Dream of the Red Chamber: Afterlives had its genesis as website which was a companion to the English-language opera Dream of the Red Chamber, co-produced by the San Francisco Opera and the Hong Kong Arts Festival. The opera premiered in San Francisco 2016 and has since been performed in Hong Kong and several cities in China.  Information about the opera, and a brief discussion of the ways in which it differs from the novel, is contained in Appendix A.

The original website was devised in the context of a graduate seminar taught by Ann Waltner with the assistance of Marguerite Ragnow at the University of Minnesota in the spring of 2016; some student contributions have been incorporated into this PressBook.

We recommend that you obtain a copy of the David Hawkes translation of the novel, under the title Story of the Stone (5 volumes, Penguin 1974-1986) and Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Lu’s Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Modern Language Association, 2012).  You might also find A Companion to The Story of the Stone: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide by Kenneth Hsien-yung Bai and Susan Chan Egan (Columbia University Press, 2021) helpful as you navigate the novel.

All of these books are easily available in paperback; if your local library does not have copies, ask that they get them. (The novel has several titles. We’ll normally refer to the novel as “Dream of the Red Chamber” except when we are specifically talking about the Hawkes translation.)

The narrative arc of this book explores the ways in which the novel has been read, commented on, and rewritten in the centuries since its composition, and it locates the opera by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang in that tradition.

The course provides resources which will enable you to explore the novel and its afterlives on your own.  The format of the Pressbook means that this is not quite a finished piece of scholarship—I have, for example, posted provisional translations of poems. I have kept scholarly apparatus to a minimum, but most sections provide suggestions for further reading. Full bibliographic references for those suggestions are given on the page “Suggestions for Further Reading.”  I often use Chinese characters in the text, particularly for names. Some of the most avid fans of the novels speak Cantonese, and romanizations of names in Mandarin are not useful to them.

If you are new to the novel, you might want to begin at the beginning and work your way through the book. If you are an experienced reader of the novel, you might want to begin by sampling what we think are some of the most striking aspects of the course.

If you have not seen the opera and are curious about it or if you saw it and want to see/hear it again,  you might want to check out six short excerpts provided by the opera.  Other segments of the course which might interest you include:

I would encourage teachers to make free use of these materials in their classrooms.

And, Finally, Thanks

Many people provided help of many different kinds to make this possible.

First of all, the original website was the idea of Joe Allen (then chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota) and Pearl Bergad (of the Chinese Heritage Foundation). Pearl introduced me to Kip Cranna at the San Francisco Opera, who has been helpful and patient as the original website came into being. Marguerite Ragnow (director of the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota) has been a terrific collaborator every step of the way.  Margaret Borg, who then worked at the James Ford Bell Library, was crucial in facilitating the scanning of images.  JB Shank (Department of History at the University of Minnesota) saw the potential of the course as a project for the Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World early on and provided essential funding. Alex Bortolot, Michael Dust, Aaron Rio and Yang Liu, from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, provided enthusiasm, access and video footage.  Paul Rouzer (Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Minnesota) was willing to brainstorm with me over the course of a year and a half about the course, and provided a wonderful lecture on Daiyu’s flower burial poems. Liu Li and Chen Tao agreed to be interviewed (and Liu Li performed) in the episode on the qin and Andrew Schumacher-Bethke performed the interviews.  (And I’d like to thank Yang Yi for introducing me to Liu Li and Chen Tao.) Kathleen Ryor (Art History, Carleton College) and Karil Kucera (Art History, St. Olaf College) were my conversation partners for a wonderful day at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts–the video traces of that day are available on this website. They both provided advice and answered questions. Tom Rose (Art, University of Minnesota) was a strong supporter of this project from the very beginning.

I’d also like to thank Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang–after I finished my interview with them, I knew I had materials for the website which became this pressbook.  And I’d like to thank the people who took or sat in on the course I taught “Building the Dream” at the University of Minnesota in the spring of 2016–Rick Hauser, Youngbin Hyeon, Andrew Schumacher-Bethke, Jay Kim, Pearl Bergad.  If it had not been for Rick’s prodding this course might have consisted of ten lectures with a handful of slides to illustrate each lecture.  I’d also like to thank Andrew for being game to set out to a teahouse in Queens over his spring break to record Liu Li and Chen Tao. Anduin Wilhide and Joshua Marcotte provided technical instruction for the course, and Josh did all the video editing. And Marguerite Ragnow’s role in the course was critical.

I’d like to thank my own graduate students, who allowed me to use our weekly reading group meetings to go over texts: Li Kan, Gao Ruchen, Jin Huihan, Jiang Yuanxin, and Eric Becklin.  I also thank Lars Christensen, Zhu Tianxiao and Rachel Kronik, who while technically not my graduate students, are crucial members of the reading group. Li Kan and Zhu Tianxiao also served as formal research assistants on the project, for which I thank them. They brought to my attention some of the most interesting tidbits in the course–the television show on food in Dream of the Red Chamber, for example. They also saved me from many errors, though doubtless not all of them.

David Rolston and Kim Besio shared materials with me and answered many questions. Huang I-fen spent an hour or so with me discussing the narrative embroidery, and answered every one of my “tell me how you know that” questions with authority and grace. Jason McGrath pointed me to resources on peep shows. Tina Lu and Megan Cai were particularly helpful in answering my Facebook queries about things like furniture, hair ornaments, and naming practices.  Participants in the “Sinologists” Facebook page cheerfully engaged with the various questions I posed them. I would also like to thank Tina and Andrew Schonebaum for their book Approaches to Teaching the Story of the Stone, a work which helped in innumerable ways to make this course possible.

I’d like to thank the various videographers who have worked on this project: Meng Tang who made the video of me inteviewing Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang; Chloe Gbai who was also game to go to a teahouse in Queens to make a video on the qin; Bill Cunningham who recorded Paul Rouzer’s lecture, my interview with Pearl Bergad, my short lecture introducing the course, and the reading group session.  And of course, great thanks to the Mia Film Crew (from the Minneapolis Institute of Art) who spent a whole day recording us.

Of course a project like this does not come into being without a substantial outlay of resources.  The departments of History and Asian Languages and Literatures allowed me to teach a course on building this online course, which enabled me to focus on this project in a way that would not have otherwise been possible.  The Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World (funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation) funded two graduate research assistants to work on the project for all of spring semester 2016 (and a bit into summer): Anduin Wilhide and Joshua Marcotte.  Josh did all of the video editing for the project. The Mapping Transitions through the Vehicle of the Arts project, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation New York, provided funding for some of the videorecording.  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts provided staff for a substantial amount of recording.

And Laureen Boutang, Shane Nackerud and Marguerite Ragnow have been indispensible in helping transform the website into a Pressbook.


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Dream of the Red Chamber Copyright © by Ann Waltner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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