Preface to new edition

Updated: 2014-05-13 08:27


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Preface to new edition

Pride of place 

Preface to new edition

'Dream of the Red Chamber' judged 'Best Asian novel' 

Following is part of an unpublished preface by master of Redology Zhou Ruchang for the abridged version of A Dream of Red Mansions in English, as a courtesy from his daughter Zhou Lunling. It offers a sound introduction to the novel that tops the must-read list. The preface was written in 1991.

Hong Lou Meng is no longer a stranger to the Western world, since the introduction of this great novel began as early as 1842, and a two-volume English translation less than half of the original text was published in Hong Kong as early as in 1892-93. Until now, about 16 different translations in European languages have been published.

To the Western students and learners of Chinese, however, some introductory remarks are not out of place and might prove necessary and helpful. The earliest English translation rendered the title of this novel as Dream of Red Chamber. But this long-accepted rendering, has later been criticized as unsatisfactory, and therefore another rendering appears — "A Dream of Red Mansions".

Since the title of the novel is in fact the key to the understanding of its main topic and significance, we must not neglect this point or consider it as a trifle. Especially for students of the Chinese language, stress should be laid on the importance of the term hong lou, which can be discovered very often in the Tang poems.

Hong in Chinese culture is the color of happiness, prosperity, fortune, youth and beauty, while lou's fundamental meaning is a two-story building, having its particular characteristics and magnificence of ancient Chinese architecture, quite different from the modernized Western type.

Hong lou together conveys the vision of the place where young women (mostly unmarried) lived or stayed. So hong lou, to the cultured Chinese, always sheds a beautiful light on the imagination and hints of the feminine world.

Meng, or dream, in this usage, has a strong philosophical effect, meaning the past merry days which seem nothing more than the illusion of a dream, unreal but very vivid in memories.

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