Dream of the Red Chamber Analysis

Chao Zhan

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Garden of Enchanted Vision

Garden of Enchanted Vision. Also translated as Prospect Garden, a magnificent garden containing ten gates, archways, and buildings built for the visit of the daughter of Jia, who has become an imperial concubine. To find a name for each of the garden’s special features—each of which must allude to places described in classic Chinese poetry—Jia holds a literary contest, which is won by Bao-yu. After her single visit to the garden, the concubine allows her family to use it, rather than keep it as extravagant symbol of enormous wealth. She tells Bao-yu and his cousins to move in.

Each of the quarters of Bao-yu and his cousins, Bao-chai (rendered Black Jade in some editions) and Dai-yu (also called Precious Virtue) represents one of the three main teachings of Chinese civilization. Bao-chai’s house is surrounded by bamboo that grows straight up toward the sky. Moreover, it does not have colorful or fragrant flowers to attract people. Most importantly, the inside of a bamboo stalk is empty. These characteristics match the essence of Buddhist teaching that purity and the “emptiness,” or absence of desire and fear, lead one to reality and incorruptibility.

Dai-yu’s house is named after fragrant herbs. Flowers and trees are absent; only mosses, rare herbs, and trailing plants that exude aromatic perfumes are visible there. In traditional Chinese culture, a person of virtue is compared to fragrant plants. Confucianism concerns itself with social life, and Dai-yu is a completely social person.

Bao-yu’s Daoist commitment becomes obvious inside his rooms—from the Daoist authors and texts that he reads to the dominance of mirrors, which are Daoist images of place and spiritual vision. In yin-and-yang fashion, the mirrors show that endings and beginnings are impossible to separate, and that when any reality becomes extreme, it reverts to its opposite. These are Daoist insights. Bao-yu’s quarters are alive with spiritual forms; a circular hall contains a number of “mirror doors,” forming a pattern that is so confusingly continuous that it is impossible to see where it begins and ends. Each mirror door is an opening into a different spiritual place that cannot be controlled by human will but only by harmonizing with the Dao. Bao-yu opens himself to the bending and flowing of the Dao represented in the fluid forms carved into the walls of his rooms. Especially at the end of the novel, he gives up everything to return to the Great Void.

When punishment hits its inhabitants, the garden also suffers. The place is brutally searched for evidence of a maid’s forbidden affair. In protest, Bao-chai moves out, diminishing the garden’s attraction. When Bao-yu is tricked into marrying Bao-chai because one of the garden’s trees blooms out of season, his true love Dai-yu dies of grief. Her pavilion becomes haunted, and dread creeps into the garden. After the Ning-guo House is confiscated, the garden is boarded up. Its...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Knoerle, Jeanne. “The Dream of the Red Chamber”: A Critical Study. Foreword by Lui Wu Chi. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972. Evaluates Dream of the Red Chamber in aesthetic terms and applies Western literary tenets. Places the novel in perspective within the history of Chinese literature, and examines the novel’s ethical considerations and its religious and cultural influences. Shows how the tenets of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are woven together for a unified whole. Especially helpful are the illumination of structure and technique.

Ts’ao Hsüeh-ch’in. Dream of the Red Chamber. New York: Twayne, 1958. Translated by Chi-Chen Wang, 1958. Most recent translation, by a well-known Chinese American scholar. Leans toward colloquial English style, and thus loses the style of the original. The symbolism, allegory, and structural significance, however, are highly accessible.

Wang, Jing. The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in “Dream of the Red Chamber,” “Water Margin,” and “The Journey to the West.” Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992. Thorough discussion of the stone symbolism and its relationship to intertextuality, myth, and religion. An excellent section devoted to folk belief systems in the 1600-1899 Ching Dynasty period.

Wu Shih-Ch’ang. On the Red Chamber Dream. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1961. Thorough, accessible discussion restricted mainly to textural problems that were involved when scholars attempted to identify the original/authentic version of the novel. Excellent discussion of the varying and conflicting views concerning authorship.