An experiment in reading together: Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢

#ReadingTheStone S2 Episode 9 On Baoyu’s Farewell, and Ours – Reaching Chapter 120

[Originally recorded on 3-11-2023]

We recorded our first Saturday chat on April 2, 2022, and now nearly 12 months later, we say farewell to Story of the Stone, as we reach Chapter 120 together. In this episode we explore the various ‘happy endings’ presented at the end of the fiction, and wonder if they responded to the questions posed by the text at the very beginning.

But we’re not quite done with #ReadingTheStone! – next Saturday we will livestream from Boston, and we’ll also be continuing with occasional future episodes on thematic topics – check back in with us, and we’ll also keep you posted!
Thank you to all who have joined us in this adventure – Waiyee, Ann, and Eileen are deeply grateful.


Or find the episode on Apple PodcastsBuzzsproutSpotify, and other locations!

#ReadingTheStone Season 2 Episode 8: On Haunted Near Endings – The Penultimate Episode of the Jias

[Originally recorded on 3-4-23]

“Before one disaster is over, here’s another!” Pretty much sums up all the chapters lately. – Dani
Our heroic trio Waiyee, Ann, and Eileen are reunited (thank you Shelly!) for the penultimate episode discussing Chapters 110-115, alongside the rest of our #ReadingTheStone community. A wide-ranging conversation today from Hou Hsiao-hsien’s City of Sadness to Everything, Everywhere All At Once – but also a deeper dive into the notion of qing 情 as we encounter it in this story and in Chinese philosophical discourse, thanks to Wei and Waiyee.  Several character deaths explored – Faithful, Xifeng, Grandmother Jia, and  Adamantina – as we head to the end.


Or find the episode on Apple PodcastsBuzzsproutSpotify, and other locations!


Laurie: It’s ok to talk ahead cuz it’s clear all is going to hell.

Kate: If this is anything like how it happened IRL, I can see why Cao didn’t finish the book.

Dani K.: Haha, Laurie

Shelly: “Heroic Trio” the original version: Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung,  Anita Mui. “Heroic Trio” the sequel: Eileen Chow, Ann Waltner, Li Wai-Yee (assign your corresponding roles accordingly)

Wei: I want to have the reunion chat of HLM and EEAAO. Is this too much to ask?

Continue reading

#ReadingTheStone Season 2 Episode 7 On Justice and Retribution, and Sea Otter Pelts

[Originally recorded on 2-25-2023]

Waiyee and Eileen had other commitments this week, but Ann led the #ReadingTheStone group in a rich discussion of Chapters 105-109, on the dual plot strands of Baoyu’s marriage and also of the Fall of the House of Jia, and whether, even for those with power and money and connections like the Jia family, there might be an limit-point to their ability to evade the justice system of their time.
Many fascinating and overlapping strands this week on the exorbitant price of sea otter pelts in the early 18 century (thank you Kate!), the family’s list of corruptions and Xifeng’s culpability, personal messiness and public prominence (Stephanie’s early work experience with Ted Kennedy informed her thoughts here!), whether Baoyu’s trajectory might make for an anti-bildungsroman (thank you Shelly), and why it seems impossible to contemplate harmonious polygamy as an outcome for Baoyu Baochai and Daiyu in this fictional world, despite its acceptance in the ‘real world’ and in other instances in this story (Steve and Ann and Elena all weigh in here).

Find the episode on Apple Podcasts, Buzzsprout, Spotify, and other locations!


Kate : In the 1750s a single sea otter pelt was worth enough to provide the Russian who brought it back to Asia (they’d been wiped out in Russia) with a house & a living. And that was before the middlemen selling it to a Chinese family. The ones on the list would have been probably equally valuable as Cao’s childhood was the time they were going extinct.

Stephanie : At the end of the day, I don’t think this shouldn’t have happened to a great family, and it was mostly their own fault. The system isn’t that draconian.

Kate : Didn’t Jia Zheng have his own hereditary title and then get his brother’s as a second one? Or am I mis-remembering?

Elena: “How can the cleverest daughter-in-law in the world make congee without rice?”
Horrible quote about Baichai “grafting” Baoyu’s affection for Daiyu onto her.

Kate : I think this would read very differently if there weren’t an acceptance of polygamy. It seems okay that Baoyu likes Daiyu, Fivey, Aroma, and Baochai simultaneously because everyone else has multiple wives.

Richard : Jia Lan seems to be the future of the family.
Maybe the Jia Lan story is supposed to be a kind of contrast – Li Wan throughout is the most conventional figure – the virtuous widow.  Jia Lan’s success is a reward for her good behavior.

Stephanie : This reminds me of the point someone made very early on, Baoyu is a stone and Daiyu is a blade of grass, so we can’t have any large worldly expectations of either. So, the family’s ultimate fate isn’t their responsibility?

Elena : I didn’t really think much about Jia Zhu’s death. Wonder if that played into Baoyu being “stuck” in adolescence? Would be interesting to reread as a story about family grief/loss — is that why no one is paying attention to details of daily life?

Kate : It seems a bit harsh to blame Baoyu for failing to save the family when the family has been failing for two generations previously. He’s behind his schedule of exams and position of course, but is he so far behind that he could have had a high status job at this point?

Richard : On Baoyu and suffering there was also the death of Qin Zhong

Stephanie : I was a political aide to Ted Kennedy when he had a tough reelection campaign…going back to US political history, it was his eldest brother Joe being groomed for a political career, not John, Robert, or Ted.

Shelly : To what extent is the novel not at all a bildungsroman, a coming-into-maturity story of Baoyu? Does he change at all? Develop? or is he static, until he walks out, to fulfill his inner destiny?

Stephanie : Baoyu feels mostly static to me, at least before the exam, stuck in a less mature phase of life.

Elena : Shelley is going to send me back off to read Herman Hesse again.

Richard : A Zen enlightenment-in-an-instant does fit our literary expectations.


#ReadingTheStone S2 Episode 6: On the Postlapsarian, and surprisingly, Jia Zheng

As #ReadingTheStone enters its final dozen chapters, we find ourselves ruminating over the postlapsarian state of things: the scattering and banishment of most everyone from Grand Prospect Garden, Xifeng’s decline and Baochai seemingly being groomed to be the next Xifeng, the ethics of appeasement in a large social structure, and the desultory state of the Jias after Daiyu’s death and Baoyu and Baochai’s coerced union. We also finally give the paterfamilias Jia Zheng 賈政 his due – and the group has a lively discussion about all things Jia Zheng, and ponder the story from his point of view.

Originally recorded on 2-18-23. Listen on your podcast platform of choice (e.g. Apple podcasts), and search for title “#ReadingTheStone”

Or listen here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1974761/12333336

Jia Zheng as illustrated by Dai Dunbang 戴敦邦

#ReadingTheStone S2 Episode 5: On Love and Death in the House of Jia

The theme of this morning’s #ReadingTheStone live chat began earlier, with Kate’s Twitter poll on where readers fell on The Baoyu-Daiyu-Baochai ship, and whether Daiyu’s quiet off-stage demise in the midst of a wedding was unbefitting the exit of a central character. Some other forked paths of conversation centered around Chapters 96-100 of Hongloumeng: Daiyu’s final utterance, the business of Baoyu’s lost jade, idealized polygamy, destroying traces of oneself as gesture of moral purity or willful self-destruction, bowderlizing sad endings to please one’s audience, and of course, muzak.

dani / dax: Her death coming shortly after BaoYu’s sister’s death, too seems to offer a death contrast: whose continued life has actual value to that family?
Stephanie Carta: The sense of the betrayal by the elder generation of both Daiyu and Baoyu is strong to me – like when Xifeng lies to him that he’s marrying Daiyu.
eileen chengyin chow: 余命10年https://mubi.com/films/the-last-10-years
Kate Laird: The Jia family’s behavior to Daiyu (except Baoyu) makes me feel that they are getting exactly what they deserve with the decline of the family. And since this is all pre determined in the Land of Disillusionment it made me feel this is why the family is collapsing despite the practical, real world reasons for the decline.
Vivian SF: “宝玉, 你好…” Baoyu, you so …..
Vivian SF: BaoYu has always been the only soulmate for Daiyu, so his presumed betrayal hurts more than all others
Laurie: yes.
Elena @Downtownlou: Is part of Daiyu’s tragedy from the beginning though believing that Baoyu has more agency than he really does?
Kate Laird: To Ann’s earlier comment about Baoyu’s initial response to removing Baochai’s veil is how beautiful she is recalls a scene much earlier where he looks at her arm (I think) and is stunned how beautiful she is. (That felt like a betrayal too) … I can’t think of a time where he thinks about Daiyu in that way.
dani / dax: But BaoYu has been wowed by the beauty of other characters before, why do people feel it suddenly a betrayal for him to find BaoChai beautiful?
Stephanie Carta: The Garden in its heyday was a kind of free love environment in the first place, wasn’t it?
Elena @Downtownlou: Body substitution foreshadowing.
Laurie: Wasn’t Lady Xing depicted as a bit of a dupe for tolerating her husbands lovers.
Shelly Kraicer: Does the marriage deception/substitution trick have precedents in Chinese literature? or is this a “first”?
Shelly Kraicer: It has lots of imitators, for sure.
Mel: +1
Laurie: The maids are so horrified at the burning of the writing.
Kate Laird: Without context (literary or historical), it seemed like it was a an effort so that Baoyu won’t be able wallow in reading her poems (act of vengeance? Act of sympathy?)
Shelly Kraicer: Ellen Widmer lecture on HLM here https://ias.umn.edu/ellen-widmer-dream-red-chamber-and-evolving-shape-womens-literary-culture-late-imperial-china
Mel: happy endings get more food

[Originally recorded on 2-11-2023]



Thanks for listening! Find us at readingthestone.com or @ReadingTheStone on Twitter.

[Season 1 Upload] #ReadingTheStone S1 Episode 11: On Goethe v. Proust, Private v. Public Reading, and Hexes

[Originally recorded on July 2, 2022]

After a lovely first #ReadingTheStone (virtual) face-to-face meetup as part of the Duke APSI Book Club in late June, we returned to our Twitter Spaces live chats in early July, and also dove back into reading the text proper. Eileen revisited one of her favorite moments of multimodal reading at the end of Chapter 23 – Daiyu’s encounters with snippets of famous stories of love. The group also had a lively conversation about where Cao’s narration of youthful emotion might be placed on the spectrum from Proustian nostalgia to Goethe’s depiction of Young Werther’s in-the-moment fervid passions. Other threads begun on that week’s Twitter threads and continued in the live chat include: Bao Chai’s cattiness, how Hawkes’ decision to not begin the English translation with the authorial preface changes our perception of the text, magical hexes and our understanding of them, and Xue Pan fanfic potential?? Early summer was a time for readerly fancifulness, it seems!

Listen here or on any of your favorite podcast platforms:


The Twitter threads in late June and early July reached new and merry heights of high/low/no brow co-existence (this is but a small sampling…)

#ReadingTheStone S2 Episode 4: On Daiyu’s Near Demise and Recovery, and Zen Koans

#ReadingTheStone discussion centered around Chapters 91-95, though we began the conversation where we left off the previous Saturday, on Daiyu willing her own demise by refusing to eat. The group discussed how Daiyu is absolutely the main character of the final 40 chapters, and whether this is yet another element that marks the difference of the Gao E sequel from the Cao manuscript, or whether this Daiyu-centric narrative was there all along. We also chatted about Xifeng’s daughter Qiaojie (and Grandmother Jia’s view of how girls should be educated), Baoyu and Daiyu’s “Zen koan” exchange, and the great reversal of fortune for the Jia family in Chapter 95.

A bit of our Zoom chat:

Mel: Chess and Pan You-An feel like an even more melodramatic mode of You Sanjie and Liu Xianglian
Vivian SF: The handkerchief passing between Bao-Dai has more emotional connection, between soulmates
Laurie: It does feel like, in these chapters, Daiyu has changed her view of herself to being Baoyu’s wife.
Elena/ @DowntownLou: I’m wondering how much of the drama in these chapters is dependent on Daiyu and Baoyu being the only two characters in the dark about the marriage arrangements. Baochai knows, it seems odd that these two wouldn’t.
Stephanie Carta: And then Lan writes that wonderful poetry that shows his new maturity
Laurie: I did send my daughter a photo of the embroidery phrase!
Vivian SF: Do not know or do not care to know. Daiyu would be the kind of person that only cares about Baoyu’s heart, not legal status.
Daiyu intentionally wasting away is a silent protest in the situation, she’s helpless and she’s protecting her dignity
Stephanie Carta: Taking Grandmother Jia to visit the dying Imperial Consort is even more shocking in our age of Covid
Mel: Something about girlhood –>womanhood = increase in materiality?

[Originally recorded on 2-4-23]





Continuing with our Season 1 live chat uploads –


[Originally recorded on 6-11-2022]

Episode 10 saw us ranging widely, though we nominally discussed Chapters 17 to 21. First, we chatted about all the buzz over the 2022 PRC college entrance examination (gaokao) essay question on Dream of the Red Chamber – over tweets and in our live chat this week, we discussed a) whether one needed any knowledge of HLM to answer it, and more important, b) if the question was a fair one to pose to 17 year olds under extreme pressure. The #ReadingTheStone community mainly saw it as a question of translation – literal or interpretive?
Conversation about translational choices of course led us back to David Hawkes and his rendering of the poems in these chapters – does the author (and translator) calibrate the quality of the poems to the varying poetic skillsets of our young fictional characters?
And as ever, Baoyu and his slightly dubious distinction between love and lust was a topic of discussion, too.

Please note: as our first zoom meetup on June 25, 2022 was not recorded, this was our last recorded #ReadingTheStone chat for June 2022.

Included below are a few (only a few! it was a very lively week on #ReadingTheStone – go search June 2022 tweets for the full experience) book club conversations.

A bit of #ReadingTheStone housekeeping

Dear Friends,

There were 24 live #ReadingTheStone Saturday chats in 2022. Alas, Twitter erased all Spaces archives (!) so I’ve had to scrounge to upload from various backups. It will take a while, but we’ll get there! 

I’ll be posting them as “Season 1” episodes on our various platforms. As we’ve said previously, these are the unedited recordings of our live chats each Saturday we met – so apologies in advance for audio quality and some random interjections (sounds of cats, children, a cough here and there – ). But I hope this will allow for those of us who are reading at different tempos to listen in!

In late May and early June our discussions ranged widely, but the conversation kept its main reading focus from Chapters 17-23. Lots of lively conversation on Twitter, too, on David Hawkes’ translational choices (and youthful handsomeness!), how to render a poetic qin 芹 (our watercress discussion!), and Xifeng’s managerial prowess.

Season 1 Episode 8 On Grand Prospect Garden, and The Functions of Naming (originally recorded May 28, 2022)

Season 1 Episode 9 On Embedded Refrains and Incipient Desire in Hongloumeng (originally recorded June 4, 2022)

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