The first sequel, Hou Hongloumeng, appeared a scant five years after the novel was published.
Halvor Eifrig tells us that depending on how strict a definition we use of sequel, there are between 13 and a hundred sequels to the novel. (Modernity, 173, citing Yisu).
Keith McMahon tells us that in all of the sequels to the novel except for one Baoyu is a polygamist; the possibility of polygamy adds an interesting twist to the romance of the novel. Where is the tension in a novel of marriage choice if the hero can marry both of the eligible young women? But I think it is not an exaggeration to say that in the original novel, it never occurs to any of the characters that Baoyu might marry both Baochai and Daiyu.
In Hou Hongloumeng, both Daiyu and Skybright (Qingwen) are brought back to life; Daiyu and Baoyu marry (and Daiyu becomes the first wife, superseding Baochai); the Jia family returns to its former status; and Baoyu takes the civil service examinations. At least as surprisingly, Daiyu becomes an excellent household manager.
Hou Hongloumeng is framed as being written by Cao Xueqin himself, at the request of Baoyu. The veracity of the frame is underscored by the inclusion of a letter from Cao Xueqin’s mother, which asserts: “Hou Honglou meng is well organized and written clearly and [I] believe that it concludes the earlier work. With these thirty chapters, it is ready to be sent back for printing. Only this time [I] quietly delay, so as not to add legs to snakes.”
The sequels do show how subversive the original novel is. The dilemma of the novel may be that the author created subversive characters; characters who were not satisfied with the roles that Qing society prescribed for them, but was not able to conceptualize a way out.
McMahon, “Traumatic Antimonies,” Moyer, “Women Rule Within”
Gu Taiqing’s Hongloumeng ying
Gu Taiqing‘s Hongloumeng ying (Shadows of the Dream of the Red Chamber) published in 1877, has been heralded as the first novel by a Chinese woman. As with many of the sequels, this one takes the tragedy of the novel and changes it into a comedy.
Gu Taiqing’s life before she married is somewhat obscure. Some of the obscurity may have been deliberate: her grandfather was the nephew of E’ertai who was forced to commit suicide during the literary inquisition of Qianlong.
We know something more of her life after her marriage (as a concubine) to Yisu, a great-grandson of the Qianlong emperor. Shortly after the marriage, Yisu’s principal wife died, and he never remarried. The relationship between Yisu and Gu Taiqing was a happy one. He died unexpectedly in 1838 when he was forty. Three weeks after his death her mother-in-law asked her to leave the household. She writes “We have nowhere to stay so I sold my gold hairpin to buy a residence.” (Geng, 24)
There are persistent rumors (which are not universally accepted) that she had an affair with Gong Zizhen, and that either the affair (or the rumors of it) may have played a role in her expulsion from the family home.
Some scholars have seen traces of Gu Taiying’s life in Hongloumeng ying.
In many sequels, the author brings Daiyu back to life: the central tensions of the novel seem to evaporate without her. But Gu Taiqing does not take that tack–Daiyu remains dead, and Baoyu comes to terms with their relationship in a dream.
In this sequel, Jia Lian’s concubine Ping’er (Patience in the Hawkes translation) becomes pregnant by him after the death of Wang Xifeng. (For a discussion of the cruelties to which Xifeng subjected Patience, see the discussion here.
The scene in which Patience gives birth is described in some detail, as a scene in which Baochai gives birth. The scene in which Patience gives birth is translated in The Red Brush, 648-51.
There are ways in which Hongloumeng Ying mirrors Gu Taiqing’s life. For example, as Geng Changqin points out poems which are written by the characters in the novel are exactly like poems that Gu published under her own name. (Geng, 103)
For poems by Gu Taiqing translated into German, see this website.
For more information on Hongloumeng Ying, see Widmer, Beauty and the Book; Widmer, “Hongloumeng Ying and its Publisher” Geng, “Mirror, Dream, and Shadow,” chapter 6; McMahon, “Traumatic Antimonies.”
Gu Taiqing “Weeping for Third Younger Sworn Sister Xiangpei”
One of the key pieces of evidence that Gu Taiqing is the author of Hongloumeng ying is this poem she wrote mourning the death of Shen Shanbao.
Weeping for Third Younger Sworn Sister Xiangpei
After a friendship of thirty years, we were as close as foot and hand.
I demand a reason from Heaven for taking this person away!
All her life she exhibited the mind and character of a valiant knight:
Demonstrating masculine talent although in the body of a woman.
The illusory world of the Red Chamber is not based in fact.
Once in a while, I take up my brush and add a few chapters.
Her lengthy preface
Shen Shanbao preface to Hongloumeng Ying
Here is an excerpt from the preface Shen Shanbao wrote to Gu Taiying’s Hongloumeng Ying.
All know that Crimson Pearl had the wish of repaying her debt by tears and did not have a marriage contract. Tears spent, she returns to the immortal realm and is not able to linger in thoughts of the mortal realm. There is not a predestined relationship for Luminescent Stone between Wood and Stone, but there is an arrangement between Gold and Stone. Therefore, it is only right that this be experienced in life to reflect this [predestined relationship]. From beginning to end, this is the main point of Dream of the Red Chamber.
Throughout the country, because Crimson Pearl, who bears peerless talent and beauty and harbors eternal sorrow unto her early death, readers of the novel gave rise to continuations of it, each to provide a means for different interpretations and understandings. On behalf of Crimson Pearl, [the authors] expel the resentment from when she was alive, turn over the old case of her unlucky life by using the riches of the red dust and adding the fairy maidens of the skies. [The authors] revive those who are dead, and make those who are innocent impure. Even though much effort is made at writing such a story, they make little sense. This is contradictory to the earlier book’s original meaning.
咸知絳珠有償淚之願，無終身之約, 淚盡歸仙，再難留戀人間; 神瑛無木石之緣, 有金石之,理當涉世， 以了應為之事. 此《红楼梦》始终之大也. 海內讀此書者，因絳珠負絕世才貌，抱恨夭亡，起而接續前編，各抒己見. 為絳珠吐生前之夙怨，翻 薄命之舊案，將紅塵之富貴加碧落之仙姝. 死者令其復生，清者揚之使濁，縱然極 力鋪張，益覺擬不於倫. 此無他故，與前書本意相悖耳.
Translation is that of Jennifer Chow in p.41.
The fact of the matter is, literati put all their energy into studying the classics and histories from childhood and on the side they study poetry and rhymeprose. They have fathers and older brothers to teach them, and teachers and friends with whom to discuss. As for women, they neither have teachers to learn from as do male literati, nor can they devote themselves single-mindedly to the practice of poetry and prose. Thus, unless a woman is exceptionally intelligent, she can never master poetry. If she is born into a noble family or prominent lineage, and has a father or elder brother and their teachers and friends who appreciate poetry, it might be easier for her work to be transmitted widely. But if she is born into a poor home, or married to a village bumpkin, I don’t know how many of these women would be sunk into oblivion and never heard of. I feel deeply for them. Therefore I have not spared any efforts to search out and arrange together [texts] to make this collection. It is just that I am awkward with language and my experience is limited. My intention is to preserve their broken lines and scattered pieces; I do not deliberate on whether their words are skillful or not.
Translation from Fong, “Writing Selves and Writing Lives,” 295.