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Betting on The Red Mansions

As writer, Liu Xinwu, wrote messages for fans at his book-signing for “Liu Xinwu Uncovers A Dream of Red Mansions Vol. 2” at Wangfujing Book Store on November 27, the glitz and glamour of the event belied controversy surrounding the classic, A Dream of Red Mansions; a controversy that Liu started, much to the dismay of "Redologists."


On April 2, Liu appeared as a guest on the CCTV 10 program, “The Lecture Room.” During the program, he discussed his theories about Red Mansions, attracting much attention for his opinions, and renewed interest in the novel. So much so that Oriental Press paid a handsome fee for the copyrights to program transcripts, which they used to publish a book entitled “Liu Xinwu Uncovers A Dream of Red Mansions” in August. It was a best seller, topping most book charts across the country. Over 200,000 copies were sold in just three months.


A Dream of Red Mansions, one of China's four classic literature pieces, tells the story of the Jia family that lives in two adjoining compounds. The novel's protagonist is Jia Baoyu, whose tale is described through his interactions with his feudalistic family, and the doomed romance with his cousin, Lin Daiyu. After a series of family tragedies, Baoyu renounces worldly possessions and becomes a monk.


The other three classics are Journey to the West, The Water Margin or Outlaws of The Marsh, and Three Kingdoms.


Written by Cao Xueqin 200 years ago during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the novel was originally entitled "The Story of the Stone." Quite aside from being a tragic love story, the book depicts the fall of feudalistic society in ancient China. Over the last 200 years, the book has earned for itself generations of fans who so fervently studied the novel and its essence that they developed a new sphere of study called "Redology."


But Redology gradually became too academic and high-brow for the general public. This is why Liu's alternative ideas attracted as much attention as it did. Liu in fact postulated a new theory, one that is now known as "Qinology." Qinology focuses on another, less important, character in the novel and other "new discoveries" that Liu claims to have made based on an understanding of what the author was trying to convey.


One of Liu's theories is that Qin Keqin was a representation of Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi’s deposed son.


This outraged Redologists across the nation.


In May, Literature Theories and Critics magazine’s chief Wu Zuolai wrote an article online criticizing Liu's theories. Redologists Cai Yijiang and Sun Yuming also wrote furious words on the subject that were published in Arts Critics magazine. The vice president of the Chinese Redology Society, Hu Wenbin, also said that Liu “didn’t follow the academic norm.” Another group of Redologists published the book, “Who Misunderstood A Dream of Red Mansions?”, at the end of November, denouncing Liu’s theories.


"Red Mansions is not the Da Vinci Code!” Cai wailed in an interview with Beijing Morning Post. “We have to remember that Cao Xueqin was one of China's greatest writers. He wasn't a riddler! Liu Xinwu’s imagination is too wild,” Cai added.


“He said he’s doing academic studies, but no, he just made up his own crossword on Red Mansions. Of course he is free to air his opinions, but to do so on CCTV and to claim that it was an academic effort only went towards confusing people and making fools of them," Hu told Beijing News.


But Redologists might not have as much of the support of the general public as they would like. On November 3, Sina.com and Beijing Star Daily conducted a poll and asked Internet users what they thought of Liu's theories. 18,282 people have submitted their answers to date. The results are overwhelmingly in support of Liu’s theories. 76.36 percent think they enlarge the public discussion space on Redology; and 31.03 percent believe that it is a significant innovation.


In response to the question: “Who has the right to dissect and analyze the Red Mansions?” 74.98 percent chose “Anyone who loves the novel”; only 0.34 percent of respondents said Redologists.


In an interview with Southeast Express on November 3, Liu said he wasn't fazed by the criticisms: “Redology is like an abundant gold mine, everyone has the rights to dig.” Liu added that the study of the novel is in the public domain, and academic researchers should be enlightened enough to appreciate the fact that readers have their own opinions.


Liu said: “I don’t think I’m right on everything. I just hope that my type of research motivates more people to read the classic."


The Year of Red Mansions


Liu's controversial discourse did wonders for the novel's continued popularity. Between January and August, over 50 different “Red” books were published including Zhou Ruchang's Shining Red Mansions, and Feng Qiyong's tome that contains 1.6 million words. Shuhai Publishing House’s chief editor Hang Hailu told Xiaoxiang Morning News on September 9: ”This year is the biggest for Redology works.”


"Red" mania has spread to the Internet as well, with some 918,000 related sites popping up if one does a Google search.


But a question that is on everyone's mind is how so many Redologists make their living from this one little book? How much is Red Mansions worth?


Sun Yuming, the vice director of A Dream of Red Mansions Research Institute, said that he estimates that about 200 to 300 Redology related works are published every year, not including the vast number of academic papers on the subject. In the Peking University library alone, China Business Post found 338 papers written in 2003, 391 in 2004, and 256 to date in 2005.


Sun said that the book has sold over 100 million copies worldwide so far. This novel itself is valued at billions of yuan, which could explain why there are hundreds of different editions selling on the market.


In addition to the traditional publishing industry, China Central Television pumped 5 million yuan into the making of a TV series in 1983. Since then, the series has been broadcast more than 700 times in China. Its video products also sell extremely well.


Drawn by the book's economic potential, applications were made to produce remakes of the TV series in 2001. In 2003, another TV series project, costing 100 million yuan to produce, was officially announced.


The Red Mansions "fever" has also been good for China's tourism. Producers of the 2003 version of the TV series have plans for six Red Mansions International Theme Parks to provide sets for shooting and related tourism in Beijing, Guangdong, Weifang, Sanya and Shenyang.


Plans are also in the pipeline for a Red Mansions Motion Picture Arts School to train actors for the various leading roles.


(China.org.cn by Zhang Rui December 14, 2005)

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