Love, Gender-crossing, and Women's Supremacy: A Reading of the Story of the Stone (AS 340f)

A 19th Century painting from a series of brush paintings by Qing Dynasty artist Sun Wen, depicting scenes from the novel Dream of the Red Chamber.

A 19th-century painting from a series of brush paintings by Qing Dynasty artist Sun Wen, depicting scenes from the novel.

Instructor: Ying Wang

Cross-listed as: GNDST-333HH-01

How are women portrayed in an 18th-century Chinese fictional masterpiece?

How do we, the modern readers, understand the famous line that “women are made of water and men are made of mud” from this novel—The Story of the Stone?

Why is The Story of the Stone called the encyclopedia of Chinese society and culture and the acme of Chinese fiction?

Why did the novel inspire over one hundred sequels and imitations, countless adaptations of performing art, and volumes of critique from not only leading literary critics but also important Chinese thinkers?

This 300-level research seminar offers students an opportunity to read closely and inquisitively Cao Xueqin’s 18th-century masterpiece—The Story of the Stone. Our investigation and interpretation of the novel will focus on the novel’s themes of women, love, femininity, and gender-crossing, but will also explore many other socio-cultural issues and philosophical influences in China.

Since this novel has been praised for its inclusion of almost all the rhetorical devices in pre-modern Chinese vernacular fiction, our reading will also pay attention to this aspect, examining the novel in its relation to Chinese literary tradition in general and the generic conventions of pre-modern Chinese vernacular fiction in particular.

In addition to the complete 120-chapter novel, students are expected to read some critiques of the novel from both Chinese and Western scholars. This seminar will be carried out through lectures, group discussions, individual research projects, oral presentations, and writing assignments.