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English>>China Society

Classic more accessible to American youngsters

By Kelly Chung Dawson (China Daily)

08:23, September 03, 2012

Characters from A Dream of Red Mansions such as Lin Daiyu (left) and Jia Baoyu are well known to most Chinese through the book itself and its many adaptations. Photos Provided to China Daily

Literature teacher Pauline Chen has revised the classic tale A Dream of Red Mansions to make it more accessible to a new generation of Americans. Kelly Chung Dawson reports in New York.

In Cao Xueqin's 18th century novel A Dream of Red Mansions (also known as Dream of Red Chamber) a love triangle between a young man and his female cousins became China's own Romeo and Juliet - and today forms the basis of Pauline Chen's streamlined update of the classic story, which originally featured 400 characters over 2,500 pages.

Chen's The Red Chamber focuses on the passionate, free-spirited Lin Daiyu, who lives with her extended family at Rongguo Mansion after the death of her parents; and Xue Baochai, her well-behaved, intelligent cousin. Both vie for the hand of Jia Baoyu, the heir to the Jia family fortune.

"These two women represent the two ways that a Chinese woman can be," Chen says. "They are important archetypes. To me, this love triangle is very powerful, because in a way, these women represent a struggle for individualism in China.

"There aren't many love stories in Chinese literature, because at the time nearly all marriages were arranged. Even today, China is still a culture where filial obligations are emphasized, so this idea of wild, romantic love really appeals to people."

Chen, who grew up in the United States and has Taiwan-born parents, has a PhD in East Asian studies from Princeton. As a literature teacher, she became frustrated by the difficulty with which her American students approached A Dream of Red Mansions.

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