The Corner

Re: Ren Women

Derb here. No, I haven’t read WAR AND PEACE in Chinese (though I know the

title and author: ZHANZHENG YU HEPING by Liefu Tuoersitai). I have read

ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS all the way through in Chinese… but only in

the “lian-huan-hua” picture-strip version. Hey, it’s ten volumes, two

frames to a page, around **seven thousand** frames. The action of the book

spans 81 years. Moss Roberts has done an English translation of the

original, 2339 pages of text in four volumes. When the Chinese write a

novel, they don’t hold back.

The **great** classic Chinese novel is DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER. (In Chinese

HONG LOU MENG. The 5-volume Penguin translation is titled STORY OF THE

STONE.) I have made several attempts to read this in translation, but never

got more than a third of the way into it. I couldn’t even finish the

picture-strip version (3 vols). If anyone wants my opinion, based on these

very incomplete experiences, it’s strictly a woman’s book. The Chinese go

nuts for it, though, and even people who haven’t read it know the main

thread by osmosis. In Chinese literary-academic circles there is even a

type of specialist known as a “red-ologist” (hongxuejia), a person who has

made this book his lifetime study. Chinese TV did a dramatization of the

whole thing; my wife has it on VCD. It’s kind of fun to sit with Chinese

people watching it. Everyone’s an expert, and you get a running commentary

of nit-picking: “That’s not the way it is in the book…,” “They didn’t use

cups like that in the Qing dynasty…,” “This servant-girl looks way too

old…,” etc., etc.

All this talk of ponderous tomes reminds me of Dr. Johnson’s remark about

PARADISE LOST: “No man ever wished it longer.”

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