusion, provides us with a useful tool by which we can situate Cao psychologically at this period of his life and possibly understand what he was undergoing. 40 According to Erikson, personal identity is not a set quality or entity but rather a psychological process that pushes an individual in a certain direction. During the fifth stage, which happens during adolescence, a person undergoes what Erikson has famously called an identity crisis. This “occurs in that period of the life cycle when each youth must forge for himself some central perspective and direction, some working unity, out of the effective remnants of his childhood and the hopes of his anticipated adulthood; he must detect some meaningful resemblance between what he has come to see in himself, and what his sharpened awareness tells him others judge and 39

40

See for example, chapter 2 of Samuel P. Huntington’s Who Are We? The Challenge to America’s Natural Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004). Erikson’s eight stages are: trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame, doubt; initiative vs. guilt; industry vs. inferiority; identity vs. identity confusion; intimacy vs. isolation; generativity vs. stagnation; and integrity vs. despair. It should be noted that he did not believe that the time sequence of these stages were important, that is, that one stage logically followed another, instead what was key was the way in which each stage is connected with and overlaps with other stages. Therefore, each stage is connected with other stages and there is continual movement and flow between the stages (See his The Life Cycle Completed (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1998). For discussions of his approach, see Richard Steven’s Erik Erikson: An Introduction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985) and Identity’s Architect: A Biography of Erik Erikson by Lawrence J. Friedman (New York: Scribner, 1999). One of the advantages of applying Erikson’s approach to Cao Xueqin is that Erikson does not hold that an individual simply psychologically exists in a vacuum, but is acutely aware of and carefully factors in the great influence of cultural, social structures, and historical elements upon his developmental model. This awareness can be seen in his biographies of such diverse historical figures as Martin Luther, Mohandas Gandhi (Gandhi’s Truth, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1968) and Thomas Jefferson (Dimensions of a New Identity: Jefferson Lectures 1973, New York: Norton, 1974), as well in his essays on the childhoods of Maxim Gorky and Adolph Hitler in Childhood and Society (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1963).

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expect him to be.”41 Erikson notes that during this period, adolescents are inundated with the physiological changes that are occurring within them, and think about and are frequently confused over their future roles and goals in society, and concerned with how they are perceived by others. By the end of this stage, most adolescents develop a sense of identity of who they are and what their future goals will be. The most important resolution that occurs during this period is between what one is or has become and what society believes one has become.42 Erikson is quick to grant that geniuses frequently prolong this crisis and take longer to resolve it than less gifted individuals. During this troubling phase, young people commonly have confusing feelings and ideas about how they will fit into society and often suffer from an inability to comfortably settle upon a satisfactory occupation. As a result, they frequently strive to create a balance between what they have (skills, abilities, interests) and what they can do with them (vocations). Erikson also contends that role confusion and a disinclination to commit oneself (before specific identity roles are developed) can plague an individual into their mature years.43 A central problem of traditional Chinese culture was that it frequently sent out unclear messages about the relationship between an indivdiual’s personal sense of self and others. This was in large part due to a fundamental tension in Confucianism between the emphasis on self-cultivation, personal examination, and the capacity of every person to learn to become a moral individual, and the strict way society needed to be morally ordered: that is, a conflict between the immediate inner sphere of self and human nature and the outer realm of objective, social order. 44 As a result, the traditional 41

42 43

44

Young Man Luther: A Study of Psychoanalysis and History (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1958), p. 14. Erikson, 1963, pp. 261–263. The Challenge of Youth, Edited by Eric Erikson (New York Doubleday, 1958), pp. 1–28, and Erikson: Identity and Religion by J. Eugene Wright, Jr. (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982), pp. 72–76. Benjamin Schwartz was one of the first writers to draw attention to this clash. See his widely cited article “Some Polarities in Confucian Thought,” in Confucianism in Action, Edited by David S. Nivison and Arthur F. Wright (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959): 50–62. The sinologist Lucian W. Pyle has maintained that a group of polar opposites and psychological ambivalences have long characterized Chinese culture. One of these conflicts is what Pyle calls “the tension between the ideal of self-sacrifice and that of self-advancement; between the obligation of being ready to suffer for a larger group and the need to work for the aggrandizement of a more limited group, or even one’s self...For the Chinese there is a fuzziness as to how much legitimacy the small self can claim if it is not essentially defined by the collectivity [the larger self or group

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Chinese notion of self-identity was, in the end, unsettled. For Cao Xueqin, his future occupation as a government official had already been determined by the expectations of his family and his background. The central psychological dilemma that he had to confront was reconciling his wide interests, unique gifts, deep fears about growing up, doubts over his ethnicity and cultural identity, with the rigid demands of Chinese society and his strong family obligations.45 Erikson also observes that virtually all societies grant some type of psychological moratorium or freedom for a young person when they are no longer children and before “their deeds and works count toward a future identity…The adolescent mind is essentially a mind of moratorium, a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult.”46 During this period, adolescents are allowed to experiment with identities and postpone commitment. In Imperial China, this stage roughly corresponded to the brief time (much shorter than Western moratoriums) in the teens of a male when the worse part of parental control was finally over, and some personal freedom and a delay before adulthood were granted. Frequently, Chinese males would have their first sexual contact with females, ususually prostitutes or servant girls, during this time.47 This moratorium period is clearly seen in the various escapades of Jia Bao-yu and his friends in Honglou meng. For Cao Xueqin, his moratorium must have been very short considering what had happened to his family and the pressures on him to restore their reputation. Some scholars have suggested that he had a love affair with a girl from Suzhou during this period which his family forced him to break off owing to social differences, and that he suffered several nervous breakdowns as a consequence.48 Others have contended that Cao resolutely refused to

45

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identity].” The Mandarin and the Cadre: China’s Political Cultures (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, 1988), pp. 58, 59. Lucian Miller has revealingly noted that Jia Bao-yu, like Cao Xueqin, also suffers from an identity crisis which is characterized by his “inability to face the future and look forward to a promise of a career or marriage. Bao-yu’s is a diffuse personality marked by role confusion, aimlessness, and an underlying anxiety.” “Children of the Dream: The Adolescent World of Cao Xueqin’s Honglou meng, in Chinese Views of Childhood, Edited by Anne Behnke Kinney (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995), p. 225. Erikson, 1958, p. 43. Second quote is from Erikson, 1963, p. 263. China’s Cultural Heritage: The Ch’ing Dynasty 1644–1912 by Richard J. Smith (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983), p. 219. Dore Levy has even theorized that Cao Xueqin may have suffered from attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.), a common neurological disorder characterized by hyperactivity and a reduction in the ability to self-control. Levy believes that Jia Bao-yu displays all the

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study for the civil service exam during this period and spent his time painting, reading literature, and writing poetry, or that he even briefly worked secretly as an actor in Beijing, and when his family found out, they grounded him.49 There is no persuasive evidence for any of these possibilities. In the end, it still seems credible to believe that while he had strong reservations about being pushed into a vocation and identity that he personally found distasteful, he still would have found it very difficult to ignore the powerful and demanding bonds of filial piety and obligations and the pull of societal pressures.50 If we assume that Cao took the civil service examination, he must not have passed for his name does not appear on any roster of successful candidates.51 This failure must have been a terrible blow to the Cao family and for Cao Xueqin’s self-image and induced strong feelings of guilt in him in spite of his real opinions about the exam.52 Because he lived

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classic symptoms of a person having A.D.D. and concludes based upon remarks made by several individuals who knew Cao Xueqin and commented on the composition of Honglou meng, that “we have a very suggestive portrait of a man who shared not only his past and his sensibility with his fictional hero but possibly his A.D.D. affliction as well...the parallels between Xueqin’s personality and Bao-yu’s lead irresistibly to the idea that the author may have suffered from the disorder he so unflinchingly and accurately describes in his hero.” Ideal and Actual in The Story of the Stone (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), pp. 99, 100. For brief accounts of these rumors, see On the Red Chamber Dream: A Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the XVIIIth Century by Wu Shih-Ch’ang (Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1961), pp. 120–122 and chapter 21 of Zhou Ruchang’s Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara, Translated by Liangmei Bao and Kyong Sook Park (New York: Peter Lang, 2009). Rumors that Cao Xueqin had a failed love affair which deeply hurt him have long persisted. W. Arnold Cornaby in a 1919 article on Honglou meng mentions that there were stories that Cao Xueqin later in his life “fell into disgrace from his misconduct with one of the slave girls.” “The Secret of the Red Chamber,” The New China Review 1.4 (1919), p. 331. The pressure to submit to the demands of the system was very difficult for young Chinese upper class males during the Qing dynasty to fight. Even Jia Bao-yu, who obstinately refused to enter the adult world and take up a career as an official, finally gave in and took the imperial exam in order to make “some return for Heaven’s favor and our ancestor’s virtue” (SS, 5, p. 330). Zhou Ruchang has maintained that Cao did obtain the Gongzheng degree based upon ”a recorded statement by Na Yancheng 那彥成 (1764–1833) who hated Cao. He used to say that Cao died under a window as an old Gongzheng, and that it was Cao’s evil incarnation that wrote Honglou meng. Na Yancheng was the grandson of A. Gui, a Minister during the Qianlong era” (2009, p. 148). But the fact still remains that Cao’s name does not appear on any roster of successful examinees. As the psychologist Michael Harris Bond observes, “failures of the family are especially acute in Chinese society, precisely because there are fewer personal and institutional

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in the Chinese City, he would have often encountered reminders of this failure since this was the area in Beijing where the throngs of examination candidates lived while preparing for or taking the test. Like numerous other unsuccessful candidates, he may have taken the exams several more times later in his life, but if he did, it appears he also failed during these attempts. This would be a good time to step back and briefly discuss what Cao Xueqin was possibly feeling during this period of his life when he was in his early 20’s. The prolonged and collective weight of factors like the continuing economic and psychological fallout from the confiscation, the fact his father was a criminal and in prison, the ill treatment of his family by relatives in Beijing, growing anxieties over the government’s evolving ethical criteria regarding banner members, Cao’s hatred of the examination system, the demands on him to take it, and his failure to pass, his profound dread of adulthood and its attendant responsibilities, his search for a viable occupation, and ongoing attempt to resolve his extended identity crisis—all of this must have seemed oppressive, and at times, simply unbearable. In Dream of the Red Chamber we see some of these worries expressed. It is very telling that the process of growing up in the novel is often portrayed as a deeply unsettling and troubling issue.53 Revealingly, there is a marked unwillingness among the young characters living in the garden to psychologically progress beyond the age of thirdteen—which was Cao Xueqin’s age when the Cao family’s confiscation occurred.54 When many of these characters do reach adulthood and start taking on their taxing responsibilities, their personalities frequently change and most of their futures look bleak.

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supports outside the cradle of the family. Many Chinese learn early to swallow anger and to tolerate the intolerable because they do not see how they can live outside their family of origin or marriage. Chinese culture is no place to be alone.” Beyond the Chinese Face: Insights From Psychology (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 6. Pamela Kyle Crossley contends Bao-yu’s fears about growing up and going out into the world “reflects elite discomfort with the transition from military to civil society, from a protected environment to increasing uncertainities, from prosperity to decline.” The Manchus (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1997), pp. 126–127. Huang surmises that the importance of the age of thirteen in the story “is indirectly emphasized in chapter 78, where Jia Lan is said to be thirteen. We know this is the year when the garden is searched by the servants sent by Lady Wang, an incident apparently designed to foreshadow the imminent search of the family house ordered by the imperial court and the resultant confiscation of the family estates, two tragic incidents to be described after the first 80 chapters. It is reluctance to move beyond the age of thirteen on the author’s part that results in the splitting of Baoyu’s personality into two persons, the young and the old” (1995, p. 101). Huang also points out that tellingly growing up in the novel “is always associated with parting (san), an important theme in the novel” (1995, p. 98).

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One understandable psychological consequence of all these pressures upon Cao was that he would have begun to intensely feel that he was an outsider, disenchanted and denied opportunities that in the past were simply expected. In the end, as Martin Huang has perceptively observed, Cao Xueqin “almost seems to personify marginality: as both Han Chinese and Manchu, as both master and servant, as both southerner and northerner, and as both rich and poor, the question of identity must have been a constant source of anxiety throughout Cao life.”55 There is evidence that these feelings of alienation became increasingly dominant throughout the remainder of his life. Because Cao no longer had available to him or was in rebellion against many of the traditional sources that define identity (political, economic, ascriptive, cultural) because of what happened to his family and its repercussions, he was forced to search for other ways to define himself. He found several models in earlier literary figures who had also been perennial outsiders. The first was the famous Wei-Jin dynasty (220–420) poet, and member of the celebrated Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove 竹林七贤, Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210–263). Cao’s strong attraction to Ruan can be seen in the sobriquet, Meng Ruan 梦阮 (Dreamer or admirer of Ruan Ji), that he selected for himself, and is also alluded to in several poems written by his close friends, the Dun brothers.56 Dun Cheng 敦诚 in a poem about Cao entitled “To Cao Xueqin,” wrote that “With his wages he gets drunk at the tavern; in inebriation he looks askance at the world in the manner of Ruan Ji.”57 Dun Min 敦敏 in a poem described Cao’s character thus, “In indolence, he surpasses Ji Zhongsan, in wildness he exceeds Colonel Ruan in the infantry.”58 Ruan Ji was infamous for his highly eccentric and unconventional lifestyle, iconoclastic nature, drunkenness, biting criticisms of imperial Confucianism, and strong interest in mystical Daoism. His writing style was unusually introspective for Chinese 55 56

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Huang, 1995, p. 85. Cao also nicknamed himself Shitou 石头 (stone), and “also adopted other fashionable literati styles such as “Lay Buddhist,” he might even have styled himself “KongkongDaoren 空空道人 (Empty Daoist), the name of a character (Vanitas) in Honglou meng. Equally significant are the two signature seals that he made and used for his paintings: one says “Huawai-renwan” 画外人翫 (Playful Man outside the Painting or the world), the other “Yanshi-jiutu” 燕 市 酒 徒 (Drunkard in the Market; homophonically Misanthropic Drunkard).” “Novel Ridens in Mid-Qing Fiction: Pathetic Humor in and of Honglou Meng” by Weihe Wu, Ph.D. Thesis, Washington University, 1999, p. 139. Quoted in “Chaos and the Gourd in Dream of the Red Chamber” by Zuyan Zhou, T’oung Pao 97.4–5 (2001): p. 252. Quoted in Zhou, 2001, p. 252.

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poetry, and concerns his long and anguished search for purity, truthfulness, and permanence in a hostile and politically uncertain world.59 Cao Xueqin was also taken with another well known literary outsider, the controversial Ming dynasty Neo-Confucian philosopher Li Zhi 李贽 (1527–1602). Zhou Ruchang has asserted that Cao was greatly “inspired by Li’s unorthodox scholasticism, which landed the thinker in jail,” 60 and intrigued by his theory that all natural objects in the world come into existence as a duality—an idea that went against traditional Confucian and Daoist notions. Li was a highly independent thinker whose critical writings antagonized many scholar officials, and he struggled to earn a livelihood as an official while keeping his intellectual autonomy. He placed large importance upon man’s intellectual self-sufficiency and the fundamental equality of individuals. Li also held the highly controversial opinion that everyone has the potential to be a sage but did not necessarily have to follow Confucian, Buddhist, or Daoist teachings or any set of moral practices, because he thought that the only thing that really mattered was the development of one’s own genuine moral self. His dramatic suicide in prison in 1602 was widely viewed as a statement of intellectual independence.61 Cao’s fascination with literary outsiders and marginalized individuals and the insights they can offer because of their status can also be plainly seen in Honglou meng. Characters like Grannie Liu, Leng Zi-xing, Xue Bao-qin, Jia Yu-cun, and Adamantina, who are presented in one form or another as outsiders to the Jia family, have important roles in the story because of the special perspective they bring as outsiders. 62 These roles are essentially threefold. First, they provide necessary background information about the Jia family to readers (as Leng Zi-xing and Jia Yucun do in chapter 2) so they can better understand the novel. Second, they are able to view events and situations that characters in the story who are not outsiders take for granted or fail to see with an objective perspective. For example, we are able to accurately see the layout of Daguan yuan and are exposed to the real 59

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For a good account of Ruan Ji’s life and writings, see Donald Holzman’s Poetry and Politics: The Life and works of Juan Chi (A.D. 210–263), (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976). Zhou, 2009, p. 135. For useful discussions of Li Zhi’s life and philosophy, see K.C. Hsiao’s essay in Dictionary of Ming Biography 1368–1644, Edited by L. Carrington Goodrich and Chaoying Fang, Volume 1, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), pp. 802–818, and “Hersey and Persecution in Late Ming Society: Reinterpreting the Case of Li Zhi” by Jin Jiang, Late Imperial China 22.2 (2001): 1–34. Of course, the novel’s ultimate outsiders are Jia Bao-yu and his foreordained love interest, Lin Dai-yu, who were in their previous existence, respectively, a stone and plant.

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personalities of certain characters via Grannie Liu’s eyes in chapters 6 and 41, and the majesty of the Jia Clan’s New Years formal ancestral ceremony in chapters 53 and 54 through Xue Bao-qin’s eyes. Finally, they help to propel the novel’s plot.63 A key and frequently used trope that Cao Xueqin employs which also reveals his fascination with outsiders is that of the double. Honglou meng is replete with doubles, and doubling and mirroring techniques are often utilized as structuring devices.64 Doubles in literature are usually divided into two types: manifest and latent. Manifest doubles are cases where a double looks exactly like the original person. Latent doubles are characters who share personality types but do not look alike. Several of the novel’s central characters share similar personality traits (for example, Lin Daiyu and Qingwen, Xue Bao-chai and Hsi-jen). But, the most famous example of doubles in the story is that of Jia and Zhen Bao-yu.65 The fact that Zhen Baoyu is a manifest double of Jia Bao-yu and tthat hey actually meet (in a dream and in person) makes Honglou meng unique, for manifest doubles in 63

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In chapter 6, the Stone introduces Grannie Liu by stating that “The inhabitants of the Rong mansion, if we include all of them from the highest to the humblest in our total, numbered more than three hundred souls, who produced between them a dozen or more incidents in a single day. Faced with so exuberant an abundance of material, what principle should your chronicles adopt to guide him in his selection of incidents to record? As we pondered the problem where to begin, it was suddenly solved for us by the appearance as it were out of nowhere of someone from a very humble, very insignificant household who, on the strength of a very tenuous, very remote family connection with the Jias, turned up at the Rong mansion on the very day we are about to write” (SS, 1, p. 150). Lucian Miller calls this literary technique “The outsider or indirect approach. The ‘outsider’ approach also represents a variation upon the theme of ‘true’ zhen and ‘false’ Jia. The information about the Jia household is truer when imparted by an outsider such as Leng Zi-xing than that which is given by one of the family members. Cao repeatedly indicates that that which is intuitive, indirect, and rumored, is more viable than that which is objective, direct, and declared.” Masks of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber: Myth, Mimesis, and Person (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1975), p. 284. The important point is that outsiders have a privileged status. Qiancheng Li maintains that “doubling [in Honglou meng] is more pervasive than is generally acknowledged, given the various Buddhist assumptions the author has worked with—philosophical, psychological, and typological. The novel has been appropriately called a yingshu (book of reflections or shadows).” Fictions of Enlightenment: Journey to the West, Tower of Myriad Mirrors, and Dream of the Red Chamber (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004), p. 138. See also Angelina C. Yee’s “Counterpoise in Honglou meng,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 50.2 (1990): 613–650, for an insightful analysis of how mutual complements and doubles operate in the story. Jia Bao-yu has his dream of Zhen Bao-yu in chapter 56, and they formally meet in chapter 115. There are also references to Zhen Bao-yu in chapters 2, 57, 75, 92, 93, 114, and 116.

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traditional Chinese literature are extremely rare. 66 There are numerous theories as to why Cao Xueqin created this example of a manifest double. These speculations include: that he wanted to raise some fundamental metaphysical questions about the status of the self; that he was further exploring the duality of or interplay between notions of truth and falsity, reality and illusion and showing that truth and falsity are not dialectically opposed but rather complementary elements of experience; that Cao wanted to demonstrate that everything has its counterpart or becomes its opposite; that this double was devised to help structure the story; that Zhen Bao-yu was created to further reinforce the novel’s theme of criticizing the existing Chinese political and social system; that Cao wanted to illustrate Jia Baoyu’s divided self or the battle within his superego, and that Cao Xueqin’s ultimate purpose in creating this double was to help enable Jia Bao-yu complete his long, self-interrogating, transformative journey.67 66

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There are only four examples in traditional Chinese literature of a character meeting his manifest double: in chapter 98 of Journey to the West, Tripiraka has a vision of seeing his corpse floating down a river; in chapter 10 of The Tower of Myriad Mirrors: The Supplement to Journal of the West by Tung Yueh, Monkey has a vision of himself being saved by his ‘true spirit;’ in scene 37 of the drama The Palace of Everlasting Life (Changsheng dian) by Hong Sheng, Yang Yuhuan’s spirit meets her resurrected body; and in the short story “Becoming an Immortal” from Pu Songling’s Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio, a man encounters his manifest double. It should be pointed out that doubles did not appear in Western literature until the nineteenth century. It is also curious to note that the renowned Honglou meng scholar, Yu Pingpo, believed that the scenes in the novel involving the two Bao-yus should have been deleted because they were not interesting and lacked meaning. For interesting discussions of this topic, see: “The Doubling of the Stone: The Double Motif and the True Self in Xiyou Ji and Honglou meng” by Joyce Liu, in East West Comparative Literature: Cross-Cultural Discourse, Edited by Tak-wai Wong (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 1993): 121–50; Li, 2004, pp. 138–156; Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber by Anthony C. Yu (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 159–160, 163–164; Maram Epstein’s Competing Discourses: Orthodoxy, Authenticity, and Engendered Meanings in Late Imperial Chinese Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 71; “Allegory in Hsi-Yu Chi and Hung-Lou Meng” by Andrew Plaks, in Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 192– 193; Wai-Yee Li’s Enchantment and Disenchantment: Love and Illusion in Chinese Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 226; “Self, Sexuality, and Writing in Honglou meng” by Angelina Yee, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 55.2 (2000), p. 380; The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red, Chamber ,Water Margin, and The Journey to the West by Jing Wang (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), pp. 166–167; Miller, 1975, pp. 155–180; “Myth and Psyche in Hung-lou Meng” by Ping-leung Chan, in Critical

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But there is also another way of interpreting the two Bao-yus. Dore Levy has argued that Zhen Bao-yu “represents the possibility of “If only…” and incidentally reveals that only if Jia Bao-yu had not been encumbered by his jade, or if he had not had his fundamental disability, he might not have been so interesting and sympathetic a character. Moreover, if his future had really been under his control, the pressures of his life would certainly have kept him from reaching enlightenment and blocked the reader also.”68 While her analysis is basically sound, I also think, at the risk of committing the biographical fallacy, that Cao Xueqin in large part fabricated this manifest double to psychologically explore and work out the consequences of the choices he had made in his own life. Zhen Bao-yu and Jia Bao-yu had roughly the same experiences and shared a very similar outlook regarding women and the examination system while growing up, but have ultimately come to fundamentally different conclusions about the directions they wanted their lives to take. Zhen Bao-yu has chosen to take the conventional route of social advancement, officialdom, and prestige, while Jia Bao-yu continues to strongly resist this path. Their mutually disappointing discussion in chapter 115 touches upon subjects and choices that also directly concerned Cao Xueqin during his life and about which he must have spent much time thinking.69 Jia Bao-yu’s confrontation with his manifest double is for him (as it would be for anyone) a deeply unsettling, ontologically confounding, and psychologically threatening experience because it brings to the fore core questions concerning what really constitutes his personal identity. Zhen Baoyu, who looks exactly like Jia Bao-yu, is symbolic of a potential but concrete alternative self, career path, and sensibility that Jia Bao-yu has persistently rejected. Jia Bao-yu understanding of why Zhen Bao-yu’s conventional choices are not for him helps him to further progress on his long quest for his origins and hence own sense of self.70 By precisely knowing what he is not,

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Essays on Chinese Fiction, Edited by Winston Yang and Curtis Atkins (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1980): pp. 165–179, and Lu, 2008, pp. 234–237. 1999, p. 98. Bao-yu’s heated philosophical debate with Xue Bao-Chai in chapter 118 further elaborates on the issues discussed by the two Bao-yus. Wai-Yee Li has correctly pointed out that “In his way of dealing with the world—not the world of public affairs and ambitious striving, but the garden world, the world of beauty, innocence, spontaneity, freedom, and play as symbolized by the girls and the world of nature—Bao-yu lacks a sense of boundary or an awareness of the division of self and other.” Enchantment and Disenchantment: Love and Illusion in Chinese Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 206.

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and directly confronting it in the form of a person who is his manifest double, Jia Bao-yu can more easily and clearly grasp what he is.71 It is quite possible that for Cao Xueqin the meeting between the two Bao-yus represents a psychological attempt by him to examine and deal with the choices he has made in his life as well as oppositional forms of selfhood, and to reach some sort of understanding of why it had turned out the way it did (and to further probe the topic of marginalization). By writing about an individual who encounters a potential self (the hauntingly unlived in the lived life), a self that at one juncture in his life he could very well have become if the confiscation had not occurred or if he had passed the civil examination, and about an alternative and more conventional road he might have taken if conditions or fate were different as compared to what his life now was as an outsider, Cao may have possibly obtained a better perspective 71

It is important to note that Bao-yu’s meeting with his manifest double provides the foundation for him eventually obtaining self-understanding for shortly after this encounter, he falls into a stupor, his lost jade is restored by the monk, he returns to the Land of Illusion, and finally comprehends his origins, and as a result, understands who he really is and his true self. Huang, 1995, has argued that Bao-yu “represents an alternative, a choice not to make a choice—not to be anything…In the novel he rejects almost all the traditional roles available to a literatus” (p. 104). Bao-yu throughout most of the novel makes a deliberate choice to display a willed indifference to alterative possibilities except the possibilities he lives. Using the terminology of the Danish existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, Bao-yu has an aesthetic view of life and dwells in the realm of pure poetic possibility. In this perspective, an individual is on a relentless quest for new possibilities of aesthetic immediacy and satisfaction and artifice. Bao-yu and his constant flight from boredom and valorization of possibility over actuality, avoidance of personal responsibility and commitment, and escapist fantasies (see in particular chapter 23 of Honglou meng for examples of his quest in action), clearly displays the aesthetic approach towards life. The aesthete, like Bao-yu, attempts to stop time and live in the present permanently, imaginatively creates the world in his image, and replaces reality with fantasy. Aesthetic enjoyment is obtained through experimenting with different possibilities directly or in an imaginative or reflective manner (which Bao-yu with his finely developed aesthetic intelligence is easily able to do). As a result, the self becomes a composite of evolving aesthetic possibilities and is fragmented. When Bao-yu finally reaches an understanding of his origin and nature, his sense of self becomes unified, and he moves up to the ethical view of life, where necessity and commitment rather than possibility rules. (For information on the aesthetic stage of life, seek Kierkegaard’s Either/Or: A Fragment of Life by Soren Kierkegaard, Translated by Alastair Hannay (New York: Penguin Books, 1992) and Living Poetically: Kierkegaard’s Existential Ethics by Sylvia Walsh (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania University Press, 1994), pp. 63–125.

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on, and perhaps a reconciliation with, what he has become. This may have helped in the creation of the new identity he was struggling to make.72 As Cao Xueqin proceeded through life, he began to gradually realize that his marginalized status presented certain advantages (as it did for his heroes Ruan Ji and Li Zhi) and that his position as an outsider gave him a special perspective on things as well as a stance he could use to aesthetically structure his life. Given his extensive curiosity, varied interests, impressive talents, and deep love of literature, it would have become increasingly obvious to him that writing could provide a viable avenue by which he could reconstitute his fragile sense of identity and finally align his ability with his goals. Moreover, he realized that writing could provide a refuge and solace from his many problems. On a certain level, Cao Xueqin’s decision to turn to writing as a career was not surprising. During this period, very few options existed in China for talented individuals that were not connected with the world of officialdom. Because of the country’s rapidly growing population, the rise of merchant peasant families who were aggressively using their wealth to increase their social position (in part by having their well-educated children participate in the government exams), the increasing social mobility, the professionalization of the area of scholarship, and the fact that government jobs were becoming more and more unavailable, many Qing dynasty literati were forced to reexamine their role in society and create new roles and identities so that they could remain members of the elite. Consequently, some, like Cao, took up the writing of fiction. “The novel as a 72

It can be argued that what Cao Xueqin is psychologically exploring about his life through the use of manifest doubles is similar with what Henry James is attempting to examine in his brilliant 1908 short story “The Jolly Corner.” In this tale, an American named Spencer Brydon, who has lived abroad for thirty-three years, returns to the house in New York where he grew up, and meets the ghost of what he would have been if he has stayed in the U.S. There is a large amount of debate over what this ghost symbolizes, and theories have ranged from the collective shadow of American capitalism, to Brydon’s secret economic, American, or homosexual self. But there is no doubt that the story was sparked by James’s return to America in 1904–1905 after living abroad for twenty years and his fascination with the question of what turn his life would have taken if he had remained home, and what this says about the choices he had made. The story ends on an optimistic note with the protagonist reaching some self-understanding and being told by a former love interest that the monstrous looking potential self that he encounters “isn’t no, he isn’t - you…You came to yourself.” Henry James: Seven Stories and Studies, Edited by Edward Stone (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Inc., 1961), pp. 292, 290. (This book also contains short excerpts from studies on the story). In both Cao’s and Jame’s stories, a key idea is that self- understanding (concerning the important choices one has made or circumstances have forced and their consequences) can result in some form of self-acceptance.

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narrative genre seems to have provided them [the literati] extra opportunities to explore the multiplicities of their selves at a time when some of the more sensitive minds were beginning to question the conventional concept of a viable and unified self…the increasingly ambiguous and complex sense of self-identity many literati authors were experiencing made the novel an especially welcoming medium for self-expression as well as selfrepresentation.”73 Cao Xueqin possessed an added advantage that many of these other writers did not have—the perspective of a special outsider. His sense of social and cultural distance and alienation would enable him to take a more comprehensive and highly critical view of Chinese civilization than if he remained immersed in the system. This distance also permitted him to accurately describe the at times massive gulf between social theory and practice, and the various forces that mold and constitute self-identity.74 On a personal level, Cao would also come to realize that writing would help him to deal with the impact of expectations thwarted (his examination failure (s)), the psychological fallout of what happened to his family and why it occurred, and in the end, enable him perhaps to makeup in some way for his personal shortcomings by memorializing the glories of his family’s past.75 It is not known when Cao Xueqin seriously began to write literature. He had probably started as many beginning writers at the time did with composing snippets of poetry, then progressed to drama, and finally fiction. What is clear is that he was rapidly approaching the age when he needed to find a job and assume the dreaded responsibilities of adulthood. 73

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Huang, 1995, p. 9. See also chapter 5 of Male Anxiety and Female Chastity: A Comparative Study of Chinese Ethical Values in Ming-Ching Times by Ju-k’ang Tien (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988). C.T. Hsia has argued that Honglou meng is probably the only exception to the rule that traditional Chinese novelists are not ‘modern’ enough to provide a radical critique of their society, not to say of the human condition itself. This is so because they are so firmly rooted in their tradition that they would have felt repelled by that characteristic theme of modern literature so ably defined by Lionel Trilling as ‘the disenchantment of our culture with culture itself.’ However disappointed they may be of their age and society, the scholar-novelists are nevertheless enchanted with their cultural heritage.” “The Scholar-Novelist and Chinese Culture: A Reappraisal of Ching-Hua Yuan,” in Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays, Edited by Andrew H. Plaks (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 272. Zhiyanzhai (Red Inkstone), Cao Xueqin’s close friend and an important commentator on the novel, stated that Cao discharged “all his shame, resentment or regrets in life through the stone (生惭恨).” Quoted in “Novel Ridens in Ming-Qing Fiction: Pathetic Humor in and of “Honglou Meng” by Weihe Wu, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Washington, 1999, p. 142.

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Reading and Rereadings We have a pretty good idea of what works of literature Cao Xueqin read and was influenced by. This is based upon literary allusions and books mentioned in Honglou meng, the writings he would have been exposed to as a member of a scholarly, affluent, upper-class family growing up in Nanjing and later as a literatus in Beijing, and some scattered remarks made about his reading habits by his friends.1 This chapter tries to generally list and briefly discuss some of the most important literary works that had an effect on him and show how several of them informed the special philosophy of reading he developed in Dream of the Red Chamber.2 In early Qing China, readers could purchase or borrow books from a variety of outlets: bookstores, book peddlers, bookstalls at temple fairs, small lending libraries, or if one had connections, the private collections of literati which contained valuable or rare works.3 The Chinese publishing industry during this period was roughly divided into three types: official (which printed legal statues, civil service examination records and tests, special large publication ventures like encyclopedias, dictionaries, expensive editions of scholarly works, forms needed by the bureaucracy, and literary compendiums like the famous Imperial Library of the Four Treasuries, which contained 3,547 entries in 93,556 fascicles); commercial; and private or literati. Beijing, since it was the capital, was the country’s largest official publisher. Commercial and private publishers were located largely in the lower Yangzi delta region, in cities like Nanjing, Hangzhou, Yangzhou, and Suzhou. But by the eighteenth century, Beijing had also developed a vibrant and flourishing book trade and extensive commercial printing business. The price of Chinese books was low during this time as compared to Europe. This was due to the low production costs and portability of woodblock

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In this chapter I shall concentrate on the influence of novels, short stories, philosophical and historical works upon Cao. The next chapter will take up the topic of drama, and chapter 10, poetry. This list is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to give the reader a very general idea of the range, types, and contents of works that Cao Xueqin read and was affected by. A Social History of the Chinese Book: Books and Literati Culture in Late Imperial China by Joseph P. McDermott (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006), pp. 94–104. McDermott’s book provides a fascinating account of book collecting and the circulation of texts in late imperial China.

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printing.4 The major advantage of woodblock printing was its simplicity, for “this method incurred almost no capital costs. There were no foundries for casting type, no machines for printing or binding. The tools could be packed up and carried on a workman’s back, and the major costs were raw materials (paper, ink, woodblocks) and labor. Woodblock printing could begin on a shoestring, without large printings.” 5 Because of low cost and ease of publication, a publishing boom occurred during the Qing dynasty. This surge, which was greater than any previous period in Chinese history, resulted in commercial woodblock printing spreading to all areas of China, an expansion in the types and topics of books being published, and the greater availability of publications to members of the lower-classes and women. Cao Xueqin, when he was living in Nanjing, would have obtained his books from such sources as temple fairs, the city’s numerous bookstores which were located on Three Mountains Street,6 Cao Yin’s library, and received them as gifts since book giving was a common practice in upper-class families. (Like Jia Bao-yu, he also may have secretly acquired forbidden books from an enterprising family servant). When he came to Beijing, the capital’s numerous temple fairs (where books were displayed on a mat or cloth on the ground) would have been convenient place for purchasing books as well as book peddlers near the family’s home.7 These peddlers would have been very easy to find in the Chinese City when the government exams were being held since many of them travelled to Beijing to sell their wares specifically for this occasion. But Cao’s biggest source for books would have been the the Liulichang area in the Outer City, where most of the capital’s bookstores were located and which had over 100 print shops, which was not far away from the Cao home. Friends, like the Dun Brothers, would also have provided or exchanged books with him. For difficult to find or valuable books, Cao might have had access to the libraries of relatives or literati who were friends. (And if 4

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See chapter 1 of Kai-Wing Chow’s Publishing, Culture, and Power in Early Modern China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004) for a discussion of Chinese book prices and production costs. “Economic and Social Foundations of Late Imperial China” by Evelyn S. Rawksi, in Popular Culture in Late Imperial China, Edited by David Johnson, Andrew J. Nathan, and Evelyn S. Rawski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 17. For a detailed discussion of Nanjing’s famous book trade market and culture, see Lucille Chia’s “Of Three Mountain Street: The Commercial Publishers of Ming Nanjing,” in Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial China, Edited by Cynthia J. Brokaw and Kai-wing Chow (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), pp. 107–151. Some publishers even had wholesale outlets in the courtyards of temples, “where the larger booksellers sold books to travelers and merchants from other provinces” (McDermott, 2006, pp. 102–103).

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it is true that the Cao family had transported Cao Yin’s massive library to Beijing, he may have offered admission to it to other literati in exchange for acess to their special collections).8 It is clear from Honglou meng that Cao Xueqin, even for a literatus, was extremely well-read. Books must have been a deep source of comfort and escape for him during his trying times. The psychologist Vera John-Steiner has observed in a study of highly creative individuals that during what she calls their lengthy and varied “apprenticeship” phase, these people frequently become involved “with teachers from the past.”9 For Cao, because of the turmoil in his family, the absence of his father, and the tremendous pressures his family was placing upon him, it is quite likely that he had trouble finding an individual to serve as his mentor. Therefore, he most likely would have turned to writers from the past to be his guide. Cao Xueqin had a great faith in the power of active, critical, and informed reading. Books play a very important role in Dream of the Red Chamber, where they are read out loud (chapter 23), parodied and imitated (22), secretly purchased (23), often quoted from (22), carefully hidden (23), burned (36), spilt on (9), have scenes from them performed (publically and privately), and ordered stored away because their purpose has been served (118). The consumption of works of fiction, poetry, philosophy, drama, history and the creation of poetry, are important, often personality revealing activities. Moreover, Cao nicely captures in the story the joys and excitement of reading books: in chapter 23 when Bao-yu and Dai-yu first read the famous play Romance of the Western Chamber, in the novel’s detailed descriptions of the numerous poetry meetings and discussions, and in the quiet scenes when Baoyu and Dai-yu are privately reading works from their personal library. In terms of his own readings, Cao Xueqin would of course have been first of all well acquainted with the three classic Chinese novels: Outlaws of the Marsh 水浒传 by Shi Naian, Journey to the West 西游记 by Wu Chengen (1506?-1582?), and Luo Guanzhong’s (c.1330-c.1400) The Three Kingdoms 三国演义. He would have read and reread these three works, watched many plays based upon them, and listened to storytellers relating scenes from these novels. Of the three, Outlaws of the Marsh appears to have had the greatest impact upon Cao’s writing of Honglou meng. 8

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McDermott notes that gaining entry to the private book collections of literati was extremely difficult during this period and that “Probably the most effective, and certainly the most commonly adopted, currency a collector could use to gain admission to another’s collection was his own book collection” (2006, p. 153). Once a bibliophile was able to borrow a book from a special collection, it was then frequently copied by hand. Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), p. 207.

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Commentators have pointed out that the two novels are both thematically and structurally similar, and in both of the stories there is a close juxtaposition between the celestial world and the temporal world.10 Some scholars have also maintained that Honglou meng’s beautiful, talented, and charming heroines are based upon Outlaws of the Marsh’s renown 108 heroes, and that Bao-yu is loosely patterned after the outlaw leader Song Jiang because they are both immortals who have been sent to earth. It has also been pointed out that dreams occupy an important place in both novels. In Outlaws of the Marsh, dreams “create and reinforce the psychological, philosophical, religious and aesthetic complexities of the novel. These conclusions equally apply to the Dream of the Red Chamber, though in a far more intense and aesthetically gratifying manner.”11 Zhou Ruchang has contended that Cao Xueqin intended the thematic structure of Honglou meng to be an elegant and clear antithesis to that of Outlaws of the Marsh because the theme of Shui zhuan is encapsulated in the phrase lulin haohan (heroes of the greenwood), and the theme of Honglou meng is hongfen yingxiong (heroines of red rouge), and both of these two four-character phrases are precisely antithetical to each other.12 According to Ellen Widmer, there are also some notable similarities between Outlaws of the Marsh’s utopia and Daguan yuan. “For, like Outlaws of the Marsh, Dream of the Red Chamber overlaps dreaming and gathering to assemble certain special characters in this special garden, which is a little different from and at first, a little happier than the rest of the world. As in Outlaws of the Marsh, one point of distinction between the special place and the rest of the world is that it is cleaner.”13 Widmer also believes that the novels are similar in the way they portray their authors. Honglou meng, in depicting “its author as wretched and regretful, anchors its dream outside of 10

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See “Dream Encounters and Intimations of Transcendence: Water Margin’s Influence on Dream of the Red Chamber” by Yenna Wu, Selected Papers of the 1997 Southwest Conference on Asian Studies (Fall 1998): 11–27; The Margins of Utopia: Shui-hu houchuan and the Literature of Ming Loyalism by Ellen Widmer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 174–177; The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, and The Journey to the West by Jing Wang (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992) pp. 96–97; and Zhou Ruchang’s Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara, translated by Liangmei Bao and Kyongsook Park (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), pp. 103–104. Wu, 1998, p. 17. “Cong Yijing dao Honglou meng,” Xuexi yu tansuo (Study and Exploration) (Haerbin: Xuexi yu tansuo zazhishe, 1994), 3: 105–108. Widmer, 1987, p. 174.

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fantasy in the still more real world of the author’s pain, just as Outlaws of the Marsh does.”14 Finally, Hu Shi and Yu Pingbo have claimed that Honglou meng’s missing final chapter which is thought to have contained the Fairy Disenchantment’s Roster of Lovers (情榜) that divided (according to Red Inkstone) sixty of the novel’s female characters into five groups of twelve, and rated them according to the type of love they represented, was largely based upon the “stone tablet” in the final chapter of Outlaws of the Marsh.15 Journey to the West’s Buddhist structure, motif of life as a journey, and trope of the monkey almost certainly had some influence on Cao’s work. Jing Wang has stated that both novels utilize the “myth of the magic stone: one assumes the shape of a stone egg; the other, that of an engraved precious stone. Both attain enlightenment at their journey’s end.”16 It has also been suggested that it was actually Done Yue’s 1640 sequel to Journey to the West, Tower of Myriad Flowers 西域補 that had an important influence on Dream of the Red Chamber. According to Yenna Wu, Honglou meng’s paradoxical theme “that although love and desire produce illusion, it is only through love and desire that one can transcend illusion [and] the need to go through se (form) and qing (feeling, love) in order to reach kong (emptiness),”17 is explicitly emphasized in the appendix of this short novel.18 14

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Widmer, 1987, p. 175. Widmer is careful to note that she is not claiming that Cao Xueqin “knew of or took anything directly from Outlaws of the Marsh, for the similarities between it and Dream of the Red Chamber are more plausibly attributed to the large common denominators that attach themselves to all ‘literati novels’ or in the common debts to Shui-hu ” (pp. 175–176). “Ba Qianlong Gengchen-Ben Zhiyanzhai Chongping Shitouji Chaoben,” in Hu Shi Wen cun (Hu Shi’s Collected Works), 4 volumes (Taipei: Yuandong tushu gongsu, 1961), Volume IV, p. 405, and Honglou meng Yanjiu by Yu Pingbo (Beijing: Tangdi Chubanshe, n.d.), p. 226. Sidney Shapiro’s three-volume English translation of Shuihuzhuan (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1993) does not contain the stone tablet list, but it can be found in Pearl S. Buck’s truncated 70 chapter edition translation, All Men Are Brothers (New York: The Heritage Press, 1937), pp. 682–685. In an intriquing newspaper article, “Honglou meng qingbang yuanyuan lun” Jinwan bao (Tonight Newspaper), October 8, 1987, Zhou Ruchang has claimed that the roster is based upon the Ming dynasty writer Feng Menglong’s 冯梦龙 (1574–1646) anthology of love stories called Love Stories 情 事. This collection consists of 24 chapters, with each chapter focusing on a specific type of qing (love, affection, emotion). These types include passion, chastity, regrettable love, infatuation, and conjugal destiny. Feng and the important topic of qing will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter. Wang, 1922, p. 97. Wu, 1998, p. 19. See p. 134 of Shuen-fu Lin and Larry J. Schulz’s English translation of this novel (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2000) for the relevant section. In regards to the influence

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In addition to these famous three classic novels, there is another long and extremely controversial work of traditional Chinese fiction that scholars have increasingly argued had an enormous influence upon Cao Xueqin: The Plum in the Golden Vase (popularly known as Jin Ping Mei) 金瓶梅. Banned as pornography because of its graphic depiction of sexuality during the Qing dynasty, this 100 chapter Ming dynasty novel graphically details the rise and sudden fall of a very corrupt and ambitious Shandong province merchant named Xinmen Qing. In the last thirty years, this novel has begun to receive serious scholarly attention in the West (and China) and is now widely considered one of China’s greatest traditional novels.19 This research has clearly shown that Jin Ping Mei’s organizational scheme (chapter structure, structuring techniques, complex binary symmetry, and open textuality), themes (the belief that sensory pleasures and beauty are ephemeral and that the boundaries between truth and illusion false), writing techniques (character description and depiction, and the assigning of names), and philosophy (concerning qing and notions of Neo-Confucian self-cultivation), all had a substantial impact upon Cao Xueqin’s writing.20

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of the third classic novel, The Three Kingdoms, Zhou Ruchang has stated that Cao Xueqin wrote Honglou meng in negative reaction to this work (and others like it) for “Cao felt it unnecessary to repeat these stories of kings, marshals, robbers, or heroes, and he strongly believed that there was one group of exceptional individuals who had been long neglected by Chinese writers: talented women” (Zhou, 2009, p. 104). Strangely, Jin Ping Mei is still officially banned in mainland China because of its explicit sexual imagery. While it is easy to find studies, dictionaries, and encyclopedias on the novel, in bookstores and libraries, no complete copies of the novel can be found. Copies which have been printed in Taiwan or Hong Kong are sometimes sold under the counter in used bookstores and the novel is available to high government officials and scholars. But it is also easily downloadable on Chinese Internet sites. Mary Scott’s Ph.D Thesis, “Azure From Indigo: Hong lou meng’s Debt to Jin Ping Mei,” Princeton University, 1989, is the best analysis in English on this topic. See also Katherine Carlitz’s The Rhetoric of Chin ping mei (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Obscene Things: Sexual Politics in Jin Ping Mei by Naifei Ding (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002); and The Jin Ping Mei and the Non-Linear Dimensions of the Traditional Chinese Novel by Peter H. Rushton (Lewiston: Mellen University Press, 1994). Ming Dong Gu has in several publications examined the strikingly modernistic elements (open textuality, use of shifting, multivarent visions and transformative language, avoidance of a fixed ideology, and emphasis on paradox) in Jin Ping Mei. While Gu does not make any direct comparisons between these features and those in Honglou meng, it can be argued that many of the modernistic features in Jin Ping Mei can also be found in Cao’s work. See Gu’s “The Art of the Jin Ping Mei: Poetics of Pure Fiction” in Chinese Theories of Fiction: A Non-Narrative System (Albany: State University of New York, 2007), pp. 125–152, and “Paradox of Vision and Poetics of Paradox: Ideology and Form in the Jin Ping Mei,” Journal of Oriental Studies 37.2 (1999): 175–203. Zhiyanzhai in four different sections in his commentary explicitly

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Mary Scott, who has written a comprehensive study of Dream of the Red Chamber’s debt to Jin Ping Mei, has concluded that: Jin Ping Mei clearly played a role in almost every aspect of Honglou meng’s conceptualization, beginning with Honglou meng’s author’s original choice of a similar domestic subject—the rise and fall of a great house—rather than a heroic or fantastic one. Honglou meng also owes to Jin Ping Mei much of the conception and presentation of its characters, both as individuals, especially what we might call the geometry of their presentation; the order in which they are introduced, the primacy given to the triangle of emotion that links the male protagonist with the two female protagonists…and the ways in which some of the primary characterizations are enriched by a number of echoing and contrasting secondary characters…[both novels] have in common a distinctive kind of bilateral symmetry which reflects the traditional Chinese conception of this larger pattern of inevitability as bipolar and complementary. Both novels, for example, are built around the opposing but intertwined imagery of heat and cold to express the family’s fortunes…At the same time, both novels show through the pageant of their characters’ fortunes how sensory pleasures are ultimately transient and empty—a process tersely summed up in the traditionally paired and complementary concepts se kong…Another traditional bipolar conceptual pair, jia zhen, “illusion and reality,” is enacted in both novels through the image of false and travestied kinship relations, prominently including incest, which epitomize the distortion of proper human relations caused by wealth and power…The working out of these various bipolar conceptions in the actual construction [of both stories] is reflected in their frequent allusions to and excerpts from the traditional theater…At the same time, the interlocking ideas of heat and cold, jia zhen, se kong are embedded in both novels in the unifying image of the family garden, whose progress from splendor to decay provides a haunting counterpoint to the family’s rise and and fall. Both the garden and the theatrical stage are metonyms for the whole world.21

Scott also shows that several important scenes in Honglou meng, like the death of and elaborate funeral for Qin Keqing in chapters 10–14, were directly based upon similar scenes in chapters 60–63 of Jin Ping Mei. She also indicates that the endings of both of the novels are remarkably alike. “Baoyu’s transformation from the Jia’s pampered heir to a confused and

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compares passages in Honglou meng with those in Jin Ping Mei. Some early commentators on Cao’s novel did notice some similarities between his work and The Plum in the Golden Vase. For example, the nineteenth century scholar Zhang Xinshi argued that Dream of the Red Chamber grew “out of Journey to the West, takes a trail blazed by Jin Ping Mei, and takes its spirit from Outlaws of the Marsh.” “Chang Hsinchih on How to read the Hung-lou-meng,” Translated by Andrew Plaks, in How to Read the Chinese Novel, Edited by David Rolston (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 327. Nevertheless, some older Chinese Honglou meng scholars have strongly resisted these comparisons, most prominently, Zhou Ruchang, who has insisted that Jin Ping Mei is nothing more than a pornographic novel. Scott, 1989, pp. 299, 300, 301.

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disillusioned monk-wanderer strongly resembles Xiao ge’s departure from the Ximen family to become a monk: in both, the ultimate bad consequences of license in intrafamilial sexuality and social life in general having been made plain, they are renounced in favor of a re-affirmation of xiao, “filial piety,” acquiescence in the natural hierarchy of authority. Yet in both novels this reassertion of the primacy of xiao is undercut by the ultimate futility of the protagonist’s filial gesture, which can do nothing to revive the family’s fortunes.”22 Furthermore, it is also highly likely that Cao read a famous commentary on The Plum in the Golden Vase and that this commentary strongly informed the way he wrote Honglou meng. Beginning in the Ming dynasty, the exegetical form that was used to explain the Confucian classics to students was expanded to include drama and vernacular fiction. These commentaries started to appear in large numbers during the late Ming dynasty, and by Cao’s time, were a key part of nearly every published edition of famous vernacular fiction. According to David Rolston, who has made a detailed study of Chinese fiction commentary, almost all of these works were xiaoshuo pingdian (commenting on and punctuating fiction) commentaries. Rolston notes that “This kind of commentary is concerned less with helping the reader understand the “letter’ of the text than with drawing the reader’s attention to its notable aspects through emphatic punctuation (quandian—similar to our underlining, italics, or highlighting) and evaluative comments (piping). A pingdian commentary is in essence a record of the commentator’s personal reactions.”23 Comments were placed in the upper margin outside the lines surrounding the text as well as in the area between the vertical columns of Chinese characters. Pingdian could be amazingly extensive. Rolston observes that “fully developed commentaries included as many as fifteen prefatory essays and charts, chapter comments before and after each chapter (sometimes both), marginal comments about the text, interlineal comments between the lines, and a variety of emphatic punctuation.”24 As a result, the act of reading became bounded by levels of commentary which had a significant affect upon the way readers interpreted the text.25 22 23

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Scott, 1989, pp. 303–304. Traditional Chinese Fiction and Fiction Commentary: Reading and Writing Between the Lines (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 2. Rolston, 1997, p. 4. The subject of traditional Chinese fiction commentary and how it influenced interpretations of literature has recently received some scholarly attention in the West. For examples of and discussions about pingdian concerning Honglou meng, see Andrew Plaks “Completeness and Partiality in Traditional Commentaries on Honglou meng,” Tamkang Review 36.1–2 (2005): 117–135; “The Return of the Pingdian Pai” by Haun

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Cao Xueqin would have read these pingdians while reading famous works of Chinese literature. There is good evidence that he read Zhang Zhupo’s 张竹坡 (1670–1698) acclaimed commentary on Jin Ping Mei, which was written sometime between 1666 and 1684. The distinguished scholar on and translator of The Plum in the Golden Vase, Daniel T. Roy, has argued that “it has been often pointed out that Honglou meng shows the influence of Jin Ping Mei. I would like to suggest that Cao Xueqin was not only more indebted to Jin Ping Mei than has generally been acknowledged, but that he almost certainly read it in Zhang Zhupo’s edition, and was significantly influenced in the composition of Honglou meng by what Zhang Zhupo has to say about the craft of fiction. Every constituent element, function, and integrative device to which Zhang Zhupo calls attention to in his commentary on Jin Ping Mei also figures prominently in Honglou meng. The degree of congruity is too great to be fortuitous.”26 Zhang Zhupo’s brilliant commentary contains an essay entitled “How to Read Jin Ping Mei” which consists of 108 paragraphs.27 In it, he carefully and extensively lays out the special features of the novel, covering its spatial setting, methods of character description, ironic depiction of Buddhism and Daoism, the importance of names, and role of songs and jokes. Zhang also analyzes the structural devices used in the story, like the juxtaposing of two episodes in each chapter, the use of parallel scenes, character placement, recurring motifs (such as images of hot and cold), and how seemingly separate elements in the novel are skillfully connected and concealed. In addition, he discusses the role of women and money in the novel and points out that Jin Ping Mei “constitutes a single biography in which hundreds of characters are treated. Though the presentation is discontinuous, each character has a biography of his own.”28 Interspersed among his remarks are insightful nuggets of advice on how readers should approach this work: “The reader of Jin Ping Mei should have a bright mirror in front of him so that he

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Saussy, Tamkang Review 36.1 (2005): 137–146; Rolston, 1990, pp. 316–312; and Rolston, 1997, pp. 329–348. Recently, this type of commentary has become popular again in China and noted redologists like Feng Qiyong 冯其庸, Cai Yijiang 蔡义江 and Wang Meng 王蒙, have published versions of Dream of the Red Chamber with their comments alongside the text. “Chang Chu-p’o’s Commentary on the Chin p’ing mei,” in Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays, Edited by Andrew Plaks (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 122–123. For an English translation of this essay, see Daniel Roy’s in Renditions 24 (1985): 63– 101. Roy, 1985, p. 82. In 2013, the fifth and final volume of Roy’s completel translation of Jin Ping Mei was published by Princeton University Press.

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can see himself fully revealed…In reading Jin Ping Mei we must pay attention to the points in which one element in the narrative is used to lead into another…If you read Jin Ping Mei as a description of actual events you will be deceived by it. You must read it as a work of literature in order not to be deceived by it.”29 A close examination of Zhang’s comments makes it easy to believe that this commentary had a noteworthy influence on Cao Xueqin.30 Zhou Ruchang has maintained that one of the greatest collections of commentary, Six Works of Genius, by the famous writer and critic Jin Shengtan 金圣叹 (1608–1661) also had a profound impact upon Cao. In this book, Jin discusses and annotates 6 of the most important literary works of China: Outlaws of the Marsh; The Records of the Grand Historian 史记 by the Han dynasty historian Sima Qian 司马迁 (135 or 145–86 B.C.); the Warring States Period poet Qu Yuan’s 屈原 (340–278 B.C.) narrative poem “Encountering Sorrow” 离骚; the Writings of Zhuangzi 庄子, a collections of works by the celebrated Warring States Period philosopher Zhuangzi (350?300? B.C.); The Poems of Du Fu; an anthology of poems by the Tang dynasty writer Du Fu 杜 甫 (712–770); and the Yuan dynasty drama Romance of the Western Chamber 西厢记 by Wang Shifu 王实甫 (ca. 1250– 1300).31 According to Zhou, “Although these six texts represented the genres of narrative poetry, philosophical prose, historical records, folk tales, and drama, Jin Shengtan collapsed these genre distinctions by choosing them for literary method rather than didacticism. This critical move was revolutionary at the time, and exerted a strong influence on the subsequent development of Chinese literary criticism. Cao Xueqin proudly read this inspiring teacher’s work.”32 Recently, Liangyan Ge has postulated that Cao may have also been acquainted with several works of seventeenth and early eighteenth century fiction criticism that dealt with stone symbolism. 33 These writings are 29 30

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Roy, 1988, pp. 99, 69, 85. This is especially true if one takes the numerous remarks made by Red Inkstone regarding Honglou meng’s writing techniques and compares them to comments by Zhang Zhupo. For a discussion of Red Inkstone’s comments, see “The Chih-yen cai Commentary and The Dream of the Red Chamber,” by John C.Y. Wang. In Chinese Approaches to Literature, Edited by Adele Rickett (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 189–200. Zhou, 2009, p. 89. Zhou, 2009, p. 89. For other takes on Jin Shengtan, see Rolston, 1997, pp. 25–50 and Chin Sheng-t’an by John C.Y. Yang (New York: Twayne, 1972). “The Mythic Stone in Honglou meng and an Intertext of Ming-Qing Fiction Criticism,” The Journal of Asian Studies 61.1 (2002): 57–82. Ge contends that the question of

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prefatory pieces to collections of vernacular fiction: Biliange Zhuren’s preface to his Five Colored Stones 五色石传奇, Feng Menglong’s preface to The Stone’s Nodding Heads 石点头, and the anonymous foreword to The Drunk-Sober Stone 醉醒石. Ge claims these works prefigured aspects of Honglou meng’s stone imagery, “including anthropomorphosis of stone, stone as a metaphor for the literary text, stone as a symbol for a sociopolitical function, and, especially, the myth of Nüwa’s reconstruction of heaven with stones.” 34 He concludes that “Without taking away anything from Cao Xueqin’s genius, one has to see the story of the mythic stone in the novel as a product of that particular type of literary sensibility fostered by Honglou meng’s immediate precursors, especially those prefatory writings featuring stone symbolism in their critical vocabulary.”35 There is one other type of vernacular fiction that was extremely popular during Cao Xueqin’s time that also made an impression upon him, albeit primarily negatively: classic “scholar and beauty” (caizi jiaren) romances. This genre first appeared in the middle of the seventeenth century and was widely read until around the middle of the eighteenth. Keith McMahon has divided these romances into two types: the chaste and the erotic. “The chaste beauty-scholar romance can be defined as a [short] novel about a young man and woman who represent the best in intelligence, looks, and moral character that civilization has to offer. They meet by chance and get to know each other, often through the exchange of literary messages, especially love poetry…Mean people try to steal the woman away…but fail because the youths are much more clever and more virtuous. Their love exists just outside—but too far from—the traditional system of marriage according to “ritual”…The match of the beauty and scholar is for their own benefit rather than their parents, although they ultimately obtain their parent’s blessing…the classic romances are devoid of descriptions of sex…the language is correspondingly polite and elegant, rarely obscene or colorfully

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whether Cao Xueqin had these writings “in mind when writing his story of the supernatural stone is irrelevant. The intertext we discuss here is a readerly and interpretational construct, for which non-textual corroboration for the influence and impact is not vitally important…The three prefatory pieces were part of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century mainstream fiction criticism, a critical discourse shaped by the cultural and intellectual forces of the time. These writings were determined by and in turn contributed to that discourse. To say that they are parodied in Honglou meng does not necessarily mean that they are parodied as distinct textual entities. Rather, their textual boundaries may be said to have dissolved into that general discourse of fiction criticism at the time” (p. 60). Ge, 2002, p. 77. Ge, 2007, p. 77.

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colloquial as in other fictions of the period.”36 In contrast, in erotic scholarbeauty romances there is a stress on sexuality and characters are sexually active, but males are favored and polygynist (in chaste romances, women are elevated).37 Honglou meng contains several scenes in which both of these romance types are heatedly condemned. In chapter one, the Stone sharply differentiates his tale from that of caizi jiaren romances, calling them formulaic, dishonest, and unrealistic. He also angrily tells Vanitas “As for the books of the beauty-and-talented-scholar type, a thousand are written to a single pattern and none escapes bordering on indecency. They are filled with allusions to handsome, talented young men and beautiful, refined girls in history; but in order to insert a couple of his own love poems, the author invents stereotyped heroines with the inevitable low character to make trouble between them like a clown in a play, and makes even the slave girls talk pedantic nonsense. So all these novels are full of contradictions and absurdly unnatural.”38 In chapter 54, the Lady Dowager complains that these type of stories always have the same plot, and are not accurate in their description of the actual lives of well brought up upper-class girls from scholar official families. She also thinks that “Either the people who spin these tales envy the rank and riches of other families, or ask for help which isn’t granted, so they make up these stories to discredit them. Or else they’re so bewitched by reading such tales that they wish they could get a fine young lady themselves, and so they invent these things for their own amusements.”39 As is true of many of the conversations in Dream of the Red Chamber, there is an underlying irony to Lady Jia’s loud protestations. She freely admits that she occasionally likes to listen to storytellers relate these tales, and contrary to her assertion that no well-behaved woman from an established family could behave like the heroines in scholar-beauty romances, the close relationship between Dai-yu and Bao-yu does in several ways follow the stock pattern of these romances. Cao Xueqin’s valorization and veneration of the virtuous, strong willed, beautiful and talented women in the novel shares the chaste beauty-scholar romance writer’s belief in the superiority of talented women. But there are also fundamenal differences between Cao’s story and these romances. In Dream of the Red Chamber, the 36

37 38 39

Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists: Sexuality and Male-Female Relations in EighteenthCentury Chinese Fiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), pp. 103–104. See McMahon, 1993, pp. 126–149, for a discussion of erotic scholar-beauty romances. DRM, 1, p. 2. DRM, 2, p. 220.

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women are considerably more complex and conflicted than the women in caizi jiaren, and his portrayl of them as individuals and their plights is much more realistic. Moreover, as McMahon notes, “In chaste romances, the woman travels the route of talent, that is, classical education, and exam success, in order to gain recognition as one who deserves monogamous marriage to a man of her choice. In Honglou meng, the women are talented but unable to express themselves outside the confines of the small area of the garden, and only one man recognizes them, Bao-yu, and he is powerless to help them.”40 Honglou meng also parts sharply with these romances by strongly denying the merit of education for the sake of examination success. Furthermore, “In expressing the superiority of women, the novel focuses on essential female purity and male baseness rather than on women actively imitating men to prove their worth.”41 Another important difference is that, in Honglou meng, most of the talented women are ultimately punished in one way or another for their abilities and choices they make, whereas in the optimistic world of the romances, in the end, neither the scholar nor the beauty gets in trouble over their choices. Finally, although Bao-yu is both handsome and very talented, he dismally fails to be a caizi because of his stout refusal to fully participate in the requisite conventional masculine world and because he mainly dwells in the feminine. One last intriguing work of vernacular fiction that some scholars have claimed could have heavily influenced Cao is a mysterious and highly controversial novel known as A Mirror for the Romantic 风月宝鉴. In the first chapter of Honglou meng, it is stated that one of the early titles of the story was A Mirror for the Romantic. On the Jiaxuben 甲戌本 manuscript version of the novel there exists a marginal comment, probably made by Red Inkstone, which notes that this was the title of a book that Cao Xueqin once owned. Later, Yurui 裕瑞, a member of the Manchu nobility who had married a relation of the Cao family, mentions in his writings a book with the same name. Yurui also notes that Cao Xueqin owned a copy of this work, and “borrowed” the novel’s theme for Honglou meng because the plot in A Mirror For the Romantic was so similar to what had happened to Cao’s family. Unfortunately, both Red Inkstone and Yurui fail to mention who the author of this work was. In 1980, the redologist Dai Bufan 戴不凡 advanced the provocative theory that Cao Xueqin modified, amplified, and expanded A Mirror for the Romantic, and that this revised version provided the foundation for Dream of 40 41

McMahon, 1995, p. 178. McMahon, 1995, p. 178.

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the Red Chamber.42 Dai bases his theory on some odd inconsistencies in the early chapters of Honglou meng concerning the age of characters like Lin Dai-yu and the sequencing of certain events such as when Bao-yu shows his jade to Xue Bao-chai. He also posits that the author of A Mirror for the Romantic was the second son of Cao Yin’s brother, Cao Quan, who had died in 1705. Several scholars have found Dai’s arguments convincing, including David Hawkes. Hawkes writes that “It seems not unreasonable to suppose that the original A Mirror for the Romantic…was a collection of episodes in which the salacious and the supernatural were combined, loosely strung together by the appearance of the lame, eccentric Taoist with his magic mirror, and the book was later dismembered and its more successful episodes fed into an earlier version of the Stone, which may even at one stage have been named after it.” 43 Opinions remain sharply divided on this matter, owing in large part to the fact that no copy of A Mirror for the Romantic has ever been found. Cao Xueqin in addition to having an excellent knowledge of vernacular fiction, was also well and deeply read in philosophy. While all educated Chinese at this time were expected to have a good understanding of the basic writings of classical philosophers because the subject was considered a branch of literature and knowledge of philosophy was essential for the civil service exam, Cao appears to have had a profound interest in it along with a comprehensive grasp of the subject. His interest must have been largely rooted in the hope that it could help him deal with the numerous problems he was experiencing. This attraction to philosophy can be clearly seen in Honglou meng which abounds in allusions to all of the seminal Chinese thinkers (including Zhuangzi, Mencius, Confucius, Laozi, and Chan masters) and the core issues they discussed. The novel also takes a hard look at some of these issues (and in chapter 118 has a debate over them) as well as some of the key tenets of the three major schools of Chinese thought—Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. 44 Complex philosophical concerns and 42

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Honglou meng zhuzuo quan lunzheng ji (A Collection of Controversies Over Honglou meng’s Copyrights), (Taiyuan: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 1985). Dai is also quick to acknowledge that most of Cao’s novel is original. “The Translator, the Mirror, and the Dream,” Renditions 13 (1980), p. 14. For a different take on the connection between the A Mirror For the Romantic and Honglou meng, see Maram Epstein’s Competing Discourses: Orthodoxy, Authenticity, and Engendered Meanings in Late Imperial Chinese Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 174–176. It should be pointed out that by the time of the Qing dynasty, a philosophical syncretism of the tenets of China’s three main religions of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism had occurred. As a result, they tended to be united together in popular belief and many

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speculations also inform the major themes of the novel and contribute to the story’s structure.45 Recently, Western and Chinese scholars have written in detail about the presence and significance of Buddhism elements in Dream of the Red Chamber.46 Cao Xueqin would have been quite familiar with the tenets of this religion since it had long formed an important part in the personal, social, and intellectual lives of Chinese. As Raymond Dawson has rather archly put it, since the sixth century Buddhism in China had “gained a hold on the lives and thoughts of people of all classes. For the rich, there was an opportunity to display their wealth and work for their own salvation in the construction of splendid temples, and for the poor there was a chance to escape from the harshness of reality whether in the haven of tax-exempt monasteries or in the comfort of the laymen’s belief in easy salvation through calling on the name of the Buddha. For the intellectuals there was a rich literature and scholarly tradition to which they could apply themselves using the traditional techniques of Chinese scholarship as well as a faith to meet their disillusionment in which the Way seemed to be lost forever.”47

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people believed in a nonsectarian sense in all three faiths at the same time, using each of the religions for different occasions when they arose. For example, a man might be a Confucian when educating his children and relating to relatives at home and with coworkers at his business, a Daoist while relaxing in his garden, and a Buddhist when confronting a personal calamity. Cao Xueqin was primarily interested in the doctrinal elements of each philosophy. While many extended works of traditional Chinese fiction contained elements of all three philosophies, Honglou meng differs from them in its expressly encyclopedic nature which attempts to capture the core ideas and issues of each of these philosophies, its pointed criticism of certain elements of these philosophies, the sophistication and richness of its philosophical speculations, and in the special literary techniques Cao employs to advance these speculations. See for example, Fictions of Enlightenment: Journey to the West, Tower of Myriad Mirrors, and Dream of the Red Chamber by Qiancheng Li (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004); Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber by Anthony C. Yu (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Lene Bech’s “Fiction that Leads to Truth: The Story of the Stone as Skilful Means,” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 26 (2004): 1–21; and “Flowers in the Mirror, Moonlight on the Water: Images of a Deluded Mind,” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 24 (2002): 99–128; “The Quest of Brother Amor: Buddhist Intimations in The Story of the Stone” by Anthony Yu, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 49.1 (1989): 55–92; Reflections on Dream of the Red Chamber by Liu Zaifu, Translated by Shu Yunzhong (Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2008); Honglou meng Fojiao Cidian (A Dictionary of Buddhism in Honglou meng) by Ling Wu (Beijing: Zongjiao Wenhua Chubanshe, 2007); and Chan zai Honglou Di Ji Ceng (What is the Status of Zen in the Red Chamber?) by Liang Guizhi (Beijing: People’s University Press, 2007). The Chinese Experience (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1978), p. 125.

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Zhou Ruchang surmises that Cao Xueqin spent much of his early years in Beijing exploring the city’s many Buddhist temples and attending their frequent fairs. “On the periphery of Suanshikou [where the Cao house was located] were numerous temples, both large and small, that were near each other and became favorite hangouts of the young Cao.”48 Zhou also believes it is possible that the city’s Dongyue Temple (Temple of the God of Mount Tai) in particular, which “contained many impressive statues, including those of the gods of the seventy-two departments of hell and the one hundred palace maids of the emperor and empress,”49 could have inspired Cao in the creation of his novel. “As a young person, Cao found inspiration in these statues, and he integrated the vastly different conceptions of the seventy-two offices of hell and the beautiful maidservants though there was originally no connection between them. Perhaps he thought he could create another world, one unlike hell or the human realm, which would serve as a home for the souls of young women. A charming and intelligent female immortal would be in charge of their fates, just as the seventy-two judges in the department of hell controlled the fates of sinful individuals.”50 Moreover, there are also long standing rumors that Cao during a difficult phase of his life might have actually stayed for a time in a Buddhist monastery. In a groundbreaking 2004 study, Qiancheng Li has claimed that Buddhist soteriological patterns, based upon Mahayana sutras, influenced Honglou meng’s narrative structure. Li holds that the novel shares several important similarities with the Buddhist philosophical models in both Journey to the West and The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, and that it is highly likely that Cao Xueqin was influenced by the Buddhism in both of these works. The theme, structure, and mode of expression of these works demonstrate the impact of Buddhist epistemic-soteriological models. There are even many undeniable traces of Buddhism or other religious figures from the scriptures…Jia Bao-yu, living in the garden and caught up in the conflict between social obligations and religious aspiration, in his own way reenacts Buddha’s own struggles. Central to this subgenre is the progress towards enlightenment, in which the end and the means, however, can not be clearly demarcated, given the basic Chinese Mahayana assumptions…All of these works are built on the understanding of the intricate relationship between samsara—the provisional—and nirvana—the ultimate, a result of the valorization of the phenomenal, the conventional, and the provisional. These 48 49 50

Zhou, 2009, p. 94. Zhou, 2009, p. 101. Zhou, 2009, p. 100. Zhou also believes that Dongyue Temple might have served as the model for the Department of Fond Infatuation, Department of the Ill-Fated Pair, Department of Autumn Grief, and the Department of Spring Fever in chapter 5 of the novel (Zhou, 2009, p. 100).

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Wandering Between Two Worlds works imply that one cannot achieve enlightenment without going through all that is called life…Given the epistemological dimensions of Buddhist soteriology, all these works depend heavily upon self-reflexive devices. On the one hand, their plots lay bare the psychological conditionings of the protagonists; all the novels discussed boil down essentially to inward experiences. On the other hand, analytical psychology was then an alien thing among traditional Chinese novelists, but they tackled their burning consensus with an inventiveness that suggests sophisticated modern techniques—in particular, the use of oneiric experiences, mirroring, and doubling devices, which attain self-reflexive proportions.51

Li also asserts that Honglou meng “breaks new ground and departs from Buddhist prescriptions, even as the basic structures are retained and pushed to their full aesthetic limits.”52 Anthony Yu notes that one of the unique things about Cao’s masterpiece is that it was the first full-length Chinese novel that centers “the driving impulse of its story squarely upon the protagonist’s desire for liberation from his sufferings and upon his final resolve possibly to become a monk…[Honglou meng is] a grand parable of Buddhist quest and enlightenment.”53 And Liu Zaifu has more recently contended that the story espouses the metaphysics of the Middle Way School of Zen Buddhism, which claims “inherently existent phenomenon and dependently arisen phenomena depend on each other, and the universe should be approached with this interdependence in view. The key notion of the Middle Way School is that emptiness and existence, and permanence and change, interact with each other and, in view of the interaction, human beings should not adopt a biased approach.”54 While recent discussions of philosophy in Dream of the Red Chamber have mainly concentrated on Buddhism, it is becoming increasingly clear that it has also been heavily influenced by Daoist beliefs.55 We do know that Cao Xueqin was temperamentally very attracted to this philosophy. As was noted earlier, one of his literary heroes and models was the iconoclastic Wei dynasty poet and thinker Ruan Ji, who was famous for his Neo-Daoist beliefs, and Cao’s unconventional and eccentric behavior and fierce individualism was 51 52 53 54 55

Li, 2004, pp. 166–167. Li, 2004, p. 109. Yu, 1997, pp. 122, 136. Liu, 2008, p. 269. For studies, see Daoist Philosophy and Literati Writing in Late Imperial China by Zuyan Zhou (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013); “Returning to the Unpolished: Jia Bao-yu and Zhuang-zi in Honglou meng” by Ronald Gray, Tamkang Review 36:1–2 (2005): 177–193; and Kam-ming Wong’s “Anatomy of The Stone: Dotting the ‘I’ of the Lichee and the Monkey,” Tamkang Review 36:1–2 (2005): 147–176. Chinese scholars have been much more attentive to the Daoist elements in Honglou meng than Western critics. For a list of studies in Chinese, see Zhou, 2012, p. 4.

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very Daoist in style and tone.56 Daoism’s dislike for and rejection of social hierarchy, and commonly held definitions of success such as position, honors, righteous morality, and power, along with the philosophy’s emphasis on freedom from all forms of political ideology and the restrictions of public responsibilities, would have greatly appealed to him. Moreover, he would have found the content and attit ude of Daoist writings much to his liking since “Daoist texts were far more concerned with the nature of the universe and man’s place in it as an individual rather than as a social being...Finally, and perhaps most important, the Daoist writings have been read because they are witty, spirited, and imaginative and because they contain some of the most beautiful and compelling passages in all of Chinese literature.”57 Based upon references in Honglou meng, Cao seems to have been especially captivated by the highly imaginative, subversive, and thought provoking writings of the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi and his spirited and satirical attacks on orthodox thinking, heavy stress on unconventionality, freedom of the mind, and love of paradox.58 The importance of Daoism in Honglou meng can be seen in the figure of Jia Bao-yu. The novel contains nine explicit references to Zhuangzi, and eight of these references are connected with Jia Bao-yu who is shown to be an avid reader of the philosopher’s writings.59 Many of these allusions occur at key junctures in the story and can be interpreted as providing subtle critiques of Bao-yu’s epistemic perspective.60 In addition, Bao-yu is directly associated throughout the novel with several traditional symbols of Daoism: females, femininity, and mirrors (chapters 5, 22, 56, 57); and his notorious comment in chapter 2 that “Girls are made of water and boys of mud,”61 contains two ancient symbols of Daoism— water and mud. He is also frequently described as being childlike, simple, silly, 56

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Supposedly one of Cao Xueqin’s courtesy names was Qinxi jushi 芹溪居士, a name which carries a strong Daoist meaning (Zhou, 2013, pp. 2–3). Early Chinese Literature by Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), p. 157. Zuyan Zhou states that Honglou meng’s “affinity to Daoist philosophy was observed by Zhiyanzhai [Red Inkstone]…Zhiyanzhai not only indicates its stylistic kinship to the Zhuangzi, but also points out its incorporation of concepts, terminologies, and even sentence structures from the Daoist classic” (2013, p. 4). There allusions can be found in chapters 21, 22, 30, 38, 113, 118. Wu Shihchang has argued that the reference to Zhuangzi in chapter 113 is wrong and that it is actually from a poem by Po Chu-I (see On the Red Chamber Dream: A Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the XVIIIthe Century (Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 318). Gray, 2005, pp. 179–188. SS, 1, p. 76.

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and moronic, personality traits which are considered traditional Daoist virtues.62 Bao-yu’s defiance of authority, strong criticisms of conventional Confucian beliefs concerning gender, merit, achievement, ambition, and hierarchy, valorization of women and the weak, respect for primitiveness, equality, and independence, and sharp distinction between the natural and the social (notably displayed in chapter 17),63 are indicative of a strongly Daoist viewpoint.64 It is also revealing that one of Honglou meng’s most important tropes is that of return—the return to origins—which is a key concept in Daoism. This concept is clearly at work in the arc of Bao-yu’s development and eventual return to his inborn and real nature at the end of the story to the metaphysical and epistemological state of being a stone.65 62

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On a certain level, Bao-yu’s philosophical development can be seen as him eventually living up to the full meaning of what it is to be an “idiot” in the Daoist sense. See HansGeorg Moeller’s “Idiotic irony in Zhuangzi,” CLEAR 20 (2008): 117–223, for a discussion of this Daoist concept. Yiqun Zhou in a recent article has maintained that “Cao Xueqin subjects the conventional idealization of farmers, farming, and land ownership to a systematic and trenchant critique and offers a different view of the agrarian that does not owe its inspiration to the ascendant commercial interests of the author’s times. In the sustained critical stance that Cao’s novel adopts toward agrarian values and in the radically different alternative that it sensitivity upholds, Honglou meng strikes a distinctive note not only in Ming-Qing fiction but also in the entire premodern Chinese literary tradition.” “Honglou meng and Agrarian Values,” Late Imperial China 34.1 (2013), p. 28. Gray, 2005, pp. 190–191. Zuyan Zhou, 2013, has also pointed out the importance of the Daoist concepts of hundun and the gourd in the story. But it should also be noted that there is is a strong disdain for and suspicion of the popular forms of Daoism (especially those concerning longevity and exorcism practices) throughout Honglou meng. Moreover, Cao Xueqin’s interest in and sympathy for some of the tenets of Buddhism and Daoism generally appears to have not extended to the monks and nuns who practiced these philosophies. Throughout the novel these religious figures are constantly shown to be hypocritical, greedy for riches, worldly, extremely calculating, and self-serving. Cao’s feelings were not unusual for his time for the Chinese general public also held most clerics to be immoral and untrustworthy. Yiqun Zhou has observed that “The representation of the religious professionals and institutions in Honglou meng is characterized by a bifurcation of images and themes. The vast majority of the clerics, who engage in daily interactions with their patrons through liturgies and visits, are the objects of often overt derision and hostility. At the same time, there are a few clerical figures whose intermediate appearances at various junctures of the story provide a guiding hand to characters lost in worldly preoccupations and signal the gradual unfolding of the Buddhist theme of enlightenment. Emphasizing one or the other of the two set of images and themes can open Honglou meng up to widely divergent readings, as an antireligious novel or as a fiction of enlightenment. Scholars have attempted to reconcile the bifurcating representations by distinguishing the author’s opinion of the doctrines of Buddhist and Daoist religions on the one hand and of the

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Finally, there is also a small camp of Honglou meng scholarship that maintains that Confucianism had a decisive philosophical influence on Cao Xueqin, and that the work is on several levels a Confucian novel. The Qing writer Zhang Xinzhi 张新之 in an extended 1850 commentary claimed that the story’s main purpose “is to elucidate the teachings of The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean…This is why it states, through Bao-yu, “There are no real books but [these two]…The entire text of Honglou meng can be summed up in one phrase, “condemnation for failure to instruct”…Confucius composed The Spring and Autumn Annals…with the purpose of edifying later generations so they might rectify their ways of thinking, restore moral order and the adherence to principle, and bring social- interaction into a state of harmony.” Honglou meng definitely borrows this idea.”66 C.T. Hsia feels that Cao’s work endorses “Confucian morality for everyday conduct.”67 Most of the commentators who argue for this Confucian interpretation hold that almost all of the problems that occur in the novel are not formally due to any pernicious effect of Confucian ideas but rather because of the acute inability of individuals to properly follow those ideas and serve as correct moral role models.68

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clergies who practice them as a trade on the other hand.” “Temples and Clerics in Honglou meng,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 71.2 (2011), pp. 264–265. Plaks, 1990, pp. 324, 326, 325. “The Scholar-Novelist and Chinese Culture: A Reappraisal of Ching-Hua Yuan,” in Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays, Edited by Andrew H. Plaks (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 273. It has been observed that Dream of the Red Chamber completely ignores the widespread and intense scholarly debates regarding Confucianism that occurred during the eighteenth century. Stephen J. Roddy writes that “Bao-yu throughout the novel is a literatus in cultural, but not social terms, and an outsider to the corporate body of literati…This fact bears an obvious relation to the nature of the society it so clearly is a reflection of, that of the bannermen of the early-to-mid eighteenth century. This also helps to explain the near total silence of Honglou meng on matters of eighteenth-century scholarly trends, the absence of which also distinguishes this novel from the others considered here…Jia She’s speech to Jia Huan [in chapter 75], although hardly presented in a favorable light, is perhaps representative of higher-ranking bannermen’s attitudes towards examinations and learning.” Literati Identity and its Fictional Representations in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), pp. 223, 289. While Roddy’s argument is in the main true, it should also be noted that the novel does in fact touch upon three of the central scholarly controversies of Cao’s time: the precise status of the original writings of Confucius (textual purism) through Bao-yu’s arguments against the systematic misuse of Confucius’s teachings by the state; growing criticisms of and skepticism about the concept of correlative cosmology and yin/yang duality (as displayed by Shi Xiangyun’s lecture to her maid in chapter 31); and the role of ritualism and ritualistic ethics in everyday life. For discussions of these controversies, see The Rise of Confucian Ritualism in Late Imperial China: Ethics, Classics, and Lineage Discourse by Kai-wing Chow (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994); The Development and Decline of

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More recently, Maram Epstein has contented that in the garden scene in the novel involving Bao-yu’s renaming of the actress/servant Fangguan, the conflict between the cult of qing and Confucianism is brought to the fore “in the relaxation by the garden community of the hierarchical social order…From this point on, artifice and whimsy, dominant facets of the aesthetics of qing, displace the Confucian imperative to establish a stable truth.”69 Epstein further claims that because of the disintegration of ritually defined identities in chapters 37 and 49, where the names of characters and ritual rules (concerning hierarchy, age, and status) are changed, individual identities begin to break down (since names were a key part of Confucian ritually defined identity). “A parallel can be drawn between the collapse of the social order because of a failure to observe ritual distinctions and the collapse of meaning within Cao Xueqin’s use of complementary bipolarity…Paradoxically, qing, treated as the basis for the authentic self, eventually leads to a collapse of identity, unless it is contained and regulated by ritual practices.”70 It is beyond the scope of this biography to discuss in detail the complex and controversial issue concerning which of these three philosophical systems (if any) Cao Xueqin ultimately believed in, and which of them supplied the central theme of Honglou meng. Instead, the purpose of this chapter has been to briefly present information and past/current scholarly speculations about some of the fictional and philosophical works Cao would have read during this formative period in his life, the contents of these works, and a few of the ideas he would have been exposed to and thinking about given his literary and intellectual interests. Cao Xueqin may have started to think about how he could unite his interest in literature and philosophy around this time when he was eagerly reading works of fiction and philosophy, discussing, debating and exchanging books with other literati, and searching for a viable way of matching his interests and a vocation. He would discover that one concrete and powerful way that he could express his philosophical interests and speculations in a literary format was through the notion of active, informed, critical reading and rereading. Cao would later use this concept as one of the main vehicles for articulating his philosophical reflections in Dream of the Red Chamber.71

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Chinese Cosmology by John B. Henderson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984); and Benjamin A. Elman’s From Philosophy to Philology: Intellectual and Social Aspects of Change in Late Imperial China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984). Epstein, 2001, p. 168. Epstein, 2001, pp. 171, 173. Much more will be said about qing in the next chapter. There are some commentators who still fail to fully realize or even acknowledge that Honglou meng is not just a great work of fiction, but also a great philosophical novel. Francis Cho Bantly in her book Embracing Illusion: Truth and Fiction in The Dream of

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In Honglou meng, there is a marked stress placed on the importance of engaged reading and rereading of texts. From the first chapter, when Vanitas has to read the Stone’s story twice to understand it, to Bao-yu’s misreading of both the supplementary registers and albums in chapter 5, to his largely successful rereading of the registers in chapter 116, the entire novel, on a deep level, can be taken as an extended lesson in teaching the reader how to read properly. Cao Xueqin does this by constantly showing why it is necessary for the reader to critically and creatively reread the text, to read between lines, even providing examples of how not to read (as Jia Zheng’s “literary gentlemen” demonstrate in chapters 17 and 78). He shows readers that textual surfaces are to be gone beneath. Cao’s approach to reading was likely influenced by the commentary editions of many of the works of literature he had read, all of which emphasized the idea of reading between the lines of texts. As Rolston points out, this type of close reading “involves the apprehension of a hidden message. Commentators can lay claim to our attention only by promising to show us something that would otherwise elude us. They are thus as much in the business of reading between the lines as of writing between them. When such readers become authors, they tended to “write between the lines” in a figurative way.”72

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the Nine Clouds (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), has come up with a useful criteria which a work of fiction must satisfy if it is to be classified as a text of philosophical discourse. Her criterion is solely intended for traditional East Asian narratives. She defines philosophical discourse as “those textual practices whose articulation of a worldview is compelling as much for their rigor and rhetorical prowess with which it is argued as for the argument itself…philosophy refers not only to a view of reality; that is, metaphysical and particularly ontological speculations, but a system of articulation with internal criteria of satisfaction” (p. 6). According to her criteria, which rests upon a text’s integration of form and content, the hallmarks of a fictional work with philosophical discourse are: expression (“the ability of a system to integrate its philosophical ideas into a form of expression eminently suited into making those ideas manifest, p. 28), and metapractice (“methods of articulation, persuasion, and demonstration that are applied to promote a substantive worldview, defined most generally as metaphysics…a self-conscious logic and justification for its particular practices”(p. 28). Bantly also argues that the philosophical capacity of this type of fiction has the potential of engaging readers in a much more immediate and visceral sense than formal, standard philosophical writings because of its rich, emotional details, interesting plots, and the specificity of the genre which makes it closely related to our daily lives. Consequently, she believes that fiction has the ability of detailing philosophical concepts in a deep but also concrete manner. If we use Bantly’s criteria, it is clear that Honglou meng can be classified as a work of philosophical discourse. Moreover, Cao Xueqin’s special belief regarding reading can be treated as a metapractice. Rolston, 1997, p. 1.

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Cao Xueqin continually signals to readers of Dream of the Red Chamber that they need to read between the lines through his recurring use of irony, parody, paradox, and subversion, numerous foreshadowing techniques, frequent shifts in form and perspective, and the novel’s repeated disconnect between surface appearances and reality, public ideology and private practices, unpredictability and contingency, and its self-reflexive nature.73 All of these devices force readers’ to be active, to critically read, reread, and think about the text in order for them to catch the full import of the story’s meaning and the massive web of connotations that are woven within it. Honglou meng’s massive density would also have reinforced the importance of the reader rereading the text. Cao’s status as an outsider and his keen awareness of the deceptive character of conventional surface appearances and the capriciousness of life, gave him a sense of distance that was very conducive to this type of writing. Cao Xueqin’s unconventional, deeply skeptical, and at times subversive literary style was on one level not that unusual at the time, in view of the general status of Qing dynasty novelists. Robert Hegel in an overlooked but insightful article has observed that many writers of fiction during this period because they were borderline members of the official stratum of society, often dealt with their marginalization by subverting or upending conventional fictional plots. Hegel contends that by “self-consciously modifying the narrative structures of popular fiction conventional at their time in the name of great historicity or clearer presentation of moral truth, perhaps [these writers] innovations should be considered challenges not only to received literary practice but to the popular Confucian sense of order as well.”74 As a result, Hegel detects a paradox in some Qing fiction authors. “Certain writers simultaneously reaffirmed popular morality as commonly expressed in vernacular fiction while by implication questioning the validity of the whole Confucian enterprise. Unconventional structural and thematic

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As Yinqun Zhou notes, “generally speaking, the use of irony in traditional Chinese fiction introduces only a modest measure of indeterminacy of meaning and fails to undercut the text’s overarching ethical concerns. This can be seen in Plaks’s examination of the four major Ming novels (Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel). Honglou meng is an important exception; see Wee-Yee Li’s analysis (Enchantment and Disenchantment, chapters 4–6) on the crucial role irony plays in giving complexity and originality in Cao Xueqin’s work” (Zhou, 2013, p. 56). “Unpredictability and Meaning in Ming-Qing Literati Novels,” in Paradoxes of Traditional Chinese Literature, Edited by Eva Hong (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1994), p. 147.

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elements may very well have significance far beyond the development of the literary form in which they wrote.” 75 Patricia Meyer Spacks has noted in a study of literary rereading that, “personality, sensitivities, convictions [can be shaped] by reading…[that] fiction has provided models of behavior…gratified emotional needs. Such efforts depend on rereading. The repetitions and reinforcements of reiterated engagement with the same stories, the same language, the same characters enable the rereader to internalize what she needs, converting a novel into part of herself.”76 Cao Xueqin would have heartily concurred with this analysis, for Honglou meng also sends out the message that there is a substantial connection between reading, rereading, and life. He clearly believed that good literature was capable of having this kind of effect on readers and hoped that readers would take these critical and skeptical reading practices and apply the novel’s lessons to their own lives. As Hegel neatly puts it, “By generally destabilizing the predictive potential of certain major elements of his narrative, [Cao Xueqin] signals the implied reader about the appropriate way to read and how to regard reality at the same time: in [Honglou meng] the usual “rules” simply do not apply with an exactness; similar “rules” may mean no more in the reader’s own life.”77 There is one more topic that needs to be discussed before closing this chapter on books and reading. It concerns a subject that Cao Xueqin would 75 76 77

Hegel, 1994, p. 147. On Rereading (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 274. Hegel, 1994, p. 158. Hegel uses the character Qin Keqing as an example of Cao Xueqin’s destabilization of predictive potential. He contends that the fact that she in particular (given her shameful past) gives Wang Xifeng advice using Confucian terms is “not merely ironic; the implications of the seeming moral paradox Qin Keqing presents are noteworthy; even far-reaching: When miscreants are rewarded, when in fiction what society condemns as sin only masks virtue (or is it that Confucian platitudes are only the stuff of whores and house wreckers?), the standards for moral judgment, even the moral structure of the family and society in general, are necessarily thrown into questions” (p. 158). It can be argued that on a fundamental level, Cao Xueqin’s purpose in the novel is not to make the case for any one philosophical system or system of beliefs, but only to get his readers to critically think and conceptually shake up the conventional notions that govern their lives. Another way of looking at what Cao is attempting to do with his stress on the importance of reading/ rereading is to compare it to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s famous three stages of education: Romance, Precision, and Generalization. Cao, on several levels, is trying to educate his readers about certain themes in his novel and by implication life itself along some of the lines or stages that Whitehead believes are essential to the educational process. See “Soul Murder, Prehensions, and Symbolic Reference: Some Reflections on Whitehead’s Philosophy of Education” by Jasper S. Hunt Jr. and Glenn A. Webster, Educational Theory 31.3–4 (1981): 333–339, for an overview of Whitehead’s theory.

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have been very aware of and which would have possibly colored his choice of reading material, and certainly some of the content of his writings: the Qing government’s state censorship of the publishing industry and attempts at controlling literati writings. While earlier imperial governments during the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties tried to monitor and manage the publishing business, and prevent the publication of texts that were deemed unorthodox or questionable, and had local officials check privately published manuscripts, the state censorship, literary inquisitions, and campaigns during the rule of the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors were exceedingly harsh and protracted by comparison.78 This was due to the deep insecurity Manchu emperors felt over their status as foreign rulers and their persistent doubts over their Chinese subjects’ (especially intellectuals’) loyalty and subservience. These rulers were particularly worried about any writings that might stir up nationalistic feelings among native Han Chinese. As a consequence, individuals were vigorously prosecuted for writings that were judged by officials to contain political messages that were: against the regime; indirectly or directly anti-Manchu; demonstrated pro-Ming feelings, slanderous of former dynasties that were connected to the Qing (Liao, Yuan); argued for the restoration of the Ming; or displayed an antagonism towards Northern tribal or steppe people. Qing emperors were also extremely sensitive (and often paranoid) over any remarks or perceived slights involving their place of national origin or legitimacy. These concerns were so intense that there were cases of individuals being prosecuted for writing innocuous words or phrases which were interpreted as being covertly treasonous. 79 78

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During the Ming dynasty, only books dealing with astronomical matters, depicting former emperors, and of an apocalyptical nature, were officially banned, but the unofficial scope of banned works was larger. Outlaws of the Marsh was the only novel known to have been prohibited during this period and that was because it was believed to have been responsible for some late Ming peasant rebellions. For example, Zhou Ruchang has observeded that “At this time in China, a writer needed courage to truly write what he thought. Usually people who wrote lines like, “The clean breeze does not know any words,/Why does it turn the page?” or “The only pure color is red,/Foreign flowers have become King” (from the poem “Ode to the Purple Peony’), got into big trouble” (Zhou, 2009, p. 171). The reason why these lines were considered suspect was “because the word clean in the phrase ‘clean breeze,’ is qing, which is the same character used in the term Qing dynasty. Consequently, some people misinterpreted the phrase, thinking it was really calling the Manchu people illiterate. The second quotation, comes from a poem by Cai Xian and was considered treasonous because the surname of past Ming dynasty emperors shared the same character as the character for red. So, it was held that Cao was implicitly saying that he preferred red peonies over ‘foreign’ ones, thereby criticizing the rule of the Manchu. Because of this poem, Cai Xian was beheaded” (Zhou, 2009, p. 171).

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Writers could also run into trouble if their works were thought by officials to be obscene or sexually explicit, beyond the bounds of proper morality, or even having “poor literary style.” Finally, works could be censored if they dealt with military or defense matters.80 One immediately obvious problem with these categories was that the criteria used to deem a work problematic was under many circumstances vague or ambiguous enough for ambitious, overzealous, or sycophantic officials (and even scholars) to easily manipulate it to their advantage to gain favor—which is what frequently happened. Because of these intense imperial anxieties over the content of writings by intellectuals, several literary inquisitions occurred during the eighteenth century. The most notorious of these was launched by the Qianlong emperor in the 1770’s and 1780’s. As soon as the campaign was initiated, high level local officials were kept extremely busy examining books, sending thousands of them to Beijing, and pursuing prosecutions. The inquisition quickly “acquired a malignant momentum of its own. Censorship grew in scope and ferocity as new groups with differing interests were swept into the process, and as bureaucrats and the scholarly community realized that the procedures of search and destruction could be turned to their personal ends. The evolution of inquisition procedures and the growing response to them therefore reflected as much the character and interests of the literate community as they did imperial initiative.” 81 As a consequence, as Mark C. Elliott has concluded, the “confiscation of books on such a massive scale owed at least as much to the enthusiasm and ambition of junior officials and the petty quarrels of local landed gentry as it did to Qianlong…Though he probably could have expected to do more, the emperor’s inability to keep scholars from playing politics to

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The Literary Inquisition of Ch’ien-Lung by Luther Carrington Goodrich, Second Edition (New York: Paragon Book Reprint Corporation, 1966), pp. 44–47, and Imperial China: 900–1800 by F.W. Mote (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 926–927. According to Timothy Brook, another concern the Qing state had about publishers involved the quality of examination texts. Brook states that “The state accepted the notion that books were an integral element of elite identity. As long as the scholar recognized that the ultimate purpose of scholarship was service to the state, the proliferation of books was viewed positively. The state was disturbed by the commercial expansion of printing to the extent that it was worried in both the seventh and eighteenth centuries about the distribution of flawed versions of texts required for examinations.” “Censorship in Eighteenth-Century China: A View From the Book Trade,” Canadian Journal of History 22 (1988), p. 185. Also see “The Situation of Chinese Censorship Under Emperor Yongzheng” by Sae Okamoto, Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko (The Oriental Library) 56 (1998): 49–61. The Emperor’s Four Treasuries: Scholars and the State in the Late Ch’ieng-Lung Era by R. Kent Guy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 166–167.

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settle personal or intellectual scores reminds us of the real limits to imperial power in eighteenth-century China.”82 Although Cao Xueqin had been dead for over ten years before Qianlong’s literary inquisition started, he had lived through twenty-eight years of his reign and throughout all of Yongzheng’s, who laid the foundation for this inquisition. Because most attention has been focused on Qianlong’s inquisition, it has been overlooked that during Yongzheng’s thirdteen year reign, “more incidents of literary inquisition called Wenzi yu 文字狱 occurred than during the nearly two hundred and eighty years of Ming rule…many laws, central or local, were decreed to control book publishing or popular culture…edicts [were promulgated] to prohibit the publication of “reprehensible” novels or drama which could make bad influences.”83 The most famous case of thought control during Yongzheng’s reign occurred in 1728, the year of the Cao family’s confiscation, when an elementary school teacher and struggling scholar named Zeng Jing, who had been deeply influenced by the writings of the Neo-Confucian scholar Lü Liuliang who had died in 1683, attempted to get the Governor General of Shanxi and Sichuan provinces to rebel against the Qing government. Zeng Jing was arrested but eventually pardoned by Yongzheng after he recanted, but later rearrested and executed by Qianlong. Qianlong also had the corpses of Lü (whose writings up until that time had not been banned) and deceased members of his family disinterred and mutilated. Surviving male members of the family were harshly punished and females sentenced to work as laborers in imperial palaces.84 Because of his family’s background and situation, Cao Xueqin would have been especially aware of the necessity of steering clear not only of overzealous officials looking to gain points by turning in a suspect literati, but also of 82

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Emperor Qianlong: Son of Heaven, Man of the World (New York: Longman, 2009), pp. 122–123. Okamoto, 1998, pp. 50, 51. Obviously the enforcement of these laws and edicts ultimately depended upon the diligence of local officials. Counterbalancing the activities of overzealous, ambitious officials during campaigns or the issuing of new edicts were the usual Chinese bureaucratic practices of “prolonged concealment of information, selfprotective dithering, cover-ups to protect personal relationships, and an unshakeable preference for routine. Even when he intended no special obstruction, the average Qing bureaucrat—with only his everyday venality and mendacity—was a tough nut for any monarch to crack.” Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768 by Philip A. Kuhn (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 231–232. For a fascinating account of this strange case, see Jonathan D. Spence’s Treason By the Book (New York: Viking, 2001). This book, along with Kuhn, 1999, reveals that the Qing bureaucracy, when properly directed, motivated, and monitored, was surprisingly highly efficient given their small numbers and the sheer size of China.

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ambitious scholars attempting to attain advancement by informing on other writers, especially in a place like Beijing where an individual had to be more careful of what they wrote than in any other city in China. He must have been successful traversing this potential minefield for no evidence exists that Cao ever ran into major problems with the government. But it also should be pointed out that there were gradations along the spectrum of state control. For talented and strongly independent individuals like Cao Xueqin, who according to friends, apparently understood the value of possessing an air of nonthreatening eccentricity wittily dashed with a strong sense of irony especially when he was socializing with people he did not know well, the boundaries limiting expression were likely to have been a bit wider than it was for other writers.85 Moreover, according to Cao’s close friend, Dun Cheng, he and Cao during their private discussions and with friends talked “about everything under the sun, but avoid three topics: politics and governmental matters, noted contemporary figures who wield power, and ghosts.”86 Zhou Ruchang points out that while Dun’s remark is no doubt technically true, he is also being a bit disingenuous. “The fact that Dun avoided the first two topics reveals the poisonous political atmosphere at that time in Chinese history…He and his friends clearly were very cautious about what they discussed. However, we need to remember that Chinese scholars at this time could be very crafty. When they were talking or writing, they would cleverly conflate the truth with fiction, and the negative with the positive. When they declared that they did not want to comment on certain subjects, they really meant that these topics were of great concern to them. Although they stoutly refused to discuss contemporary politics, the merits or failings of other people, in their hearts and writings, they satirized them.”87 In spite of all these state sponsored restrictions on writers, in the end, as Fredrick Mote has noted, “The great novelists who wrote The Scholars and The Dream of the Red Chamber and other writers of fiction and poetry could satirize the foibles of conventional society and scoff at Confucian moralism gone awry more or less in safety, because they did not seem to attack the foundations of the thought system. Also the appeal of their storytelling was so great that everyone read them. They could not be suppressed…The repressive conditions of the Qianlong era could not prevent all such works of genius from coming into being, and in fact those conditions spurred creators and admirers alike to produce and cherish them.”88 85 86 87 88

Chapter 9 will discuss in detail Cao’s cultivated eccentricity. Quoted in Zhou, 2009, p. 164. Zhou, 2009, pp. 163–164. Mote, 1999, p. 935. The number of instances of censorship which necessitated criminal

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indictments was not as large as what one would have assumed. One Chinese scholar has estimated there were eighty-four major cases, “from the beginning of the Qing through the Qianlong reign, of which seventy were prosecuted under the Qianlong emperor, mostly in the 1770s and 1780s. In all but five of the eighty-four cases, one or more authors’ works were found to contain treasonable content; the works were ordered destroyed and the authors, their families, and associates were subject to punishments ranging from beatings and banishment to death and enslavement. The proceedings were conducted to achieve maximum effect through the upper stratum of society” (Mote, 1999, p. 926). According to a study by Tai-loi Ma, during Qianlong’s inquisition, “Fiction as a genre was not singled out in the edicts or the lists [the lists compiled by officials of prohibited books submitted by officials]. But seven novels did find places on the list.” “Novels Prohibited in the Literary Inquisition of Emperor Ch’ien-lung,” in Critical Essays on Chinese Fiction, Edited by Winston L.Y. Wang and Curtis P. Adkins (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1980), p. 207. These novels concerned the rise of a Ming peasant leader, warfare between Manchu and Ming forces, works that were thought to be disrespectful of the Qing, a novel about the famous Song dynasty General Yue Fei, and a work on the founding of the Ming dynasty. Ma writes that “It is significant that no erotic novel is included…All seven novels were prohibited solely for political reasons. The first five are about the warfare between the Ming government and the Manchus, and the last two concerned struggles between the Han and non-Han: the Jurchens and the Mongols respectively” (p. 212). Some scholars have maintained that there was a political backlash to Dream of the Red Chamber soon after Cao Xueqin’s death. For example, Zhou Ruchang claims that there was an elaborate conspiracy operating at the highest levels of the Qing court involving the notoriously corrupt minister Heshen 和珅 (1750–1799), a close confidant of the Emperor Qianlong, and Qianlong himself, to suppress the original version of Honglou meng because of its critical ideas and produce a forged edition of the novel, and that this fake version was published by the Palace’s Printing Office and Bookbindery Department in 1791. There is little solid evidence to support this theory but C.T. Hsia points out that because Cheng Weiyuan, who with Gao E edited the last 40 chapters of Honglou meng and published the first complete version of the novel, was “a staff member of the gigantic imperial project to assemble a ‘Complete Library in the Four Branches of Learning and Literature’...[Zhou’s] theory should be taken seriously in as much as Cheng and Gao could not have dreamed of putting out a moveable type edition of this massive novel without the backing of a powerful minister like Heshen and without the printing of the imperial court.” “A Dream of Red Mansions,” in Approaches to Asian Classics, Edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 265. It should also be noted that Honglou meng was banned several times during the later part of the Qing dynasty. According to Matthew H. Sommer, “for most of the century following its publication in 1791–1792, Dream of the Red Chamber was banned by Qing officials (albeit in vain)…The novel appears prominently on the lists of ‘licentious books’ (yin shu) prescribed and consigned to destruction by government officials.” “Scandal in the Garden: The Story of the Stone as a licentious Novel,” in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), Edited by Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Liu (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2012), p. 186. Sommer’s article explains why some deemed Honglou meng to be obscene in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

C H A P T E R

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“Stirred Feelings Find Expression in Sound” The theater was a key part of eighteenth century Chinese literati life. Historians Susan Nanquin and Evelyn Rawski have gone so far as to claim that “More than any other activity, drama in the Qing period contributed to cultural integration and to the vitality of a Chinese culture in which all could share.”1 This fascination with drama was particularly true of Cao Xueqin, who like Jia Bao-yu, loved reading dramas, watching plays, and keeping company with actors. He was also highly influenced by the techniques of drama and intrigued by the genre’s literary possibilities, so much so that according to Red Inkstone Cao had originally planned Honglou meng to be a verse drama instead of a novel.2 Cao was first exposed to the power of drama at an early age because his family had been noted throughout the Nanjing region for the extravagant performances put on at their residence by their personal opera troupe since the time Cao Yin was Textile Commissioner. Wealthy families during this period usually trained their own house-slaves or servants to perform in dramas and family troupes were considered to be more refined than commercial companies of actors.3 Cao Yin’s stagings of dramas was widely held to represent the height of style and elegance since he had assembled a first rate family troupe, the performances took place in his beautiful garden, and because he was a dramatist himself. One notable engagement occurred in the early eighteenth century when the well-known Qing playwright Hong Sheng 洪昇 (1645–1704) and numerous other celebrities were invited by Cao Yin to the Textile Commissioner’s yamen for a grand banquet and performance of Sheng’s 1688 play The Palace of Eternal Youth 长生殿, which is held to be one of the greatest traditional Chinese operas. Cao Yin made special preparations for this extravaganza, including ensuring that

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Chinese Society in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), p. 62. Some commentators have argued that the Fairy Disenchantment’s song suite in chapter 5 where “each song is an elegy on a single person or event and the tunes are original compositions which we have orchestrated ourselves” (SS, 1, p. 139), is evidence that the novel was originally suppose to be a drama. The Cao family probably would have also, like the Jia family, purchased poor children, brought them up as servants, and later trained them to be actors.

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copies of the drama had been placed on each invitees’ table so that they could follow the performance. These widely commented upon spectacles along with Cao Yin’s playwriting ability must have been a source of intense pride to Cao Xueqin since the performance of dramas forms a key part of Honglou meng and one of Cao Yin’s dramas (The Lute Player’s Return) is actually mentioned in chapter 53 of the novel. Li Xu, Cao Yin’s brother-in-law was also known for staging costly dramas as was his son Li Ding 李鼎, who hired noted drama instructors to teach his actors, and even acted in some of these plays. Cao Xueqin would have attended some of these productions and performances in the residences of friends of the Cao family. The Cao family had a family troupe up until the confiscation in 1728, and would have periodically used it (or occasionally hired a local company) to celebrate festivals, birthdays, job promotions, weddings, births, and other auspicious occasions. Cyril Birch has written an atmospheric you-are-there account of what it would have been like to attend one of these performances at a palatial yamen (like the Cao’s) of a high ranking local official in the lower Yangzi region: Today is the birthday of our friend the provincial governor, and you and I are to join a small group of our fellow mandarins to help him celebrate. The premises of his official yamen will be quieter than usual—no court session today, no milling throng of petitioners, no troops to review, no executions scheduled, no tax accounts to audit, no travelling inspector to entertain. But there will be plenty of activity in the spacious recesses of his private quarters. He will want his gardens to look their best, the paths swept and the bamboos and blooming tree-peonies displayed to perfection on this already sultry late spring day. The banquet will be choice—his cook has a subtle touch with our local lake fish—and we shall be cool enough because it will be served in the new open-sided hall he has added for summer use. And there will be a play…[The new hall] is more like a large pavilion, quite spacious, and a graceful addition to the general lines of the residence, with its crimson pillars and lightly curving gray-tiled eaves. The playhouse gives the effect of an extension of the hall on a smaller scale. It too is open-sided, but marked off by a low balustrade. The raised stage will give us a good view of the players as we sit at table in the main body of the hall, comfortably ensconced on large porcelain stools—nothing so grateful on a humid afternoon as the cool of porcelain through one’s silk gown. It will all be very intimate, half a dozen actors of the governor’s household troupe, a trio of musicians in accompaniment, flute, lute, and wooden clappers at the side of the stage…Our friend the governor has a preference for light domestic comedy, with plenty of wit in the dialogue and some good poetry in the arias…the stage for our play will be equipped with neither sets nor curtains…The audience knows when a scene has ended when the actors leave their red carpet to retire behind a screen. A new actor appears. And the audience awaits his or her first aria which at least (in the early scenes) will most likely describe a new venue—garden or ruined temple or roadside inn or whatever—in concise concrete images that recall the lyric tradition of the great ages of poetry, the dynasties of Tang and Song. The language is refined,

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the melodies strictly prescribed, the movements of the actors under exquisite control, and yet the whole occasion is so intimate that the mandarin and his friends, for whose eyes and ears it has all been devised, can feel themselves involved in a way hard to imagine for a devotee of grand opera.4

The Kunqu 昆曲 style of Chinese theater was the most favored form of opera by officials and literati in the Yangzi regions of Zhejiang and Jiangsu during the time Cao Xueqin was growing up in Nanjing. Kunqu (literally “the tunes of Kunshan”) opera was a mixture of singing, poetry, opera, dancing, and drama. It also contained elements of the Chinese theatrical tradition such as farce, acrobatics, mime, and ballad recital. Hand movements (there weres seven basic), use of fingers (there were more than twenty different pointing gestures), and other body movements (there were more than twelve special movements just for the legs and each role had its own unique way of walking), were highly stylized and used to reveal the personality of characters. There were seven character types: male, female, painted-face, second male, second female, third male, and the clown. 5 Painted face characters wore a wide range of symbolic colors in different patterns, these included red, white, blue, green, yellow, pearl, gold, silver, and black. Makeup indicated character, for example black indicated that the character was honest, white that they were bad, and red that they were loyal. The action was sparse and actor’s movements were slow and synchronized to song and mellifluous wood-wind instrumental music. Costumes were very intricate and colorful and the language was classical and contained many literary allusions. Kunqu style drama was greatly admired for “the refinement and beauty of its line, the elaborateness of it showmanship, perfect harmony of its musical compositions, and the intricacy of its romantic and touching story.”6 Plots usually revolved around stories and novels based on legendary historical events. Since it would take several days to perform most Kunqu 4

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Scenes For Mandarins: The Elite Theater of the Ming (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 1, 2, 5. Mary Scott has pointed out that some of Dream of the Red Chamber’s characters are “conceived according to the roles of traditional theater: Bao-yu is a young scholar (sheng); Bao-chai, Dai-yu, and all the young women are romantic female leads (dan); Wang Xi-feng is hua dan (a beautiful, high-spirited, often immodest young woman); Grandmother Jia is an old dan (a respectable older lady), and Xue Pan is a clown (chou).” “The Story of the Stone and Its Antecedents,” in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), Edited by Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Lu (New York: The Modern Language Associations of America, 2012), p. 266. “Drama of the Qing Dynasty” by Colin Mackerras, in Chinese Theater: From Its Origins to the Present Day, Edited by Colin Mackerras (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), p. 94. See also Tao-Ching Hsu’s The Chinese Conception of the Theatre (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985), for a detailed discussion of Kunqu.

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plays in their entirety, a performance usually consisted of several scenes from well-known dramas. The famous twentieth century Chinese writer, Eileen Chang 张爱玲, in an essay for a Shanghai journal in 1943, attempted to capture some of the elements of traditional Chinese opera that have long captivated Chinese audiences: Characters in [Chinese] opera speak directly and unabashedly of whatever preys on their minds. If there is no one to listen to them onstage, they speak directly to the audience. If words are not sufficient, they supplement them with gestures, costumes, the colors and patterns of their face paint. Even weeping has its own distinctive meter: an exquisite diminuendo formed of a string of polished, rounded pearls of sound. On account of this surfeit of expression, those who are used to watching Peking opera find everything else pallid and lifeless by comparison…All I know is how to sit in the front row and enjoy the combat scenes, the dark silk of the warrior’s robes fluttering open to reveal the red lining inside, or the rosy purple silk underneath jade green pant legs, as kicks and jousts and feints swirl storms of dust across the stage. Then comes the sharp, anxious tattoo of percussion, signifying the quiet of the middle of the night, or deep thought, or even the cold sweat that pours out when one has been startled awake in the night: these are the very best of sound effects.7

After the Cao family moved to Beijing, Cao Xueqin became exposed to a greater variety of opera genres. Up until 1751, the most popular forms in the city were Kunqu and the Capital style, Jingqiang, which was an amalgamation of Gao and localized Yiyang styles. Gao was based on southern and northern tunes, and Yiyang was one of the four major singing styles of early Ming southern opera. Both of these styles were precursors to celebrated Beijing Opera which became very popular several decades after Cao Xueqin’s death.8 Generally speaking, although there were many regional styles of drama during the Qing (at the end of the dynasty there existed more than 300), the plots, stage techniques, and the type of actors used were quite similar. Differences in styles lay in the music, dialogue, and type of dance used. 7

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“Peking Opera Through Foreign Eyes,” in Written On Water, Translated by Andrew F. Jones (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 111, 106. Historical Dictionary of Chinese Drama by Tan Ye (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2008), pp. 23, 242. Generally speaking, although there were many regional types of drama during the Qing dynasty (it is estimated that there were several hundred at the end of the dynasty), plots, stage techniques, and the types of characters used were quite similar region to region. The differences between the styles lay in music, language and dialogue of their librettos, and the type of dance employed. Northern styles of drama were known for their simplicity, speed, and action.

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Cao would have had greater access to dramatic performances in Beijing than Nanjing for the capital’s raucous and thriving theater district was located in the Dashilar area near Zhengyang Gate in the Western part of the Chinese City, a relatively short walk from his family’s residence. Here privately owned theaters or commercial playhouses were open to a paying public.9 Programs began in the morning and went on for a total of ten or twelve hours of continual performances. “Different grades of seats accommodated a range of patrons; customers ate and talked during the performances, occasionally calling out praise; and actors were at liberty to wander offstage to visit their fans.” 10 The most important performances occurred around lunchtime and there were no performances after dusk. The patrons of these playhouses were not only the elite (scholars and would-be officials—both Han and Manchu), but also wealthy merchants, and even members of the lower-classes like inn keepers and butchers. Audience numbers were also increased by the large number of individuals who were constantly travelling to the capital for a variety of reasons: candidates who had come to take the government exams, officials waiting to take up new appointments, merchants on business trips, scholars working on special government projects, and tourists who visited the theaters because they were considered one of Beijing’s most famous attractions.11 There were also other venues in the city where Cao Xueqin could have seen plays. Beijing’s many temple fairs often had performances, where large crowds enthusiastically watched the action and also conducted business. Market places sometimes provided performances for their patrons, as did guildhalls, native-place lodges, and teahouse theaters. Many restaurants had private theatrical salons that could be rented for special events by the wealthy. The Manchu aristocracy was also fascinated with Chinese theater, and frequently had stages built and performances held in their mansions. Although Kangxi banned the building of stages in the Inner City in 1671, the imperial family had their own private troupes and bannermen remained the largest group of individuals who frequented the Dashilar area.12 9

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While Dashilar was the city’s main theater area, playhouses could also been be found outside the two other southern gates in the wall of the Inner City, one of which, Chongwen, was near the Cao family’s house. Peking Temples and City Life, 1400–1900 by Susan Naquin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 635. Naquin estimates the number of theaters during this time to be less than 10. Opera and the City: The Politics of Culture in Beijing, 1700–1900 by Andrea S. Goldman (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), pp. 63–124. In spite of the imperial family’s interest in drama, the Qing government considered commercial playhouses and theaters in the capital to be extremely problematic and

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Cao would have undoubtedly visited many of these public and private venues with his friends since attending the theatre was considered an important social and cultural part of literati and upper class life. The Dun brothers in particular had a family troupe for a time and would have been familiar with the various private troupes in the city. I-Hsien Wu has noted that Dun Min “once wrote in sorrowful retrospective, “The songs and dance in the west garden have long been desolate; the small theatrical troupe had ended. New sounds overflow, yet who could recognize them?...Dun Cheng, in a footnote to his own poem, recalls that in his teens, every time he returned home from the clan school his uncle summoned the family troupe for entertainment.”13 Cao Xueqin would have almost certainly seen some of these performances. He was also interested enough in the genre to write a short poem about a scene from a play Dun Cheng had written based on the famous poem “Pipa Xing” 琵琶行 by Bai Juyi 白居易.14

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attempted to police opera performances by restricting attendance and the location of theaters. Some of their concerns involved traditional governmental fears over any large gathering of persons and the possibility of politically seditious talk, the mixing of males and females (women were banned from attending commercial playhouses but were allowed to attend temple fair entertainments), officials (and bannermen) mixing with commoners, and because theater venues were associated with sexual immortality. According to Goldman, Qing rulers also believed the playhouses posed a threat to their legitimacy and ethnicity, and that their campaign against them was part of a longstanding battle that was “fought on two fronts: one against encroachment onto Manchu space by Han-identified cultural practices; the other against contamination of the core group of the regime’s bureaucratic support staff by the perceived ‘corrupting influences’ of Han— even Ming dynasty—ways. And both of these battles were designed to prevent a dilution of the ‘Manchu Way.’ This tension over where opera could be watched and who could watch it, in other words, was one expression of a larger anxiety of Qing rulers throughout the eighteenth century…over a perceived threat of sinicization and consequence weakening of the martial sinew” (p. 74). Because Beijing was strictly partitioned by city walls and spatially defined by the ethnicity of its inhabitants, and the city’s underlying racial tensions, simple questions concerning who should be allowed to attend dramatic performances and where theaters should be placed “became a touchstone for larger issues of social control and political transgression” (p. 75). This cultural fight over commercial theater was a battle the Qing government lost for most of the restrictions proved to be ineffective, and many officials and bannermen continued to visit theaters (albeit secretly). In the end, the public’s enjoyment of the dramas offered, and their ability to move and entrance audiences proved impossible for the public to resist. “The Journey of The Stone: Experience, Writing and Enlightenment.” PhD. Thesis, Columbia University, 2006, p. 96. Dun wrote that “There were no fewer than several dozen gentlemen who commented on [the play]. The end of Cao Xueqin’s poem says, “Master Bo’s poetic soul should be overjoyed, and he certainly will have Man and Su cleverly stage it,” which is indeed fresh and commendable. Man and Su are the names of two of Bai Juyi’s concubines; one

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Because Beijing was an important center for theater and had so many venues to stage performances, there was a great need in the capital for well trained actors. As a result, the city had numerous special training schools (keban) where young boys between the ages of six to ten (usually from the south, especially Anhui and Jiangsu provinces), who had been purchased from their parents on a contract lasting for many years, were taken to the capital to enter the acting field. After arriving in Beijing, they underwent a long and extremely harsh process of training involving physical abuse and brutality by troupe managers who developed a master-disciple relationship with the apprentices.15 Students rose before daybreak in all the seasons and

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was good at dance and one was good at singing” (Wu, 2006, p. 96). Given Cao Xueqin’s intense interest in drama and the fact that at an early stage of his career he considered writing a verse-drama, he must have read some popular works on playwriting. The Qing dynasty dramatist, scholar, and novelist 李渔 Li Yu (1611–1680), for example, who owned his own theater troupe of female performers, wrote several extremely popular books which offered practical tips for playwrights on the use of language, dialogue, and the mechanics of plot construction and structure in dramas. Cao may have been influenced by Li’s or other writings when he was composing Honglou meng. For an anthology of these writings, see Chinese Theories of Theater and Performance From Confucius to the Present, Edited and translated by Faye Chunfang Fei (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999). The acclaimed 1993 Chinese movie Farewell My Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige and based on the novel by Lillian Lee, accurately depicts the training of a Beijing Opera actor. Joshua Goldstein has observed that the infamous training regime for actors “had many layers of emotional and social significance. There were no books, diagrams, or student improvisation; training was a physical process, communicating skills from one body to another. Young actors needed to have their bodies reshaped; they were immersed in a set of vocal and physical practices that were tremendously difficult until they became second nature (parallels to ballet, foot-binding, tattooing, and Olympic gymnastics come to mind). Physical pain was an unavoidable part of this training, as was the requirement that students begin quite young. Only after being remolded into properly supple and receptive material, physically and mentally, were students deemed ready to receive instruction by expert actors in their specialty plays, a process that stressed meticulous imitation. Adult actors felt an obligation to these boys, who could not yet understand the difficulties that lay ahead of them, and often the beatings and strict punishment were expressions of the teacher’s deep concern, high expectations, and pride. When an adult actor taught a student his signature plays, he was performing an intimate and emotional actor; he was giving away his secrets, his public identity, and his means of making a living. The importance of this gift was never lost on a student.” Drama Kings: Players and Publics in the Re-creation of Peking Opera, 1870–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 36–37. Besides the keban, there existed another albeit less common way of training actors which was the institution of sifang, or private training, where a youth “had a status between an adopted child and a bondservant—similar, indeed, to that of a young courtesan in a brothel—living in a master’s home, and if the training was successful, becoming a source of the master’s income. The teacher-student

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practiced singing and declamation against the school’s external walls or Beijing’s massive city walls which were used as sounding boards. Many were never taught to read but learned their lines by rote. “After six months, the teachers conferred about what type of role—sheng (man). Dan (woman), hualian (painted face), chou (clown, comic character), wu (martial, stressing acrobatics) or wen (civil, stressing singing)—a student was best suited to perform. These decisions were based on a combination of criteria: attractiveness, voice quality, physical build, gymnastic ability, and personality.”16 When they graduated (training could last up to seven years), untalented students became extras, stagehands, musicians, or prop masters, and talented ones became teachers or actors at the school or other troupes. If the boy was very gifted and extremely lucky, he became a favored actor and was able to receive a good income. Actors traditionally had an ambiguous status in China. On the one hand, they formally occupied an extremely low social station, and were looked down on by people because they were considered no better than prostitutes since the theater was often associated with brothels, duplicity, and vagabonds since performers moved around a lot. Most actors were of base status and members of a hereditary service status group that included musicians and prostitutes and were barred from taking official examinations since the Yuan dynasty. On the other hand, in the late Ming and throughout the Qing dynasties, the best actors were conversant with and well-read in the arts valued by the literati—poetry, painting, history, and literature—and were consequently greatly honored and admired by them. During the eighteenth century, their popularity rose to new heights and Beijing became the epicenter of a refined aesthetic cult of male beauty by literati which revolved around young actors. This cult of homoerotic sensibility began in the capital in 1735, several years after Cao Xueqin arrived in the city. Wu Cuncun, who has extenstively examined the letters, diaries, fiction, poetry and “flower guides” of Chinese literati elite during this period and written a ground breaking study of this cult, has stated that “While statistics are of course unavailable, the impression is that the fashion for catamites was a pervasive part of literati life in Beijing. A large number of the literati, possibly even the majority (including those with and without official posts) were caught up in

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relationship in many ways resembled that in a keban, but with one important difference: the majority of youths trained in sifang were also molded as male courtesans, commonly known as xianggong” (Goldstein, 2007, p. 38). Goldstein, 2007, pp. 33–34.

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the rage for charming actors who graced the stage of the capital city. The fashion for young boys reached its highest point during this period.”17 During the late Ming and Qing period, notions regarding sexual morality and aesthetic conceptions involving gender were being redefined. One popular way literati accomplished this redefinition was through an increasing fascination with the theater and actors. Beginning in the late Ming and extending into the early Qing, a sophisticated artistic vogue developed among the literati where actors were treated like “luxury goods traded among the elite…Not only individual actors but entire troupes were sold, bestowed upon friends and relatives. Their circulation served to create and maintain networks of social exchange, in much the same manner as did gifts of fine ceramic ware, calligraphic scrolls, and ancient bonzes. The cultural prestige of the actor as a luxury good, in turn, was predicated on a highly refined discourse of connoisseurship.”18 Much of this discourse focused upon actors who were male dan, specialists in female roles. The tradition of female impersonation by male actors dates back in China to as early as the Han dynasty). Throughout the insuing dynasties, dan were common, but when the Mongolians took over China during the Yuan and weakened Confucian beliefs, female impersonation became rare. During the Ming dynasty, 17

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Homoerotic Sensibilities in Late Imperial China (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), p. 85. Wu concludes that male homoeroticism formed an important part of Chinese literati elite’s cultural life throughout the Qing dynasty. In another publication, Wu notes that during the early Qing, there was also a strong interest by the literati in youthful and feminized male beauty in general that was frequently expressed in novels and short stories of the period in which “the ideal of the feminine, or being “girl-like,” functioned in both an aesthetic and a moral space…Under the influence of this aesthetic trend towards feminization the sentiments and personalities of heroes depicted in Qing dynasty fiction also became weaker, and more sensitive and constrained. They are usually portrayed as sentimental, gentle, modest, innocent, and immature youths, and their undeveloped minds and frail constitutions allow them to become easily dispirited at the least sign of frustration…In the popular romantic fiction of the early Qing dynasty, the heroes were always shy and bashful, not unlike a girl accustomed to the seclusion of her boudoir. If they found themselves in love with a girl they would usually abandon the idea rather than risk disappointment or become the object of gossip. Any progress they made in a relationship with the opposite sex was entirely dependent on the help of more powerful seniors or occasionally younger girls known to both parties…in the end they were always rewarded with a household that included a wife, and a number of attractive concubines.” “Beautiful Boys Made Up As Beautiful Girls: Anti-Masculine Taste in Qing China,” in Asian Masculinities: The Meaning and Practice of Manhood in China and Japan, Edited by Kam Louie and Morris Low (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), pp. 34, 26. “The Literary Circulation of Actors in Seventeenth-Century China” by Sophie Volpp, The Journal of Asian Studies 61.3 (2002), p. 949.

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because female singers and dancers were banned from performing owing to the revival of Confucian ethics by the government, dan again became popular.19 For many early Qing Beijing literati, the veneration of actors became a way to celebrate the values of sensibility, male-love (nanse) and beauty, friendship, loyalty, and qing. To them, this new aesthetic, which was expressed in poetry, painting, and drama, of “male-love had apparently become the primary arena of romantic love and sentiment, and for other literati male-love was a significant addition to other forms of romantic passion. This development has much to do with the conception of family life and the division of the male and female worlds…The rise of male-love in the Qing dynasty, then, has to do with the possibilities of desire…[it] reflects the fantasy of the literati class.”20 This fantasy can be viewed on one level as an aesthetic quest by literati for newer and more pleasing rarefied types of beauty and as a way for literati to dramatically and publically demonstrate to others their aesthetic refinement. Actors who played educated, nobly bred, and chaste female characters were especially prized and romanticized in part because of their remarkable feminine looks (in Beijing, effeminate and very delicate looking boys with clean, pale complexions were highly favored), mannerisms, and singing ability. The hauntingly fleeting nature of the dan’s career (which was equated with the fleeting nature of desire and life itself) was another aesthetic factor that contributed to their popularity with the literati.21 The careers of dan were very short. They usually started performing when they were thirteen and finished around the age of eighteen, when their masculine traits began to show and their bodies change. But, according to Wu, the characteristic that literati most frequently mentioned in their writings that 19

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“Male Dan: The Paradox of Sex, Acting, and Perception of Female Impersonation in Traditional Chinese Theater” by Min Tian, Asian Theatre Journal 17.1 (2009), pp. 79–80. Wu, 2004, p. 115. Bret Hinsch writes that during their training period to become dan, actors “to promote an attractive physique washed their faces in meat broth, ate a special diet of choice foods, and covered their bodies in ointment at night to soften their skin. [One observer noted that] ‘Three or four months after the training program begins, these boys are delicate and genteel as lovely maidens. One glance from them will create hundreds of charms.’ A nineteenth century literatus described his personal reaction to a troupe of boy actors: ‘All of them were fourteen or fifteen years old. After they finished their singing, they helped me with my drinks. They wore clothes made of light silk, and their sleeves were narrow and tight. They were so delicate and lovely that one could not help but feel a sentiment of endearment.’” Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 152.

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they liked about boy-actors was their perceived fidelity to and affection for their literati patrons.22 This aesthetic idealization of young male actors resulted in many members of the literary elite becoming sexually involved with these actors and frequenting male brothels with dan which were clustered around the three northern gates leading into the Outer City. Wu concludes that “While it is impossible to ascertain what proportions of the elite were involved in such homoerotic love affairs, they certainly included some of the most central figures in the intellectual history of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and their exploits were publically admired…As a host of writers at the time note, the male brothels had become an important fixture in the landscape of greater Beijing, displacing the struggling houses of female prostitution and taking over the entertainment quarters.”23 She also notes that this cult of male beauty did not only involved well established members of the elite but also included “large numbers of literati, officials and wealthy merchants.”24 This elaborate aesthetic fantasy devised by the literati which exalted male entertainers and romanticized literatus-catamite relations was no small part the result of the literati’s problematic status at the time. As has been previously mentioned, during this period their standing was changing because the path to government office holding was becoming increasingly difficult due to increasing competition and the low number of available positions. As a result, new identities and roles for literati were being formed so that they could retain their membership in an elite that still enjoyed important privileges. By participating in this cult of boy actors, literati could retain their standing by clearly demonstrating they were members of a refined, elite group of aesthetes and also bond with other members of the elite. Cao Xueqin would have undoubtedly been aware of this widespread aesthetic vogue since he lived in Beijing, socialized with literati, and was fascinated by drama. Zhou Ruchang has surmised that Cao was “attracted to the most accomplished actors who were then in fashion…[and] appreciated, and had compassion for these talented but unfortunate artists. In this regard, he was actually part of a larger trend among young members of the Eight Banners who, instead of having official duties, drifted along with actors and gradually learned to sing, or even worse, become guest performers.”25 Zhou 22

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Wu, 2004, p, 115. It was not uncommon for opera troupes to make more money renting out their actors for escort services than from ticket sales for performances. Wu, 2004, pp. 160–161. Wu, 2004, p. 161. Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara, Translated by Liangmei Bao and Kyongsook Park (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009), pp. 118–119.

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also thinks that Cao may have even briefly acted on the stage and was punished by his family for doing so.26 Honglou meng provide us with several clues of Cao’s possible feelings about actors. Throughout the novel, they are generally portrayed in a very positive light. Jia Bao-yu becomes close friends with several actors, including Liu Xiang-lian, and the dan, Jiang Yu-han (Bijou), who eventually marries his maid Xiren.27 Early in the novel, Xiren holds the traditional belief that actors are immoral and untrustworthy, but at the end of the novel, her opinion radically changes and her marriage to Jiang is described as happy. The great artistic charm and presence that an accomplished actor would have exuded at that time on the stage in Beijing is nicely captured by Cao in his depiction of a performance by Jiang in chapter 93 when Bao-yu watches him play a male character, Master Qin, in a scene from “The Queen of Flowers.” During the performance, Bao-yu is not interested in the play’s heroine, Jasper Lute, but has “eyes only for Master Qin. That ringing vocal timbre, that crystal diction, that subtle tempo was too much for his sensitive soul. He was enraptured. By the end of the performance he knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that Jiang Yu-han was an artist of True Feeling.”28 (In direct contrast, Xue Pan is depicted as an unrefined theatergoer who aggressively treats all actors as simply male prostitutes).29 26 27

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Zhou, 2009, p. 119. Hinsch cotends that David Hawkes mistranslates a scene involving Liu Xiang-lian and Xue Pan in chapter 47 of Honglou meng. In this scene, Liu is greatly insulted by Xue but not for the reason Hawkes presents. According to Hinsch, “Readers unfamiliar with the sexual context of the Qing might assume that Liu is insulted because Xue Pan insinuates that he is ‘gay,’ as David Hawkes’s otherwise admirable translation of the novel implies. Yet the situation is more complex. Liu takes offense not at the implication that he might enjoy homosexuality intercourse per se, but rather at the suggestion that he might be willing to take a passive sexual role. According to the conventional hierarchies for actorprostitutes, sexual passivity to Xue Pan would have also entailed social submission to this oafish boor. This idea enrages Liu to such an extent that he severely beats his admirer…the violence of this incident emphasizes the seriousness with which men of the Qing viewed sexual roles, particularly in such an extreme case as mistaking a free man of a good family for a prostitute” (1990, p. 148). Hinsch also argues that the phrase “Lord Long Yang’s vice (Lord Yang zhi xing)” that Hawkes uses in chapter 9 to describe Xue Pan’s homosexual bent, is a mistranslation because “xing conveys no sense of moral disapproval; on the contrary, it has many favorable connotations. Possible translations include joy, merriment, passion, desire, and appetite” (1990, p.197). SS, 4, p. 266. Honglou meng also sympathetically depicts the unstable lives of actresses. In the novel, a troupe of twelve young actresses are purchased in the south and brought to Beijing to provide entertainment for the imperial concubine’s visit and then kept on for a short period. Several of the actresses, like Fangguan, are shown to be quite talented, and

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Zhou Ruchang has also contended that Cao Xueqin in fact did develop at one stage of his life a special friendship with an actor that belonged to a prince and that this relationship later caused problems for the Cao family (much like the early friendship between Bao-yu and Jiang, who is “owned’ by the Prince of Zhong-shun, and which, in part, contributes to his brutal beating by his father in chapter 33). Zhou’s evidence is very weak, but it is quite possible that Cao Xueqin, given his deep interest in drama, class background, finely developed artistic sensibility, and what was culturally happening in Beijing among literati in terms of theater life and the cult of male-actors, was an active participant in the vogue, and established a close friendship or even a homosexual relationship with a young actor. China has traditionally been in comparison to other countries, quite open-minded about homosexuality, and accepting of writings on this topic. Unlike the West, Chinese religious attitudes towards homosexuality have also been tolerant. Even Confucianism, which stressed public reticence and a strong sense of propriety regarding sexual matters, seemed “to have been little concerned with sexual relationship between men. Though it promoted marriage, its insistence on the seclusion of women and their inferiority, the high value it placed on male friendship, and the closeness of the master-disciple bond it fostered, may have subtly facilitated homosexuality.”30 Generally speaking, Confucianism only considered the practice a problem when its pursuit directly conflicted with the goal of fulfilling one’s social and familial obligations and providing a son to carry on the family’s name. In Dream of the Red Chamber, homosexuality is widespread and generally accepted. Keeping with the encyclopedic nature of this novel, Cao Xueqin describes a variety of types of homosexual behavior. Wang Xi-feng’s libertine husband, Jia Lian, indulges in sexual encounters with his handsome male servants when women are not readily available. There are subtle hints Bao-yu might have had affairs with several male characters including Qin Zhong.31 The “Oaf King” Xue Pan is depicted as an insatiable lecher who is

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although a bit unrestrained in behavior and proud, essentially good at heart. In the end, they are unceremoniously given back to their families or sold. Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 221. There is still some debate between scholars over whether Bao-yu actually has a physical relationship with Qin Zhong. Some commentators argue that they are far too young to have a relationship, others believe that they were of the right age (sixteen) but that Cao Xueqin had mistakenly assigned them incorrect ages. Qing critics of the novel were certain that the two had a homosexual relationship. A number of commentators have focused their discussion on this relationship because they believe that Bao-yu represents Cao Xueqin’s personal experiences. For a study of this topic, see Giovanni Vitiello’s The

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always on the prowl for a new sexual (primarily male) partner, and there are rumors in the story that other male members of the Jia family may have their own relationships with distant male family members (for example, chapter 6 insinuates a possible relationship between Jia Zhen and Jia Qiang). The Jia family’s clan school is a hotbed of immoral students who are more than willing to sell their favors for money. Chapter 65 contains a scene where a drunken servant unsuccessfully propositions other pages. Finally, in chapter 75, under the guise of practicing archery, profligate males in the family hold gambling parties where visitors are entertained by young, overdressed, and simpering male prostitutes. Cao’s portayals appear to be historically accurate for the time. One writer of the early eighteenth century observed that homosexuality among the upper-classes in Beijing “is now widespread enough that it is considered in bad taste not to keep elegant manservants on one’s household staff, and undesirable not to have singing boys around when inviting guests for dinner.”32

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Libertine’s Friend: Homosexuality and Masculinity in Late Imperial China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 175–180. Vitiello concludes that “Whereas Jia Lian and Xue Pan represent a conventional type of libertine male who can establish hierarchical erotic relations, the ‘new libertine’ Bao-yu displays an exclusive interest in equalitarian bonds. Accordingly, his relationship with Qin Zhong is predicated on equality rather than on gaps of age and social status. Bao-yu’s romantic vision, with its emphasis on the identity between the lovers, might actually be seen as inherently hemophilic; he is first and foremost attracted to people who are like him; an uncanny mirroring of identities mark his erotic yearnings” (Vitiello, 2011, pp. 174–175). Bao-yu, in many ways is representative of the typical feminized hero of Qing dynasty fiction that earlier described by Wu. But Wu is careful to point out that he is also significally different: “Cao Xueqin’s portrayal of Bao-yu’s allure depends on the many layers of femininity employed to construct his character, a young man who not only makes up like a young lady, but who attempts to exclude all forms of masculine “coarseness” from his life. Through this process he also creates the epitome of male beauty for his time…Honglou meng is a sustained critique of contemporary social values, particularly in its rejection of the examination system and the narrow definition of social rules and life choices, but its author, Cao Xueqin, could still not ignore the feminine aesthetic of the early Qing period. Indeed the unique success of the novel might be attributed to the way in which he combined his anti-conservative themes with his heroes feminization” (2003, pp. 23–24). There is also a hint of lesbianism in Honglou meng in chapter 58 regarding the relationship between the actresse’s Ti-kuan and Ou-Kuan, who act out in real life the relationship they portray on the stage. The second parallel title couplet for this chapter calls their relationship “a strange kind of love” (SS, 3, p. 116). The Rise of the Peking Opera, 1770–1870: Social Aspects of the Theater in Manchu China by Colin P. Mackerras (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 45. It is curious to note that while these widespread homosexual practices and the cult of boy actors were occurring in Beijing, the Qing government was formulating a comprehensive new law code covering homosexual rape and sodomy. The early Manchu emperors were

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Honglou meng also reveals that Cao Xueqin possessed an extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese drama and that a large portion of upperclass life revolved around the genre. Dramatic performances frequently occur in the novel and numerous plays are discussed, debated, referenced, and sometimes even secretly read by the main characters.33 The types of plays mentioned are wide-ranging, and include noisy, comical skits, refined romantic pieces, and dramas performed for family celebrations.34 There are

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quite hostile to native Chinese homosexual customs. The Kangxi emperor in particular was horrified when he discovered that the former Crown Prince, Yinreng, was sexually involved with several men and had associated with young male actors. According to Matthew H. Sommer, during the reign of Yongzheng, legislation showed “a new, intensive focus on fixing male gender in self-conscious analogy to female gender, in an effort to defend chaste wives and daughters and young boys of upright households against the predatory rootless rascal. It stands to reason that the growing numbers of surplus males would have raised the profile of same-sex union and of homosexual rape in both peasant society and judicial caseloads. Perhaps this helps explain the new perception of a threat to masculinity...The conflation of eroticized youth, femininity, and penetrability implies an instability in the gender of young males, especially prior to transition with marriage to adult masculinity. It seems that young males were perceived as vulnerable to penetration, and in that sense, as potentially female…The spate of new laws against sodomy betrayed increasing fear of the threat to vulnerable males, but also, perhaps, of their possible enjoyment of roles that conflicted radically with the demands of order. Pollution of female chastity threatened the gendered hierarchy of the household—but the degradation of masculinity did so, too.” Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 164, 165. These plays include: A Handful of Snow (chapter 18); The Pilgrim’s Path (85); The Romance of the Jade Hairpin (54); The Story of the Lute (42, 85); The Palace of Eternal Youth (11, 18); The Wooden Hairpin (44, 45); The Dream of the Handan (18, 63); The Tale of the Thorn Pin (43,44); Ding-lang Finds His Father (19); The Dream of the Southern Tributary State (29); Abject Apologies (30); Monkey Makes War in Heaven (19); The Drunken Monk (22); The West Tower (53); The Investitures of the Gods (19); Huang Bo-yang and the Ghostly Army (19); The House in Ping-kang Lane (53); Eight Gallants at the Lantern Festival (54); The Orphan’s Revenge (54); The Lute Player’s Return (by Cao Yin, 54); Heap of Honors (29); Zhi-shen at the Monastery Gate (22); The Magic Box (53); The Queen of Flowers (93); The Oil-Vendor and the Courtesan (93); The White Serpent (29); Every Son a High Minister (29,71); The Palace of Pearls (85); The Hairpin and the Clasp (18); Liu Er Pawns His Clothes (22); The Peony Pavilion (11, 18, 23); The Bracelet and the Comb (18); and The Story of the Western Chamber (23, 42, 301) and the famous anthology, A Hundred Dramas of the Yuan Dynasty (42) . The styles of drama performed in the novel are also widely varied. In chapter 93, Bao-yu watches dramas at the Earl of Lin-an’s residence, and the styles performed are “the lyrical Kun-qu, the noisier gao-qiang and yi-qiang, and the ‘clapper’ style from Shensi to the West” (SS, 4, p. 265). Tao-Ching Hsu notes that the dramatic performances in Honglou meng generally consist of “Kun dramas, Gao tunes (高腔 ), I Yi tunes (弋腔 ),

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also a great number of allusions made to dramas when characters participate in pastimes like drinking games, poetry, and riddle contests. Cao probably started reading plays when he was young, but he would have had to do this in secret since these works were written in the vernacular and not in classical Chinese and their themes and language were largely considered by adults to be unsuitable for and a bad influence upon young people.35 Cao Xueqin appears to have been greatly impressed by the poetic lyricism of dramas. This quality is alluded to in several scenes in Honglou meng. In chapter 22, Bao-chai, who has an excellent knowledge of the genre, while watching a performance, tells an uninformed Bao-yu who hates noisy plays like the one they are currently viewing, that the next drama to be performed, Zhi-zhen at the Monastery Gate, “is a “Ruby Lips” sequence in the Northern mode...The words of Zhi-shen’s “Clinging Vine” aria, which is the last but one in the sequence, are particularly fine…Bao-yu listened enthralled, tapping his knee and nodding his head in time to her singing. When she had done, he agreed enthusiastically about the excellence of the words.”36 In the next chapter, Dai-yu is completely overwhelmed reading the celebrated drama Romance of the Western Chamber by the sheer beauty of its lyrics: “In less time than it is takes for a meal she had read all the sixteen scenes. The sheer beauty of the language left a sweet taste in her mouth. After finishing reading she sat there entranced, recalling some of the lines.”37 And later in the chapter, she laments “So there are fine lines in these operas,

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and Ping tunes (平腔 )” (1985, p. 277). For details regarding these different styles, see Ye, 2008. Ling Hon Lam has contended that the subject of the problematic nature of young people reading traditional drama during the Qing period was considerably more complex than has been assumed. She observes, as many careful readers of Honglou meng have, that there exists a contradiction between the Jia family openly enjoying romantic dramas in their mansion and their prohibition against young people reading the texts of plays and the strong belief that to do so was immoral. Lam maintains that what really is “At issue is not whether the romantic content is to be suppressed or expressed, but what the media for realizing it should be—oral performance or silent reading—and how each medium affects the way emotion is interiorized (qing)…Rereading, or more precisely the private, silent reading facilitated by printed play texts, contributes to the construction of individual interiority foreign to the community fostered by the aural reception of the performance… silent reading of the play text is regarded as problematic because of its [sentimental] interiorizing.” “The Matriarchs’ Private Ear: Performance, Reading, Censorship and the Fabrication of Interiority in The Story of the Stone,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 65.2 (2005), pp. 357–358, 407, 408. SS, 1, p. 436. DRM, 1, p. 336.

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what a pity people just care for the spectacle without understanding the meaning.”38 Sophie Volpp has written that another reason the literati were so taken with the theater, actors, and acting during this period was their deep interest in “philosophical questions about the phenomenal world and its relation to illusion.”39 Volpp maintains that this can be seen in the idea that the world is similar to a stage. This notion “is rarely encapsulated in neat phrases in seventeenth century texts…it surfaces rather in the parallels drawn between social roles and theatrical roles; in the sense of the self as spectacle before others…and in the conception of the stage as a realm of illusion that enables the spectator to recognize the illusory nature of all things. These may seem rather abstract formulations, but seventeenth century authors used them.”40 The aesthetic aim of all traditional Chinese dramas was not just the brilliant display of the authors’ and actors’ skills, for this would have been considered lacking or “empty” (kong). Instead, the intention was to effectively “strike the audience with a resemblance to life—and then to convey the very essence of life.”41 For it was believed that the magic of drama as an art form resided in its ability to bring into existence a self-contained world of beautiful language, subtle gestures, and refined movements which reflected the essence of life, while relying upon the active participation of the imagination of the audience (or reader) to fill in what was physically left out on the small and simple stage where no props was used; thereby creating a world during the performance seemingly so real and aesthetically pleasing yet ultimately illusory. Drama’s special capacity to do this must have greatly impressed Cao Xueqin and he would have given much thought to the implications this genre held for writing fiction. He also would later discover how drama’s philosophical underpinnings could be used to inform and reinforce his theme in Honglou meng concerning the porous boundaries between dreams and reality, truth and falsity.42 38 39

40 41

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DRN, 1, p. 338. Worldly Stage: Theatricality in Seventeenth-Century China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 7. Volpp, 2011, p. 7. Listening to Theater: The Aural Dimension of Beijing Opera by Elizabeth Wichmann (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991), p. 2. Dramas have several functions in Honglou meng. In addition to helping to move the plot and revealing characters’ personality, their contents also operate as key foreshadowing devices. Moreover, dramas buttress the novel’s themes of the deceptive and ephemeral nature of pleasure and life in general, and Cao’s ideas regarding illusion and disillusionment. For an analysis of the many roles dramas play in the story, see pp. 219– 237 of Wong Kam-ming’s “The Allure of Melancholy: The Anxiety of Allusion in

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It is generally agreed that two renowned dramas had a major impact upon Cao’s writing of Honglou meng. They are the fourteenth century work Romance of the Western Chamber 西厢记 by Wang Shifu 王实甫 (ca. 1250– 1300) and the sixteenth century play Peony Pavilion 牡丹亭 by the famous Ming dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu 汤显祖 (1550–1617). Both works are romantic love stories. Romance of the Western Chamber, a Yuan variety opera, concerns the numerous, frequently comic travails of the star crossed lovers, Zhang Sheng, a poor student, and the gifted and lovely maiden Cui Yingying, who is staying at Pujiu temple with her mother. They meet in the temple’s garden and fall passionately in love. After undergoing a series of misunderstandings, tests, and a long separation, they are happily reunited. This play is China’s most popular love comedy. The lovers’ story is told with sophisticated psychological realism and insight, and has provided the model for tales about talented, beautiful young women and brilliant students. Although Romance of the Western Chamber was very popular (from 1600– 1900, more than 100 editions of it were printed), often performed, and highly influential, the drama also “came to have attached to it the notorious status of a lover’s bible, and many eager champions of morality censured this masterpiece as a “book that teaches lechery” and damned the author to a life of hell—an opprobrium that only increased the appeal of the work.”43 The Peony Pavilion is considered the greatest work of traditional Chinese drama and is the most celebrated example of Kunqu opera. Like many Kun dramas, it is extremely long (consisting of fifty-five acts with 403 arias), and a full performance required more than twenty hours or eight days. It was written in 1598 and was an immediate hit when it appeared both as a play and with the reading public. Mudan ting tells the story of a love affair between Du Liniang, a cloistered, shy, romantic sixteen year old girl who longs for love, and her handsome suitor, a young, impoverished scholar named Liu Mengmei. In the story, Du takes a stroll on a bright, spring day in a back garden with her loyal and shrewd maid, Spring Fragrance. She falls asleep and has a dream of meeting Liu near a pavilion and they fall in love. Upon waking, she becomes obsessed with him, and eventually dies from her pining and is buried beneath an apricot tree. Before her death, she paints a self-portrait and has it placed next to her tomb near a peony pavilion. Three

43

Hongloumeng,” in Symbols of Anguish: In Search of Melancholy in China, Edited by Wolfgang Kubin (Bern: Peter Lang, 2001). “Story of the Western Wing (Xixiang Ji)” by Stephen H. West and Wilt L. Idema, in Masterworks of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective: A Guide for teaching, Edited by Barbara Stoler Miller (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1994), p. 347. West and Idema have also translated the play into English under the title of The Story of the West Wing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

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years later, Liu, on a trip to the capital to participate in the government examinations, falls ill and convalesces from his sickness in Du’s former residence. There he encounters her portrait and worships it thinking she is the Goddess of Mercy. During this time, Du receives permission from the netherworld to return to her mortal body. She then meets Liu, reveals her identity, tells him that she is a ghost and persuades him to exhume her remains so that she may be resurrected. He does this and falls in love with her. Because of this love, Du becomes confident and courageous and they marry. But they soon separate when he leaves to search for her father, but are united at the end of the play. The Peony Pavilion has been acclaimed for its elegant language, rich symbolism, profusion of literary allusions, sophisticated wordplay, and earthy humor. It is also praised for its philosophical depth and psychological acumen. Scenes 10 (“The Interrupted Dream”), 14 (“The Portrait”), and 28 (“Union in the Shades”), in particular are considered unparalleled in Chinese drama in terms of character depiction. This play is one of four dramas written by Tang Xianzu, which are collectively known as the “Dream” plays. Tang attempts in all 4 plays to merge Confucian standards and basic human feelings with otherworldly Buddhist and Daoist values.44 Honglou meng is full of allusions to both of these dramas. Chapters 23 to 98 contain a considerable number of references to both works, these allusions serving to underscore (often ironically) Bao-yu’s and Dai-yu’s turbulent relationship as well as Dai-yu’s strong identification with the heroines of these plays.45 Of the two plays, the Peony Pavilion appears to 44

45

In chapter 42 of Honglou meng, Xue Bao-chai confesses to Lin Dai-yu that “You may not believe it, but I used to be a madcap too…At seven and eight I was a real handful. Our family was considered a scholarly one, and my grandfather’s chief delight was collecting books. There were a lot of us in those days, boys and girls together, and we all hated serious books. Some of my boy cousins liked poetry, other librettos. We had books like The Western Chamber, Tale of the Lute, and A Hundred Dramas of the Yuan Dynasty—a whole collection of that source. They used to read them in secret, and so did we girls. When the grown-ups found out, we were beaten or scolded and the books were burnt, which put a stop to that” (DRM, 2, pp. 22–23). This incident may have been based on Cao Xueqin’s own personal experience. We do know that Cao Yin’s extensive library contained two editions of Romance of the Western Chamber and a copy of The Peony Pavilion (Lam, 2005, p. 106), so it is possible that Cao Xueqin obtained copies of these plays from Cao Yin’s library and first read them when he was growing up in Nanjing. Cyril Birch has done an excellent translation of The Peony Pavilion which was published by Indiana University Press in 2002. Scott, 2012, p. 269. Dai-yu’s strong self identification with Du Liniang was not unusual for this time. A large number of Mudan Ting’s most passionate fans were women. Judith T. Zeitlin notes that “Female readers intensely identified with Du Liniang, the young

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have had the biggest impact on Cao Xueqin. Zhou Ruchang has contended that Cao’s use of the word dream (meng) in Honglou meng’s title was inspired by Tang Xianzu’s dream plays.46 But what most interested Cao Xueqin in Tang’s writings was his philosophy of qing 情. The word qing is very difficult to translate into English because of its wide and complex range of connotations.47 For the purposes of this book, the

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heroine who died from a desire conceived in dream. Just as Du Liniang’s love eventually transcended death in the play, so her affective power helped her transcend her fictional status in the female imagination. A sizable corpus of materials document the play’s near cult-status among seventeenth century women. According to one legend, a famous actress specializing in the role of Du Liniang was so overcome with suppressed emotion during a climactic scene that she literally expired on stage. But the bulk of these stories revolve not around issues of performance or spectacle, but around women’s reading of the play and their written responses to it.” “Shared Dreams: The Story of the Three Wives’ Commentary on The Peony Pavilion,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 54.1 (1994), pp. 128–129. The most famous commentary on the play was Wu Wushan’s Three Wives’s Collective Commentary 吴吴山三妇合评牡丹亭还魂记 which was published in 1694. Wu Wushan was a pen name of the scholar Wu Ren 吴人. The commentary was written by his gifted wives. The title comes from how the commentary was written. Wu had a fiancée, Chen Tong, who died before her wedding day, and worked on a detailed study of the play. After her death, Wu married a woman named Tan Ze, who also worked on the book. Unfortunately, she also died before completing it. He then married Qian Yi, who eventually completed the commentary. (For more information on this work, see the above mentioned article by Zeitlin). This commentary was important because it offered a badly needed female perspective on the play. Because Cao Xueqin was very interested in The Peony Pavilion, and this commentary was so well know, there is a good chance he would have read it. For a well-researched novel about Wu’s first wife, Chen Tong and the effect Mudan Ting had on female readers, see Peony in Love by Lisa See (New York: Random House, 2007). Zhou, 2006, p. 186. Siu-kit Wong has come up with the thirdteen definitions for qing: (1) It is “synonymous with ambition (zhi); (2) universal human emotions distinct from rational thought; (3) selfish and undesirable emotions such as passion; (4) emotion, chiefly erotic; (5) instinctive, universal emotions; (6) morally refined emotions; (7) reality, truth and inner spirit, in contrast to external artificiality; (8) imaginative truth, in contrast to mere fact; (9) the substance of poetry not the form; (10) the identity of poetry, often interchangeable with disposition, xingqing or qinxing; (11) as elements in poetry other than the visual jing; (12) artistic sensibility, often qingxing; and (13) a cognate meaning of intellectual interest or even passion, as in qingqu.” Summarized by Maram Epstein in Competing Discourses: Orthodoxy, Authenticity, and Engendered Meaning in Late Imperial Chinese Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 64. Wong’s definitions can be found in “Ch’ing in Chinese Literary Criticism,” Ph.D Thesis, Oxford University, 1967, pp. 328– 333. Epstein has conveniently reduced these definitions into four categories: “Physiological: the body of emotions with which the individual responses to his or her environment, as in the modern ganqing, 感情, ‘emotion’ which is often reduced to the single emotion of romantic love. Spiritual: the true and inner spirit, always positive,

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term is broadly construed as meaning affection, empathy, love, and compassion. The Peony Pavilion represents Tang’s deep reflections upon this concept. According to Cyril Birch, in the play qing is taken to mean love. But Branch also says that “A more extended equivalent would be “feeling”: joy and sorrow, fear and anger, desire and hate... qing [stands] for the spontaneous affects of the heart …For Tang Xianzu, qing in its highest development as true love between man and woman, embraces sexual attraction, physical passions, but also sentiment, empathy, devotion—the virtues of that broader love that exists also outside the sexual relationship.”48 One of the key messages of Mudan Ting concerns the triumph of qing (love) over social restrictions (which in part is gauged by the development of Bridal Du’s personality). In Tang’s well-known preface to the drama (which quickly became a manifesto for qing), he neatly encapsulates his personal philosophy of qing: Has the world ever seen a woman’s love to rival that of Bridal Du?... Dead for three years, still she was able to live again when in the dark underworld her quest for the object of her dream was fulfilled. To be a Bridal Du is truly to have known love. Love is of source unknown, yet it grows ever deeper. The living may die of it, by its power the dead live again. Love is not love at its fullest if one who lives is unwilling to die for it, or if it cannot restore to life one who has so died. And must the love that comes in dreams necessarily be unreal? for there is no lack of dream lovers in the world. Only for those whose love must be fulfilled on the pillow and for whom affection deepens only after retirement from office, is it entirely a corporeal matter.49

Tang Xianzu’s interest and belief in the power of qing was not uncommon for his time. Both Ming and Qing dynasty scholars and writers were intrigued by the topics of sentiment and desire (yu). The term “cult of qing” has been used to describe this widespread fascination. This characterization is a bit deceptive for this movement was not as unified as

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contrasted to external artificiality. Phenomenological: a morally neutral usage to describe discrete and unique phenomena in contrast to the universal and unchanging truths (li 里), as in the vernacular shiqing 事情, ‘affairs,’ ‘matters,’ or qingkuang 情况, ‘conditions.’ Aesthetic: always positive, a true aesthetic sensibility, disposition, or intellectual interest, as in the vernacular qingqu 情趣 , ‘interest,’ ‘appeal’” (2001, p. 65). Epstein concludes that “Qing thus paradoxically refers to both objective reality and to subjective reactions to external stimuli, as well as a merging of the two, as in the lyric dissolution of the boundary between self and other” (2001, p. 65). For a philosophical analysis of qing, see “Qing (Ch’ing): Reality or Feeling” by Chad Hansen in Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, Edited by Antonio S. Cua (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 620–622. Tang Xianzu, 2002, p. x. Tang Xianzu, 2002, p. ix.

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frequently supposed, and should be more accurately viewed as a general trend that encompassed the areas of philosophy, literature, and the theater and had many intertwining and often conflicting aspects.50 The philosophical grounding for this trend was provided by the noted Ming Neo-Confucian thinker Wang Yangming 王阳明(1472–1529) and his egalitarian conception of Confucian selfhood, and the perfect harmony of nature and man. Strongly reacting against what he considered the static and stagnant methodology of the orthodox Confucian philosopher Cheng Yi’s 程颐 (1033–1107) theory of the investigation of things, and the duality of heavenly principle and human desire of the Southern Song period Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200), Wang argued for a radically new theory of human nature which posited that anyone could potentially become a sage because of their innate moral knowledge and goodness. He also claimed that the “The highest good is the ultimate principle of manifesting character and loving people. The nature endowed in us by Heaven is pure and perfect. The fact that is intelligent, clear, and not beclouded is evidence of the emanation and revelation of the highest order.”51 According to Wang, principle and the mind (by which he meant the will) were one, and moral authority was entirely rooted within the individual self; innate moral sentiments and not overriding ethical codes motivate humans to do good. For Wang, it was not the world that shapes the mind but the mind that presents reasons to and influences the world. As a result, he believed that the human heart was just as reliable a source as the external world of experience and reality. Wang also strongly contended that man’s naturally endowed moral nature and original goodness was based on love (qing)—an all encompassing and penetrating love that naturally flowed from the first principle of things, and that when people acted in accordance with this feeling, employed their volition to realize it, relationships were rectified, Confucian virtues and humanity (ren) obtained, and individuals became perfected. “Everything from ruler, minister, husband, wife, and friends, to mountains, rivers, spiritual beings, birds, animals, and plants, should be truly loved in order to realize my humanity that forms one body with them, and then my clear character will be completely manifested, and I will form one 50

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“Love or Lust? The Sentimental Self in Honglou meng” by Haiyan Lee, CLEAR 19 (1997), p. 86. For a comprehensive overview of the development of the cult of qing during the Ming and Qing dynasties, see chapter 1 of Lee’s Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900–1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007). Instructions for Practical Living and Other Neo-Confucian Writings by Wang Yangming, Translated with notes by Wing-Tsit Chan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963, p. 274.

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body with Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things.”52 In his view, individuals only needed to look inward to discover truth and morality, and when they are cognizant that an act is correct and true, act upon it. Wang’s beliefs were considered highly controversial and deemed far too radical by traditional Confucians because he failed to assume that becoming a sage required a rigorous study of the classics, and presupposed ordinary people could achieve sagehood. Wang Yangming’s theory that sentiment formed the basis of human beings’ moral nature significantly influenced many Ming and Qing intellectuals. The iconoclastic philosopher and promoter of popular literature Li Zhi was the first person to apply Wang’s theory to literature. Wang’s philosophy also directly affected the development of scholar-beauty romances. For many Ming and early Qing writers of fiction, sentiment began to define the characters they wrote about, often influenced these characters relationships, and philosophically informed the world they inhabited.53 The impact of this focus on qing can be seen most colorfully in the writings of Feng Menglong, especially Feng’s massive anthology of 850 stories about qing, Qingshi, which was briefly discussed in the last chapter. In his emotional preface to this work, Feng makes qing a cosmic principle, proudly proclaiming “ever since I was a young man, I have been known to be qing crazy… my intent has been to choose the best from among the stories concerning qing, both ancient and contemporary, and to write up a brief for each, so I make known to men the abiding nature of qing, and thereby turn the unfeeling into men of sensitivity, and transform private feelings into public concerns.” 54 But his intentions did not stop there. Feng also aimed to prophesize to the world about the power of qing, stating “I intend to establish a school of qing to teach all who are living…Alas, although I have an abundance of qing, others still lack it. I hope to reach those others who have an abundance of qing that together we might propagate the teaching of qing.”55 Wang’s philosophy also deeply influenced Tang Xianzu, who expanded upon Wang’s concept of qing. Waiyee Li writes that The Peony Pavilion’s contribution to this conversation on qing was dual and lay in his “attempt to idealize qing by endowing volition, imagination, and longing with transformative power, [and] the interplay of high and low diction to bring

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Wang, 1963, p. 273. Chinese Love Stories From “Ch’ing-shih,” Edited and translated by Hua-yuan Li Mowry (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1983), pp. 2–6. Mowry, 1983, p. 12. Mowary, 1983, pp. 13, 14.

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about the fulfillment of qing in the mundane world.”56 In addition, Tang also greatly impressed writers like Pu Songling who became fascinated by the theme that love could triumph over death in their own works. 57 This discourse on qing was also very much part of the male-love cult about actors. Letters were exchanged among literati in which they evoked the term “fools for love” (qing chi) to describe their feelings about certain dan. The famous Qing dynasty poet Chen Weisong 陈维崧 (1626–1682) was known for the qing laden letters he exchanged with the actor Xu Ziyun, as were other literary luminaries and high ranking officials. Performers were even rated by patrons according to the type of qing they exemplified.58 According to the nineteenth century novel Precious Mirror for Ranking Flowers 品花宝鉴 by Chen Sen 陈森, actors “have ten types of qing: Extreme passions, Shrewd passions, Tasteful passions, Pure passions, Virtuous passions, Impetuous passions, Straightforward passions, Drunken passions, Voluptuous passions, and Seductive passions.”59 These philosophical, fictional, and dramatic discourses about qing, while differing in focus and use, did share several common beliefs. The most important of these was the concept that “sentiment, rather than the manifestation of instinctual desire, was the original nature from which desire was only a deviation toward excess…Sentiment, therefore, was made the first principle and took on an ontological quality. And it was in this capacity

56

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“Languages of Love and Parameters of Culture in Peony Pavilion and The Story of the Stone, in Love and Emotions in Traditional Chinese Literature, Edited by Halvor Eifring (Leiden: Brill, 2004), p. 255. This theme can be explicitly seen in Pu’s short stories “Liansuo” and “Ingenia,” which use the genre of a traditional ghost story to underscore his message of the redemptive power of love. See Judith T. Zeitlin’s translation and introduction to these stories in Under Confucian Eyes: Writing on Gender in Chinese History, Edited by Susan Mann and Yu-Yin Cheng (Berkely: University of California Press, 2001), pp. 197–214. Sophie Volpp has perceptively observed that during this period “The expression of qing ultimately speaks not so much to the desirability of the object but the passion of the desiring subject...there is no syntactically way of using the word ‘qing’ in conjunction with a direct object—one cannot ‘qing’ someone or something else. This grammatical inflexibility points to the self-reflexive, self-consuming quality of qing. More than anything else, qing desires its own perpetuation, and so it remains perennially unsatisfied” (Volpp, 2002, p. 969). Therefore, according to Volpp, much of the feelings of qing chi being expressed by these literati for actors was more about their sentiments as a subject, dramatically showing their capacity to feel real passion, and being a person of authentic sentiment, than about the object of their affections. Quoted in Hirsch, 1990, p. 156.

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that sentiment was celebrated in drama and fiction, as a spontaneous energy, a medium of self expression, and the basis of a radical subjectivity.”60 Cao Xueqin would have been fully exposed to this discourse on qing through his reading and watching of plays like The Peony Pavilion and his familiarity with the writers mentioned above. His experience of Beijing’s cult of male-love regarding actors and no doubt many discussions with other literati on the subjects of sensibility and desire would have given him much material to later use in his novel. Based upon Honglou meng, it appears highly probable that Cao was also, on a significant level, caught up with this movement concerning qing and engrossed like other literati with this topic.61 Like Tang Xianzu, he seems to have given much thought to the nature of qing, and the question of how this concept’s connotations could be expressed in literary terms and used to reinforce the philosophical theme of the complex interplay between reality and dreams. Like Feng Menglong, Cao was also interested in comprehensively classifying kinds of qing and developing a taxonomy of the term as well as illustrating the varied forms it took in daily life and relationships. And like Wang Yangming, he was drawn to the notion of exploring and bringing to the fore the innovative and egalitarian potential of the Confucian notion of sentiment. Dream of the Red Chamber is rich in references to qing.62 Bao-yu is directly associated with the concept, and the missing final chapter of the novel would have contained a ranking of the story’s major female characters according to the type of qing they represented. Zhou Ruchang has gone so far as to maintain that Cao Xueqin ultimately did not believe in Daoism or Buddhism, but only in the “aesthetics of sentiment,” which he thinks Cao felt was necessary for Confucianism to work effectively. 63 Finally, Cao’s 60

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Lee, 1997, p. 87. For a collection of informative articles on qing in early Chinese thought, Buddhism, drama and fiction during the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as a conceptual history of the word, see Eifring, 2004. Yu Pingbo has argued, based upon Cao’s autobiographical remarks in chapter one of Honglou meng, that the novel is “born out of [Cao Xueqin’s] repentance for a life of qing.” Yu Pingbo lun Honglou meng (Yu Pingbo On Honglou meng), (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1988), p. 82. See chapters 1, 5, 111, and 120. “Honglou meng yu qingwenhua” Honglou meng xuekan 55.1 (1993): p. 75. Zhou also believes that Cao Xueqin had a very expansive notion of qing, arguing that it is not just a doctrine in the novel “but a living conception inextricably tied to context and the manner of using and giving qing (ti tie 体贴)…Honglou meng demonstrates qing and clarifies yu. This novel illustrates the loftiest, sincerest, and broadest meaning of qing that is possessed by all living things (not just humankind).” “None the Red Chamber Dream Hears: Art as Living Philosophy,” Tamkang Review 46.2 (2005): pp. 94, 97. The topic of qing in Chinese culture in general, and Honglou meng in particular, has recently received

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meditations on and speculations about qing might also have provided him with a needed metaphysical framework which in some way helped him to understand and handle the setbacks in the course of his life.

a great deal of scholarly attention. For studies of qing in Dream of the Red Chamber, see chapter 1 of Lee, 2007; Lee 1997; Epstein, 2001; chapter 10 of Desire and Fictional Narrative in Late Imperial China by Martin. W. Huang (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001); Li, 2004; “The Psychology of Love in The Story of the Stone” by Halvor Eifring, Eifring, 2004, pp. 271–324; The Dream of the Red Chamber: The Allegory of love by Jeanne Jingsheng Yi (New Jersey: Homas Sekey Books, 2004); and Ganwu Honglou (Coming to Understand the Red Chamber) by Hu Wenbin (Shenyang: Baishan Chubanshe, 2010), pp. 18–21.

C H A P T E R

N I N E

The Right Wing Imperial Clan School and the Dun Brothers We last left Cao Xueqin beginning to search for a job. While male bondservants had to report for government duty at the age of eighteen, Cao did not, probably because he received a dispensation since his family was in disgrace.1 It has been speculated that he was a student for awhile in an exclusive school founded by the Yongzheng emperor located in Xian’an Palace for the children of members of the Imperial Household Department. There are also rumors that he may have worked for some time as a Biteishi, a secretary in a government agency, but was let go because of his difficult personality. But there is no strong evidence for either of these theories. There is little doubt that his economic situation during this period was quite precarious and that he felt great guilt over his inability to find a suitable position for someone of his background.2 Zhou Ruchang has argued that 1

2

Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber by Zhou Ruchang, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara, Translated by Liangmei Bo and Kyongsook Park (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), p. 146. Cao’s allusion to these troubled times can be found in the famous author confession section in chapter 1 of Honglou meng (which was probably written by Cao Xueqin’s brother but based upon comments by Cao) and that is printed in most versions of the novel. It says, “I decided to make known to all that I, though dressed in silks and delicately nurtured thanks to Imperial favor and my ancestor’s virtue, had nevertheless ignored the kindly guidance of my elders as well as the good advice of teachers and friends, with the result that I wasted half my life and not acquired a single skill” (DRM, 1, p. 1). Cao must have also felt during this time a great deal of anger over the family’s confiscation, anger that would have been naturally directed in part at his father Cao Fu. There are hints of this in Honglou meng’s depiction of Jia Zheng’s acute failings as a high official. One of the most impressive parts of the novel is its highly realistic portrayal of the Qing legal system and how the multi-leveled court system operated. In the story, Cao demonstrates extensive knowledge of how the system really operated and how rich families were able to circumvent or take advantage of it. His detailed description of the progress of Xue Pan’s murder case accurately covers the entire course of procedural rules and steps that govern such cases: from the filing of a complaint, the pretrial investigation by court officials, the trial itself, judgment, the appeal process, and ending with the general amnesty granted by the emperor. (See “I’ll Take It All the Way to Beijing: Capital Appeals in the Qing” by Jonathan K. Ocko, The Journal of Asian Studies 47.2 (1988): 293–315, and “Suddenly Murderous Intent Arose: Bureaucratization and Benevolence in Eighteenth-Century Qing Homicide Reports” by Thomas Buoye, Late Imperial China 16.2 (1995): 62–97, and “The Autumn Assizes in Ch’ing Law” by M.J. Meijer, T’oung Pao LXX (1984)1–17, for accounts of how the Qing court system treated

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capital cases). Dream of the Red Chamber takes an ambivalent attitude towards the topic of corruption by officials. On the one hand, it clearly shows corruption to be entrenched on virtually all levels of the government, and bribery, influence peddling, embezzlement, extortion, and favoritism commonplace. But it also indicates that almost the only way for an official to advance (or even retain a position) was to play the game and on occasion, be corrupt. Jia Yucun is told precisely this in chapter 4 by a court usher, and quickly gets the message. In chapter 99, Jia Zheng is informed by an underling that “the capital is far away, and it’s the governor who reports on everything here. If he commends you, you are a good official; if he finds fault, you’re likely to lose your job. By the time the court learns the truth it is too late…your close friend and kinsman [Jia Yu-cun] has climbed to the top in just a few years, simply because he has the good sense to please both his superiors and inferiors” (DRM, 3, pp. 277, 278). The topic of late imperial corruption as well as the Qing legal system and civil procedure (which scholars have discovered to be much more sophisticated than was previously assumed), has recently received a great deal of critical attention. See for example, Delivering Justice in Qing China: Civil Trials in the Magistrate’s Court by Linxia Liang (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); True Crimes in Eighteenth Century China: Twenty Case Histories, Compiled and Translated by Robert E. Hegel (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008); Writing and Law in Late Imperial China: Crime, Conflict, and Judgment, Edited by Robert E. Hegel and Katherine Carlitz (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007); Civil Justice in China: Representations and Practice in the Qing by Philip C.C. Huang (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); and Death by a Thousand Cuts by Timothy Brook, Jerome Bourgon, and Gregory Blue (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008). Nancy E. Park, who has extensively written on corruption during the Qing dynasty, has indicated that while corruption was widely considered one of the biggest problems of Qing state and society, “In contrast to the unambiguous legal conception of bribery, it is clear that the perception of corruption within the official culture was more nuanced, differentiated by a range of attitudes and practical considerations. The overarching legal concept encompassed multiple forms of reciprocity, many of which were tacitly condoned by the Throne and officialdom. Within this context, exchanges of gifts, customary fees, bribes, and extortion formed a continuum, ranging from acts that Qing monarchs and officials generally viewed as benign to that they universally condemned. Because of the large gray area, it was often impossible to anticipate how a transaction would be perceived, except in the context of a single case…The subjective and arbitrary enforcement of the corruption laws invited their violation by the bureaucracy. Although the corruption laws were clear and severe, emperors, officials, and commoners alike realized that the majority of infractions were never prosecuted. Moreover, most observers would have agreed that when prosecution did occur, the actual nature of the crime was not always the dominant consideration…it was [also] widely understood among officials that striving for unattainable levels of incorruptibility— which not only could lead to administrative ineffectiveness but also could alienate less scrupulous members of the bureaucracy—was not a guarantee for professional success. More important for an up and coming official was to keep his nose clean politically, which meant successfully fulfilling the requirements of office, currying favor with the right people, and not making enemies.” “Corruption in Eighteenth-Century China,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 56.4 (1997), pp. 985, 999. Cao Xueqin’s attitude towards his father concerning his role in and responsibility for the family’s confiscation can perhaps

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because of Cao’s privileged upbringing, “The only way he knew how to pull out of his misery was by begging for help from relatives and friends, and bearing the shame that came with humility.”3 Some scholars have maintained that although some of Cao’s relatives snubbed him (including his in-laws),4 he may have stayed with his famous cousin Prince Ping, who was married to one of Cao Yin’s daughters, until Ping’s death in 1748, and then lived with other relatives and was perhaps a guest in a Beijing monastery for awhile. There is also conjecture that he might have been employed as a private tutor to several rich families, including a family that lived near the scenic Shicha Hai lake area in the Inner City, or perhaps even to a prince.5 Unfortunately, once again, there exists no conclusive evidence for any of these possibilities. We do know however, based on records, that there is a strong likelihood he was able to obtain a position, possibly that of a clerk, working in Zong Xue 宗学 (The Right Wing Imperial Clan School), one of two schools established by Yongzheng in 1724 for educating the children of royal and noble families.6 The school was located on Stone Tiger Alley in the west part of the Inner City, and would later have the dubious distinction of being one

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be seen in the novel’s depiction of Jia Zheng, who is rendered as a generally well intended and diligent official who is also extremely naïve, too trusting, morally exacting, and inflexible. During his stint as Grain Indendant for Hupeh province (in this section Cao provides a first rate description of the hard practicalities and tradeoffs involved in being a provincial official), Zheng is shown to be in over his head and unwilling to play the political game. Similarly, Cao Xueqin’s anger with his father was probably not over so much what Cao Fu had actually done, but instead with his inability to maintain a clean nose politically (like Cao Yin and Cao Yong could do so well). For a detailed study of the law in Dream of the Red Chamber, see Yin Yijun’s Honglou meng De Falü Shijie (The Legal World in Honglou meng) (Beijing: Shangwu Yinshuguan, 2007). Also see “Court Trials and Miscarraige of Justice in Dream of the Red Chamber” by Xiaohuan Zhao, Law and Literature 23 (2011): 129–151, for a very general discussion of judicial practices in the novel. Zhou, 2009, p. 150. It is believed that Cao Xueqin was married twice. But, like most of the few facts that exist about him, specific details remain unclear. We do not know who he married, the background of his wives, and precisely when he was married. Males during this period usually married around the ages of sixteen to eighteen, but it is plausible given what had happened to his family and its possible negative impact upon prospective spouses, that he married at a later age. See Zhou, 2009, pp. 150–155, for a discussion of these theories. Wu Shichang has claimed that Cao was a student at the Imperial Academy during this time and “seems to have held some Assistantship in the school.” On the Red Chamber Dream: A Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the XVIIIth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 124. Wu’s evidence for this claim is weak and relies upon a statement made by the writer Liang Guizhi who was known to dislike Cao. Liang also claimed that Cao Xueqin died without having a son, which is incorrect.

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of four famous haunted houses in Beijing.7 Imperial Manchu students who were under the age of eighteen were eligible to attend the school. The curriculum consisted of studying the core Chinese classics and the Manchu language. Chinese who had received the second degree on the civil service exam taught the Chinese classes. Students also received instruction in equestrian and archery skills. They were also provided with free writing materials, coal during the winter, and tea. After five years of study, students were tested by high officials for degrees.8 Cao Xueqin would meet at this school two of his closest friends, the Dun brothers. Their poems and comments about Cao provide us with much of the little firsthand information we have about his life in Beijing. It is easy to see why the three became such good friends for they had much in common. The brothers were roughly the same age as Cao Xueqin, came from a privileged background, and had also suffered a family calamity. Dun Min 敦敏 (1729– 1796) and Dun Cheng 敦诚 (1734–1791) were directly related to the royal family and were fifth generation great grandsons of Ajie or Prince Ying, the twelfth son of Nurhachi. In spite of their aristocratic background, their family, like Cao’s, had been persecuted during the political purges and as a result had lost much of their influence. They too were acutely aware of the dark underside of the world of Chinese politics and society. Zhou Ruchang has observed that contrary to popular perception, “the social station of degraded imperial relatives was sometimes much lower than common people. At the end of the day, they were simply slaves belonging to the imperial clan…Based upon this social reality, we can understand that during this time when Dun Min and Dun Cheng associated with Cao Xueqin, their social status was between that of the nobility and humble slaves. Compared to the Cao family, in fact, the Dun’s position was quite a bit lower.”9 7

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It remains unclear when Cao started working at the school and left it. Tse-Tsung Chow has concluded that “The dates he worked at the school are not known for certain, but he could not have left there before 1748, the year his last prominent relative, Prince Fupeng, died.” “Ts’ao Hsüeh-ch’in” in The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, Volume One, Edited by William H. Nienhauser, Jr., Charles Hartman, Y.W. Ma, and Stephen H. West (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 793. “The Education of the Manchus, China’s Ruling Race (1644–1911)” by Adam Liu, Journal of Asian and African Studies 6. 2. (1971): 126–133. Zhou, 2009, pp. 158, 159. Preston Torbert has indicated that because “of the declining vigor of the ruling Manchu elite…by the early eighteenth century, some imperial clansmen had fallen to such debased status that they were reviled and abused the lowest of eunuchs and generally treated like slaves.”The Ch’ing Imperial Household Department: A Study of Its Organization and Principle Functions, 1662–1796 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 65.

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The brothers, who were Manchu, were full time students at the Right Wing Imperial Clan School when they first met Cao Xueqin and lived next to Peace Lake which was located in the southwest section of the Inner City. They had already received an excellent education before they attended the school having been well tutored by their uncle, Hengren, a noted banner poet. They loved spending time with Cao and were impressed by his highly independent nature, unconventional beliefs, and great literary talent (especially his ability at writing poetry). The three would frequently meet after classes had finished at the school and have long discussions, sometimes lasting far into the night, while drinking wine. (A 600 year Jujube tree still exists in what used to be a courtyard of the clan school which almost certainly would have “seen” Cao).10 Dun Cheng would later write in a poem entitled “In Memory of Cao Xueqin” about these evenings, saying “Together we dwelled at Tiger Gate for days, chatting late into the night, accompanied by wind and rain.”11 Beijing during this period was a multi-layered capital with carefully defined “worlds” seemingly independent of each other within each of the three Cities. Among these numerous worlds were political Beijing, imperial Beijing, intellectual Beijing, artistic Beijing, military Beijing, financial Beijing, and visitor’s Beijing. Each of these social spheres was further divided by class and family background. Although the Cao family had fallen into dire circumstances, they still had the background of being imperial bondservants that had been associated with an Upper Banner. Moreover, as Jonathan Spence has observed about the Chinese class system during this time: the ruling group was composed of the Emperor, the Chinese official elite, the Banner elite, and the imperial elite. Cao Yin, though a bondservant, was a member of the upper class. This appears obvious from his style of life, his education, his friends, and his tastes, though he never took an examination, nor held posts in the regular bureaucracy, he was a member of the upper class by virtue of his position in the imperial elite. His grandson, the novelist, Cao Xueqin was also a member of the upper class, although his family had been bankrupted and dismissed from all official positions, and he never obtained a degree; his talents at poetry and his powerful friends in the ruling group elite assured him of a place in the local elite.12

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In May of 2013, the Xidan Market which surrounds the tree was being renovated. The tree is short walk from the Xidan bookstore in the Xidan district of Beijing. Today, no buildings from the Right Wing School exists. Quoted in Zhou, 2009, p. 163. Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor, Bondservant and Master (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 45.

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Because of this special background, Cao Xueqin would have still been l able to interact in some fashion in several of these worlds, and at times, to draw upon them. His relationship with the Dun brothers would have involved one of these worlds. It is also important to point out that in spite of Cao Xueqin’s greatly reduced status and his uncanny understanding of, and great empathy for individuals from the lower-classes and the plight of females (as demonstrated in Honglou meng), he continued in his personal life to mainly associate with members of the upper-class, local elite, and literati. His closest friends came from this class and he was known as an individual who was extremely proud of his family history. Moreover, Cao throughout his life retained some of the class attitudes of his privileged background and upbringing. Happily, we have several written accounts about what Cao Xuein’s personality was like by people who knew him well. They all state that he was a brilliant conversationalist—eloquent, a gifted storyteller, and very humorous.13 Yu Rui 裕瑞, who did not personally know Cao but relied upon 13

Weihe Xu has chastised Honglou meng scholars for not taking Cao Xueqin’s brilliant sense of humor and wit more seriously and recognizing that it was an important part of his personality and writing. He argues that “Unfortunately, modern Redology and most Redologists seem to have suffered in varying degrees from a ‘humor-blindness,’…the humorless view [of the novel] has to reconcile the absence of humor with the following factors: the author’s apparently strong sense of humor as suggested by his friends, the ambience of humor prevailing in the Ming-Qing literati life, and the long generic tradition of humor in Chinese prose fiction.” “Novel Ridens in Ming-Qing Fiction: Pathetic Humor in and of Honglou meng,” Ph.D. Thesis, Washington University, 1999, pp. 2, 3. Xu goes on to argue that “in light of his verbal talent, attitude toward life, family history [Xu shows that Cao Yin had a highly developed sense of humor], as well as the social and culture ambiance of his time, it is not surprising that Cao Xueqin had a strong inclination to humor…the little that we know about him does seem to indicate that he was verbally loquacious and aggressive—three behavior traits that are conductive to humor development” (p. 140). In another study, this time on humor and the character Xue Bao-chai, Xu contends that Cao Xueqin’s use of humor in the novel “calls to mind the Freudian theory of jokes…For Freud, jokes often provide insights into the human unconscious, as do dreams or slips of the tongue, because they represent moments when the superego may be duped into slackening its normal censorship by the trickery of ‘dream-work’ and ‘joke-work,’ so that natural and potentially antisocial impulses such as sexuality, hostility, blasphemy and enjoyment of absurdity can express themselves. In the case of jokes, this is done safely with the real excuse that ‘it’s only a joke’…Baochai repeatedly displays such instinctive behavior to vent herself or to hurt others emotionally. The finesse with which [Cao Xueqin] employs humor in this Freudian fashion reflects not only his unflinching fictional realism and humanism but also a deep intuitive insight into the human psyche.” “How Humor Humanizes a Confucian Paragon: The Case of Xue Baochai in Honglou meng,” in Humor in Chinese Life and Letters: Classical and

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the memories of older relatives who knew him, says he was “Good at conversation, witty and learned, he was a virtuoso of all games. Whenever he was present, the atmosphere immediately changed into warm spring. Those who heard his quaint talk were so fascinated that they would listen to him for whole days without getting tired.”14 He was also known for being highly eccentric, loud and unrestrained in his emotions, loquacious, and forthright when giving his often iconoclastic opinions. Cao was also considered by some to be at times arrogant, proud, aggressive, unwilling to compromise, and cynical. He loved to drink, especially southern wine, and was almost certainly an alcoholic (as were many writers and scholars during this time). He was famous for humorously proclaiming “If anyone wants to be the first person to read my coming book, that is easy. All he has to do is supply me every day with southern wine and a roasted duck. I shall then be writing a book for him.”15 Dun Cheng once wrote a poem about the impression Cao made when he was drinking with friends. In it, he writes “The goblets fall,/The chopsticks are thrown down,/Even so, we tolerate your drunken behavior.”16 According to Zhou Ruchang, Dun uses the word “tolerate” in the poem to mean “we take pleasure from your arrogance and crazy behavior.”17 Friends of Cao also state that, in addition to his literary skills, he was also an excellent cook, painter, and craftsmen, and good at martial arts and music.18 Eccentrics like Cao Xueqin are commonly divided into two types: dispositional and social. The first are eccentrics by character or nature, and

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Traditional Approaches, Edited by Jocelyn Chey and Jessica Milner Davis (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011), p. 167. The passage is from Yu’s book Anecdotal Writing by the Window With a Date Tree 枣窗 闲笔 and is quoted in Wu, 1961, pp. 129–130. Wu, 1961, p. 130. It is revealing, as Zuyan Zhou has observed, that “In the world of the dream, drinking is often presented in a favorable light as a catalyst for subversive actions rather than an unwholesome addiction. In chapter 104, the besotted Ni Er, nicknamed ‘Drunken Diamond,’ bars the way of Jia Yu-cun, the newly promoted mayor, in a symbolic challenge to the corrupted authority. In chapter 7, inebriated Big Jiao utters his well-known censure of household dissipation, which leads Zhang Xinzhi to see in him ‘the only sober man [among the multitude].’ In chapter 62, Shi Xiang-yun falls asleep in the garden, intoxicated in fragrant violation of Confucian decorum, yet the highly lyrical touch of the scene makes it a delightful diversion rather than a heretical transgression.” Androgyny in Late Ming and Early Qing Literature (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003), p. 269. Zhou, 2009, p. 164. Zhou, 2009, p. 164. See chapters 1–3 of Cao Xueqin cong kao (Studies of Cao Xueqin) by Wu Enyu for a discussion of Cao’s numerous talents.

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their eccentricity is largely instinctive or unconscious. The second type consists of individuals who are eccentrics by preference or choice.19 Cao Xueqin was essentially a social eccentric. His eccentricity, like the eccentricity of his hero Ruan Ji, was mainly a conscious and often calculated stance, and closely linked to his philosophy of life. Weihe Xu has observed that the notorious eccentricities of Ruan Ji and the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were “a form of indirect socio-ideological protest or rebellion in effect. But it also served as a clever excuse for, and means of, self-indulgence or self-protection: by resorting to pretended eccentricity (often with the help of excessive alcohol), they tried to evade the official appointments that they did not like, or to protect themselves from political troubles or persecution.”20 This also seems to be true of Cao. In short, Cao Xueqin, on a personal level, would have been quite an overpowering and rather difficult figure. Miao Huaiming is likely correct in his conclusion that “People with such distinct and unique characters as Cao’s may be impossible for normal people to endure, but luckily he had good friends like Dun Cheng and Dun Min. The small number of good friends did not bother him, as the most important thing was to have someone to confide in and to be happy with.”21 In terms of physical appearance, Yu Rui has said that Cao “was fat and dark and his forehead broad.”22 There exists a 1762 painting by the wellknown artist Wang Gang (1697–1770) that some have claimed is of Cao. It shows a short, plump, serious looking individual with a dark colored face and a slight mustache and goatee wearing traditional Chinese dress, hands clasped, sitting in a bamboo grove and leaning against a large rock. A set of 19 20 21

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Xu, 1999, p. 136. Xu, 1999, p. 138. Cao Xueqin (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 2010), p. 42. What the noted sinologist David S. Nivison has written about the eighteenth century Chinese philosopher Zhang Xuecheng seems also applicable to Cao Xueqin: “We will see that in important ways he was a misfit. He was a man who constantly felt—not without excellent reason—that others regarded him as odd. And he reacted by neglecting no opportunity to press his difference with others in an argument. Such men are always interesting—to their biographers; to their acquaintances Zheng must often have been a trial. But men like Zheng are interesting not because they are oddities. Their interest often lies in the fact that they grapple with the same problems everyone faces, think the same ideas everyone thinks, and pushes forward to conclusions others are too unimaginative—or too sensible—to settle on. In this way, if history is kind they may lead men on to do something new and valuable. But whatever history grants, they show us in sharp relief, by the refraction of their thought, the basic commitments of an age.” The Life and Thought of Chang Hsueh-ch’eng, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), p. 19. Quoted in Wu, 1961, p. 129.

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scrolls and a qin rest on a rock nearby.23 The painting appears to match physical descriptions of Cao. The Cao family’s situation appears to have improved during the later part of Yongzheng’s rule when the regime became less rigid and the political purges began to taper off. The family had some grounds for feeling optimistic about their future when he suddenly died in 1735, and Qianlong assumed the throne since the new Emperor greatly favored Prince Fupeng. It does appear that some rehabilitation of the family occurred during this time.24 Moreover, Qianlong soon after assuming the throne announced a general amnesty whereby the debts owed to the government by disgraced officials were forgiven if they were incapable of paying them. This would have been good news for the Cao family which had greatly suffered under the weight of Cao Fu’s and Cao Yin’s massive debts for many years. But the good news did not last for long. Around 1745, another political purge took place, and the Cao home was confiscated and relatives arrested. The reason for this action remains unclear, but it is thought that the government may have uncovered some crimes committed by relatives and friends of the family.25 23

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The picture is reprinted in Wu, 1961, opposite the title page. On the right side of the painting is a poem by one of Cao Xueqin’s friends, Zhang Yiquan. The poem states: “He loves to gratify his romantic ideas with his pen and ink/ The cottage he has found in the western suburb is uniquely quiet. Outside his door, hill and waters offer themselves for his paintings/ In front of his hall flowers and birds come to his poems and songs. He does not envy Qing Lian’s honor of being feasted by the emperor/ But he can hardly forget Li ben’s humiliation when summoned in the palace park/May I ask who from the ancient to the present is comparable to him? His unbridled mind sails with the white cloud” (translated and quoted by Wu, 1961, p. 127). Jonathan Spence notes that “In the beginning of the Qianlong reign, the family was apparently pardoned, and Cao Yi, the younger brother of Cao Yin, who was still alive and serving as a bondservant company captain and concurrently colonel in the Guards Brigade, was granted posthumous honors for his ancestors. An imperial decree dated 1735 gave the founder of the family fortune, Cao Yin’s grandfather, Cao Zhenyan, the second rank title zizheng dafu; and his two wives were given the comparable second-rank titles of Furen. At this time also Cao Fu was probably given the minor office of an assistant department director of the Imperial Household.” Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), pp. 290– 291. Zhou Ruchang has speculated that the Cao family problems might have been related to a plot against the Qianlong emperor by individuals who wanted Hongxi, the oldest son of Kangxi’s former heir apparent, Yinreng, to take the throne. “Prince Zhuang, the main conspirator in the plot, was a Minister in the Imperial Household Department and oversaw everyone who worked in it. The Cao family had…naturally had a close relationship with Yinreng. For instance, research has revealed that Yinreng made Ling Pu,

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This second purge would have been a major blow to Cao Xueqin who was slowly beginning to strike out on his own. Compounding this disaster, the Qianlong emperor was also devoting much attention to the status of certain groups like bondservants and Han Chinese who were attached to the Eight Banners. Although he decreed that bondservants could “leave their masters and register as residents, [he also] carefully investigated the manner in which prior generations of these people had become bannermen. We can conclude from all this that Qianlong had given great thought to ethnic issues and started a discriminative policy directed at bannermen of Han ethnicity.”26 This meant that the Cao family, as was mentioned in an earlier chapter, had to submit to the court a detailed genealogical tree to show that they were entitled to the few benefits they probably still received. Cao might have been receiving a small stipend from the government at that time, but it is not known if he continued to receive it after the second confiscation.27

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the husband of his nanny, ask Cao Yin for money several times and once wanted 20,000 taels of silver. Moreover, Yongzheng used to say that Prince Yi was very fond of Cao Fu. Consequently, the Caos were condemned and the government again confiscated their property. This situation was probably more serious than what the Yongzheng emperor had done to them in 1728–1729. Previously many people secretly helped the family, but this time no relatives or friends could come to their aid. From this period onward, no trace of the Cao family can be found in either official or private records, which clearly demonstrates the final decline of this bondservant family and how they suffered because of their connection to the conspirators” (2009, p. 145). Zhou, 2009, p. 145. Of all the eighteenth century Qing emperors, Qianlong was the most concerned about ethnicity and cultural assimilation. As Mark C. Elliott observes, “By the time Qianlong became emperor, the Manchus were in danger of becoming victims of their own success. A century of living among the Han Chinese and the combined efforts of high living, imprudence, inflation, and underemployment were threatening to turn a redoubtable, highly competent military elite into a class of parasitic has-been warriors who could not really speak their native language. Qianlong’s reign thus coincided with a major crisis in Manchu identity in which the future of Qing rule hung in the balance. The emperor was preoccupied by the example of the Manchu’s ancestors, the Jurchens of the Jin dynasty, whose excessive acculturation to the Chinese way of life led, it was widely believed, to their fall from power.” Emperor Qianlong: Son of Heaven, Man of the World (New York: Longman, 2009), p. 50. Elliott’s short but concise book provides a good overview of Qianlong’s reign. For other accounts of Qianlong, see Harold Kahn’s Monarchy in the Emperor’s Eyes: Image and Reality in the Ch’ien-lung Reign (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), and Alexander Woodside’s “The Ch’ienlung Reign,” in The Ch’ing Dynasty to 1800: Volume 9, Part 1, Edited by Williard J. Peterson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 230–309. Zuyan Zhou notes that “partly based on their conviction of the [Cao Xueqin’s] distaste for bondservant status, Chinese scholars in their biographical studies tend to believe that Cao Xueqin renounced his bannermen status once such change was permitted under the Qianlong emperor. Regardless of his ultimate ethnic status, Cao’s revulsion against his

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Not long after the second purge, a deeply frustrated Cao Xueqin decided to move to the countryside west of Beijing, and settle near a Plain White Banner military camp. This was also around the time he probably begun to seriously write Honglou meng.28

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confinement in the inherited bondservant status is ubiquitously mirrored in the Stone and is most prominent in the characterization of Mandarin Duck, Qingwen, and the household actresses, slaves with a recalcitrant spirit.” Daoist Philosophy and Literati Writings in Late Imperial China: A Case Study of The Story of the Stone (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2013), pp. 282–283. Living in Beijing did present some advantages for individuals who were economically struggling like Cao Xueqin. The capital had an extremely sophisticated food supply and security system which kept the price of grain stable and ensured that the city was properly provisioned. Furthermore, Beijing also had a pingtiao system, where tribute grain was sold at reduced prices. “Although it was an administrative tool applied throughout the empire, in Qing-period Beijing, pingtiao was practiced with resources and regularity unmatched anywhere else. When there was a shortage of grain and prices were high, either because of regular seasonal variation or poor harvest conditions, grain from the tribute granaries were sold at grain stations (michang)…the basic purpose of pingtiao was to support the food security of the entire metropolitan population, not just that of bannermen and other stipendiaries.” Fighting Famine in North China: State, Market, and Environmental Decline, 1690’s - 1990’s by Lillian M. Li (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), p. 155. Because grain was an essential food staple for northern Chinese, and given Cao Xueqin’s difficult economic situation, it is quite possible he visited these grain stations on several occasions when he was living in the city proper, and later when he was in the suburbs. There was a station at Chongwen Gate, which was very near the Cao family’s courtyard house. Another Beijing institution he may have relied on was the city’s many pawnshops. A Korean visitor to the capital in 1765 wrote in his diary that “The monthly interest rate is two percent…When you enter these stores, you will see that they have absolutely everything, from clothing and jewellery to all kinds of utensils for daily life. All items are labeled and neatly arranged on shelves…The poor depend on them to relieve their misery and lack of money.” Quoted in “Marveling at the Wonders of the Metropolis: Perceptions of Seventeenth-Century Chinese Cities in the novel Xingshi yinyuan zhuan,” by Daria Berg, in Town and Country in China: Identity and Perception, Edited by David Faure and Tao Tao Liu (New York: Palgrave, 2002), p. 23. It is also possible that Cao Xueqin used these pawnshops to get some needed money during the later part of his life. He certainly knew a lot about them and their operation. In Honglou meng, the Xue family owns a string of pawnshops and the novel contains much information about how they worked. We have no record of when Cao first started to seriously write Honglou meng. In chapter 1 of the novel it is mentioned that he worked on the book for ten years. C.T. Hsia states in The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968) that by 1744, Cao Xueqin “started composing his novel.” (p. 248). Wu Shichang says that be began writing it “at twenty-nine or twenty-eight, i.e. in 1744” (Wu, 1961, p. 113). And Dore Levy in Ideal and Actual in The Story of the Stone (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999) argues, based upon remarks by the mysterious editors of the novel, Red Inkstone and Odd Tablet, that Cao “worked on his manuscript for at

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least 20 years” (p. 100), which would have placed the starting date to around 1743. Therefore, it is conceivable that he began working on the story when he moved to the Western suburbs of Beijing (or shortly after), having decided he was going to make a new start in his life. Maybe, like Jia Bao-yu who left his family and became a monk, thereby severing his social identity, Cao also intended to symbolically abandon aspects of his previous identity and create a new one (as in part, a writer). Time may have been another factor in his decision to move to the suburbs. In mid eighteenth century China the life expectancy was 39.6 years (while this is very low by today’s standards, it was comparable to that of Europe). In the late eighteenth century, it was nearly 40, which was comparable to the most affluent members of Western Europe (The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Making of the Modern World Economy by Kenneth Pomeranz (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 37–38). As a result, the fact that time was rapidly disappearing and Cao had accomplished nothing might have increasingly psychologically weighted upon him.

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Participating in the Social World: Poetry, Painting, Music, and Gardens One important way in which Chinese literati symbolized, defined, and reinforced their elite status was by the appreciation and practice of such artistic endeavors as writing poetry, painting, playing music, and garden design. Cao Xueqin was highly knowledgeable about all of these areas and would later brilliantly use this wide knowledge in the writing of Honglou meng. When Cao was alive, he was known and admired by friends and acquaintances mainly for his great skill at writing poetry and not fiction.1 Dun Min referred to Cao as ‘the poet” in several poems he wrote about him. One states “Staying at the temple after looking for the poet in vain/He even sold his paintings to buy wine.”2 In another poem composed after Cao’s death, Dun writes “The running water could not be stopped and the poet has gone far away/I climb high to recall the drunkard who passed away.”3 Unlike the West, the writing of lyric poetry in traditional Chinese society was considered a: companionable art, for private and social use; and though one might dream of achieving fame for one’s poetry, the rarity of such fame in no way undermined the pleasure or value in the art of writing…Put simply, the Chinese lyric at its best was conceived as the highest form of speaking to someone else, an activity appropriate to all human beings on certain occasions and in certain states of mind…The Chinese understood the lyric as speaking not to humanity as a whole but to someone else, some person or group the poet knew or would like to know.This someone would be a person the poet hoped would come to know him through the poem…The motives in such speaking may be grand or petty: to complain about a social abuse, to explain one’s position in a political crisis, to state one’s cherished values, to give an account of visiting a mountain, to talk about depression, or even just to tell\what the poet did 1

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Zhou Ruchang has argued this was because of the low popularity of novels at the time and because Honglou meng “had hidden meanings and alluded to many actual events. For various political and social reasons, people dared not discuss his novel.” Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara, Translated by Liangmei Bao and Kyongsook Park (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), p. 166. Zhou also points out that initially people only copied and read Dream of the Red Chamber in private since novels were officially banned, and people were afraid about selling them, which is why “Dun Cheng never directly mentioned the novel in his poetry” (Zhou, 2009, p. 166). Zhou, 2006, p. 167. Zhou, 2006, p. 167.

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Wandering Between Two Worlds that day…In a basic way Chinese poetry became a way to create community, both speaking to others in the present and creating a living community across time.4

The writing of poetry was a routine part of the daily lives of scholars and officials. Poems were also commonly composed during social occasions like picnics, banquets, outings, parties, drinking bouts among friends, celebrations, and special poems were exchanged among friends when they went on a long trip or left a city. As shown in Honglou meng, lots were customarily drawn during many of these social gatherings to determine rhymes which gave the proceedings a game like atmosphere.5 Cao Xueqin, on the other hand, was noted for not casually writing poems or penning inconsequential verse during gatherings, but only wrote poetry when he had a specific reason for expressing his feelings or if the subject or occasion was very important. Educated Chinese at that time were expected to have a good knowledge of poetry and the ability to pen passable verse. But Cao’s poetic skills exceeded that of most literati. The Dun brothers, who were well schooled in poetry since their uncle was a respected poet who had rigorously tutored them in the genre and were good poets themselves, were constantly impressed by the striking novelty and originality of Cao’s verses. As Zhou Ruchang points out, in Chinese “the words originality (新奇) and novelty (奇 气) are quite similar but also have different meanings. Originality refers to the construction and arrangement of the poem, while novelty has a broader meaning…when Dun Cheng spoke about the originality of Cao Xueqin’s poetry, he considered poetic courage to be an important component…the courage to truly write what he thought.” 6 Cao Xueqin’s philosophy of composition is clearly expressed by Xue Bao-chai in chapter 64 of Dream of the Red Chamber when she states that “In writing poetry, no matter what the subject, the important thing is to express some original ideas. If we tread in 4

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“Poetry in the Chinese Tradition” by Stephen Owen, in Heritage of China, Edited by Paul S. Ropp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 295–297. Even the Qing imperial court had a strong interest in poetry. Wai-Yee Li has observed that “patronage of literature by the Qing imperial and princely courts reached a level unmatched by any previous dynasty. It was as if the Manchu ruling elite could claim its own distinct heritage only after a confident mastery of the Han Chinese cultural tradition. The Kangxi Emperor has 1,100 extant poems; his grandson, the Qianlong Emperor, left behind more than 40,000. In 1682, the former led a large group of ministers, many of them notable poets, in composing a feast poem in the boliang form, whereby each participant contributes one line, following the same rhyme throughout.” “Early Qing to 1723,” in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Volume 2, Edited by Kang-I Sun Chang (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 167. Zhou, 2009, pp. 169, 171.

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other’s personal footsteps, even if the lines are polished they’re still secondrate and can’t be considered good poetry.”7 Sadly, all that we have of Cao Xueqin’s poetry, aside from the poems he wrote for Honglou meng, is the final couplet from a single poem. This poem was composed as a preface or postscript for the play Romance of the Song of the Pipa Lute which was written by Dun Cheng. The play is based upon the celebrated long poem “The Song of the Pipa Lute” by the popular Tang poet Bai Juyi.8 It is very unfortunate that only this fragment exists since many of the poems in Honglou meng were expressly written to reflect the personality 9and often the fate) of the character who composed it in the story. Poetry is also used to illustrate key themes and serves as descriptive verse, and the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry in the story form an important part of the narrative. But these creations are not in the end representative of the highly original style of Cao’s mature work that had so greatly impressed his friends.9 If we examine the poems and poets mentioned in Dream of the Red Chamber we can get a good idea of the poets Cao was reading and influenced by during his formative years. The poetry cited in the the novel provided an opportunity for Cao to display not only his deep knowledge of and delight in the genre, but also his personal tastes. Moreover, as Richard J. Smith has written, “[Dream of the Red Chamber] provides the reader with a first-class education in the refinements of poetic composition and appreciation.”10 7 8

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DRM, 2, p. 406. The lines are “Bai Juyi’s ghost should feel excited,/ And he would let his two maids Xiaoman and Fansu perform this play” (Quoted in Zhou, 2009, p. 169). Zhou Ruchang has noted that “All fourteen characters in Cao’s poem are meaningful, and they sounded like the robust twang of metal and stone when struck. His poem did not use ostentatious language to mislead readers. Instead it breaks through convention, for ‘when a poet feels contended with his work, he does not care about other’s opinion.’ For these reasons, Dun Cheng called this kind of writing ‘new’” (2009, p. 171). For a good discussion of the numerous ways poetry is used in Honglou meng, see Dore J. Levy’s “Embedded Texts: How to Read Poetry in The Story of the Stone,” Tamkang Review 36:1–2 (2005): 195–227. The most comprehensive book on poetry in Honglou meng remains Cai Yijiang’s classic Honglou meng shici Jian Shang (An Appreciation of the Poems, Lyrics, Drama, and in Honglou meng), (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2005). China’s Cultural Heritage: The Ch’ing Dynasty, 1644–1912 (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983), p. 210. The comprehensiveness of the themes covered by the poems in Dream of the Red Chamber is also impressive. Zong-qi Cai has argued that eleven themes form the essence of the developing Chinese poetic canon: “Love and courtship; the beautiful woman, the abandoned woman, eulogy and admonition; hardship and injustice; the wandering man; landscape; farming and reclusion, imagined journey to the celestial world; the depiction of things, and remembrances.” How to Read Chinese

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In chapter 48 of the novel, Xue Pan’s “chamber wife,” Caltrop, is tutored by Lin Dai-yu in writing poetry. Dai-yu first tells her to carefully read a large number of verses by three famous Tang dynasty poets: 100 pentasyllabic poems of Wang Wei (701–761), several hundred Regulated Verse heptasyllabics of Du Fu (712–770), and several hundred of Li Bai’s (701– 762) heptasyllabic quatrains. Next she was told to study poems by Bao Zhao (414–466), Yu Xin (513–581), Xie Ling-yun (385–433), and Tao Yuan-ming (365–427).11 Another distinguished poet that Dai-yu mentions is Ruan Ji, a member of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, who was briefly discussed in earlier chapters.12 Ruan’s poetry was known for being satirical, allegorical, highly introspective, and difficult. His importance as a poet is based upon his collection of eighty-two pentameter poems entitled “Songs of My Care” 詠 怀诗. In this very personal work, Ruan details his long and frustrating psychological quest for stability and personal integrity during difficult and dangerous political times when it was very hard to make commitments—a search that Cao must have strongly sympathized with. Poems like the following would have struck a special chord with Cao when he was trying to deal with his own travails:

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Poetry: A Guided Anthology (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), pp. 1, 2, 3. The poems in Honglou meng touch on all of these themes. Furthermore, the verses in the novel are also written using all the five major genres of Chinese poetry: sao, shi, fu, ci, and qu. There are also vernacular song lyrics, clever lantern riddles, linking verse, and numerous poems are composed or referred to during drinking games. In chapter 14, there is a detailed discussion of what poetic names to use when naming spots in the newly refurbished family garden. As I-Hsien Wu points out, Dai-yu’s choices are revealing because she “is the most talented and most productive poet in Stone, her choice reflects the author’s [Cao Xueqin’s] taste, which is manifest not only on this list but also throughout the novel.” “Enlightenment Through Feeling: Poetry, Music, and Drama in The Story of the Stone,” in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), Edited by Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Liu (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2012), p. 304). Other poets mentioned by name in the novel include: Wei Yingwu (chapter 49); Wen Ting-yun (49,78); Chang Jian (17); Ou-yang Xiu (17); Fan Chengda (17,63); Du Mu (17); Zuo Si (17); Qu Yuan (17); Cui Hao (17); Qian Xu (8); Xu You (2); Liu Yong (2); Bo Ju-yi (109); Jiang Yan (76); Ruan Xian (78); Li He (78); Han-dan Chun (79); Sun Dong-po (63); Wang Qi (63); Gao Chan (63); Luo Yin (63); Wang Qi (63); Zhu Shu-zhen (63); Ou-yang Xiu (63); Xie Fang-de (63); Cao Tang (75); Wang Wei (62); Li Shang-yin (62); Wang An-shi (64); Ou-yang Xiu (64); Cao Zhi (43); Qian Guan (4); Yan Zhen-qing (40); and Zhang Ruo-xu (45). Many of these poets are mentioned more than once. In addition, there are other poets who are alluded to but not by name. Ruan Ji is mentioned three times in Honglou meng: in chapters 2, 48, and 78.

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One more day, then one more evening, one more evening, one more dawn, Complexion changed from what it was, by itself the spirit wastes away. I hold fire and boiling water in my breast, all things in change are calling to me. Thousands of problems that have no end, more than defeat schemes can comprehend. I fear only in an instant my soul will be whirled by wind. All my life I have walked on thin ice, and none understand how this heart seethes.13

Cao Xueqin’s friend Dun Cheng in a poem once compared Cao’s poetry to the Tang dynasty poet Li He 李贺 (790–816), but also said Cao had “broken Li He’s boundaries.”14 Li He’s poems were noted for their satire, morbidity, and brilliant imagery, novel use of language, delight in ambiguity, and interest in the supernatural. There are two other poets who also had a special influence upon Cao Xueqin’s development as a poet. These poets had a special personal connection to the Cao family. The first was his grandfather Cao Yin. Zhou Ruchang believes that Cao was well acquainted with Cao Yin’s poetry and that they shared a common interest in Song dynasty poetry. Zhou also contends that “We can employ the same words Zhu Yizun [a Qing dynasty scholar and writer] to characterize Cao Yin’s poetry to describe Cao Xueqin’s literary style: ‘Every character in his poems was the product of careful thinking, and he was highly unique.’”15 The second poet was the early Qing dynasty Manchu aristocrat Nalan Xingde 纳兰性德 (1655–1685), who was an outstanding writer of lyric songs (ci). Xingde’s family belonged, like Cao Xueqin’s, to an Upper Banner Group, the Plain Yellow. He was extremely precocious, developed an early interest in literature, and was a brilliant student who did very well on the government exams. Nalan later served in the imperial bodyguard, accompanied the Kangxi emperor on his trips around China (including Kangxi’s southern tours), and became a close friend of Cao Yin.16 He is best 13

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“Songs of My Care XXXIII,” in An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911, Edited and translated by Stephen Owen (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996), pp. 271–272. Quoted in Wu, 1961, p. 123. Zhou, 2009, pp. 170–171. Zhou has also argued that that Cao Yin’s poetry was first rate and that he was one of the best poets of the Qing dynasty. Some Chinese commentators have claimed Jia Bao-yu is actually based on Nalan Xingde, but as B. Carpenter writes that “This is extremely unlikely; however the novel’s

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known for two collections of verse: The Cocked Hat Song-lyrics 侧帽集 and Drinking Water Song-lyrics 饮水词.17 His poetry is steeped in melancholy (his wife died when he was twenty-three), evocative, dreamy, and plain in diction. Many of his most popular poems draw upon stark images of his native homeland’s harsh and empty landscape. First time readers of Honglou meng are frequently surprised by the high educational levels and poetry skills of many the novel’s central female characters.18 Cao Xueqin’s depiction of the literacy of many upper class women at that time is quite accurate.19 Since the sixteenth century in China, it had become more and more common for scholars to lionize mothers for the important roles they played as early educators of their sons, oral transmitters of the classics, and protectors of the inner sphere, and argue for greater education for women. Some of these scholars also maintained that women in general possessed excellent understanding and judgment regarding moral concerns because of their secluded status and “purity” of intent. 20 Furthermore, it was widely believed that having educated daughters improved their marriage prospects. As a result, it became popular for rich families in the populous, affluent, and urbanized southern Jiangnan region to formally educate their daughters using paid tutors. The historian Dorothy Ko has shown how China’s increasing commercialization, urbanization, and print culture during this period, along with the privatization of family life, contributed to the growing visibility of

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development of the conflict between romantic love and Confucian society certainly finds an echo in his poetry. The image of the ‘red chamber,’ or women’s quarters, occurs in Xingde’s writings with the same connotations of personal and poetic feelings unrecognized and prohibited by the surrounding society.” “Drinking Water: Love Songs of the Seventeenth Century Manchu Poet Na-lan Hsing-te,” Tezukayama Daigaku Kiyo 20 (1983), p. 101. Carpenter provides an English translation of the Drinking Water Song-lyrics in his 1983 article. The well known Qing dynasty poet and essayist Yuan Mei 袁枚 (1716–178) was so impressed that large sections of Honglou meng described talented women composing poetry that he mistakenly thought it must have been inspired by himself and his poetry loving circle of women. The topic of the status of women in late imperial China has recently received a great deal of research. For comprehensive studies, see Precious Records: Women in China’s Long Eighteenth Century by Susan Mann (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); Grace Fong’s Herself as Author: Gender, Agency, and Writing (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008); Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China by Francesca Bray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); and Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women in Seventeenth-Century China by Dorothy Ko (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994). Ko, 1994, pp. 158–159.

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women. She points out that “In the face of women’s growing visibility in Chinese cultural life—as readers, audiences, authors—within and without the family, the pressing issue was no longer ‘What if women were literate?’ but ‘How are we to construct new concepts of womanhood that can accommodate old values to those of reality?’ Motherhood ceased to be the only justification for the women’s moral and cultural nurturance and the undivided source of their self-esteem.” 21 Although distinctions and rules regarding gender stayed relatively firm, there was an increasing awareness in late imperial Chinese writings that women were very important contributors to the moral and social order.22 Ko concludes that the seventeenth century Jiangnan region, where the vast majority of educated Chinese women lived, “was a transitory world full of contradictions. It allowed educated women unprecedented room for creative expression and emotional fulfillment, but those opportunities, tied to family backgrounds, were not freely available to all. Old gender stereotypes died hard, often co-existing with more sympathetic thoughts on women in the same person. Voices of individual women were heard, but women in seventeenth century China had yet to articulate their collective aspirations.”23 Susan Mann has argued that the “Manchu conquest and the transformed cultural environment that Manchu rule produced caused the social relation of the sexes to shift again in High Qing times.”24 By the eighteenth century, it was common for upper-class women to receive education in painting, calligraphy, music, embroidery, and poetry. But competency in these arts did not automatically confer status upon those who possessed them, for these skills “were also claimed by professional female entertainers and courtesans. What set apart the marriageable women of [the upper] class from the rest was moral instruction in the dai yi, or “ultimate significance,” of classical texts.”25 Elite women were also given greater (albeit still limited) freedom to 21

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Ko, 1994, p. 159. It should also be stressed that the number of highly literate women in China at this time was very small and geographically limited. Susan Mann has very roughly calculated that they made up around 0.1% of the population and 70% of them came from the Lower Yangzi region (Mann, 1997, pp. 4, 33). Ko, 1994, pp. 68–69. Ko, 1994, p. 67. Mann, 1997, p. 222. “Grooming a Daughter For Marriage: Brides and Wives in the Mid-Qing Period” by Susan Mann, in Chinese Femininities/Chinese Masculinities: A Reader, Edited by Susan Brownell and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 103. Obviously, there were also some upper-class families in which it was not considered proper for women to be too educated. In chapter 92 of Honglou meng, Grandmother Jia states “I’ve no objection to girls learning their letters, but needlework always comes first” (SS, 4, p. 249). Embroidery was commonly viewed as key cultural work and a

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write during this time. Although these women did not use this freedom to object to or severely critique contemporary social beliefs and establishments about gender, they did have the chance to probe possibilities for autonomy, but it was an independence sharply bounded by society’s constraints.26 While women continued to remain set apart in the women’s apartments or inner quarters of their family’s dwelling which served as a secluded space where men who were not related or even in-laws could not enter, recent research has revealed that life in these segregated areas could be lively and provide some satisfaction to their occupants. In the inner quarters, activities would occur in which women could exert their autonomy such as conversation, teaching, observance of religious rituals, chess, sewing, games, letter writing, reading, childcare, and the development of close ties of affection and kinship.27 Another activity that was popular with upper-class women was the writing of shi and ci poetry. Mann writes that “During the High Qing era, published work by women came into its own. The first anthologies of women’s writing, edited by women, appeared in print. Elite families reveled in the achievements of erudite mothers and daughters and published their writings in separate editions…These published collections of women’s writings constitute the most valuable source we have for the study of women in the premodern era. Virtually all of the women’s writing that survives is poetry…In the context of the High Qing period, women’s poetic voices had new meaning. It was more audible, it was more controversial, and it engaged directly with men in discussion about women as writers.”28 The

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symbol of domestic accord. As Grandmother Jia’s remark shows, it was also considered the most productive activity that a wealthy woman could do (Bray, 1997, pp. 267–269). Mann, 1997, pp. 201–203. “The Inner Quarters: Oppression or Freedom?,” by Franscesca Bray, in House, Home, Family: Living and Being Chinese, Edited by Ronald G. Knapp and Kai-Yin Lo (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), p. 129. Mann, 1997, pp. 3, 9. Of course, there were still many upper-class families where the idea of women seriously composing poetry was frowned upon or considered problematic. In chapter 64 of Dream of the Red Chamber, Xue Bao-chai seriously questions the value of women writing it, saying “As the old saying goes, ‘Lack of talent in a woman is a virtue.’ The important thing for us is to be chaste and quiet, feminine accomplishments being secondary. As for versifying and the like, we simply do it for fun in the inner apartments; and whether we’re good or not at it doesn’t matter. Girls from families like ours don’t want a reputation for brilliance” (DRM, 2, p. 406). In chapter 37, she says “Writing poetry isn’t important. Our main jobs are spinning and sewing. If we’ve time to spare, the proper thing for us is to read a few chapters of some improving book” (DRM, 1, p, 549). And in chapter 42, she flatly states “you see, in the case of us girls it would probably be better for us if we never learned to read in the first place. ..The little poetrywriting and calligraphy we indulge is not really our proper business” (SS, 2, p. 335).

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number of women poets in some of these anthologies, while very small in comparison to the overall female population, was still surprisingly high. One noted collection of women’s poetry published in 1664, contained the verse of around 1,000 Ming and early Qing poets.29 Zhou Ruchang writes that “From the Ming to Qing dynasty, the number of women poets dramatically increased. Over 3,000 women writers had their works published, a number that is unprecedented in China history.” 30 And Kang-i Sun Chang has asserted that no “other nation has produced more anthologies or collections of women’s poetry than late imperial China.”31 Even though upper-class women lived heavily sheltered lives, they were allowed to go on some outings, like visiting temples, attending festivals or funerals, or going on pilgrimages. Because they also occasionally visited nearby female friends, the formation of poetry clubs became popular. One of the most famous was the Banana Garden Poetry Club of Hangzhou, which had five or seven members and was active from 1665–1675. Lin Yining 林以 宁(1655–1730), who was a member of the club, has described what occurred at its meetings. “Each month we would meet a number of times, and at each meeting we would randomly choose a rhyme and assign a topic, and [in this way] chant one verse till the end of the day. Moreover, each of us would recommend [for membership in the club] female relatives such as Chai Jixian, Qian Yunyi, and Gu Qiji. We became as friendly ‘as gold and orchid,’ and each of us was rich ‘in snow and floss.’ The collection of our linked verses grew bigger everyday!”32 Topics were based, as they also often are in Dream of the Red Chamber, upon shared activities of the club.

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Needless to say, Bao-chai’s behavior contradicts her advice and Cao Xueqin must have used her remarks to mock traditional views regarding women, poetry, and education. “Women, Families, and Gender Relations” by Susan Mann, in The Cambridge History of China: Volume 9, Part One: The Ch’ing Empire to 1800, Edited by Willard J. Peterson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 446–447. Zhou, 2009, pp. 172–173. Zhou points out that there were also several gifted women poets that were connected with the Cao family. These included “the younger sister of the poet Nalan Xingde who wrote Poems Written After Embroidery 绣余诗稿, a women poet in Dun Cheng’s family named Bingyue who wrote First Draft in Lengyin Study 冷 吟 斋 初 稿 , and two sisters named Yu Xiu and Wen Huang who were great granddaughters of Prince Ping. Huang wrote Poems Written After Embroidery in Peilan Study 佩兰轩绣余草. These two sisters were related to Cao Xueqin’s aunt, and they reveal that the Cao family did not lack women poets” (Zhou, 2009, pp. 173–174). “Ming and Qing Anthologies of Women’s Poetry and Their Selection Strategies,” in Writing Women in Late Imperial China, Edited by Ellen Widmer and Kan-i Sun Chang (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 147. Quoted in The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China by Wilt Idema and Beata Grant (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 472. Chapter 10 of this book

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Another notable women’s poetry society was the Clear Creek Poetry Club, which consisted of ten Suzhou women, who were friends or close relatives. They met during the later part of the eighteenth century and in 1789 published a collection of their works entitled Poems by Women Scholars of Wu 吴 中 女 士 诗 钞 . This anthology was accompanied by numerous secondary texts, including prefaces, biographies, colophons, and commendations written by friends and a government official. One scholar of traditional Chinese women’s poetry has observed of this work that “This multi-voiced, multi-genred, collaboratively produced text vividly displays the communal context within which women’s poetry was written and given print form in late imperial China.”33

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contains English translations of some poetry written by members of the Bamboo Poetry Club. It is interesting to note that in chapter 50 of Dream of the Red Chamber, the female members of the novel’s Crab Flower Club also write linked verse. Cao Xueqin just missed what Idema and Grant consider the two ‘high tides’ of traditional Chinese women’s literature. They argue the first occurred during the final years of the sixteenth century, “reached its highest point around the middle of the seventeenth century, and subsided by the end of that century… During the first three quarters of the eighteenth century, there appears to have been a lull, or perhaps simply a decline in the visibility of women’s writings. Thus, beginning in the last decades of the eighteenth century, we see the rise of a second high tide of women’s literature, which reaches its highest point in the first half of the nineteenth century” (Idema and Grant, 2004, pp. 6, 7). For more recent studies of late imperial China women’s poetry, see Xiaorong Li’s Women’s Poetry of Late Imperial China: Transforming the Inner Quarters (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012); Women and the Literary World in Early Modern China 1580– 1700 by Daria Berg (New York: Routlege, 2013); The Inner Quarters and Beyond: Women Writers From the Ming Through Qing, Edited by Grace S. Fong and Ellen Widmer (Leiden: Brill, 2010); Reverie and Reality: Poetry on Travel by Late Imperial Women by Yanning Wang (Lexington, Ma.: Lexington Press, 2013); and The Talented Women of the Zhang Family by Susan Mann (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Mann’s work is a well-researched study of a family of female poets. “Changing the Subject: Gender and Self-inscription in Author’s Prefaces and “Shi” Poetry” by Maureen Robertson, (Chang and Widmer, 1997), p. 171. Robertson’s essay contains English translations of several poems written by members of the Clear Creek Poetry Club. Although proper women during the Qing period formally could not have social or physical contact with males who were not relatives (there are numerous scenes in Honglou meng when female members of the Jia family have to disappear when a male who is not a relative is about to or suddenly appears, or have to move to another room when they are required to communicate with one and speak through a window), some of the women poets and members of poetry clubs in the south did. In Yuan Mei’s poetry circle, women socialized with male poets, and members of other poetry clubs conducted correspondence with male scholars and had male patrons who would write essays for the club’s poetry anthologies. Ellen Widmer has written that a number of upper-class women during the Ming-Qing transition in Jiangnan developed a literary network, and “had male friends and patrons who regarded them with a mixture of admiration, paternalism, and

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Honglou meng is well known and acclaimed for its highly sympathetic and “progressive” portrayal of women and their plight in Qing China. Recently, several Western scholars have questioned this long held interpretation and contended that Cao Xueqin was not so much interested in the status and treatment of women during his time as projecting his deeply held fears as a frustrated, socially borderline, male literati author with little options upon them as a group. Martin W. Huang points out that there is a long tradition in traditional Chinese literature of male writers and disappointed literati using females in their writings to displace and symbolize their anxieties and feelings of insignificance because of women’s marginalized status.34 He also asserts that “Perhaps Cao’s own marginalized status made him feel empathetic with women and even sometimes impelled him to identify with them. He needed to identity with those talented but doomed female characters in order to alleviate his own sense of frustration and to enhance his own visibility.”35 Huang concludes that for Cao Xueqin, “The ultimate desire is to regain or reassert the masculinity denied to him. What fascinates Cao is not femininity per se but the feminine appearance that a man assumes when he is marginalized and the questions of how he can regain his lost masculinity.”36 Taking a very different tack, Louise Edwards argues that “The questions are not ‘Was Cao Xueqin an early Chinese feminist?’ or ‘Is Honglou meng a proto-feminist text?’ but rather ‘How did Cao Xueqin reflect the sexual ideologies of his time?’ and ‘How do sexual ideologies with their incumbent power differentials make themselves appear natural and normal?’”37 Drawing heavily upon feminist literary theory, Edwards examines notions regarding female purity, virginity and pollution, motherhood, women and power, masculinity and bisexuality in the novel, and makes the case that Dream of the Red Chamber actually reinforces traditional views of women, writing that Honglou meng “merely reiterates the misogynist binary that women are

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unease.” “The Epistolary World of Female Talent in Seventeenth-Century China,” Late Imperial China 10.2 (1989), p. 1. Maureen Robertson in “Voicing the Feminine: Constructions of the Gendered Subject in Lyric Poetry by Women of Medieval and Late Imperial China,” Late Imperial China 13.1 (1992): 63–110, discusses how many male Chinese lyric poets utilized feminine subjects and voices to channel their anxieties as literati. Literati and Self-Re/Presentation: Autobiographical Sensibility in the EighteenthCentury Chinese Novel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 95. Huang, 1995, p. 95. Men and Women in Qing China: Gender in The Red Chamber Dream (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001), p. 2.

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sacred or profane.”38 Edwards does, however, conclude by stating that in the mixing “of the real and the unreal around a mythological realm free from the patriarchal dominance so striking in the mimetic realm, Cao questioned the necessity of sexual and moral distinctions. It is through posing this unspoken philosophical problem and not simply through the reversal of gender orders or the veneration of women that the novel is able to undermine comfortable assumptions about sexual ideologies.”39 There is clearly some truth to both Huang’s and Edward’s readings, for Cao Xueqin on a certain level remained a product of his times, and as is true of even great artists, was incapable of completely transcending some of the gender biases and beliefs an individual of his background would have had. By all accounts he was psychologically a very complex and deeply conflicted individual, and his attitudes toward women would have been the product of several, often contradictory, factors. But it still remains possible to make the strong case that Honglou meng is informed by a profound understanding of and sympathy for the condition of women at that time. Their complex inner thoughts and motivations are presented with remarkable realism in the novel, along with the social pressures and barriers women constantly faced, their hopes and fears about the future, and the limited choices they had to deal with.40 It is telling that the majority of the novel’s characters are females, and each of them is carefully depicted as an individual and not a type, and in virtually every case, treated sympathetically (whereas, by contrast, nearly all the males are depicted in a thoroughly unsympathetic manner). It is also significant that the main protagonist and hero in the story is a male who is a friend to all girls. Furthermore, the range of Cao Xueqin’s understanding of women extends from the top to the bottom of the social ladder, from bond slaves, servants, concubines, impoverished members of the Jia family, and 38 39 40

Edwards, 2001, p. 8. Edwards, 2001, p. 67. Another area where Honglou meng is highly realistic concerns Qing dynasty marriage patterns. Eugene Cooper and Meng Zhang have studied cousin marriage patterns in rural Zhejiang Province in China and compared them to the patterns in Dream of the Red Chamber. They conclude there is “a startling continuity...[in] the simple forms of MBD [a man’s marriage to a woman who is his mother’s brother’s daughter], MZD [matrilateral parallel cousin], and FZD [a husband marrying his father’s sister’s daughter]…The options entertained in each setting show that the marriage choice, for the most part, remained a matter of balancing diversification into new affinal alliances against the reaffirmation of already existing relations, and that reaffirmation strategies as well as the overall conception of kinship space remained remarkably stable throughout the Qing dynasty, on into the Republican period, and up to the eve of the Communist revolution.” “Patterns of Cousin Marriage in Rural Zhejiang and in Dream of the Red Chamber,” The Journal of Asian Studies 52.1 (1993): p. 104.

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to the family’s daughters and daughters-in-law, to the matriach of the clan, Lady Jia. While Cao’s depiction of these female characters may have been colored by his personal anxieties, identity concerns, and some of the prevailing sexual ideologies of his time, it is nevertheless very difficult not to get the impression that he had a genuine interest in the treatment and standing of women during this period.41 It is hard to think of another traditional Chinese work of literature in which all of the elements just mentioned come into play regarding the portrayal of female characters. The interesting biographical question becomes whether there was an incident or incidents in Cao Xueqin’s past which led to his empathy for the plight of women. It is of course impossible to know and one can only guess. Zhou Ruchang has theorized that it might have been based on Cao’s disgust over the terrible status of slave girls who were employed in the households of rich families and the horrible stories he heard about the way they were treated by their owners. “Cao Xueqin knew that every wealthy member of the Manchu Eight Banners purchased lovely yet pitiable slave girls. Their families sold them because of poverty, others had been kidnapped, and many were forced to be slaves to their enemies because of crimes committed by family members who were officials. What made Cao even more grief-stricken about the position of these women was the cruel way their owners treated them.”42 There is a note of plausibility to this theory because some of the characters most sympathetically portrayed in Honglou meng, like Xiren, Qingwen, and Fangguan, are slave girls. Susan Mann has written that Cao Xueqin “provides some insight into the emotional effects as Xiren reflects on 41

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The publication of Honglou meng contributed to the increasing visibility to women in late imperial China. Ellen Widmer has extensively written about its strong influence on women readers and has pointed out that the first extent novel written by a woman in China was a sequel to Honglou meng which was published in 1877. See her The Beauty and the Book: Women and Fiction in Nineteenth Century China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), chapters 6 and 7. Catherine Vance Yeh has observed that the story even greatly impressed courtesans in Shanghai. She writes that “Courtesans, adopting the fashion for pen names among men of letters, took professional names for themselves. With these names, which often alluded to a past beauty praised in a poem, each sought to indicate to herself and to potential clients the woman she wanted to be. The names were thus a program for self-staging. A courtesan would change her name if she set out to stage herself as a different persona…From the 1860’s and well into the twentieth century, it was the fashion among Shanghai courtesans to adopt the name—or elements of the name—of one of the characters in Dream of the Red Chamber.” Shanghai Love: Courtesans, Intellectuals, and Entertainment Culture, 1850–1910 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006), p. 136. Zhou, 2009, p. 101.

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her ambiguous plight [in chapter 53]…Xiren’s ambivalence mirrors the ambiguity of her social status.”43 This empathy might have come from Cao’s pampered upbringing in Nanjing when he undoubtedly would have been surrounded by a small army of maids to attend to his needs, and from the close relationship he may have developed with some of these slave girls.44 Perhaps his sympathy was based upon a possible love relationship with one of these girls (about which there are old but unverified rumors).45 Or he may have had knowledge of a tragedy involving a woman in the Cao family. We do know that the commentator Odd Tablet 畸笏叟 told him to cut eight or nine pages from a scene in Honglou meng which described Qin Keqing’s suicide by hanging in the Celestial Fragrance Pavilion because Odd Tablet considered it too disturbing.46 This scene also involved Keqing committing incest with her father-in-law, Jia Zhen, and Odd Tablet may have objected to it because it was based on a real incident involving a relative of the Cao family.47 Vivian Ng has noted in a study of 5,600 criminal cases from 1736–1834, that during the Qing dynasty, “many families, instead of being bastions of morality, were in fact, hotbeds of illicit sexual activity…case records show that incest and adultery were consensual in nature; in fact, rape and sexual harassment of young women by lecherous father’s-in-law were also not rare. One disturbing fact about the cases of sexual harassment and outright rape is that all of them involved either death or serious injury.”48 Another reason 43 44

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Mann, 1997, p. 40. In the famous preface to Honglou meng, the novel’s ‘author’ explicitly states “I must not let all the lovely girls I have known pass unto oblivion through my wickness or my desire to hide my shortcomings” (DRM, 1, p.1). As Dream of the Red Chamber shows, it was often expected in affluent families that young maidservants grant sexual favors to the master of the house and their sons. Odd Tablet was the second most important commentator on Honglou meng (Red Inkstone being the first). Both of them knew Cao Xueqin well and it remains unclear who they were. Cai Yijiang thinks that Odd Tablet was in fact Cao Xueqin’s father, Cao Fu. See “Elderly Maimed Tablet Is Cao Xueqin’s Father,” in Cai Yijiang Jiedu Honglou meng (Cai Yijiang Deciphers Honglou meng) (Guilin: Lijiang chubanshe, 2005), pp. 197–221. Cai Yijiang has argued that the scene was based on a household scandal that happened during the time of Cao Yin. Cao Xueqin followed Odd Tablet’s recommendation and in the final version of the story has Qin Keqing dying of illness in her bed. “Sexual Abuse of Daughters-In-Law in Qing China: Cases From the Xing’an Huilan,” Feminist Studies 20.2 (1994), p. 376. Honglou meng also has a sizable number of women who commit suicide because of unfair treatment by others. Traditionally, suicides in China were seen as protests against injustice and were thought to bring shame to a family. It was also commonly believed that the injustice could only be properly corrected in the afterworld.

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that has been advanced for Cao’s positive attitude towards women is that he might have had an unhappy childhood because the males in the Cao family did not get along and that his valorization of women was in response to this tension.49 In the end, Cao Xueqin’s sympathetic feelings may have simply come from a propensity or side of him, like that of Bao-yu, which had always been strongly empathetic with and attracted to women. One or more of the above mentioned factors may have influenced Cao Xueqin’s perspective, or it could have been the result of some other unknown determinant. Among his many wide-ranging interests, Cao Xueqin was strongly drawn to painting. This attraction can easily be seen in the overall structure of Honglou meng. One prominent scholar has cleverly compared the novel “to a long scroll woven from the “silk threads” of the lives of hundreds of men and women.”50 There is undoubtedly a strikingly visual component to this work. The early chapters with their multiple beginnings, plot-lines, and mythological, allegorical, realistic, and narrative framing, brilliantly unfold and develop in a visually arresting manner. Lin Dai-yu’s slow entrance in chapter 3 into the Jia family mansion and first exposure to its palatial layout is precisely and pictorially described, and Qing readers of the story must have felt as if a dazzling colored and wonderfully detailed scroll was slowly unfolding before their eyes as they read the story. Modern readers feel as they read this chapter as if a carefully planned tracking shot is following Daiyu’s every step deeper into the recesses of the mansion. Much of the novel’s story takes place in a visually resplendent world bounded and structured by beautiful art objects, elegant gardens, stunning architecture, refined paintings, and exquisite ceramics, scrolls, clothing, calligraphy, and costly furnishings. Cao’s detailed and sensory laden descriptions and images are so visually imposing that it is easy to believe that he actually saw what he wrote, and that the novel was not just a matter of words. But Cao Xueqin did not just possess a sophisticated knowledge of art and only wanted to parade this knowledge to his readers; he was also fascinated with the problem of how the techniques of painting could be applied to literature. Red Inkstone frequently utilized the technical vocabulary of Chinese painting when describing Cao Xueqin’s literary techniques in the novel, and held that Cao’s approach to fiction was essentially painterly in

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This theory was offered to the author in an interview with the noted redologist Cai Yijiang in Beijing in May, 2013. Zhou Ruchang, Preface, A Dream of Red Mansions: Abridged Version by Cao Xueqin (Beijing: Sinolingua, 1994), pp. 4–5.

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nature.51 Emmanuel Pastreich has observed that the four portraits of women in Honglou meng which intrigue Bao-yu,52 along with Jia Xi-chun’s painting of Danguan yuan, have allegorical and not simply decorative functions, and serve “as an allegory for mimetic representation in literature. Many of the passages describing paintings are framed by a discussion of language and representation, and larger themes involving low and high culture embodied

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For a detailed discussion of Red Inkstone’s comments on Honglou meng’s literary techniques, see John C.Y. Wang’s “The Chih-yen-chai Commentary and the Dream of the Red Chamber: A Literary Study,” in Chinese Approaches to Literature, Edited by Adele Rickett (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), especially pp. 207–217. According to Wang, one common painterly inspired technique that Cao frequentlyuses is that of “’Clouds cutting in halves’… Sometimes simply known as ‘the technique of interruption’ and ‘the technique of suddenness’ or more colorfully, ‘divergent paths and marked roads. This is also a term used by painters...commentators use it to mean that when an episode in the story becomes monotonous, the author, as the novel shows again and again, brings in another incident to provide variety” (Wang, 1978, p. 210). Probably the most important ideas Cao Xueqin derived from painting theory were that in virtually all good pictures, nothing exists by chance, that every element is the result of careful planning and choice, and that what is left out is also of extreme importance. As Bao-chai succinctly says in chapter 42 of the novel, “You must consider the spacing on the paper, how much to present in the background, how much in the foreground, what to play up and what to play down. Certain things should be added, others left out; certain things should be hidden, others revealed” (DRM, 2, p. 26).This belief that principles of painting could also be applied to the writing of literature is based on the traditional Chinese idea that the art of the “pen” is very similar to the art of the brush. These paintings of beautiful women are located in the bedchambers of Qin Keqing, Grandmother Jia, and Bao-yu, and in the study of Cousin Zhen. Art historian James Cahill has found three significant differences between the paintings belonging to the women and those owned by the men in the novel. “The two pairs of painting differ in several revealing respects. First, in period—those hung in the women’s rooms are old paintings, with value as antiques and artworks quite apart from their subjects, whereas those in the men’s rooms, judging from their descriptions, must be up-to-date and stylish eighteenth-century pictures. Second, in authorship—those in the women’s chambers are by famous masters, while those in the men’s are anonymous, or by unnamed artists. And third, in type: relatively decorous pictures of women outdoors as against the new illusionistic images of desirable and accessible women, presumably set in interiors and meant to arouse. The paintings belong, that is, at opposite ends of the scale, with pictures that women might hang and enjoy at the cool end and those aimed at male viewers closer to the warm or even hot.” Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Vernacular Painting in High Qing China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010, p. 162. This is another sign of the extraordinary care Cao Xueqin took on small but revealing details in the novel. Cahill also conjectures about what the painting in Bao-yu’s bedroom, which bewildered Grannie Liu, might have looked like in pp. 163–165.

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by characters of differing social status.” 53 Several other scholars have maintained that specific works or types of art influenced the design of Cao’s novel. Zhou Ruchang has speculated that Cao constructed Dream of the Red Chamber to imitate the celebrated narrative scroll painting Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies 女史箴图卷 by the Jin dynasty painter, poet, and calligrapher Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之 (c. 344–406), who is considered the founder of traditional Chinese painting. Gu’s paintings were noted for their intense realism (he paid particular attention to his subject’s eyes), and were thought to vividly capture the interior life of his subjects.54 According to Zhou, Cao intended Honglou meng to “be a painting in words.” 55 And Oldrich Kral has maintained that “Cao’s romance is the literary analogy to the syncretism of Song painters and calligraphers.”56 Furthermore, as we shall see in chapter 12, Cao Xueqin was also a gifted painter himself (of rocks and stones) and used this skill to making a living. His great knowledge of the mechanics of painting can be seen in chapter 42 of the novel which contains a detailed discussion of the aesthetic principles involved in creating a good composition as well as a comprehensive listing of the materials that are needed in order to paint. Cao’s luxurious upbringing in Nanjing would have exposed him to painting and works of art at an early age and given him a good eye. Music, like poetry and painting, was another key part of literati and upper-class life in late imperial China. It was believed that music promoted self-cultivation, and contributed to the development of character. Like painting and writing, music “was considered to be “prints of the heart/mind [xin]”—not merely a means of Confucian cultivation, but also a measure of

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“The Novel in the Painting: An Allegory of Literature in Cao Xueqin’s Hongloumeng” by Emanuel Pastreich, Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies 3.1 (2003), p. 239. For color photographs of the Admonitions Scroll and essays on Gu Kaizhi, see Gu Kaizhi and the Admonitions Scroll, Edited by Shane McCausland (London: The British Museum Press, 2003). Wu Hung has claimed that Cao Xueqin remade traditional pictorial images and conventions regarding the representation of women (specifically with his idea of “The Twelve Beauties”), stating “in his masterpiece so ingeniously that these conventions were transformed into characters with feeling and life. To understand Cao Xueqin’s novel historically, therefore, we must reconstruct these conventions - an “iconography” of meiren - against which the Dream of the Red Chamber was read and appreciated at the time.” “Beyond Stereotypes: The Twelve Beauties in Qing Court Art and the “Dream of the Red Chamber,” in Widmer and Chang, 1997, p. 323. Zhou, 2009, p. 102. Dictionary of Oriental Literatures, Volume 1, East Asia, Edited by Jaroslav Prusek (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1974), p. 179.

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it.”57 It was an essential part of rituals, provided entertainment at social gatherings, and accompanied the performance of plays. For literati, the most important musical instrument was the qin, which is similar to a zither. It is a long, lacquered wood box, the front is constructed of tung wood, with two holes for resonance in the back, which is made from Chinese catalpa wood. The qin has seven silk strings that run lengthwise and there are over 200 finger positions that can be used to play it. Literati were expected to know how to play the instrument and it was considered an essential part of a Chinese gentlemen’s education. The cultural importance of the qin can be seen in chapters 86–87 of Honglou meng. These chapters contain extended discussions of the philosophy governing the playing of the qin, details about how the instrument works, and where and under what special conditions it should be played. In chapter 86, Lin Dai-yu succinctly informs an impressed Bao-yu about the spiritual qualities associated with playing the instrument, explaining “Luting was truly an art the men of old captivated to achieve tranquility and integrity…The men of old made music to induce selfconstraint, curb passion, and suppress license and extravagance.”58 But for Dai-yu, the main purpose of the qin is the expression of deep emotions. Even though much of Dai-yu’s explication comes from the work Miscellaneous Notes on Playing the Qin 弹琴杂说 byYang Biao-zheng,59 commentators have been impressed by her (and by implication, Cao’s) expertise.60 Cao Xueqin would have been exposed to the qin at a relatively young age, probably during his stay in Nanjing. We do know that Cao Yin had a collection of original writings on the instrument by famous scholars in his library, and Cao may have read some of them.61 According to his friends, he was a good musician (and singer). Chapter 93 of Honglou meng offers a clue as to what Cao felt was attractive about music. In this chapter, Bao-yu is 57

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China’s Cultural Heritage: The Ch’ing Dynasty, 1644–1912 by Richard J. Smith (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983), p. 175. DRM, 3, pp. 92–93, 94. ““Enlightenment through Feeling”: Poetry, Music, and Drama in The Story of the Stone” by I-Hsien Wu, in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), Edited by Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Lu (New York: The Modern Language Association of American, 2012), p. 307. For example, Yao Xie 姚燮 writes of Dai-yu’s explanation, “a crystalline discourse on the principles of the Qin! You can tell at a glance she is an expert.” (Quoted in John Minford’s “The Last Forty Chapters of The Story of the Stone: A Literary Reappraisal,” Ph.D. Thesis, Australian National University, 1980, p. 156). The best book on the qin in English is R.H. van Gulik’s classic study, The Lore of the Chinese Lute: An Essay in Ch’in Ideology (Tokyo: Sophia University, 1940). Van Gulik, 1940, p. 167.

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captivated by the melodious singing of the actor Jiang Yu-han as he plays the poor oil-vendor Master Qin. “It reminded him of a passage from the chapter “on Music,” in the [Book of Rites]: “Feeling stirs within and is embodied in sound. When the sound is fashioned by art, music is born.” “No wonder lovers of music make so much of “Knowing the Sound,” entering into the essence of the music,” thought Bao-yu to himself. “I must try to get the heart of it. Poetry conveys feeling, but music strikes to the very core.”62 One of the most moving scenes in the novel concerning music occurs in chapter 76 and involves the playing of a single flute. This chapter, which is titled “Flute-playing at Convex Pavilion provokes too much melancholy, and linked verses at Concave Pavilion betray a morbid sensitivity,”63 describes the Jia family’s celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Late in the celebration, Grandmother Jia has a solo flute player in the distance perform. The audience is completely entranced by the performance and the matriarch orders another tune played, this time more slowly and softly. The scene is simply written, precisely described, and highly melancholic in tone with the music serving as another sign of the future fall of the family. Moreover, the chapter’s title indicates that Cao Xueqin believed that there exists a deep connection between poetry and music (an association that often occurs in the novel). The juxtaposition of Dai-yu and Shi Xiang-yun composing linked verses at the same time the flute is being played subtly reinforces this connection. Whenever Honglou meng is mentioned, the word Daguan yuan (Prospect Garden) is one of the first things that comes to mind. Daguan yuan has long fascinated Chinese readers of the novel, and throughout the years countless complex and detailed maps have been carefully drawn and published in attempts to accurately depict the intricate layout of this massive creation.64 Gardens in China were traditionally constructed for a large variety of uses, such as quiet areas for owners to relax from daily cares, stroll, and enjoy the 62 63 64

SS, 4, p. 266. SS, 3, p. 507. One of the more intriguing attempts to present a detailed rendering of the garden and the Ning-guo and Rong-guo mansions is the book Tujie Honglou meng Jianzhu Yixiang (Diagrams Explaining Architectural Images in Honglou meng) by Huang Yunhao (Beijing: Zhongguo Gongye chubanshe, 2006). See also Daguan yuan Yanjiu (The Study of Danguan yuan) by Wang Hui (Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui kexue Chubanshe, 2008) for a discussion of the various ways the garden has been presented. For studies of the garden in English, see Andrew Plak’s Archetype and Allegory in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), and The Chinese Garden as Lyric Enclave: A Generic Study of The Story of the Stone by Chi Xiao (Ann Arbor: Center For Chinese Studies, Publication of the University of Michigan, 2001).

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view they offered, and as retreats for self-cultivation or Daoist/Buddhist contemplation. They were also places where much of elite social activity occurred, including the writing of verse, flower viewing parties, entertaining, performance of plays, viewing art, or simply informal socializing. Prospect Garden is constructed along the lines of classical Chinese garden design (employing both northern and southern styles), and is designed to reflect elements in the natural world and the principles of yin-yang duality. Mountains (the masculine element or yang) are represented by rock formations, and water (the feminine element or yin) is represented in the form of ponds, streams, or lakes. Chinese gardens also contained carefully selected flowers, trees, and plants, which were chosen for symbolic or auspicious reasons. Large gardens, like Prospect Garden, also contained fish, ducks, cranes, and deer. Pavilions, apartments, towers, halls, tea platforms, lodges, and miniature temples were scattered among natural features.65 The gardens of affluent families also had moon gates, paved winding paths, bridges, and were enclosed by stucco or stone walls. The writer Shen Fu 沈复 (1763-after 1808), author of the famous memoir Six Chapters of A Floating Life 浮生六记, has described the aim of the Chinese garden aesthetic: In laying out garden pavilions and towers, suites of rooms and covered walkways, piling up rocks into mountains, or planting flowers to form a desired shape, the aim is to see the small in the large, to see the large in the small, to see the real in the

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Maggie Keswick has pointed out that while the large number of individuals living in Daguan yuan in the story might have been unusual for the times, gardens were nonetheless often lived in, “At one point in the Dream of the Red Chamber the garden is inhabited not only by the young master of the households and all his sisters and cousins, but by all their attendant maids and serving girls, a troop of child actresses and even a community of youthful Buddhist nuns. Such a very large number of inhabitants was perhaps unusual even for an extremely large garden, nevertheless garden pavilions were often lived in—not only in summer, but throughout the year. Sometimes a neglected garden might harbor only a caretaker and his wife, but in many cases a resident scholar, an old family tutor or friend down on his luck would live in one of the studios and make use of the library—an essential feature of any garden worth the name. Rich men also often housed their lesser wives and concubines in garden pavilions, as in the erotic novel Golden Lotus, whose heroine momentarily neglected by her lord, has a romance with one of the young gardeners.” The Chinese Garden, Revised by Alison Hardie (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 130. It has been argued that Jin Ping Mei had an influence upon Cao Xueqin’s design of Prospect Garden. For a discussion of this subject, see Mary Scott’s “The Image of the Garden in Jin Ping Mei and Honglou meng,” CLEAR 9 (1986): 83–94. See also Honglou meng he Chin Ping Mei (Buildings in Honglou meng and Chin Ping Mei) by Meng Qingtian (Qingdao: Qingdao chubanshe, 2001).

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illusory, and to see the illusory in the real. Sometimes, you conceal, sometimes you reveal, sometimes you work on the surface, sometimes in depth.66

Cao Xueqin’s decision to make Daguan yuan the centerpiece of his story is not unusual, given his upper-class upbringing and education, interests, and Honglou meng’s key themes. Traditionally, Chinese gardens were conceived as microcosms symbolizing the vibrancy, fruitfulness, and variety of the universe. Cao used Prospect Garden, in part, to represent China’s cultural civilization. The porous ontological distinctions on which, as Shen Fu has mentioned, Chinese garden aesthetics is based, became another platform for Cao to further state and reinforce the novel’s central theme of the dialects of reality and illusion, truth and falsity. In addition, the novel’s garden provides a space where Cao can explore notions regarding childhood, growing up, qing, responsibility, and innocence.67 Finally, the many different dwellings members of the Jia family occupy in the garden, from luxurious apartments like Bao-yu’s Happy Red Court, secluded, bamboo-enclosed retreats like Dai-yu’s Naiad’s House to simple farmhouses like Li Wan’s Sweet Rice Village, embody and reveal the personality of the character who lives in it.68 The question of which real life garden served as the model for Daguan yuan has generated a great deal of attention by Chinese scholars. There are essentially four theories. First, it has been argued that the novel’s garden is based on an extensive garden called Xitang (West Court) which was attached 66 67

68

Quoted in Smith, 1983, p. 172. Shang Wei has observed that “It is noteworthy that Cao Xueqin does not lock his presentation of the garden into the polarity of purity versus pollution. Instead a dialectical interplay of opposing forces is at work, here as elsewhere in the novel. As Yu Ying-shih has pointed out, the garden is built on the dirt from Jia She’s old garden, a site of corruption and sexual transgression.” “The Literati Era and its Demise (1723–1840),” in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Volume 2, Edited by Kang-I Sun Chang (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 290. An English translation of Yu Ying-shih’s seminal article, “The Two Worlds of Hung-lou meng,” can be found in Renditions 2 (1974): 5–21. In it, Yu concludes that “As cleanliness originally came from squalor, so in the end to squalor it must ineluctably return. I feel this is the central significance of the tragedy of Dream of the Red Chamber, and to Cao Xueqin, it must have been the greatest tragedy known to man” (p. 21). For a short but highly informative discussion of this topic, see H.C. Chang’s Chinese Literature: Popular Fiction and Drama (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1973), pp. 402–403. See also “The Propensity of Chinese Space: Architecture in the Novel Dream of the Red Chamber” by Li Xiaodong and Yeo Kang Shua, Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 13.2 (2002), especially p. 97. Xiaodong and Shua state that in the design of the garden’s residences, “character is used to inform architecture and architecture is used to inform character” (p. 97). In Honglou meng, all the furniture and house decorations are in the northern style while the flora is southern.

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to the Textile Commissioner’s residence in Nanjing and probably served as Kangxi’s temporary palace garden during his visit in 1705. Wu Shichang believes there is little doubt that West Court was the model, writing “This garden was referred to by the author [Cao Xueqin] as ‘at the back,’ instead of ‘to the West,’ of the house ([in] chapter two); and Red Inkstone in his comment explains that this was because the author was afraid the mere mentioning of the word ‘West’ might hurt ‘the Esquire’s” feelings.’”69 It has also been suggested that Prospect Garden was modeled after a private garden the Cao family knew of (or possibly even once owned) called Suiyuan (Harmony Garden) which was located on a hill with a grand view of Nanjing, two li west of the city’s North Gate. It is still commonly held that the poet Yuan Mei, who later owned this garden, once stated that Suiyuan was the model for Prospect Garden, but J.D. Schmidt has pointed out that the passage “in which “Yuan Mei” makes this claim is, in fact, a forgery, interpolated into a pirated edition of his poetry talks…The only association of the garden with ancient literary figures mentioned by Yuan Mei is with Li Bai.”70 Probably the most frequently mentioned possibility is that of the garden in what is popularly known as Prince Gong’s mansion which is located in the Back Lakes area of Beijing and built during Qianlong’s reign. 71 The 69 70

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Wu, 1961, p. 143. Harmony Garden: The Life, Literary Criticism, and Poetry of Yuan Mei 1716–1798, (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), p. 43, note 148. Jonathan Spence still believes this theory has some plausibility, noting that “The original title of Cao Xueqin’s novel was Shitouji…[which] had long been in use as a name for that area of Nanjing printed in the Qing and proceeding dynasties. Also, in poems written for Cao Yin by his friends Xingde and Du Jie, Shitouji is used as the name of the place in which they are saying farewell to Cao Yin. Both are referring to the area in Nanjing, and add the idea of height to their descriptions: Xingde writes of the waters below Shitouji; Du Jie writes of gazing from the water’s edge up to the ramparts of Shitouji…This would be explainable if they were referring to Cao Yin’s garden in the hills above the city. To eighteenth-century Chinese readers, Shitouji must have meant ‘records from the Nanjing hill’” as much as it meant ‘the record on a stone.’” Ts’ao Yin and the K’ang-hsi Emperor, Bondservant and Master (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 307. Zhou Ruchang is the most prominent proponent of this theory. See his widely cited monograph Gongwangfu kao: Honglou meng Beijing sucai tantao (Researches on Prince Gong’s Mansion: A Discussion of Material related to The Story of the Stone) (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 1980) and his Honglou fang zhen (Searching for the Real in the Red Chamber) (Bejing: Huayi Chubanshe, 1998). For historical overviews of the mansion in English, see K.S. Chen and George N. Kate”s “Prince Kung’s Palace and Its Adjoining Gardens in Peking,” Monumenta Serica 5 (1940): 1–80, and Geremie R. Barme’s “Prince Gong’s Folly” in The Great Wall of China, Edited by Claire Roberts and Geremie R. Barme (Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing, 2006), pp. 240–248. Prince

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mansion’s spacious garden was crisscrossed by elaborate halls, winding corridors, artificial hills, ponds, numerous paths bordered with trees and bamboo, loggias, and pavilions. The garden also had an opera house and several halls and dwellings. There is an old story that the original owner of the dwelling used to stand on the garden’s walls to look to the northeast where his hometown was located whenever he felt homesick. The complex was at one time owned by the notorious official and favorite of the Qianlong emperor, Heshen. The final possibility mentioned is the massive imperial Garden of Perfect Brightness (or Old Summer Palace) Yuanming yuan in Beijing, which was located in the north-west suburbs of Beijing and built in 1709. The Yongzheng emperor later expanded and rebuilt the garden and Qianlong remodeled it in the style of famous southern gardens. This large garden complex contained eighteen gates, fourty scenic spots, and numerous opulent garden palaces, towers, pavilions, and ponds.72 In the end, the most plausible answer to the question of which of these real gardens served as the model for Prospect Garden is that, while there is little doubt that Cao Xueqin was familiar with all of these gardens, and one or several of them may have slightly influenced in some fashion his creation of Daguan yuan, there is still no conclusive evidence that he was decisively influenced by one specific existing garden. Daguan yuan is an unusually large and extremely complex garden that was the creation of a gifted author with a remarkable imagination. It was more than likely based upon an imaginative composite of several of the many gardens Cao had seen in his life. Because his social circle primarily consisted of upper-class literati, there must have been many other gardens he would had seen at his friends’ houses, and perhaps some of these gardens also influenced him.73

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Gong’s mansion and garden has recently been completely restored and opened to the public. The complex gives visitors a concrete feel for what a very affluent, aristocratic mansion like the Jia’s would have been like in eighteenth century Beijing. For a study of how Yuanming yuan may have influenced Cao Xueqin’s design of Prospect Garden, see Honglou Yuanming Yinmi (Secrets of the Red Mansion and Yuanming) by Huo Guoling and Zi Jun (Beijing: Gongshang Chubanshe, 1997). This book also contains useful color illustrations and maps. For a recent history of the garden, see Gardens of a Chinese Emperor: Imperial Creations of the Qianlong Era, 1736–1796 by Victoria M. Siu (Bethlehem, Pennyslvania: Lehigh University Press, 2013). Dore J. Levy has maintained in her article “The Garden and Garden Culture in The Story of the Stone” that while we might not know which garden Daguan yuan was modeled after, “But as to the inspiration for Prospect Garden’s overall design, we may identify a popular literary source…In the first tour of the garden in chapter 17, Cao Xueqin constantly alludes to Ji Cheng’s The Craft of Gardens, especially, in the essential structures of rock, water and buildings. When considerations of logistics and economy

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One of the things that immediately stands out about Cao Xueqin for anyone who has studied his life and writings is not simply his wide-ranging and deep knowledge, which was remarkable even for an individual who was a very well-educated literatus, but also his unique ability to synthesize this vast knowledge and communicate it in an informative way that accurately described his times and the new social realities that were emerging in eighteenth century China. At the same time, he brilliantly refashioned literary and artistic traditions, genres, and conventions and created new standards. As this chapter shows, one important way he accomplished this was through his diverse and versatile use of poetry, painting, music, and garden design in Honglou meng.

lead the Jia family to insist that they build the gardens within the confines of the existing family property instead of breaking new ground outside the city, this decision is in full accord with Ji Cheng’s preference” (Schoenbaum and Liu, 20012, p. 122).

C H A P T E R

E L E V E N

The Question of Motivation Why writers write is an extremely complex question. Psychiatrist John E. Mack in his prize winning biography of T.E. Lawrence has cautioned readers that the factors that drive artists to create operate on multiple, confluent levels. He states that “between the practical, circumstantial surface level, and the deepest or ‘ultimate levels’ of need in the dark recesses of the soul are various strata of motivation deriving from different psychological levels of consciousness and periods of development, which find outward expression in the multiple confluences of private purpose and public opportunity.”1 There is no doubt that Cao Xueqin’s writing of Honglou meng was, on one of these levels, as has been previously touched upon in this study, an attempt by him to psychologically impose some order and meaning upon what happened to his family, to reason out why it had happened, and deal with its implications (both negative and positive).2 It is also clear that Cao was driven to write his novel in order to help alleviate the deep guilt he felt over not living up to the expectations associated with being the scion of an illustrious family, and helping to restore the family’s good name after the confiscation and impeachment and imprisonment of his father. This reason is forcefully stated in the Honglou meng’s famous preface which was possibly written by Cao’s brother (but based on Cao Xueqin’s comments) where the narrator of the story confesses “I have decided then to make known to all how I, though dressed in silks and delicately nurtured thanks to Imperial favor and my ancestors’ virtue, had nevertheless ignored the kindly guidance of my elders as well as the good advice of my friends, with the result that I have wasted half my life and not acquired a single skill.”3 1

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A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1976), p. 188. The writer Gore Vidal in a review of Edmund Wilson’s 1930’s journals, notes that in a section in the journals dealing with an airplane trip right after the sudden death of Wilson’s wife, “Wilson felt, instinctively, that by a close running description of what he saw from the plane window and in the air terminals he could get control of the fact of death and loss, or at least neutralize the shock in the act of re-creation.” “Edmund Wilson: This Critic and this Gin and these Shoes,” United States: Essays 1952–1992 (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 281. This need for control also seems to be true of several harrowing scenes in Dream of the Red Chamber, such as the chapters dealing with the government raid and Lin Dai-yu’s death. Red Inkstone mentions several times in his commentary that certain scenes in the novel were extremely disturbing because they were based on real incidents. DRM, 1, p. 1.

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Honglou meng provides additional clues concerning Cao Xueqin’s possible motivation. Liu Zaifu has observed that the plot, characters, and narrative voice in the novel convey strong and unique (for a traditional Chinese novel) feelings of repentance. Liu writes that the “allegory of the debt of tears links the story in the novel and the author’s intention together. In a note in the first chapter of an 1814 version of the novel, Red Inkstone makes the following revelation: “It is most likely that the author was the only one who owed and paid a debt of tears. I know something about this but not all the details.”4 Liu considers this remark to be highly significant because it shows that Honglou meng “is a work concerning a debt of tears and that the 10 year process of writing the novel was a process of paying a debt of tears that ended with the author shedding all his tears…Since the process of writing was a process of paying a debt, it also became a process of repentance, a process in which the penitent came to realize his moral and emotional responsibility. Dream of the Red Chamber is undoubtedly Cao Xueqin’s confession.”5 Another possible hint concerning Cao’s purpose can be found in an explicit statement of intent by the narrator in the first chapter regarding the novel’s possible therapeutic value: “My only wish is that men in the world below may sometimes pick up this tale…and heed its lesson and abandon their vain and frivolous pursuits and arrest the deterioration of their vital forces.”6 (This hope, as we see later in this chapter, is part of Cao Xueqin’s 4

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Reflections on Dream of the Red Chamber. Translated by Shu Yunzhong (Amherst: Cambria Press, 2008), p. 197. Liu, 2008, pp. 197–198. Pei-yi Wu has detected in the writings of a large number of Confucian scholars after the mid-sixteenth century a strong sense of guilt and an intense psychological need to confess their personal failings, (“Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in Traditional China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 39.1 (1979): 5–38). Wu calls this type of writing self-stricture, which means “any text in which the author discloses his wrongdoings, expresses repentance, and promises reform” (p. 5). Wu argues that from 1570 to 1670, Neo-Confucian scholars from the Wang Yang-ming School (which as we have seen had a strong influence on Cao Xueqin), “produced many writers of self-stricture…[displaying] a deep awareness of the human proclivity to evil, an urgent need to counter this proclivity, a readiness for self-disclosure, and a deep anguish over one’s own wrongdoings…with an intensity never known before in Chinese history” (pp. 38, 6). Y. W. Wong has gone so far as to argue that Cao Xueqin’s “idea of the aesthetic and moral effect of the novel on the reader which I call ‘Tears Repaying Theory’ is very much like that of Aristotle’s.” “The Parallelism Between Aristotle’s and Two Chinese Novelist’s Principles of Catharsis,” Tamkang Review 6 (1975), p. 474. Wong believes that the similarity between the two can be found in Aristotle’s conception of catharsis, the emotional release feelings of pity and fear that an audience gets from viewing a tragedy. SS, 1, p. 50.

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attempt to make his novel a medical history casebook).7 Implicit in all of this discussion of atonement, regret, and repentance is the widely held notion from traditional Chinese literary criticism that all great literature is the result of great suffering. Many noted writers, from Sima Qian on, have insisted that hardship and anger were the primary sources of literary creation, and that self expression could help to heal the afflictions of a writer. Readers of Honglou meng quickly pick up on the fact that the work is partly an exercise in nostalgia. Philip Kafalas has noted that although there is no distinct word in Chinese which means nostalgia, “nostalgic patterns of thought in the Chinese intellectual sphere”8 are ubiquitous. According to Kafalas, “Authors throughout the history of traditional China spent much of their efforts exploring the implications of the past-ness of the past.”9 He also contends that Confucianism was an important contributor to this widespread Chinese disposition because Confucius himself was “the model of nostalgia, hopeful yet embittered by his inability to bring back the past of King Wen. The notion that virtue and righteousness are things once had, now lost, and recoverable only in fragmentary form helped shaped the relationship with the past in a way that Daoism and Buddhism, which in general encouraged detachment from rather than longing for the past, did not.”10 The distinguished novelist and scholar Svetlana Boym in a brilliant study of the role of nostalgia in East European culture has come up with a very useful typology of nostalgia that can help explain Cao’s approach to the concept. She first points out that formally “Nostalgia (from nostos—return home, and algia—longing) is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy…A cinematic image of nostalgia is a double exposure, or a superimposition of two images—of home and abroad, past and present, dream and everyday life.” 11 Boym then goes on to differentiate between two general types of nostalgia: restorative and reflective. Restorative nostalgia stresses “nostos and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps...it manifests itself in total

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9 10 11

A final explicit reference to Cao’s purpose in writing his novel is made in a much analyzed poem in chapter 1. It states “Pages full of idle words/Penned with hot and bitter tears;/All men call the author fool,/None his secret message hears” (SS, 1, p. 51). It remains unclear exactly what this secret message was. In Limpid Dream: Nostalgia and Zhang Dai’s Reminiscences of the Ming (Norwalk: East Bridge, 2007), p. 144. Kafalas, 2007, p. 143. Kafalas, 2007, p. 143. The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books 2001), pp. xiii–xxiv.

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reconstructions of monuments of the past.”12 Reflective nostalgia “dwells in algia, in longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance…it lingers on ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time…The focus here is not on the recovery of what is perceived to be an absolute truth, but on the mediation on history and passage of time.”13 Boym also maintains that reflective nostalgia is directed “toward an individual narrative that savors details and memorial signs…If restorative nostalgia ends up reconstructing emblems and rituals of home and homeland in an attempt to conquer and spatialize time, reflective nostalgia cherishes shattered fragments of memory and temporizes space.” 14 Therefore, stylistically, restorative nostalgia is very serious in intent, while reflective can be amusing, whimsical, and ironic. When these categories are applied to Honglou meng, it is obvious that the novel displays elements of restorative nostalgia, which can be seen in the novel’s minute and thoroughgoing reconstruction of the social, economic, political, cultural, and autobiographical settings of Cao Xueqin’s early life in Nanjing, along with the numerous rituals and daily rhythms associated with it. But the novel is also ultimately deeply ruminative in both tone and vision, exceptionally ironic, meditative, frequently playful, constantly aware of the temporal nature of things, and steeped in strong emotions of regret, longing, and loss. It is clear that all of these elements played a role in Cao Xueqin’s decision to write his novel. Moreover, he also understood that literature could provide a way in which he could use his great talents that conventional routes like public service could not satisfy. But there is another equally fascinating question (that is rarely asked) concerning motivation that warrants discussion: Why did Cao decide to write his masterpiece in the particular literary form he did? Red Inkstone claims that Cao at one stage in his life seriously considered not using the traditional romance form at all, and thought instead about writing a verse drama. He eventually reconsidered and wrote a novel, but a special type of novel, one which was fundamentally different in scope, content, and form that what had previously appeared in Chinese literature. One of the impressive and frequently commented upon (especially by first time readers) features of Honglou meng is its vast cultural scope and comprehensiveness, expansiveness in detail concerning the material culture it covered, and the minutia of the quotidian life described. The novel covers in exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) depth virtually every aspect of 12 13 14

Boym, 2001, p. 41. Boym, 2001, pp. 41, 49. Boym, 2001, p. 49.

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traditional Chinese life, from valuable information on such varied subjects as medical, gardening, monetary, educational, religious, drinking, and culinary practices, clothing styles, furniture, sexual behavior, architecture, Chinese aesthetics, and servant life, to upper-class reading habits, hobbies, etiquette and customs, as well as examples of all the major literary genres and modes. The novel’s range is so extensive that Fang Chao-ying has asserted that it “constitutes source material of supreme value for a study of social conditions in affluent households of the early Qing period.”15 Cao Xueqin’s decision to write his story using this encyclopedic form is partly understandable given his time. Chinese novels have traditionally demonstrated a broad range of practical knowledge and have assumed a certain encyclopedic form. Shang Wei has pointed out that literati novels were frequently “enormous in length and scope, incorporating a broad range of literati concerns and sensibilities, as well as individual eccentricities and a variety of intellectual discourses…From 1750 onward, literature itself [in China] became an endeavor of gigantic proportions that mirrored the empire in all its fertile and fateful complexity.”16 One reason for this literary development was the problematic employment situation of the literati when the novel first began to become realized as a new genre in Chinese literature during late imperial times. According to Andrew Schoenbaum, “After spending their youth memorizing philosophical and historical texts, literati who failed the official exams and turned to writing were often simultaneously learning to practice a trade…It seems that early novelists turned to vernacular literature in part to display their knowledge of medicine, science, architecture, design, and poetry; the new genre accommodated (and later served as) encyclopedic texts, and portrayed quotidian life.”17 These novels also took an encyclopedic form because of the intense pride felt by their authors over Chinese culture, and the aesthetic delight they (and readers) took in it. In addition, these encyclopedic texts also helped to subtly reinforce what it was to be Chinese. The Ming dynasty novel Jin Ping Mei, which as noted before had an important influence upon Cao Xueqin, is an excellent example of an encyclopedic fictional text. Ambitious in range and extensive in detail, it 15

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Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period, Volume 2, Edited by Arthur W. Hummel (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1943), p. 736. “The Literati Era and its Demise (1723–1840),” in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, From 1375, Volume 2, Edited by Kang-I Sun Chang, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 265, 247. “For the Relief of Melancholy: The Early Chinese Novel as Antidepressant,” in Depression and Narrative: Telling the Dark, Edited by Hilary Clark (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008), p. 179.

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realistically describes the daily life of the unscrupulous merchant Ximen Qing. Shang Wei has studied the numerous ways late Ming daily life compendiums and encyclopedias (guidebooks, reference works, joke books, catalogues, game manuals, drinking guides, and non-literary commercial publications) are brilliantly “recycled, represented, and reorganized”18 in this novel. Shang persuasively shows that Jin Ping Mei is a novel about excess, and “constitutes an inclusive, encyclopedic cultural form and draws on a great variety of texts to present Ximen’s daily existence and leisure activities and its narrative illuminates the ideas, energies, desires, and attitudes that pervade the popular encyclopedias of the time… It is an encyclopedia of all the languages and genres available at the time, it demonstrates an encyclopedic impulse to observe them in its narrative framework and turn itself into a book of books.”19 But, if Jin Ping Mei is a book of books, Dream of the Red Chamber is an elegant and discerning encyclopedia of life itself as well as a concise but sophisticated primer on how to “read” it. While Honglou meng is part of this encyclopedic tradition of literati novels, it is also strikingly different from these works. As critics have observed, the inclusive cultural range, painstakingly constructed, and all-encompassing detail of the novel makes it unique in traditional Chinese literature. Andrew Plaks has called it “an encyclopedic vessel of culture…[it] provides in one volume a summation of the three-thousand-year span of Chinese literary civilization…[it is] an encyclopedic compendium of an entire tradition in a form that itself serves as a model against which to judge works of less imposing nature.”20 Liu Zaifu has vigorously contended that Dream of the Red Chamber “sifts everything in Chinese culture and crystallizes its essence into a literary classic.”21 John Smith has claimed that the novel’s scope is “unparalleled in the history of traditional Chinese literature...in a very real sense it represents the

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“The Making of the Everyday World: Jin Ping Mei cihua and Encyclopedias for Daily Use,” in Dynastic Crisis and Cultural Innovation: From the Late Ming to the Late Qing and Beyond, Edited by David Der-wei and Shang Wei (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 65. Shang, 2002, pp. 79, 83. See also Shang’s article “Jin Ping Mei and Late Ming Print Culture, in Writing and Materiality in China: Essays in Honor of Patrick Hanan, Edited by Judith Zeitlin and Lydia H. Liu (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003): 187– 231. Archetype and Allegory in the Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 11. Reflections on Dream of the Red Chamber (Amherst: Cambria Press, 2008), p. 7.

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culmination of China’s entire premodern literary tradition.” 22 And Shi Changyu has noted that “The cultural reference content of Honglou meng is of a kind rarely seen in the history of world literature.”23 Honglou meng belongs to an extremely rare, exclusive, and very difficult to write genre that the critic Edmund Mendelson has famously called an encyclopedic narrative. Mendelson holds that these special works of fiction are characterized not by a particular structure or plot but rather by a collection of uncommon features. The features include having a definite and unique place in their culture, “attend[ing] to the whole social and linguistic range of their nation…occupy[ing] a crucial and originating role in their cultures…[they] include a full account of a technology or science…and attempt to render the full range of knowledge and beliefs of a national culture, while identifying the ideological perspectives from which the culture shapes and interprets its knowledge.” 24 Furthermore, encyclopedic narratives “usually enter their cultures from a position of exile or illegality…originate in opposition to the cultures they later come to symbolize…attempt to incorporate representative elements of all varieties of knowledge their societies put use to…make use of 22

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China’s Cultural Heritage: The Ch’ing Dynasty 1644–1912 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1983), p. 210. It is intriguing to note that while dictionaries and encyclopedias have had a long history in China, there was during the late Ming and when Cao Xueqin was alive, a virtual explosion in the publications of of these reference works. Specialized dictionaries (function words, lexical expressions, synonyms, rhymes, specialized, and classified) as well as comprehensive encyclopedias were extremely popular during this period. Philipp Blom has noted in his history of the French Encyclopedie that “When it came to comprehensiveness, nobody could equal the Chinese with their otherworldly cast of administrators.” Enlightening the World: Encyclopedie, The Book That Changed the Course of History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. xvii. In 1704, the Kangxi emperor ordered the compilation of several Chinese encyclopedias, and in 1726, the largest encyclopedia ever published, the Gujin tushu jicheng appeared in over 5,000 illustrated volumes. This encyclopedia consisted of nearly 100 million characters, had six main categories, thirty-two subcategories and 6,109 sections. In 1716, the Kangxi zidan, the most extensive imperial dictionary was finished, and in 1782, The Siku Quanshu, which was a compilation of almost 2,500 literary works and came with a huge annotated catalogue, was published. For histories of Chinese dictionaries and encyclopedias, see Chinese Lexicography: A History From 1046 BC to AD 1911 by Heming Yong and Jing Peng (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) and Encyclopedias: Their History Throughout the Ages by Robert Collision (New York: Hafner Publishing Company, 1964). Han Shaogong’s recent novel, A Dictionary of Maqiao, (translated into English by Julia Lovell, Columbia University Press, 2003), offers a clever, modernistic take upon this tradition. Introduction, A Dream of Red Mansions, Translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, Dual translation edition, Volume 1 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1999), p. 40. “Encyclopedic Narratives, From Dante to Pynchon,” Modern Language Notes 91 (1976), pp, 1268, 1270, 1269.

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all literary styles and conventions known to his countrymen…[and] become the focus of a large and persistent exegetic and textual industry.” 25 Mendelson argues that Melville’s Moby Dick, Joyce’s Ulysses, Dante’s Commedia, Goethe’s Faust, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and Rabelais’s five books of Garganta and Pantagruel, are Western examples of this genre. There is little doubt that Honglou meng deserves to belong on this list. It possesses virtually all of the characteristics Mendelson thinks an encyclopedic narrative must have.26 Specifically, it utilizes all the major types of Chinese literature (classical essay, vernacular fiction, philosophy, history, drama, poetry, literary criticism), and styles (lyric, odes, regulated verse, aria, elegiac, parables and fables, prose and “old style-poetry”). Honglou meng clearly comes from a vantage of exile, and is largely rooted in opposition to many of the central tenets of Chinese culture. It does try to incorporate representative knowledge systems and ideologies (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism), and it also provides a thorough account of a science, 25

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“Gravity’s Encyclopedia,” in Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon, Edited by George Levine and David Leverenz (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1976), pp. 162, 164. Although Mendelson intended the term encyclopedic narrative to only apply to works of Western literature which had evolved out of the epic tradition, a strong case can be made for also using it for certain works of non-Western literature like Honglou meng. In fact, there is another celebrated East Asian novel that meets Mendelson’s criteria: the eleventh century Japanese novel Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu. Genji has some fascinating similarities with Dream of the Red Chamber: both novels occupy a very special, national identifying place in their respective cultures, have generated a massive critical industry, attempt to encompass the major beliefs and literary forms of their culture, are comprehensive in scope, but are also masterpieces of character depiction, psychological realism, and are fascinated by doubles. Moreover, both works are ultimately philosophical in nature, and deeply concerned with the themes of identity, fate, the illusory nature of existence, and the problems of self-deception, other minds, and the failure of individuals to communicate directly. Architecture plays an important role in both of these novels by defining character and advancing the plot, and both stories have tightly-knit, imagistic narratives. For discussions of these features in Genji, see “Deception and Self-Deception” by Ivan Morris and Andrew Pekarik in Ukifune: Love in the Tale of Genji, Edited by Andrew Pekarik (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), pp. 139–151; “Buildings and Gardens in The Tale of Genji by Bruce A. Coates,” and “The Akashi Lady: When Second is Best” by Shirley M. Loui, both in Approaches to Teaching Murasaki”s Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, edited by Edward Kamens (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1993), pp. 52–59, 155–161. For a good, concise introduction to Genji, see chapter 10 of Ivan Morris’s classic The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan (New York: Alfred A. Knoft, 1964). Even though Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, The Three Kingdoms, and Jin Ping Mei, meet some of Mendelson’s requirements, only Honglou meng comes close to satisfying his criteria.

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namely medicine. Moreover, the novel does in general encompass the linguistic range of China, and manifestly occupies a decisive originating role in the development of Chinese culture. Finally, Dream of the Red Chamber has been and continues to be the center of interest of a massive and steadfast scholarly business. As with many encyclopedic narrative authors, Cao Xueqin’s special, conflicted status as an outsider provided him with the necessary cultural distance and critical perspective in order for him to write this type of fiction. His writing of Dream of the Red Chamber in the form of an encyclopedic narrative enabled him to do several things that could not be done using the format of a conventional novel. First, this type of narrative greatly contributed and added depth to Honglou meng’s extreme realism. By vividly grounding his tale in the minute material, cultural, and everyday details of his characters’ existence, Cao was able to construct an eminently plausible world which is remarkable in its fidelity to life and believability. The encyclopedic nature of the story made it possible for him to naturalistically capture the intricate patterns, texture, and events of the everyday life of the novel’s many characters, and show the complex material and cultural features which defined their lives. By meticulously concentrating on small details, and using the traditional Chinese metaphor of the family as microcosm, Cao was able to give the reader an extraordinarily clear understanding of eighteenth century Chinese life (complete with multi-farious levels of supernatural order), and in turn reveal the universal (and universe). 27 In addition, the novel’s seemingly frequent encyclopedic digressions and details give reverberations and density to the story’s narrative. Secondly, the encyclopedic nature of the story provides an extensive stage for Cao to ask hard questions about, criticize, subvert, and occasionally 27

As Naifei Ding points out, this is in direct contrast to the “realism” of Jin Ping Mei, where “What has been mistaken for any early ‘realism’ is actually an antiobjectmotivated celebration of conspicuous object consumption.” Obscene Things: Sexual Politics in Jin Ping Mei (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 189. It has also been argued that the passages in the novel dealing with consumer display are really critiques of the aesthetic taste of characters and not just indicators of cash “value.” See Superflous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China by Craig Clumas (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993) for a discussion. C.T. Hsia has contended that Dream of the Red Chamber is an example of diurnal realism, “The technique of advancing the novel with seemingly inconsequential accounts of day-to-day events and of lingering overall days of family significance.” Approaches to the Asian Classics, Edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 267.

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affirm, central elements of the Chinese cultural tradition along with established political and philosophical systems of order. 28 For Cao to successfully accomplish this, it was necessary for him first to accurately and comprehensively illustrate the culture he is responding to. As Wai-Yee Li has concisely put it, “With its encyclopedic inclusiveness, Honglou meng in a sense sums up Chinese culture; at the same time it asks of it difficult questions. Herein lies its greatness.”29 Cao Xueqin also adopted the format of this genre in order to highlight major themes of the novel like knowledge (aesthetic, philosophical, societal, psychological, sexual, and ethical) and the glaring gap between social theory and actual social practices.30 This narrative form also provides the requisite background to situate and underscore his central philosophical ideas concerning the illusory nature of life in general (in order to emphasize the deceptive character of life, Cao had to first show its charms), the problematic ontological relationship between the real and unreal, appearance and reality, and Bao-yu’s trajectory from illusion to disillusion in the story. Moreover, since the novel is in large part a Bildungsroman (and ultimately an allegory about the arc of any life—including the reader’s), an encyclopedic format supplies the necessary realistic detail to precisely track Bao-yu’s development.31 28

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As Anthony Yu has put it, “With a remarkable modernist accent, Cao Xueqin’s creation suggests that a text both mirrors and produces the conflict of culture.” Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 178–179. Enchantment and Disenchantment: Love and Illusion in Chinese Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 256. As C.T. Hsia concisely puts it, “The life story of Jia Bao-yu especially, is tested against all the major ideas of Chinese culture” (Hsia, 1990, p. 267). The British philosopher Isaiah Berlin in an essay entitled “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” famously advanced the theory that one of the most significant differences which divides writers and thinkers are “between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single, central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think or feel – a single universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance – and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle. These last lead lives, perform acts and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal; their thought is scattered or diffused; moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times, fanatical, unitary inner vision.” The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, Edited by Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer (London: Chatto &

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Fourthly, this genre allows Cao to show his delight with things and wideranging curiosity about processes and how things work. Unlike Jin Ping Mei, where the detailed descriptions of the vast material culture, luxury goods and objects that surround Ximen and his wives are intended to show excess, unbridled desire, and avid consumption, in Dream of the Red Chamber, “the text no longer seems too obesely/obscenely replete with objects, but more seriously and hygienically meaningful and properly acculturated.”32 Cao’s interest in objects is primarily aesthetic and nostalgic, not covetous, and has an artistic purpose. Many of Honglou meng’s objects and goods are useful, functional, and define rather than dehumanize or commoditize characters. Cao’s work also fails to share Jin Ping Mei’s deep concern over how luxury goods can lead to the disintegration of social relations (although it does constantly press the point that the Jia family’s pursuit of material goods and conspicuous consumption has resulted in their living beyond their means). Fifthly, Cao keenly understood that readers (particularly literati) would find the numerous details in an encyclopedic narrative entertaining (hence, for example, the detailed depictions of special luxury items, like clocks, mirrors, and rare types of food).33 Readers would also have found the novel’s

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Windus, 1997), pp. 436–437. Berlin labels the first type of artistic personality hedgehogs and the second foxes. Cao Xueqin was to a large extent, like Shakespeare and James Joyce, a fox. Ding, 2002, p. 281. Sophie Volpp has maintained that one of the central purposes of Jin Ping Mei is to show how the expansion of people’s accessibility to new classes of luxury goods during the Ming dynasty resulted in a breakdown of the social order. “Ximen Qing places great value upon circulation, but this emphasis on circulation comes at the cost of Confucian virtues associated with stable, hierarchical relationships (loyalty to one’s sovereign, friends and brothers; filiality, and chastity). In place of these virtues, we find a shifting, transient sociability lubricated by the exchange of gifts and predicated upon the usefulness of others in procuring social goods.” “The Gift of the Python Robe: The Circulation of Objects in Jin Ping Mei,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 65.1 (2008): pp. 134–135. It should be noted who Honglou meng audience would have been during this time. As Harold L. Kahn observes, the novel “spoke to readers who already understood its assumptions, shared its prejudices, and knew it cliches. It may have been couched in the language of the streets, but it was meant to be read in the quiet of the study – whether that of the scholar-official, members of the local gentry, or merchant-entrepreneur whose urban, monied, and commercial culture gave such impetus to the growth of colloquial literature. Part of it may have been ‘popular’ literature, none of it was universal. Universality was the province of the oral and not the the written tradition.” Monarchy in the Emperor’s Eyes: Image and Reality in the ch’ien-lung Reign (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 66. Jonathan Spence has pointed out that this audience, which would have largely consisted of knowledgeable gourmets, “certainly would have found pleasure in Cao Xueqin’s imaginative plays upon conventional [food] imagery.” “Food”

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precise descriptions of the seating arrangements during group events to be extremely revealing because they would have clearly shown the current status of characters and the state of their relationships by noting who sat next to whom and at what table, and who was missing from the occasion.34 The story’s thorough explanations of the types of clothing worn by characters, the kinds of food and drink they liked, the hobbies they preferred and possessions they owned, would also have been interesting as well as telling to readers. 35 Moreover, they would found this form of narrative educational—hence the novel’s exhaustive descriptions of prescriptions and information regarding their appropriateness or inappropriateness for specific illnesses and medical diagnostic techniques, as well as descriptions of

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in Chinese Roundabout: Essays in History and Culture (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992), p. 186. Chinese readers would have also found the chapters describing Yuan-Chun’s gifts to the Jia family (18), the garden and its residences (17), the New Year’s list of food from the family’s farms (53), and the government’s confiscation inventory list (103), particularly fascinating. This is why the noted Honglou meng expert, Yu Pingbo, actually included in chapter 13 of his famous study of the novel, Yu Pingpo lun Honglou meng (Yu Pingbo Talks About Honglou meng), (Shanghai: Guji Publishers, Hong Kong: Sanlain shudian youxian gongsi, 1988), a diagram of the seating arrangements for Bao-yu’s birthday party in chapter 63 of the novel. For a study of the importance of clothing in the novel, see L. and V. Sychou’s “The Role of Costume in Ts’ao Hse-chin’s novel The Dream of the Red Chamber,” Tamkang Review 11.3 (1981): 287–305. For a discussion of the connection between material culture and character in the novel, see Tobie Meyer-Fong’s “A Question of Taste: Material Culture, Connoisseurship, and Character in The Story of the Stone, in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), Edited by Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Liu (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2012), pp. 208–217. For a study of eating and drinking practices in the novel, see Jinghua Du’s Honglou meng De Yin Shi Wen Hua (Eating and Drinking Culture in Honglou meng), (Beijing: Beijing Yanshan Chubanshe, 1993). Haiyan Zhan has asserted that tea plays an important role in the story. She writes that “paying attention to the role of tea helps [readers] to understand characters in the novel through small details in their lives and provides insight into a deeper world of hidden and suppressed feelings…Tea is also an effective medium building invisible bridges to connect segregated groups of people or ideas, and to propel the development of the plot to produce unexpected results and contrasts…In the narrative, Cao Xueqin inventive use of tea transforms tea scenes into self-contained episodes, almost a subplot in itself, as tea is so closely related with the themes of love and marriage.” “Tea in The Story of the Stone: Meaning and Function,” ICU Comparative 39 (2007), pp. 83, 113. The art historian John Hay has noted that the conversations among female characters in the novel over which decorations to use in bedrooms serve as a concrete way for Cao Xueqin to “dramatize a conflict between individual desire and family hierarchy complicated by gender.” Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2010), p. 293.

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cooking, landscape gardening, and sewing activities, room decorating tips, extended practical aesthetic lessons on how to write poetry and paint, and many details regarding how a large household is economically managed.36 Finally, the format of an encyclopedic narrative on a personal level provided Cao Xueqin with a vehicle to proudly display his broad learning, sophisticated aesthetic intelligence and tastes, impressive powers of observation, and the ebullient and playful side of his personality. What E.L. Doctorow has written regarding another great encyclopedic narrative, Moby Dick, is equally applicable to Cao Xueqin’s spirit in Honglou meng. Doctorow observes that Moby Dick “is an Anatomy, a big kitchen sink of a book into which the exuberant author, a writing fool, throws everything he knows, happily changing voice, philosophizing, violating the consistent narrative, dropping in every arcane bit of knowledge he can think of, reworking his research, indulging in parody, unleashing his pure powers of description…Melville’s irrepressible urge to make most of everything suggests the mind of a poet…the narrative bounds forward from the discussion of things.”37

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Andrew Schonebaum has maintained in a series of articles that Honglou meng also works as a medical casebook, writing that it “produces medical knowledge and character archetypes simultaneously by assigning consumption primarily to young, frail, beautiful maidens who are lovesick, and to those who owe a karmic debt. It merges content and form of medical casebooks and fictional narrative…Honglou meng presents selected cases as examples of illnesses that can be avoided by the reader and explicitly posited itself as literati medicine and implicitly as warning of the dangers of repressed desire. In doing so, it reproduced fabricated medical realities found in doctor’s casebooks, and also joined in that tradition of medical narrative.” “The Medical Casebook of Honglou meng,” Tamkang Review 36 (1–2) 2005, p. 241. See also his “Medicine in The Story of the Stone,” in Schonebaum and Liu, 2012, pp. 164–185. The details in the novel regarding the economics involved in managing the household of a large, affluent family are so thorough that four accounting professors were able to write a comprehensive, sixteen page article on accounting and management control practices in the story for a professional accounting journal. See r “Accounting and Management Controls in the Classic Chinese Novel: A Dream of Red Mansions” by K. Hung Chan, Albert Y. Lew, Marian Yew Jen, and Wen Tong, The International Journal of Accounting 36 (2001): 311–327. Creationists: Selected Essays 1993–2006 (New York: Random House, 2007), p. 48. David Hawkes has noted that “many of the symbols, word-plays and secret patterns with which Honglou meng abounds seem to be used out of sheer ebullience, as though the author was playing some sort of game with himself and did not much care whether he was observed or not” (SS, 1, 45). While Cao Xueqin was probably the best read of all the traditional Chinese novelists, he, unlike Melville, was able to wear his vast learning lightly.

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Western scholars have often criticized what they perceive to be many Chinese experts’ fascination with and excessive focus on the cultural and social sweep of Honglou meng and its encyclopedic elements, and their treatment of the text as primarily a historical document. Anthony Yu has been the most vocal of these critics, strongly accusing Chinese scholars of committing what he calls “the fallacy of the aesthetics of misplaced historicism: the assumption that the novel’s acclaimed excellence as art to be defined solely by the work’s faithful reflection and representation of historical and social reality.”38 Yu also somewhat irritably questions the relevance of the voluminous Chinese secondary literature detailing the novel’s encyclopedic components and the social, intellectual, economic, and cultural contexts in the story. “Although the bulk of such lucubration does serve to confirm the encyclopedic scope of the narrative and provide illumination of isolated aspects of its copious content, it remains to be seen how this kind of scholarship can enhance our perception and enjoyment of Honglou meng as verbal art beyond, say, the assurance that the drinking of imported port was indeed a coveted practice for aristocratic families in Qianlong’s China.”39 While Yu is correct about the widespread and at times inordinate preoccupation of mainland Honglou meng scholars with discovering the historical or autobiographical referents in the story, and not taking the work seriously as an imaginative work of literary fiction (an approach that has recently begun to change), he nevertheless fails to fully comprehend the specific reasons why Cao choose to write his work in the encyclopedic form he did, and the special character of an encyclopedic narrative. Cao Xueqin elected to tell his story in a very special genre that required considerably much more painstaking and laborious work, research, and organization than the usual Chinese novel did, and he took this step because he believed that it would enable him to do things that could not be done in a standard work of fiction. This is of course not to minimize Honglou meng’s importance as a work of fiction, but rather to emphasize that the encyclopedic nature of the novel complements and significantly contributes to the novel’s fictionality as we have seen in this chapter. This mingling of factual information with narrative development is a fundamental structural component of the story and greatly adds to the power of the novel. In summary, according to John Simon, the noted novelist Vladimir Nabokov’s once famously observed that “Unless you know the street of Joyce’s Dublin and what the semi-sleeping car on the Petersburg Moscow 38 39

Yu, 1997, p. xii. Yu, 1997, p. 18.

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express looked like in 1870, you cannot make sense of Ulysses and Anna Karenina. That is, Nabokov felt that writers “make use of some specific realities, but only as bait with which to trap the readers into a greater unreality—or greater reality—of his fiction.” 40 Cao Xueqin would have heartily agreed with this statement since it is clearly true of Honglou meng.

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John Simon, “The Novelist at the Blackboard,” The Times Literary Supplement (April 24, 1981), p. 458. The implication being that, as Fredson Bowers neatly puts it, “if the reader does not understand and assimilate this detail, he remains outside the imaginative reality of the fiction.” Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov, edited by Fredson Bowers (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1981), p. xii.

C H A P T E R

T W E L V E

“No Need for Some Self-Important Being to Commend or Publish It” When Cao Xueqin was around 30 years old, he moved to a small village called Yellow Leaves (Huangye cun) located near a Plain White Banner mililtary camp in the Western Hills in the suburbs of Beijing. This occurred not long after the Cao family had undergone another major purge. This secluded area was well-known for the beauty of its fall foliage and attractive landscape. The move was made out of Cao’s deep feelings of frustration over his situation. He wanted to make a fresh start in his troubled life and perhaps was also planning on finally seriously embarking on a writing career. Yellow Leaves would be his home for the remainder of his life. The British psychiatrist Anthony Storr has maintained that all people have divided selves, a divide between the face they present to the world, and the divisions within. Storr contends that most people associate themselves with their public front, while a creative individual “being more aware of the divisions, has a greater problem of knowing who he is, and in making some sort of whole out of his conflicting opposites.”1 He also believes that creative individuals have more divisions of the self than average people and also have a greater “access” to these other selves. Storr also argues that “at least some creative people spend their lives trying to discover and consolidate their own sense of identity [who am I], and that this provides the motive force for their creative endeavors…The quest for identity is the search for a sense of unity, consistency, wholeness, belief.” 2 Hence, creative work offers both the possibility of some self-understandingo, and motivates a person to make further discoveries of his own identity. This psychological quest seems to have been especially true in Cao Xueqin’s case. 3 His intense feelings of being an outsider, borderline and 1 2 3

The Dynamics of Creation (New York: Atheneum, 1972), p. 225. Storr, 1972, p, 226. On a fundamental level, Jia Bao-yu’s protracted and arduous quest for identity and an understanding of his origins is not only representative of Cao Xueqin’s own strivings, but also brilliantly captures symbolically the search for identity by all individuals. The arch of Bao-yu’s development from a stone to a person and back into a stone is, as mentioned earlier, heavily Daoist in tone. It is also strongly reminiscent of T.S. Eliot’s famous lines from the Four Quartets that “We shall not cease from exploration/And in the end of all exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.” The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1969), p. 197.

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marginalized social status, constant doubts and confusion regarding his sense of identity, and guilt over not living up to his family’s requirements, haunted him and became defining forces throughout his adulthood. They also appear to have largely pushed him to externalize and express these drives in an artistic manner, made him a sharp-eyed observer of the culture he grew up in and of people, and enabled him to view the world with a skeptical eye. This sense of distance also led Cao to clearly see the deeply rooted problems which lay underneath the brilliance of China’s High Qing period. These problems included the rampant, systemic corruption, increasing Sino-Manchu tensions, the unchecked materialism of the elite, the high costs associated with maintaining an empire, the rigidly ideological sterility of the educational system, the hypocrisy of much of conventional morality, and the growing political and intellectual cynicism. The historian Yuri Pines has pointed out that “Significantly, from the known trajectories of most rebellions [during the Qing dynasty]…it is clear that the government’s oppressiveness was of little significance as a cause of rebellion. Belying traditional complaints that officials “forced the people to rebel,” the government’s major problem was not its excessive use of force but rather its meekness and ineptitude…Weakness, not brutality, was the most unforgivable mistake of the dynastic leaders.”4 Cao Xueqin understood this and was able to forcefully capture this bureaucratic and governmental ineptitude and weakness in Honglou meng.5 This a good point in Cao’s life to look back on his Beijing experiences and discuss how they had affected him. By the time he had moved to the Western Hills, his formative years in the capital would have hardened him. The difficulties and instability he and his family had suffered, their repeated loss in status and constant rebuffs from relatives and friends for help, and the hardship of finding a suitable occupation, would have forced Cao to quickly grown up. But in the midst of all these trying years of personal turmoil, he remained able to fully vent his wide ranging and restless curiosity in the city. As has been frequently emphasized in this study, one of fascinating things about Cao 4

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The Everlasting Empire: The Political Culture of Ancient China and Its Imperial Legacy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), p. 151. See also “Dynastic Decline and the Roots of Rebellion” by Susan Mann Jones and Philip A. Kuhn, in The Cambridge History of China, Volume 10, Part 1, Late Ch’ing, 1800–1911, Edited by John K. Fairbank (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 107–162, for a detailed discussion of the numerous problems, many of which started in the eighteenth century, that lead to the decline and fall of the Qing dynasty. The corruption and unbridled conspicuous consumption of the Jia family in many ways mirrors the reign of the Qianlong emperor. Qianlong’s tolerance of corruption, stress on appearances, mindless extravagant spending on palaces and gardens, and China’s resulting soaring national debt, is strongly reflected by the Jia family’s behavior.

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Xueqin was his insatiable inquisitiveness: he was interesting because he was interested. Popular images of Cao usually center on the later years of his life when he became progressively more and more reclusive and embittered by his circumstances. But during his earlier years in Beijing, given the comprehensive and detailed knowledge that is displayed in Honglou meng, it is more accurate to think of him, in spite of his pressing problems actively pounding the city’s wide streets and numerous hutongs, soaking up its atmosphere and amusements, carefully watching, noting, and internalizing. He appears to have been the type of man upon which nothing is lost, and had a remarkable power to absorb everything he encountered and using it. Like all good writers of encyclopedic narratives, Cao persistently asked questions about what he saw. His colorful experiences living in the Chinese City, memories of his pampered childhood in Nanjing, and the fact that he was forced to live and work in the real world, provided him with a vast and rich store of practical knowledge that pertained to the everyday lives, responsibilities, and daily concerns of persons of various classes extended beyond that of what an educated Chinese was expected to know and pertained to the everyday life, job duties, and daily concerns of individuals of various classes and with what they thought and how they spoke. He was also fascinated with processes, how things were done and how institutions or groups really operated: from the logistics involved in operating a kitchen for a large, rich family, the steps involved in repairing an expensive, peacock feathered, Russian winter cape, the ins and outs of the legal system, how a pawnshop functioned, to the economic realities involved in supporting an elite family during the Qing dynasty. In addition to possessing this great pool of practical knowledge, Cao Xueqin was also extremely gifted in the subjects that all educated Chinese were expected to know. To be educated during this period meant that one was versatile in a wide variety of areas. Specifically, an educated individual had to have a good grasp of and ability to write poetry and calligraphy, and also have a comprehensive knowledge of literature, drama, history, art, garden design, music, and philosophy. Cao Xueqin had this versatility, but his multi-faceted talents even exceeded those of the vast majority of literati and greatly impressed his friends. His skills included the ability to compose first rate poetry, paint well, and he was also a gifted writer of drama, fiction, and philosophy. It would seem that he was one of those rare, supremely gifted individuals who in addition to having an exceptional knowledge base and being a fast learner, are also brilliant at any artistic endeavor they decide to pursue (much to the chagrin and envy of their acquaintances). Like most artists of exceptional ability, Cao would have been acutely aware of how talented he

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was and that he could do most things better than most people. Both of these types of knowledge, practical and artistic, would become very valuable after he moved to Yellow Leaves village and began to write Honglou meng. From his days growing up in luxury, Cao Xueqin was greatly attracted to the charms and enticements of the world of the Red Dust, which he described with such loving and minute detail in Dream of the Red Chamber. His living in Beijing would have heightened this appeal, with the city’s numerous amusements and diversions, including the exciting theater life, well-stocked bookstores, enormous markets, dazzling temples and temple fairs, renowned restaurants, vibrant street life, teeming and wonderfully varied population, stimulating communites of writers and artists, along with the power intrigues, drama, and excitement associated with living in the capital of a large and important empire.6 At the same time, ever since his family’s downfall, Cao Xueqin was becoming increasingly aware of and able to see through the hollowness and illusory nature of the world and man’s “vain and frivolous pursuits,”7 and to discern the temporal nature of all these pleasures he had enjoyed. Having experienced many occupational and political setbacks and frustrations, Cao, like many alienated and disillusioned Chinese literati in the past, began to turn to Neo-Daoism or Buddhism for solace and understanding.8 6

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Cao’s great attraction to the delights of Beijing (and eventual regrets over indulging in it) is hinted at in the first chapter of Honglou meng where it is stated, “having frittered away half a lifetime, I find myself without a single skill with which I could earn a decent living” (SS, 1, Introduction, p. 20). SS, 1, p. 50. The act of retiring to a rustic life in Daoism was traditionally viewed as a sign of protest, a rejection of conventional standards of success, and freedom from the oppressive world of intellectualism so that a person could find a measure of tranquility and peace. But this retreat was not regarded as an indifference to or detachment from the ordinary world, for according to the tenets of Daoism, the pursuit of any ideal existence required maintaining a proper relationship with the ordinary world. The ultimate goal was to dwell in the world without being of the world. Evidence appears to support the conclusion that Cao primarily mainly turned to Daoism for comfort and understanding. As Zuyan Zhou notes, “The combined political, ethnic, and ideological oppression that Cao Xueqin experienced must have induced a sense of confinement and engendered a longing for freedom, which may have lead him to seek inspiration from Daoist philosophy, traditionally an ideological rival to a corrupt orthodoxy.This may well account for the incorporation into [Honglou meng] of the Daoist discourse on the natural, the Daoist rhetoric of chaos, and the Daoist bird-fish imagery.”Daoist Philosophy and Literati Writings in Late Imperial China (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2013), p. 283. Zhou believes that Cao was strongly influenced by the Quanzhen or Complete Perfection School of Daoism 全真 教 which was popular in the eighteenth century in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang of China, but was not a follower of this school. For information on this school, which was one of only two

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The central problem of his later life would be how to resolve the contradictory tug he felt between the enticing and enchanting world of the Red Dust, with its claims of compassion, filial piety, nostalgia, love, human passion and attachment, and the opposing allure of Buddhism/Daoism with its detachment, personal liberation, complete disenchantment, transcendence, and withdrawal. He was able to masterfully capture these intensely conflicted feelings in the debate between Bao-yu and Xue Bao-chai in chapter 118 of Honglou meng. During their heated discussion, Bao-yu exclaims “From our birth we sink into the quagmire of greed, anger, infatuation and love; how can we escape from earthly attachments?” 9 Bao-chai counters by asking “What would the world come to if everyone took your advice and disregarded all natural relationships?” 10 Cao also expressed this nagging quandary through his frequent use of the trope of the real versus the unreal, and by irony in the story, where the massive disconnect between what things appear to be and actually are is frequently shown. By all accounts, Cao Xueqin was ultimately unable to resolve this dichotomy in his personal life. As C.T. Hsia states in the conclusion of his famous essay on Honglou meng, “In devoting his creative career to tracing the history of Bao-yu and the Jia clan, Cao Xueqin is therefore the tragic artist caught between nostalgia for, and tortured determination to seek liberation from the world of red dust.”11 In the end, Cao remained spiritually and literally a wanderer—a man without a home. In the words of Mathew Arnold, Cao must have felt that he was ultimately: Wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. With nowhere yet to rest my head, Like these, on earth, I wait forlorn.12

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schools of Daoism that the Qing government legally allowed, see Zhou, 2013, pp. 52–65; “Quanzhen – Complete Perfection” by Ted Yao, in Daoism Handbook, Edited by Livia Kohn (Leiden: Brill, 2000), pp. 567–593. DRM, 3, p. 544. DRM, 3, p. 544. The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 297. It is possible to view Bao-yu’s final disenchantment and decision to leave his family and become a monk after participating in the government exam at the end of the novel as representing Cao Xueqin’s attempt to resolve, at least artistically, the conflicting tensions in his own life. “Stanzas From the Great Chartreuse,” Arnold Poetic Works, Edited by C.B. Tinkler and H.F. Lowry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 302. This split sense of self is

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Cao Xueqin’s final years were marked by personal tragedy, abject poverty, and increasing despair.13 As with so much of his life, details remain unclear about this period and what little is known comes from a handful of comments and poems by friends. He appears to have made his living primarily by selling skillful paintings he made of rocks but the amount he made was painfully small, in part because of his proud and fiercely independent nature. As one scholar has noted, “With his family background and his friendship with members of the Royal Clan, he could have sold his pictures to princes and dukes, but he seems to have avoided instead of approaching them.”14 He might have received a small monthly salary from the government as did many poor bannerman or some stipend from a rich relative. It has also been advanced that he may have tutored village children in reading or have briefly been a school teacher, or even have opened with his wife a roadside wine shop to make ends meet. We do know that he later probably made a little money by renting out hand transcriptions of Honglou meng. There are also theories that Cao later traveled to the Southern Yangzi region on several occasions, visiting several cities including Nanjing in an unsuccessful search of employment and a sponsor for the publication of Dream of the Red Chamber; that he was offered a position as a court painter but turned it down; that he took the government exam at the age of fourty in the hope of securing a job; that he was given the title of “Tribute Student by Virtue of Excellence” (优贡生); and that he became a monk for a short time. Unfortunately, once again there exists no strong evidence for any of these conjectures. It is possible that at one stage of his life he became a private secretary or advisor to a local official. Shang Wei notes that during the Qing “there gradually emerged a glaring gap between the official elite and the cultural elite who had a degree but no official post. Many well-educated men were left

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symbolically expressed by Cao through his extensive use of doubles and doubling in the novel. A poem by one of his favorite poets, Ruan Ji, must have reflected Cao Xueqin’s anguished feelings during this time: “Whether one is eminent or humble depends on Fate, Success and Failure each have their own season./ Genial, glib-tongued good for nothings, Cheat each other in pursuit of profit; Ingrates degrade grace bestowed, And expose it to the scorn of slanderers./ The wagtail chirrups among the clouds, Flying continuously with nothing to hope for, How can one expect that the man who kept aloof, One day would be unable to preserve himself?” Four Introspective Poets: A Concordance to Selected Poems by Roan Jyi, Chen Tzyyarng, Jang Jeouling, and Lii Bor, by Victor H. Mair (Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University, 1987), p. 48. On The Red Chamber Dream: A Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the XVIIIth Century by Wu Shih-Ch’ang (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 127.

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without the financial means to claim elite status. To make a living, some took on lesser occupations and became…private advisors of secretaries to local officials, helping keep accounts, enforce tax collection, and handle legal matters and other areas under the jurisdiction of their patrons. Judged by status alone, these men would hardly fit into the category of cultural elite, but they were undeniably literati by dint of their education, and some were accomplished poets, essayists, and novelists.”15 If we assume Cao did in fact receive a degree or had the requisite connections, he may have worked for a time as this type of adviser. Some scholars also believe that he might have returned to his hometown Nanjing in 1759 and briefly worked for the local government. But again, no conclusive evidence exists for any of these workrelated possibilities, and we don’t precisely know what he did to survive in his remaining years other than painting rocks and renting out his manuscripts.16 The Dun brothers and several other friends of Cao Xueqin have provided us with some revealing poems about Cao Xueqin’s situation during this time. Dun Min has described the lonely place where Cao lived in a poem entitled “Called on Cao Xueqin but Did not Find Him.” It states: The wild river is deep in the freezing cloud, The faggot gate is veiled in a thin evening mist. In the hill village not a single soul to be seen, The sun is about to set in the chill air.

Another friend, the naturalized Manchu poet Zhang Yiquan 张宜泉, who also visited Cao at Yellow Leaves village, says of him: He loves to gratify his romantic ideas with his pen and ink, The cottage he has found in the western suburbs is uniquely quiet. Outside his door, hills and waters offer themselves for his painting, In front of his hall flowers and birds come to his poems and songs.17

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“The Literati Era and Its Demise (1723–1840),” in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Volume 2, Edited by Kang-I Sun Chang (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 249. For a study of the frequently used mufu system (the enlistment of outside advisors or experts by provincial authorities) during the Qing dynasty, see Friends, Guests, and Colleagues: The Mu-fu System in the Late Ch’ing Period by Kenneth E. Folsom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968). For a discussion of some of these theories, see Zhou Ruchang’s Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and The Dream of the Red Chamber, Edited by Ronald R. Gray and Mark S. Ferrara (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), chapters 26–34. Both poems are from Wu, 1961, pp. 126, 127. Hu Deping presents some intriguing information about Yellow Leaves village and the area surrounding it, as well as several theories regarding the supposed “hut” Cao Xueqin lived in, in Shuobujin de Honglou

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Although the area Cao lived in was isolated, it was not as secluded and quiet as is commonly assumed. Not far from his village was a large White Banner military camp, and a twenty minute walk away from Cao’s cottage was the important and very popular Ming dynasty temple, Wofosi 卧佛寺 that the Zhengde and Jianjing emperors had visited, which contained a rare sleeping Buddha. During the spring, flocks of people would come from Beijing to visit this Temple to celebrate the birthdays of Gods, and picnic and stroll around the nearby greenery. According to one historian, “Armed with wine and a light repast, well-to-do men brought female companions and sought out relaxing settings”18 near the temple. Cao Xueqin would probably have gone sometimes with friends on casual outings in the area and perhaps periodically visited Wofosi and had discussions with the monks. He lived close enough to Beijing to have made regular trips to the city to visit friends, participate in festivals, make inquiries about patronage, obtain needed supplies, maintain necessary contact with relatives, and indulge in his favorite pastimes of drinking wine, talking, and storytelling. Cao Xueqin somehow had enough stability and focus in the midst of all his hardships and economic insecurity to write his massive work of fiction, for as the French writer Flaubert once observed, a mundane routine is required for good writing.19 Cao was also greatly aided in his writing by several individuals who gave him useful advice. The most important of these was Zhiyanzhai or Red Inkstone who was briefly mentioned earlier and whose identity remains unknown.20 Red Inkstone was closely acquainted with Cao Xueqin and his family, and was present during some of the incidents and gatherings that were described in the novel. He (or she) performed a variety of vital services for Cao, including carefully editing his work, offering suggestions on how to improve and revise it, keeping track of

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meng: Cao Xueqin zai Xiangshan (Never Failing the Dream of the Red Chamber: Cao Xueqin at the Fragrant Hills), (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2004). Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400–1900 by Susan Naquin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 266. Po Feng notes that even in the poverty stricken and desperate final years of Cao’s life, he would “often wrapped his writing papers in a piece of white cloth and whenever inspired would immediately spread the white cloth and start writing, no matter where he was, a teahouse, a dram shop, or some corner out of town. He noted down every interesting sentence as soon as he heard it.” Quoted and translated by Hsing-cheng in Themes of Dream of the Red Chamber: A Comparative Interpretation, Ph.D. Thesis, Indiana University, 1966, p. 10. It has been claimed that Red Inkstone was one of Cao Xueqin’s uncles, his brother, or even his father. Zhou Ruchang has offered the extremely controversial theory that Zhiyanzhai was actually female and one of Cao’s wives, and that the character Shi Xiang-yun in Honglou meng was based on her (see Zhou, 2009, chapter 26).

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progress made, collating the various manuscripts, and providing much needed support. Red Inkstone’s extensive commentary on Honglou meng has given us invaluable insights concerning Cao Xueqin’s literary techniques, explanations of key scenes, as well as important biographical information about his life.21 We do know based upon remarks made by friends that Cao Xueqin’s first wife died during his time in the Yellow Leaves village, but not before giving birth to a son, and that he eventually remarried. In 1762, Dun Cheng encountered an impoverished Cao in Beijing: “In an early autumn morning I met Xueqin in the Elms Garden. It was drizzling and windy, the morning cold pierced one’s sleeves. At that time the host had not come out yet. Xueqin, however, was madly thirsting for wine. I thereupon untied my sword and mortgaged it for a drink. Xueqin was extremely pleased and wrote a long poem to thank me.”22 Cao’s young son tragically died the year after this meeting. Several months after his son’s death, Cao Xueqin died of grief on Chinese New Year’s Eve in 1763. His burial place is unknown.23 By the time of his death, Dream of the Red Chamber was already circulating in various transcribed forms among Cao’s friends and relatives, but none of these transcriptions went beyond chapter 80. In 1791, twenty-eight years after Cao Xueqin’s death, Honglou meng was finally published to great acclaim with the controversial assistance of the Chinese bannerman, minor official, and poet, Gao E 高鹗 (1740–1815) who claimed to have purchased the complete 120-chaptered manuscript version of the novel from a Beijing book peddler and lightly edited it. It was an immediate hit, copies were sold for a high price, and the edition quickly sold out and became a collector’s item. From that point on, the novel has remained extremely popular in China (in spite of being banned several times during the Qing dynasty, and more recently during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s) until today, and has gone through hundreds of

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For studies of the Red Inkstone Commentary, see John C.Y. Wang’s “The Chih-yen-chai Commentary and the Dream of the Red Chamber: A Literary Study,” in Chinese Approaches to Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 189–220; “The Chi-yen Commentary: An Analysis in the Perspective of Western Theories of Literature” by David Jason Liu, Tamkang Review 10 (1979): 471–494; and “A Study of Chi-yen-chai’s Commentary on the Honglou meng” by Te-hsing Shan, Studies in Language Literature Oct. 2 (1986): 134–156. Cited in Wu, 1961, p.129. For an interesting collection of essays on where Cao Xueqin might be buried, see Cao Xueqin Mushi Lunzhengji (The Debate over Cao Xueqin’s Headstone), Edited by Feng Qiyong (Beijing: Wenhua Yishu Chubanshe, 1994).

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editions. In addition, the study of this novel has become a major cottage industry in China today easily rivaling studies of Shakespeare in the West. Honglou meng quickly spread to other countries and has been completely or partially translated into nearly twenty languages. It is today widely considered to be China’s greatest novel and has occupied a core part of Chinese cultural life almost from the time it was first published, much as Shakespeare has in English speaking countries. John Minford has gone so far as to argue that it “more than any other work of traditional Chinese literature, captures what it meant and still means to be Chinese, to live a Chinese life, to feel Chinese.”24 Honglou meng opens with the well known story of Goddess Nüwa’s 女 娲 repair of the sky after the God of Water, Gong Gong, had knocked down a pillar supporting it with his head being defeated in a fight with the God of Fire. This breach in the vault of heaven created chaos, with the world shifting, and strong winds and rain pouring out from holes in the sky. Nüwa, the Goddess of the Arranger of Marriages and a female cosmic deity who symbolizes the yin cosmic force, cleverly mends the sky by collecting stones and rocks of five colours (each colour representing the five material elements of wood, metal, earth, fire, and water), melting them, and then using the material to repair the heavens. She also finds and kills a giant celestial turtle, cuts off its four legs and uses them to prop up the four extremities of the earth. Her success at mending the sky represents the victory of order over chaos. In Cao Xueqin’s version of the tale, Nüwa uses 36, 500 blocks of stone to make her repairs, but leaves one odd block unused, much to this stone’s dismay. Some commentators have made the case that Cao intended this stone to illustrate his own situation. Martin Huang argues: Dismay over the lack of opportunities to use one’s talents is clear here. The number 36, 501 is worth careful analysis: Nuwa uses only 36, 500 blocks, the number of days in a century (in the traditional Chinese calendar) and leaves one block unused (which is apparently superfluous). The symbolic implication of someone that is unwanted is obvious. Furthermore, in referring to the number of days of a calendar year, the author (or the narrator) calls attention to the powerful tradition of timing (shi) or “not being born in the right age” (sheng bu fengshi). Cao Xueqin apparently considered himself born out of his proper time.25

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Minford, 2010, p. XII. Literati and Self-Re/Presentation: Autobiographical Sensibility in the EighteenthCentury Chinese Novel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 86. For other takes on Nüwa’s story in Honglou meng, see Anthony Yu’s Rereading: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press,

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Huang’s analysis is persuasive. But if we also factor in Cao Xueqin’s deep interest in Zhuangzi and Neo-Daoism, it is possible to take this autobiographical reading a step further. One of Zhuangzi’s most important motifs concerns the efficacy or usefulness of uselessness. In his writings, he employs a series of parables to philosophically shake up commonly held beliefs regarding usefulness and uselessness, success, and utility.His intention is to force readers to take a skeptical perspective approach in which “Everything is useful from some position or other, and there are positions from which even the most useful thing is useless or useful precisely in being useless.”26 In Honglou meng, Jia Bao-yu is described as being “First in the world for uselessness is he.” 27 When he is viewed through the lens of the NeoConfucianism of his time and class, Bao-yu is clearly useless throughout nearly the entire novel because of his dogged refusal to follow central Confucian precepts regarding hierarchy, gender relations, and educational responsibilities, and to properly act as the scion of an upper-class family. Similarly, Cao Xueqin was viewed as (and must have felt) useless according to the standards of Qing society and his family. Cao was throughout his life exceeding proud (and probably highly defensive) of his family’s illustrious past, and acutely aware of his failure to live up to its legacy. Like the unused,

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1997), pp. 112–115; Andrew Plaks’s Archetype and Allegory in the Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), pp. 71–75; and The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, and The Journey to the West by Jing Wang (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), pp. 216–219, 249–250. “Zhuangzi” by Chad Hansen, in the Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, Edited by Anthony S. Cua (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 912–913. Zhuangzi”s most famous parable regarding the value of uselessness is about a massive, ‘useless’ tree that is never cut down. It can be found in The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, Translated by Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), p 65. For other parables on the topic, see pp. 35–36, 63–64, 66, 209–210, and 299. Kuang-Ming Wu has laid out four possible meanings of the phrase the ‘use of the useless’: (1). Usefulness is relative to a specific situation, and something useful in one becomes useless (‘waste,’ ‘pollution’) later in another context. (2). For things to be continually useful, the user must change his perspective as the situation changes. He must not be stuck in one perspective. (3). Freedom from a tradition-bound perspective requires that the user live in a situation-ofno-situation, the Village of Not-Any-Existence, and in an uncluttered inner landscape, the Field of Vast Nothing. There he can afford to distance himself from the usual (notion of) utility and appreciate the ‘useless things’ (tree, yak). (4). All this amounts to a unity of things common and uncommon (qi wu), a soaring to the beyond that goes a-roaming in the ordinary (Xiao yao yu).” The Butterfly as Companion: Mediations on the First Three Chapters of the Chuang Tzu (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), p. 78. DRM, 1, p. 47.

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shamed, and resentful stone in his story, he had talents (the stone had magical powers) but no real opportunity to display them because of circumstances he believed to be largely outside his control. But in an highly ironic turn of events (a turn that he would have greatly savored had he been able to experience it), many of the personal qualities Cao possessed and his society deemed useless (his outsider status, stubborn refusal to take the conventional path, marked eccentricities, powerful feelings of empathy and independence, fertile imagination, disdain for “career worms,” avoidance of established social conventions, strong sense of alienation and cultural distance, and deeply questioning nature), ultimately, made him useful.28 For it was precisely those qualities (coupled with his remarkable ability) which enabled him through his literary art to finally obtain the permanence and redemption he had long sought both for himself and for his family.

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Thereby illustrating Zhuangzi’s point that “All men know the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless” (Chuang Tzu, 1968, p. 67). This is also true of Bao-yu. In spite of being constantly shown to be of little use in a strict Confucian sense and even eventually leaving his family, at the end of the novel, his brilliant performance on the civil examination helps in part to restore his family’s honor.

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Wandering Between Two Worlds: The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715–1745 is a biographical account of the first 30 years of the life of the eighteenth-century Chinese novelist who wrote Honglou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber). It covers Cao Xueqin’s life from his birth in Nanjing in 1715 to the time when it is roughly estimated he began to seriously write his massive work. The book attempts to provide a brisk but broad overview of the important familial, social, historical, literary, and intellectual influences on Cao and his decision to write Honglou meng. Wandering

Between Two Worlds relies upon extensive interviews done with noted mainland Chinese scholars on the novel, such as Zhou Ruchang, Cai Yijiang, Duan Jiangli, Shen Zhijun, Zhang Qingshan, and Sun Yuming, during the author’s eight-year stay in China; recent research done by Western scholars on Qing dynasty literature, gender, qing, philosophy, and education; and insights from the burgeoning field of the New Qing history. This is only the second biography of Cao Xueqin’s life to appear in English, and the first to examine in detail his early life and to be written by a non-Chinese. It is intended for students of traditional Chinese literature and culture, as well as general readers interested in the novel and features a special foreword written by the distinguished redologist Zhou Ruchang.

Ronald R. Gray has degrees in philosophy from Brown University and the University of Colorado at Denver. He has published papers on Honglou meng (Dream of the Red

Chamber) in Chinese and Western publications; guest coedited a special 2005 issue of the Tamkang Review devoted to the novel; and is co-editor of Between Noble and Humble:

Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (Peter Lang, 2009) written by the noted Honglou meng scholar Zhou Ruchang. He lived in East Asia for 20 years and taught at universities in China, Japan, and South Korea. Gray currently teaches in the Department of Linguistics at Ohio University.