- Eroticism and Other Literary Conventions in Chinese Literature: Intertextuality in "The Story of the Stone." by I-Hsien Wu
I-Hsien Wu's book is a notable recent contribution to the inexhaustible scholarly conversation about intertextuality in Hong lou meng 紅樓夢 (Dream of the Red Chamber). It is grounded in wide-ranging and critically astute reading of Ming-Qing fiction and drama and in a close reading of the many textual variants of Hong lou meng and its commentaries, especially Red Inkstone 脂硯齋 and Zhang Xinzhi 張新之. It is fruitfully engaged with other landmarks in the field, including Jing Wang's Story of Stone (1992) and Wai-yee Li's Enchantment and Disenchantment (1993), but perhaps most closely with Martin Huang's Desire and Fictional Narrative in Late Imperial China (2001). At the same time, it breaks new ground in many directions.
In her preface, Wu writes,
I would argue that the novel is about the relationship between ren 人 (human) and wen 文 (literature): while the mythic stone is personified and its journey is created to represent human life, its storytelling is what makes meaning. In this way, my book is a critique of the mainstream humanist Stone scholarship, which often reads the text as a reflection of the characters as historical figures or constructed (but "real") persons. I would argue that while the novel is centrally concerned with defining ren, it is equally involved in investigating wen.
In other words, Hong lou meng is ultimately the story of the inscribed Stone itself, rather than just the story of Jia Baoyu 賈寶玉 and Lin Daiyu 林黛玉 or the Jia 賈 family, and the textual evolution of Jia Baoyu in particular suggests the ways that "real" late imperial literati lives were produced intertextually. [End Page 486]
Wu accepts the usual division of Hong lou meng into three sections: the first, about events in the lives in the Jia family before the building of the Prospect Garden; the second and by far the longest, the chronicle of their life in the garden; and the third, about their lives after they leave the garden. She sees each section, each step on Jia Baoyu's intertextual journey to maturity, as a response to a particular kind of text. She discusses the first section as a response to earlier erotic fiction and the second as a response to romantic drama. The third—and this is perhaps the most fascinating part of Wu's book—runs up against the perennial question of the how to read the last forty chapters of Hong lou meng. This section is clearly marked by the hand of another writer who, patching together surviving fragments of Cao Xueqin's 曹雪芹 (1715?–1763?) draft, gave us an account of Daiyu's death, Baoyu's marriage to Xue Baochai 薛寶釵, Baoyu's eventual success in passing the examination and beginning to restore the fortunes of the Jia family, and his decision to leave them for the life of a wandering Buddhist mendicant. Most readers do not find this part as satisfying as the first eighty chapters, but they disagree mightily on which parts they accept as authentically from the author's hand, which often comes down to which parts they personally like or dislike. Wu's intertextual approach eventually allows her to devise a mostly satisfying resolution to such arguments.
Hong lou meng is often read as a meditation on love (qing 情) and desire (yu 欲), including all their colors from romantic longing to physical lust. Wu starts by reminding us that Ming fiction and drama evolved toward the celebration of qing, with a correspondingly diminishing emphasis on lust (yin 淫). But since physical desire is inseparable from qing and since the distinction between yu and yin is hard to define except in retrospect, she starts by focusing on how late Ming erotic fiction shaped the narrative of Hong lou meng, and in particular on how Jia Baoyu's dawning sexual awareness is an early stage of a literati life produced by such reading. She argues that Baoyu's erotic initiation in...