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

Boston University WLL Fifth “Big Fat Books” Symposium: On The Story of the Stone

I’m back in Boston again this weekend – this time for Boston University World Languages & Literature’s Fifth “Big Fat Books” Symposium – this year’s BFB is #紅樓夢 ! Waiyee will be delivering the keynote, on “The Language of Love in The Story of the Stone.”
And on Saturday, Cathy Yeh and I will be in conversation with a longtime hero of mine – the playwright David Henry Hwang, who together with composer Bright Sheng adapted “Dream of the Red Chamber” as a English-language opera.

#ReadingTheStone S2 Episode 10 Fellowship of The Stone: our post-120 wrap-up chat 3-25-23

[Originally recorded on March 25, 2023]


“The Fellowship of the Stone” (thank you to one of the episode special guests, Paola, for our new sobriquet!) reconvened for a post finishing #ReadingTheStone wrap-up episode.

We welcomed a panoply of friends – all Hongloumeng scholars and teachers – our AAS “Hongloumeng Afterlives” panel-mates Paola Zamperini, Canaan Morse, I-Hsien Wu (see previous post), and also Carlos Rojas, Emily Wu, Steve Durrant, Scott Gregory, who dropped in to discuss their own origin stories and current research interests in Story of The Stone.

We heard from several members of our group, too – and of their experiences reading The Stone together this past year.  Ann, Waiyee, and Eileen concluded by discussing future thematic episodes that we’ll be hosting in the coming months, now that we have come to a conclusion of reading the story proper. Our next gathering will be on April 29 – watch this space or the @readingthestone twitter account for more details!

A fun aside: during our chat today Shelly Kraicer brought up a film he saw recently at the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute – a 1977 modern-day Hongloumeng adaptation – set in Singapore, with a visiting Daiyu from Taiwan!

紅樓夢醒 /新潮紅樓夢 (邱剛健, 1977)

The Story of the Stone: Afterlives, Legacies, Reinventions (AAS Boston March 2023)

After a year of #ReadingTheStone online together, it was so so lovely to finally meet so many fellow HLM 紅樓夢 enthusiasts at #AAS2023, and also for Eileen to chat with Ann for the first time in person (!) We missed you all who weren’t there though – our core group!

Thank you to I-Hsien Wu and Paola Giulia Zamperini for organizing such a fun and thought-provoking panel on “The Story of the Stone: Afterlives, Legacies, Reinventions” for #aas2023, and inviting Canaan Morse, Wai-yee, Ann, and Eileen Chow to join as well.  

Great talks from I-Hsien Wu on the landscape artist Yang Lingfu, who made a replica Prospect Garden without having read the book; Paola Zamperini on the HLM fashion system in text and adaptations; Canaan Morse on northern pingshu and the HLM storycloud. For the AAS panel description and abstracts, see here

The room was standing-room only, and we are so grateful for everyone’s enthusiastic engagement. We love that an audience member said our panel was the best rebuke to that recent New Yorker “the humanities are dying” article : )

Sharing a few images from the panel,

and a clip of Eileen querying the audience on their HLM reading habits


#ReadingTheStone Post-120 Wrap-Up Session 3/25 11amET

Dear Friends!

We would like to re-convene on this Saturday for our official first post-#ReadingTheStone discussion.

Join us to chat about a favorite scene, a curious plot point, a bypassed topic, or just to air any post-reading thoughts.

Please join Ann, Waiyee, and Eileen 3/25 11amET, and feel free to pose any questions in advance to @ReadingTheStone on Twitter, or in replies here!

Our Zoom for Saturday’s meeting: duke.zoom.us/j/6172831840

[a screenshot from @readingthestone twitter – conversation between Dax and Peter on what to do upon finishing HLM]

#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]



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