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

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[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)

#ReadingTheStone S2 Episode 3: On Tragedy, Failure, and Creativity – and Daiyu, of course

January 28, 2023

In last week’s episode we agreed that the last 40 “Story of the Stone” chapters were giving final season wrap-up-all-the-loose-threads vibes, but perhaps our #ReadingTheStone chats now do that too.

We circled back to the topic of one of our first conversations – on failure as generative of creativity, a theme that begins this novel and also structures a particular ethos of reading the text.

Discussion of Chapters 86-90 ranged today from the impending doom of Baoyu’s marriage, the “impossibility” of Daiyu and Baoyu as a good match, sharpening depictions of officialdom and venality; to the transition from the lyrical to the melodramatic in HLM; to some thoughts from Steve’s prison class,  to incomplete narrative or linguistic understanding as a mode of learning (“falling in love with things in layers, before you fully understand them”Elena’s beautiful phrasing); to finally, this insight from Shelly: “Today’s #ReadingTheStone (Chapters 86-90) was even richer and more heart-warming than ever. Sometimes digging deep into old classic texts is the most contemporary, and necessary kind of mental and moral activity one can muster.”  Indeed.

Join us next week as we soldier onwards to Chapters 91-95.

Including a few screenshots of our sidebar discussion from today; a rich array of post-chat comments have been posted on the #ReadingTheStone hashtag, too.

Listen to today’s chat: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1974761/12136780


S2 E2: Chs 81-85 Daiyu’s Anguished Dream, and HLM Final Season Vibes

The #ReadingTheStone community forged ahead into Chapters 81-85 today, and we encountered so many callbacks to earlier moments to the point that some of us felt that they were giving final-season wrap-up vibes. Many threads and characters’ fates are resurfaced, in anticipation of all coming to a head: Baoyu’s return to studying for examinations, further mentions of the Jia family’s financial excesses and the precarity of their fortunes being wrapped up in Yuanchun’s place in court, and of course, the Baoyu-Daiyu-Baochai love triangle. Thanks to Elena, we spent some time pondering the details of Daiyu’s dream – prognosticatory and Freudian avant la lettre.

[Image courtesy of Laurie Dennis, from comic book version, #11: 潇湘惊梦]

link to episode: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1974761/12100268

a few Zoom side-chat excerpts:

Laurie: Daiyu defends the essay form!

Kate: I keep asking myself if I would notice the shift in tone if I had no idea about the multiple authors. As I read, it was clear there was a major change, but then I wonder if it’s just the Hawkes/Mitford change. Immersing in the reality of these five chapters makes the previous ?70 chapters in the garden feel like a dreamscape. It’s hard to remember that these same characters were off writing drunken poetry under blossoming trees.

Stephanie Carta: Baochai deserves a better brother!

Kate: Baoyu’s poetry writing interlude may seem worse to his father than Xue Pan’s casual murders or Jia Zheng’s own idle youth because he is letting down the family in a time of crisis. No one seems to have sat Baoyu down and said “You’re our only hope of financial security,” and he says at one point “we’ll be all right” – so he’s happily oblivious. So it feels like the family’s failure is their reticence to speak about finances …

Vivian: They push him to study and pursue a real position (in court or whatever), and the logic is the money will come after that. His lack of interest is more bothersome to the authority figures than general “naughtiness”

Season 2, Episode 1: #ReadingTheStone Returns! Wrapping Up the First 80 Chapters

#ReadingTheStone had our first Saturday chat of the new year, on January 14, 2023.

Last we left off, we had read up to Chapter 80 – and in this first session of the new year, we discussed the textual history of Story of the Stone, how readers and scholars have differentiated between the first 80 chapters (understood to be definitively penned by Cao Xueqin) and the remaining 40 that make up the entire text. Waiyee, Ann, and Eileen are joined by our stalwart reading group members in a wide-ranging conversation on authorial vision, definitions of fanfiction and fan sequels, consistency of tone between the two sections, canonical authority, and English-language translation choices for the book’s title – as well as our own personal encounters with Story of the Stone over the past year of reading together.


#ReadingTheStone Returns January 14!

Dear Friends,

Please excuse the long silence. We look forward to reconvening, kicking off this weekend at 11amET on January 14.  We will be using Zoom, though will keep an eye out for those following along and posting via the #ReadingTheStone hashtag on Twitter or Mastodon.  This Saturday’s conversation will be an open-for-all and a reset – theoretically we are all read up to Chapter 80, but feel free to bring any comments and questions and insights whereever you might be in your reading of The Stone.

Our next chat will take place on  the morning of New Year’s Eve,  11am 1/21/23, and we’ll be shifting to a 5-chapter-a-week pace.

Until Saturday!

Waiyee, Ann, Eileen

A tentative reading group schedule for this spring:

1/14 A return to #ReadingTheStone: wrapping up the first 80 chapters, and looking forward to the last 40

1/21 Chapters 81-85

1/28 Chapters 86-90

2/4   Chapters 91-95

2/11 Chapters 96-100

2/18 Chapters 101-105

2/25 Chapters 106-110

3 /4  Chapters 111-115

3/11 Chapters 116-120 Our grand finale!

3/18*  Ann, Waiyee, and I will all be taking part in an AAS panel in Boston, convened by Paola Zamperini and I-Hsien Wu, and also with Canaan Morse .

The topic? The Story of the Stone: Afterlives, Legacies, and Reinventions.

If you will be attending AAS this spring, please do join us! I’m not sure that I am allowed to livestream our panel for non-conference attendees, but I will figure something out.

We’d also like to invite everyone who has taken part in #ReadingTheStone to a meet-up that weekend! Details to come.

Topic: #ReadingTheStone Saturday Chat
Time: Jan 14, 2023 11:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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#ReadingTheStone Chat 8 On Grand Prospect Garden – Sat 5/28 11amET

Join us Saturday 5/28 11am ET for #ReadingTheStone Chat 8 for discussion of HLM’s “Grand Prospect Garden” (大觀園 daguanyuan), translating proper names, and any questions/comments through Ch18.

Here is a wonderful introduction by Anne Sytske Keijser (one of the Dutch translators of HLM), to editions of Dream of the Red Chamber in the holdings of Leiden University Library Special Collections, including this detailed map of Grand Prospect Garden (大觀園 daguanyuan), a 1908 stone lithographic print by 陸子常 Lu Zichang and published by 求不負齋 Qiubufu Zhai.

This 大觀園精細全圖 “Detailed and Full Map of the Prospect Garden” is a depiction of the garden…drawn by 陸子常 Lu Zichang, about whom not much is known. His map is not a mere schematic rendering of the garden with just the buildings, but a carefully drawn semi-realistic impression of what the garden might have looked like. The garden is presented as a microcosmos that is not connected to the Rong mansion that it was part of. The self-contained world of the garden as imagined by Lu Zichang is surrounded by nature: we can see hills and trees in the distance, there is nothing to indicate that the garden was part of a mansion in urban Beijing. The garden is empty of people so that readers are free to project any scene from the novel that is situated in the garden onto the map.

Read the full piece here: https://leidenspecialcollectionsblog.nl/articles/imagining-a-garden-lu-zichangs-map-of-the-prospect-garden?utm_source=pocket_mylist#50286

#ReadingTheStone Chat 7: On Baoyu’s – no, Xifeng’s Education

#ReadingTheStone’s 7th Saturday chat was supposed to be a continuation of our discussion of the education of Baoyu, the young scion of the Jia family – but Waiyee, Ann, and Eileen were  diverted by discussion and questions about the ‘creation’ of the extraordinary Jia daughter-in-law, Wang Xifeng. From her keen knowledge of maths and household economy, to her minimal literacy (certainly in comparison to the other high-status young women in HLM), to her casual cruelty – Xifeng properly stole the show this week.

Listen on Apple podcasts:

Listen on Buzzsprout: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1974761/10686176

Thank you all for thoughtful #ReadingTheStone comments, questions, bibliographic suggestions, and ofc, gifs!


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