Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber)

Andrew Schonebaum + Tina Lu (editors)

MLA 2012
A book review by Danny Yee © 2016
When I finished reading The Story of the Stone — the Hawkes and Minford translation of the classic Chinese novel Hongloumeng or Dream of the Red Chamber — I lifted myself out of immersion in one of literature's most extraordinary inventions and looked around for something to help me place that experience in context. I didn't find quite what I was after, and it turns out that the book I was looking for would only be published a year later. Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone is pitched at teachers, most obviously of a world literature course teaching Stone in translation, but is perfectly usable by their students or indeed anyone else.

With twenty contributors and nearly thirty essays, it encompasses a huge range of material. It opens with some teaching resources, including commonly taught selections and study questions, and a guide to resources available in English, covering critical studies, online resources and so forth.

For those after a quick overview, the essays in "Getting Started" look at authorship, audiences (readership and reading practice), common first questions, the opening chapter and the end, and some essential background social history (on family structure, sexual mores, and suchlike).

Nine essays then go into more detail on "Historical and Cultural Contexts", looking at garden culture, religion, the Manchu banner system, education, medicine, scandal and licentious novels, refined taste and connoisseurship, the religion and wealth of the elite, and material culture, and their roles in Stone.

Turning to "Identity and Intertextuality", there are pieces on Stone's antecedents, "dreams, subjectivity, and identity", hierarchy and servitude, "poetry, music, and drama", and the importance of ideology and aesthetics in understanding Bao-yu.

For me the most interesting section looked at Dream of the Red Chamber's "Afterlives" and reception, with essays on translation issues, visual representations, early sequels (most with happy endings), the Stone "phenomenon" down to 1919, three modern Chinese critics or "redologists" (including the novelist Eileen Chang), and the television adaptations. And there are three pieces on "pedagogical contexts" in teaching Stone.

There's a lot in Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone, much of it quite dense, but I happily read it right through. No specialist knowledge is assumed and, title notwithstanding, there's no reason students couldn't tackle this directly themselves, though most will probably prefer to sample individual essays. Anyone who has read the full two thousand plus pages of The Story of the Stone is likely to find plenty to enjoy here.

December 2016

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- Anthony C. Yu - Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber
- Cao Xueqin - The Story of the Stone
- more Chinese literature
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%T Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber)
%E Schonebaum, Andrew
%E Lu, Tina
%D 2012
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN-13 9781603291118
%P 515pp