Dream of the Red Chamber is one of the great classic Chinese novels, along with Three Kingdoms Warfare, Water Margin and Journey to the West.
The setting of the story is based on the political, social and cultural environment of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), the final stage of the classic Chinese civilisation. Through the meticulous depiction of the trivial daily life of an elite scholar-official family, it unfolds a dismal picture of the decay and the sudden demise of a majestic family empire.
The illustrations were produced by a Chinese artist lived hundreds of years ago.
It was in this elusive setting the teenagers from this illustrious household with a royal connection lived and loved and died.
If you have no clue how humans are going to spend their time after robots have done all the jobs for people, this novel could offer you some clues, just by replacing servants with robots. You’ll be busy to study, to write, to paint, to meditate, to play music, to arrange parties, to organise poet society, and to fall in love, and to become lovesick, and to die of broken heart ……
Of course, if you are smart enough, you will use this opportunity to obtain full consciousness awakening.
A Lantern Festival
The story began by introducing a rich scholar-landlord family. The owner of the family inherited a large area of farmland and a mansion in a city.
The family practised one-child policy and the ageing couple only had one baby girl. But the only child was missing on the night of the lantern festival. Soon, a fire from a neighbouring Buddhist temple destroyed the mansion, so the wife returned to her parents’ home and the husband became a wandering Daoist.
Black Jade lost her mother when she was just 11-year-old, so went to live with her maternal grandma Granny Jia, the head of the grand household, and became the best friend of her cousin Baoyu, the granny’s favourite grandson.
In ancient China, there were mainly three kinds of schools: private schools set up by rich families, schools collectively funded and administratered by a village or a town, and independent schools established by the professional scholars.
But in the classic age, girls were normally excluded from the academic education system, therefore the majority of female populations were illiterate. Such a situation only has changed after 1949.
So Paoyu and his male cousins attended the family school that hired one teacher and provided free access to education for all boys from the associated families regardless of their background, a shop owner or a servant.
But most boys did not cherish the opportunity to free education. One day the ageing teacher was sick and his grandson Jia Rui was appointed to monitor the classroom.
Jia Rui was a hopeless playboy with zero experience in administrating an organisation. He constantly issued twitter-length short orders which often made little to no sense to others, consequently he lost his authority altogether. The boys grouped into factions in an attempt to even old scores, thus the riot and war erupted in the classroom between the major groups which were cheered by non-allied students.
In ancient China, the most elite family would have a studio quarter where a hired tutor usually taught and lived according to an annual contract.
It was also the place for intellectual recharge and spiritual retreat for the male head of the household.
A Family Dinner
One day, an old woman in her 70s known as Grandma Liu from a poor peasant family paid a visit to the grand mansion. Since the father of Grandma Liu’s son-in-law used to work for Granny Jia’s late husband, she was treated with a family banquet attended by the ladies and the teenager girls and boys in the household.
As Baoyu was Granny Jia’s most favourite grandson, he was the only teenage boy permitted to live in the Garden of Great View with the teenager girls in the extended family.
Each of them occupied an independent house with courtyards, big enough to host a party, in this enormous and illustrious Suzhou-style garden residence, which was the architectural fashion during the Ming Dynasty.
For celebrating one girl’s birthday, Granny Jia hosted a birthday party that included a banquet in a garden pavilion by a stream, a kunqu opera performance during the banquet on the other side of the waterway. Now the old lady and her entourage consisted of her daughters-in-law, granddaughters-in-law and servant girls took a rest in Baoyu’s residence.
A Garden Tour
The concept of Chinese garden residence is, to a large extent, a 3D expression of traditional Chinese ink landscape paintings created by scholar-artists.
The basic components in a classic Chinese garden typically include streams, bridges, pavilions and rocks as shown in the illustration of Garden of Great View.
A Poets Society
The girls living in the Garden of the Great View were all quite scholarly while composing poem was one of the basic skills of traditional Chinese scholars, so the garden residents formed a poets’ association and run verse competitions periodically.
Baoyu was the only male accepted by this all-female organisation.
A Verse Contest
This was one of the verse contest during a regular meeting of the poets association.
An Artist at Work
Xichun, a member of the poets association wasn’t a seasoned poet but was gifted artist. She was commissioned to produce an aerial view of the Great Viewing Garden by Granny Jia. It took her a year to complete.
From time to time, the residents in the garden would go to check her slow, and ultra slow, working progress.
Baoyu was rebellious, more interested in free expression through poetry, opera and travelling than obtaining academic recognition and getting a job in government. So he hated school but loved stage art for which he was punished by his father.
Everybody urged him to toe the conventional line, except Black Jade, the girl who was even more rebellious in spirit than Baoyu.
A Lovesick Girl
An aria from Yue Ju Opera Dream of the Red Chamber by great Chinese opera maestro Wang Wenjuan.
Due to her emotional insecurity, Black Jade got sick constantly. The care from Baoyu, Granny Jia and other residents in the garden could not ease her self-inflicted pain and sorrow.
Wang Wenjuan’s depiction of Black Jade (Daiyu) is the best to this day both on screen and on stage, as she is the only one able to turn the proud, romantic, sensitive and talented girl inside-out and reveal all the internal layers of her emotion and struggle.
A Night Visit
Suzhou Pingtan: Baoyu visiting a sick Daiyu on a raining night
Baoyu visited the sick Black Jade on a freezing raining night and tried to ensure her their bond would never be compromised.
A bedroom with a full-moon shaped window, a spacious veranda with a table for tea, a front courtyard with a paved footpath and balustrades on the edges – this was where the lovesick girl Black Jade lived and loved and wept and eventually died on the wedding night of Baoyu.
A Snow Scene
Being tricked into an unwanted marriage and the death of his soulmate left Baoyu with a big hole in his heart which helped him to let go of his obsessive emotional attachment to the elusive reality created by his own mind.
He left his privileged life to become a Buddhist monk, taking a long and lone but ultimately fulfilling journey on the path to consciousness awakening. Along the way, he overcame numerous pitfalls and passed five milestones and experienced five stages of transforming from a karmic victim to a conscious creator.