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Liu Xinwu

Decoding A Dream of Red Mansions with a new touch


Liu Xinwu has been a major cultural flashpoint in China since he first elaborated on his own ideas and conceptions about the Chinese literature classic A Dream of Red Mansions on a televised cultural forum in 2005, giving birth to many discussions and disputes. 


Last October, the magazine Artistic Review published a huge amount of criticism from mainstream scholars on the studies of the book, with just a brief response from Liu.


Meanwhile, his ideas have ignited tremendous discussion among the readers as well. On an internet poll about Liu's decoding of the literature classic, more than 17,000 people participated, but with a take different from that of the scholars: Nearly 80 percent of the attendants thought that "Liu has extended the possibilities on the studies of A Dream of Red Mansions, and the effort is positive."


Accordingly, Liu's lecture on CCTV (China Central Television) continued in November, while the discussion on Liu and the classic A Dream of Red Mansions marches on as well.


There are a lot of different ways to study the ancient Chinese classic, and the focus has been on textual researches rather than the book itself in recent years. Liu put his major effort in reading the original book.


"Some people want me to present my evidence; my major evidence is the book itself. I have been working very hard on intensively reading the texts."


"Personally, it is fun for me in the first place, and at the same time, I gained something out of it. There are a lot more ways to study the book, and this is just one of them," noted Liu, adding, "the purpose of my research is to steer people to read the magnum opus."


However, Liu does not think his work is something in the tower of ivory. "Literature, especially a book like A Dream of Red Mansions, cares about reality" said Liu. "The book attaches a great deal of importance on the notion of equality. I cannot solve the social problems as a scholar, but at least, I have participated in discussing them by learning and writing about this great book."


According to Liu Xinwu, A Dream of Red Mansions is a name card for China that should be cherished, respected, and researched by Chinese people: "Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a great book, but it appeared later than A Dream of Red Mansions, and Hugo's environment is way better than that of Cao Xuqin's, especially when considering that Cao lived in an era of harsh literary inquisition. How can we not respect Cao?"



Criticizing the situation in which some people in China raise Western literature works, while debasing that of China's own, Liu said, "It's a tragedy that a lot of people know more about Shakespeare than about Cao Xueqin. We cannot look down on China's great works, but rather should research and protect it. I hope more people will read A Dream of Red Mansions."


Author Wang Meng recently published his view that the book A Dream of Red Mansions was all written by Cao Xueqin himself, but Liu holds the idea that the first 80 chapters were written by Cao, and the latter 40 chapters were finished by Gao E.


"My proof comes from my intensive reading, and analysis into the leading characters Lin Daiyu and Jia Baoyu," said Liu.


"I have received a number of essays and materials. Some think that Cao wrote all 120 of the chapters, while others even hold the idea that there was no such person named Cao Xueqin. I am very pleased and willing to read their researches though I don't agree with them."


Liu further elaborated on his meaning: "Maybe someday I will think they are right, but now I don't. Nevertheless, disagreement does not mean disrespect. These ideas give me an impulse. It is very interesting that people can come to different conclusions according to different editions of the book. How wonderful it is that there are many different voices in the world!"




Liu Xinwu, pen-named Liu Liu and Zhao Zhuanghan, was born in 1942 in Chengdu of Southwest China's Sichuan Province. He is a modern Chinese writer, and once was the editor-in-chief of the literature magazine People's Literature. 


Liu graduated from the Beijing Normal University in 1961, and afterwards taught in a middle school for 15 years. In 1976, he became an editor for Beijing Publishing House in 1976. In the following year, his short story A Teacher in Charge of a Class, which was considered the start of the trauma literature, caused a big stir, and obtained the Excellent National Short Story Award.


Later he published a number of other novels like The Position of Love, Wake up, Younger Brother, and I Love Every Green Leaf, which also garnered the Excellent National Short Story Award.


His representative novella includes Ruyi, Cloverleaf Intersection, and A Small Block of Wood. The best-known full-length novels are Bell and Drum Towers, Four Decorated Archways, The Building that Rests the Phoenix, and Wind Passing through Ear.


In 1985, his documentary writings Long Camera Lens on May 19 and Bus Aria caused another sensation. He started a column called "personal album" in the magazine called Harvest, starting a new form of style in a literature magazine with both pictures and essays. In 1999, he presented his novel The Tree and Forrest are Together, with plenty of pictures.


After 1992, he produced a great number of informal essays, which later were collected and published in different volumes.



Liu began to publish essays on the studies of A Dream of Red Mansions in 1993. Later these study results were published in the forms of novels and monographs.


Liu made an attempt to comment on construction in 1995. In succession he published two books, Construction and Environment in My Eyes in 1998 and The Beauty of Material in 2004.


Collected Works of Liu Xinwu, in eight volumes, was published in 1993. As of the beginning of 2005, his diverse kinds of writings in different editions published both in China and overseas have surpassed 130.


Writer, as well as a jack-of-all-trades


Liu Xinwu is a writer with an amazing wide range of interests. Football, or soccer, has been a fervent hobby for him, while at the same time he once wrote Long Camera Lens on May 19. Liu, as one of the first writers to write on the computer, still does not understand why others hate writing on the computer so much. He likes drawing, and even once participated in a painting exhibition. Liu has also written two books on construction -- both with good sales.


Nowadays people can usually find Liu Xinwu drawing in the brooks and fields. Liu cultivated an interest in painting from childhood, and his parents were very proud of him for his gift. When guests came to their house, his parents usually asked Liu to paint for them. There was one time he drew a painting for a guest, who patted his head and praised his work. But when the guest left, Liu watched through the window and saw the guest ball up the painting and throw it away. Although a big blow for the young heart, it did not alter his interest in painting.


At middle school, Liu liked to draw the Temple of Heaven and Beihai Park. Later he drew some ancient constructions like the Four Decorated Archways. Now, he prefers to paint in the fields on nice days, and also has begun to illustrate his own books.


However, Liu's best-known "spare time hobby" is construction. Construction and Environment in My Eyes was very influential in the construction circle, and has been printed five times. The other book -- The Beauty of Material --, which talks about the raw construction materials, has also sold well. In his novel Bell and Drum Towers, there is a 10-page description about the environment, shape, structure, and details of Beijing's quadrangles. His scrutinized observations and nifty use of construction glossary are very impressive.


Liu has been living in Beijing since he was eight years old. In his more than half a century stay in Beijing, he has lived in ancient hutongs half the time. He has witnessed the dramatic changes of the city, including some of its destruction. As a resident of the ancient city, he once expected someone to stand out and raise the problems concerning the changing constructions and environment, but no one did. So Liu decided to say it himself, and for many years he has, with dignity and grace.


(chinaculture March 10, 2006)

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