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New book finds archetype of classic novel protagonists

2014-01-14 16:49:25



Book Li Qingzhao's Dream of the Red Chamber [Photo by Chen Boyuan/]

Most readers and literary critics regard the Dream of the Red Chamber, one of China's Four Great Classic Novels, as an autobiographical novel by its author Cao Xueqin. But a writer from east China's Shandong province has a different view.

In his recent book titled Li Qingzhao's Dream of the Red Chamber, Feng Fengming argues that Li Qingzhao (1084-1151), an ancient Chinese woman poet of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), was the archetype of Lin Daiyu and Shi Xiangyun, among several other characters in the Chinese literary masterpiece.

Feng said that Li's passion for poetry, her sentimental nature, occasional bitter remarks, and above all, her unyielding personality in seeking progress "matches" the personal traits found in Lin Daiyu; while Li's masculinity, love for alcohol and her frankness in treating others are also found in Shi Xiangyun.

At the book's promotion held in Beijing on Jan. 11, 2014, Feng said he did not intend to overturn previous academic findings by presenting his ideas, since literary criticism should tolerate different voices.

In arguing that Li had served as Cao's archetype, Feng said his conclusion was heavily based on contextual analysis.

"I have found around 140-150 similarities between Li Qingzhao and the Dream of the Red Chamber. There is reason to believe that Cao carefully studied Li, including her appearance, talent, her poetry, and her successors' opinions about her. Cao collected these materials and applied them to his fictional characters," Feng said.

However, Feng does not agree that "Lin Daiyu is equal to Li Qingzhao," because such an arbitrary conclusion rules out all the other things that made Cao's characters so lifelike. Instead, he encouraged readers to read the text themselves to discover more secrets hidden between the lines.

"The interpretations of the characters, along with the author Cao Xueqin, are similar to those of Shakespeare's Hamlet in that 'everybody can come up with a different understanding,'" said Wu Yunguo, president of China Enterprise Paper, who is also a fan of the book.

The Dream of the Red Chamber has been a constant topic for study for literary critics. There is even a word, "redology," to describe such research.

Wang Bin, a redologist and literary critic, noted that Cao and his book give Chinese literature the status to face world class writers such as the French author Balzac and the Russian author Tolstoy. "Cao Xueqin's book is qualified to be listed alongside them," he said.

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