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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Hong lou meng: chapters 28-31, feigned humility, proxy novice, melodrama

1/ Chapter 28 funnily has Bảo Ngọc (Baoyu) first lusting after a guy named Tưởng Ngọc Hàm (Jiang Yuhan), and then lusting after Bảo Thoa (Baochai).  


2/ One of the irritating things about Hong lou meng is that there are lots of formalities and lots of flatteries. Almost any scene that involves Vương Hy Phượng (Wang Xifeng) and someone outside the family has lots of flatteries. A lot of characters in the novel are insincere, dishonest, two-faced, or affected. 

There is also lots of feigned humility.

Look at this conversation earlier in the novel, between Giả Trân (Jia Zhen) and a doctor named Trương tiên sinh (Dr Zhang), who comes to visit the sick Tần Khả Khanh (Qin Keqing): 

“‘Yesterday Mr Feng was telling me about your great learning,’ said Cousin Zhen. ‘I gather that it includes a profound knowledge of medicine. I assure you I was very much impressed.’

‘I am only a very indifferent scholar,’ replied Dr Zhang, ‘and my knowledge is really extremely superficial. However, Mr Feng was telling me yesterday of the courteous and considerate patronage of scholars which is traditional in your family, so when I received your summons I felt unable to refuse. I must insist, though, that I am entirely lacking in real learning and am acutely embarrassed to think that this will all too soon become apparent.’” (Ch.10) 

That’s quite annoying, no? 

In chapter 29, there’s a scene where the Giả (Jia) family meet Trương đạo sĩ (Abbot Zhang), a Taoist who becomes a Taoist on behalf of someone from the family (more on this later). After some chit-chat, the Taoist borrows the precious stone from Giả Bảo Ngọc (Jia Baoyu) to show some people then comes back with the stone and a tray of jewellery—about 40 pieces. 

“‘What have you been up to, you naughty old man?’ she said. ‘Those men are all poor priests – they can’t afford to give things like this away. You really shouldn’t have done this. We can’t possibly accept them.’

‘It was their own idea, I do assure you,’ said the abbot. ‘There was nothing I could do to stop them. If you refuse to take these things, I am afraid you will destroy my credit with these people. They will say that I cannot really have the connection with your honoured family that I have always claimed to have.’

After this Grandmother Jia could no longer decline.” (Ch.29) 

Bảo Ngọc (Baoyu) suggests giving them to the poor, so this is the man’s response. 

“‘I’m sure it does our young friend credit, this charitable impulse. However. Although these things are, as I said, of no especial value, they are – what shall I say – objects of virtù, and if you give them to the poor, in the first place the poor won’t have much use for them, and in the second place the objects themselves will get spoiled…’” (ibid.) 

Again, does that kind of language not get on your nerves? 


3/ This is the line in David Hawkes’s text about Trương đạo sĩ (Abbot Zhang): 

“Cousin Zhen was aware that, though Abbot Zhang had started life a poor boy and entered the Taoist church as ‘proxy novice’ of Grandmother Jia’s late husband…” (Ch.29) 

The Vietnamese text adds an explanation that back then rich people/ people with some title couldn’t become a Taoist priest themselves so they got someone else to do so on behalf of them (their proxy) so they could get blessings/ good fortune.  

I’m sorry but that’s the most moronic thing I’ve ever heard. 


4/ In chapter 29, there’s a scene where Giả Trân (Jia Zhen) is mad at his son Giả Dung (Jia Rong) over a trifle, and then tells a servant to spit in his face!? 


5/ Out of the blue we are told that Giả Dung (Jia Rong) has a new wife, Hồ thị (Hu-shi). Where is she from? When did they get married? How long after Tần Khả Khanh’s (Qin Keqing) death? Nobody says.  


6/ Reading Hong lou meng is like watching a long, very long period drama. There must be moments even the most enthusiastic reader thinks to themselves, why can’t Cao Xueqin just summarise it instead of recording the entire conversation? The fight between Bảo Ngọc (Baoyu) and Đại Ngọc (Daiyu) at the end of chapter 29 and beginning of chapter 30 is especially long and melodramatic. 

Hong lou meng could be a drinking game: take a drink each time Bảo Ngọc (Baoyu) and Đại Ngọc (Daiyu) fight. By the end, I’d get a liver disease. 


7/ Chapter 31 has an interesting scene where people keep things unsaid and misunderstand each other. There’s also one in chapter 29, before the fight. Hong lou meng should have more of such scenes—more silence, more thoughts, more things kept unsaid. 

The scene is followed by this passage, however: 

“Dai-yu had a natural aversion to gatherings, which she rationalized by saying that since the inevitable consequence of getting together was parting, and since parting made people feel lonely and feeling lonely made them unhappy, ergo it was better for them not to get together in the first place. In the same way she argued that since the flowers, which give us so much pleasure when they open, only cause us a lot of extra sadness when they die, it would be better if they didn’t come out at all.

Bao-yu was just the opposite. He always wanted the party to go on for ever and flowers to be in perpetual bloom…” (Ch.31) 

Đại Ngọc (Daiyu) should learn about mono no aware. I don’t like her way of thinking—her negation of life. 

She’s still a child in these chapters though, so I’m going to pass that off as her being emo. 


8/ In these chapters, we see a bit more of Sử Tương Vân (Shi Xiangyun), the favourite grandniece of Giả Mẫu (Jia Mu). She and Bảo Ngọc (Baoyu) are second cousins. 

She seems like a fun character. She is a tomboy and likes wearing people’s clothes, and once she wears Bảo Ngọc’s (Baoyu) clothes and gets mistaken for him by the grandmother. While I don’t see a character’s likability or relatability as a criterion of literary merit, I like that Sử Tương Vân (Shi Xiangyun) seems much more likable and doesn’t seem to have the pettiness of Đại Ngọc (Daiyu), who is always mocking somebody. Are we meant to like Đại Ngọc (Daiyu) as people say? I find her insufferable.  

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