“If you ask scholars – or most people in China – for the greatest novel in the classical tradition, there are generally four novels of the Ming and Qing that are venerated. This is the most recent. It’s a very long and complex novel…The story is of a young man by the name of Jia Baoyu, who comes from a great family which is on the decline. He is just about the most un-Confucian person you can imagine. He’s effeminate, he associates largely with women, he’s not very good at fulfilling his social duties, he’s not a very good student of the Confucian classics. His head is full of poetry and beauty, and the clothing and fragrances of his female cousins, but he is confronted with a social world in which what you really need to do is study hard to become a Confucian official. That is the hardest thing for him to do, to fit in with this society and be a success in the way his family wants him to be. It’s about people living in a society and not quite fitting in…As happens in a lot in Chinese literature, he comes out at the top of the imperial exam and is given a great imperial post. But he ends up giving it all up to become a monk. That is a great paradigm in East Asian literature – at the point that you achieve the greatest success, you realise that this world of attainment and achievement is really quite empty. Then you long for something deeper, renounce your success, material goods and education, and become, in this case, a Buddhist monk.” Read more...
Books every Chinese Language Learner Should Read