In Search of the Music of The Dream of the Red Chamber: Chapter 28 (Part I)

Colin Huehns | London | December 2022


In the opening sparring between Baoyu1 (the principal male protagonist of The Dream of the Red Chamber) and Daiyu2 (one of the principal female protagonists), the former comes off worst, but his glib explanations designed to wear down the latter’s sensibilities unfortunately have their effect. He is clearly a rascal, and our sympathies lie with her, and we wish she would ignore him until he loses interest. She is, however, too easily duped and perhaps, in this way, the orchestrator of her own downfall.

The action then moves to a nearby residence where Feng Ziying3 is the host. Drinking songs are sung accompanied by a pipa, played by Yun’er,4 a local singsong girl, and Baoyu supervises a complex three-stage drinking game. Actors and actresses, a singsong girl, and drunken debauchery, the tone is lively and hedonistic, as the jolly japes of Baoyu and his chums are described in vivacious detail: wine, women, and song no less. It is hard for the early-21st-century reader not to wonder who was paying for it all.


     Jiang Yuhan, with feeling, presents a lace handkerchief of Fragrant Manjistha Land

     Xue Baochai is ashamed to be wearing a string of red musk beads

[Jiang Yuhan:5 an actor in a theatrical troupe kept by an aristocratic family; Manjistha: a plant sometimes known colloquially in English as “madder”; Fragrant Manjistha Land:6 a fictional country invented for The Dream of the Red Chamber; Xue Baochai:7 another of the principal female protagonists of the novel.]

It is said: only because of the matter of Qingwen8 [a maidservant in Jia Baoyu’s retinue] yesterday evening not opening the door, Lin Daiyu had mistakenly cast aspersions at Baoyu. The next day, also by coincidence, she met with a time of withered flowers as a gesture of farewell, so it was a case of a mouthful of unclear words that had not yet been released, which themselves gave rise to the anxious thoughts of a wounded springtime, and so she thereupon took some withered flowers and fallen petals and buried them, and couldn’t help but hurting herself through feelings for the flowers. She let out a few weeping whimpers and then recited a few phrases that came into her mind.

She had no thought that Baoyu, who was on the mountain slope behind, had heard. At first, he only nodded his head and sighed; after that, when he heard the sentences that included…9

     Today, I am burying flowers, as a living person, I laugh infatuated

     If in another year, I am buried, who would know who I was? 

     In but one morning, spring is over, and my ruddy face is old

     Flowers falling, people dying, aware of neither

… without being conscious of the moment, he collapsed dolefully on the mountain slope, and the fallen flowers held in his bosom were strewn across the ground. Thinking of Lin Daiyu’s flower-like face and moonlit complexion, and that one day in the future these would be something that could no longer even be sought, how could he not feel his heart smashed and his guts churning? Given that Daiyu had finally been deposited by him as belonging to a time when she could not even be sought, he projected this notion onto others, for example, Baochai, Xiangling10 [a woman married into the Xue family], Xiren11 [Baoyu’s chief maidservant], and so on; they too would eventually reach a time when they could not be sought. If Baochai and the others belonged finally to such a time, how then could he continue to live peacefully? And besides, since he himself had no idea where he was now and whither he was going, and in the future, this place, this residence, these flowers, and these willows – he did not know to which family they would belong. Therefore from “one” to “two” and from “two” to “three”, repeatedly conjecturing, he did not know at this time and in this place how to explain this phase of wounded sorrowfulness! As the poem gives:

     The flower’s shadow does not leave my body, left and right

    The bird’s song is only at my ear, east and west12

Just when Daiyu was herself feeling wounded emotion, she suddenly heard a tragic voice on the mountain slope, and her heart said in thought: “People all mock me as suffering an illness of idiocy and infatuation; yet is there not here another who suffers idiocy and infatuation?” Raising her head and seeing that it was Baoyu, she let out an exclamation: “Pah! I have the measure of who it is: it is none other than that vicious-hearted and short-lived…” No sooner had she spoken the two words “short-lived” than she once more shut her mouth and heaved a long sigh and, extracting herself, went on her way.

1 Jia Baoyu 賈寶玉. “Jia” is the surname and “Baoyu” 寶玉 is the given name. In this translation, surnames and given names are separated respectively as two distinct words. Most given names consist of two characters or syllables, though some have only one. Although the characters that comprise surnames carry meaning in other contexts, they rarely do when used simply as surnames and so are not translated. The characters of given names are, however, chosen for their meaning. Here, 寶玉: jewel – jade.

2 Lin Daiyu 林黛玉. 黛玉: black eyebrow mascara – jade.

3 Feng Ziying 馮紫英. 紫英: purple – brave.

4 Yun’er: 雲兒: means “cloud”; is a diminutive suffix. Singsong girls and servants do not usually have surnames, so their names are given as one word. The apostrophe in “Yun’er” indicates the break between the romanisations of the two syllables and is used because the second syllable starts with a vowel and there is thus scope for confusion as to where it starts.

5 Jiang Yuhan 蔣玉函. 玉函: jade – letter.

6 Fragrant Manjistha 茜香.

7 Xue Baochai 薛寶釵. 寶釵: jewel – hairpin.

8 Qingwen 晴雯: clear sky – patterned clouds.

9 These lines are extracted from a long poem given at the end of the previous chapter.

10 Xiangling 香菱: fragrant – water calthrop.

11 Xiren 襲人: literally, “assail – person”; here, it is her goodness that floods forth like a flower’s perfume and “assails” those around her.

12 These lines are not found earlier in The Dream of the Red Chamber and seem not to have provenance elsewhere.

Here, Baoyu had been mournful for a while, but on seeing Daiyu leave, he knew that she had seen him and was avoiding him, and he felt himself snubbed. He shook the earth off his clothes and went downhill, seeking to return by the path on which he had come, and thereby arrive at the Joyful Red Courtyard13 [his quarters]. By coincidence, he saw Daiyu walking ahead of him, so he hurriedly caught her up and said: “Stand still! I know that you are ignoring me. I just want to say one thing and then from this day onwards I will leave you in peace.” Daiyu turned her head and saw that it was Baoyu and, although she wanted to ignore him, on hearing him say that he would say just one thing, she said: “Please speak.” Baoyu smiled and said: “Two things. If I say them, will you listen?” Daiyu heard what was said and turned her head and left. Behind her, Baoyu sighed and said: “Since we have come to this pass today, why can’t we be as we were at first?” Daiyu heard these words and couldn’t help but standing still, and she turned her head and said: “How were we at first? How are we these days?”

Baoyu said: “Ai! When at first you came, wasn’t it me who joked with you? As my dearest beloved, whatever you wanted, I brought for you. The foods I liked to eat – if I had heard that you also liked to eat them, I would immediately have them kept for you, carefully and cleanly, and waited for you to return. We ate at the same table, slept in the same bed. If there was something the servants had not attended to, fearing that you would be angry, I would have attended to it instead of them. I have grown up thinking of my sisters; close, yes; warm, yes; and, when a harmonious atmosphere prevails, all can see that everything is better than in other families. Everyone is aware that recently you have grown up, not only physically but also emotionally, and you no longer have eyes for me, taking no notice of me for three days in a row, not seeing me for four, and instead holding outsiders of other quarters – Elder Sister Bao[chai], Elder Sister Feng [Wang Xifeng;14 a central character of The Dream of the Red Chamber who married into the Jia family] – in your heart’s bower. I don’t have any actual brothers or sisters, and although I have two nearby cousins of this kind, surely you know that they were born of different mothers. Like you, I am an only child, so probably your character traits and mine are the same. Everyone knows that I am fruitlessly worried but to no avail, and, although I have suffered injustice, I can find nowhere to pour out my woes.” So saying, he couldn’t help but bursting into tears.

At that moment, when Daiyu had heard these words ringing in her ears, and when she saw the scene in front of her eyes, she felt that the depths of her heart were involuntarily turning half grey and she couldn’t help shedding tears, so she lowered her head and did not utter a word. Baoyu, on seeing her like this, thereupon said: “I too know that recently I have behaved badly, but even allowing for however bad I might have been, I should certainly not dare to show any of my faults in front of you, little sister. And even if I were to possess one or two small faults, if you were perhaps to guide me to prevent me making the same mistake, perhaps cursing me a few times, or walloping me, it wouldn’t cloud my heart. Who would have thought that by always ignoring me you have made me scratch my head and wonder what on earth is going on, losing the plot completely, and not knowing what the right things to do are. And If I were to die now, I would be a wronged ghost, and, even if senior Buddhist monks or Daoist priests were to perform penance for me, I would still not achieve rebirth: it would need you personally to explain the reasons for me to attain reincarnation.”

When Daiyu had heard these words, she unconsciously allowed what had happened the night before to be forgotten beyond the clouds of the Ninth Heaven, and so she said: “Since you are putting it like this, why was it that when I had left, you didn’t have the maidservants open the door!” Baoyu was astonished and said: “How could you say such a thing? If I had really been like this, I would have to fall dead on the spot!” Daiyu tut-tutted and said: “In the bright early morning, bringing up ‘death’ and ‘life’ with no regard for the propriety of taboos! Have it your own way: what you say can be, can be; what you say is not, is not – what is the point of making a vow?” Baoyu said: “I really didn’t see you leave; it was Elder Sister Bao who sat there for a while, and then she went out.” Daiyu thought for a moment and, smiling, said: “Yes, it must have been that the maidservants were too lazy to get up and have themselves move, and their attitude had completely gone to the dogs – it can happen.” Baoyu said: “It must have been because of this. Wait until I have gone back and asked who it was – I’ll teach them a lesson that they won’t forget in a hurry.” Daiyu said: “It’s those ladies of yours whom you should teach a lesson to. It’s just that, according to the norms of family relationships, it ought not be me who makes of issue of something. At present, only a small matter has riled me, but supposing tomorrow a ‘Miss Bao’ or a ‘Miss Bei’15 came and offended me, the business would inevitably be much larger.” So saying, she pursed her lips and smiled. Baoyu listened and ground his teeth, but he also smiled.

The Joyful Red Courtyard 怡紅院.

Elder Sister Bao 寳姐姐and Elder Sister Feng 鳳姐姐. Wang Xifeng 王熙鳳. 熙鳳: bright/harmoniously happy/prosperous – cock phoenix. Sometimes, the diminutive suffix is added after her name, thus 鳳姐兒.

Miss Bao 寳姑娘; Miss Bei 貝姑娘. There is no “Miss Bei” in The Dream of the Red Chamber; it is just a figure of speech. “Baobei寶貝 is a common word, even today, that translates as “darling” or “baby”.

The two of them were in the middle their conversation when a maidservant came to call them to come and have dinner, so they both went to the chambers at the front of the Jia residence. Lady Wang16 [Baoyu’s mother, a woman of an older generation who had married into the Jia family] saw Daiyu and thereupon said: “Young lady, having taken the medicine prescribed by Imperial Physician Bao,17 are you feeling somewhat better?” Daiyu said: “Only so-so at best. Does the Venerable Supreme Lady18 [Mother Jia,19 the matriarch of the Jia family] still want me to carry on taking Dr Wang’s medicine?” Baoyu said: “Supreme Lady [here, Lady Wang] is unaware of the extent of the situation. Younger Sister Lin is suffering from symptoms of her internal organs and is congenitally weak, so is unable to withstand even the slightest hint of ‘cold’; however, having taken two doses of boiled medicinal infusions, the ‘cold’ has dissipated, so taking medicinal pills is still beneficial.”

Lady Wang said: “A while ago, the doctor gave the name of a pill, but I’ve forgotten it.” Baoyu said: “I know which pills those were, and it was nothing more than having her take Bloom-Boosting Ginseng Pills.”20 Lady Wang said: “No, they weren’t those.” Baoyu said: “Eight-Treasure Pills Beneficial for Motherhood?21 Whether considered from the left-hand side or the right-hand side, top or bottom, none other than Eight-Flavoured Pills of Rehmannia Glutinosa?”22 Lady Wang said: “None of those either. I just remember that their name contained the characters [‘gold’] and [‘strong’]” Baoyu clapped his hands and, smiling, said: “I have never heard that there is such a thing as ‘Gold-Strong Pills’.23 If ‘Gold-Strong Pills’ actually existed, then there would be ‘Buddha Powder’24 in the natural world!” His remarks caused all those in the room to burst out laughing. Baochai pursed her lips and, smiling, said: “I think it might be ‘Heart-Boosting Heavenly King Powder’.”25 Lady Wang laughed and said: “Yes, that was its name. Recently, I have become confused.” Baoyu said: “Supreme Lady is certainly not confused. Everyone was put into a state of confusion by ‘Gold-Strong’ and ‘Buddha’.” Lady Wang said: “What a load of shameless nonsense. I also owe it to your dad to give you a wallop.” Baoyu laughed and said: “My dad would never have walloped me because of this.”

Lady Wang continued by saying: “Given that we now know the name it goes by, tomorrow let’s get someone to buy some of it so it can be taken.” Baoyu said: “These medicines are all of no use whatsoever. If Supreme Lady were to give me 360 liang of silver, I would prepare a course of pills for Younger Sister, and I guarantee that, before the course was finished, she would be better.” Lady Wang said: “What a pile of old fart! What medicine is that expensive?” Baoyu smiled and said: “It’s true! This prescription is different from all the others. The name of the medicine is also peculiar, and it can’t be clearly described in just a moment, but just talking of its Placenta of the Firstborn Child26 and Person-Shaped Leaved Ginseng,27 360 liang is insufficient. Medicinal preparations like Tortoise Greater Tuber Fleeceflower,28 Thousand-Year Pine Roots,29 and Sclerotium Poriae Cocos30 are not particularly strange and can be counted as amongst the ordinary array of medicines. The ‘chieftain’ medicine, were I to speak of it, would shock you out of your skin! Some years ago, Elder Brother Xue31 [Xue Pan, elder brother of Xue Baochai] requested it of me for a year or two before I gave him the prescription. He took the prescription away and searched for two or three years and spent more than a thousand liang of silver before he was able to prepare it. If Supreme Lady does not believe me, she should ask Elder Sister Bao.”

When Baochai had heard what was said, laughing, she waved her hand and said: “I don’t know, and I haven’t heard of anything. Don’t get Auntie to ask me.” Lady Wang smiled and said: “In the end, it is the girl Bao[chai] who is a good child and doesn’t tell lies.” Baoyu stood where he was and, hearing what was said, turned around and clapped his hands, saying: “What I am saying is true, and all you can do is say I am lying!” While he was speaking, he suddenly turned around again and saw Lin Daiyu sitting behind Baochai with her lips pursed and smiling, so he used his finger and drew it across her face to make her feel ashamed.

16 Lady Wang 王夫人.

17 Imperial Physician Bao 鮑太醫.

18 Venerable Supreme Lady 老太太.

19 Mother Jia 賈母.

20 Bloom-Boosting Ginseng Pills 人參養榮丸.

21 Eight-Treasure Pills Beneficial for Motherhood 八珍益母丸.

22 Eight-Flavoured Pills of Rehmannia Glutinosa 八味地黃丸.

23 Gold-Strong Pills 金剛丸.

24 Buddha Powder 菩薩散.

25 Heart-Boosting Heavenly King Powder 天王補心丹.

26 Placenta of the Firstborn Child 頭胎紫河車.

27 Person-Shaped Leaved Ginseng 人形帶葉參.

28 Tortoise Greater Tuber Fleeceflower 龜大何首烏.

29 Thousand-Year Pine Roots 千年松根.

30 Sclerotium Poriae Cocos 茯苓膽.

31 Elder Brother Xue 薛大哥哥 or later 薛大爺. Xue Pan 薛蟠. The meaning of in this context is obscure, though it is classified by the “insect” radical .

Sister Feng, because she was in an inner room overseeing the servants setting the table, having heard these words, came out and, smiling, said: “Brother Bao[yu] is not telling lies: it really was like this. A few days ago, Elder Brother Xue personally came to me in search of pearls. I asked him what they were for, and he replied that he was preparing medicine. He also complained: ‘So what if I don’t prepare it! Nowadays, who knows about such wasteful matters!’ I asked him: ‘Which medicine?’ He said that it was a prescription that Brother Bao had talked about. He listed so many different medicinal ingredients that I don’t remember them all either. He also said: ‘It isn’t down to me to buy these pearls as it is only necessary for me to wear them on my head, so I have come to find several of them. I want pearl-flowers that have not been scattered, that is those worn on the head, taken down, and then used. When all is over and I have picked them up, I will thread them together again.’ I had no choice but to take down two branches of pearl-flowers and give them to him. He also wanted a large red silk gauze cloth, three chi feet in length, that had once been used by the emperor, and he took a mortar and ground the medicine in it.”

For every sentence that Sister Feng said, Baoyu “recited a sentence of a Buddhist text”, that is, he moved along the stations towards achieving moral supremacy. When Sister Feng had finished, Baoyu said again: “What is Supreme Lady’s estimation of this? In fact, this is simply going through the motions. To prepare the prescription by the book, the pearls and jewels should be found from an ancient tomb and taken from those that wrapped the heads and faces of rich people in antiquity. These days, who would dig up a tomb because of this? So, it is only those worn by living people that are used.” When Lady Wang had heard this, she said: “Amitābha Buddha, how terrible! Even if they were to be found in a tomb, the person there has been dead for several hundred years, and at this juncture to rummage inside the corpse and turn over the bones would not make for efficacious medicine.”

Baoyu therefore said to Daiyu: “Have you heard clearly or not? Would Second Sister [Sister Feng] also follow me in telling lies?” Although his face was turned to Daiyu when he spoke, his eyes looked sidelong at Baochai. Daiyu then took Lady Wang by the hand and said: “Auntie, listen to him: because Baochai isn’t completing his lies for him, he has to ask this of me.” Lady Wang also said: “Baoyu is extremely skilled at bullying you, little sister.” Baoyu laughed and said: “Supreme Lady doesn’t know the reason. At first, when Elder Sister Bao was living in her household [the Xue household], she didn’t know about Elder Brother Xue’s matters, so the more so when more recently living here, where, as a matter of course, she would be even more likely not to know of them. Younger Sister Lin was behind her and thought that I was lying, so she shamed me.”

While they were talking together, a maidservant of Mother Jia’s retinue came to find Baoyu and Daiyu to get them to come and have their meal. Daiyu did not call over to Baoyu, but simply got up and went with the maidservant, who said: “Wait for Second Master Bao and go with him.” Daiyu said: “He is not going to eat dinner and won’t go with us, so I am going first.” So saying, she left. Baoyu said: “Today, I am going to eat my meal with Supreme Lady.” Lady Wang said: “Enough! Enough! Today, I am eating mild vegetarian food. You must go and eat a proper meal of your own.” Baoyu said: “I will join you in eating mild vegetarian food.” So saying, he called to the maidservant: “Of you go!” And himself ran to the table and sat down. Lady Wang smiled at Baochai and the others and said: “You should only concern yourself with eating your own meal, and don’t take any notice of him.” Baochai thereupon smiled and said: “You go in a proper fashion, and regardless of whether you eat your meal or not, accompany Younger Sister Lin for the sake of the walk there. She is not happy in herself. Why cause yourself trouble?” Baoyu said: “Take no notice of her; after a while she’ll be alright.”

After some time had passed and they had eaten their dinner, Baoyu was, firstly, afraid that Mother Jia might be anxious and, secondly, pining for Daiyu, so he hurriedly had tea brought over so he could rinse his mouth out. Tanchun32 [a young lady of the Jia household and Baoyu’s half-sister] and Xichun33 [their female cousin] both laughed and said: “Second Elder Brother [Baoyu], what is it in this household that is keeping you busy all day long? Eating dinner and taking tea are making you just so busy.” Baochai smiled and said: “Have him eat his dinner quickly and then go straightaway to see Younger Sister Daiyu. Why are you letting him cause such a rumpus here?” Baoyu drank up his tea and then went out, going directly to the west courtyard [where Daiyu’s quarters were situated].

By coincidence, when he had walked to a spot in front of Sister Feng’s courtyard, he saw Sister Feng standing in front of the gate, one foot on the threshold, using an earwax scoop to pick her teeth and looking at the 10 or so manservants shifting flowerpots. She saw that Baoyu had come and so, smiling, said: “You have come just in the nick of time, come in, come in; write a few characters for me.” Baoyu had no choice but to follow her in. Inside the room, Sister Feng ordered servants to bring out a brush-pen, inkstone, and paper, and said to Baoyu: “40 bolts of scarlet dowry-flowered satin, 40 bolts of python-patterned satin, 100 bolts of imperial satin of various patterns, and four gold choker necklaces.”

Baoyu said: “What should these be recorded as? They aren’t debts and they aren’t presents. How should they be written?” Sister Feng said: “Just pay attention to writing them down. In any event, I will recognise what is meant.” Baoyu heard what was said and just wrote the items down. At the same time as taking the list away, Sister Feng smiled and said: “There is also something I would like to tell you, but I don’t know whether you will go along with it. Amongst the retinue of servants waiting on your chambers is a maid called Xiaohong.34 I would like to take her out to wait on me instead. Tomorrow, I will choose another for you; is this alright?” Baoyu said: “There are many servants in the retinue waiting on my chambers. Whoever Elder Sister likes, just pick here out; why is it necessary to ask me?” Sister Feng laughed and said: “If this is the situation, I’ll get someone to take her away.” Baoyu said: “Just take her away and leave it at that.” So saying, he got ready to leave. Sister Feng said: “Come back. I still have something I would like to say.” Baoyu said: “Venerable Supreme Lady is calling me. If you have something to say, wait until I have come back.”

32 Jia Tanchun 賈探春. 探春: explore – spring.

33 Jia Xichun 賈惜春. 惜春: regret – spring.

34 Xiaohong 小紅: little – red. Her original name is Lin Hongyu: 林紅玉. 紅玉: red – jade.

So saying, he arrived back at Mother Jia’s quarters, where he could see that all had already finished eating their dinner. Mother Jia thereupon asked him: “When you were with your mother [Lady Wang], did you eat anything good?” Baoyu laughed and said: “Nothing particularly good, but I did have an extra bowl of rice.” Thereupon he asked: “Where is Miss Lin?” Mother Jia said: “In the inside room.” Baoyu went in and saw a servant squatting on the floor warming a clothes iron, and on the kang bed, two maidservants powdering coarse yarn. Daiyu was bent at the waist and holding scissors to cut something.

Baoyu walked in and, smiling, said: “What on earth are you doing? Having just eaten lunch, allowing your head to hang like that, it won’t be long before you have a headache.” Daiyu took absolutely no notice of him and only paid attention to cutting the cloth. One of the maidservants said: “The corner of that silk handkerchief is still not right; give it another press.” Daiyu placed the scissors on one side and said: “‘Take no notice of her; after a while she’ll be alright.’” Baoyu heard what was said and was puzzled, but he saw that Baochai, Tanchun, and the others had also come, and that they spoke a few words with Mother Jia; Baochai also came in and asked: “What is Younger Sister doing?” Because she saw that Lin Daiyu was cutting and snipping, she smiled and said: “You are ever more capable and even know how to cut and snip.” Daiyu smiled and said: “Isn’t that simply telling lies just to humour me?”

Baochai said: “Let me tell you a joke: just now, because of that medicine, I said that I did not know, and that was what made Brother Bao uncomfortable.” Daiyu said: “‘Take no notice of her; after a while she’ll be alright.’” Baoyu said to Baochai: “Venerable Supreme Lady would like to play a game of dominoes, but there is no one there to play with. Go and play with her.” Baochai heard what was said and, laughing, said: “Did I come here because of the dominoes?” So saying, she left. Daiyu said: “You should go. There are tigers here. Look out or they’ll eat you!” So saying, she carried on tailoring. Baoyu saw that she was ignoring him, so he had no choice but to wear a smile and say: “You too should take a stroll; there would still be time for tailoring after that.”

Daiyu was still taking no notice. Baoyu then asked the maidservants: “Who had her do the tailoring?” Daiyu saw that he had asked the maidservants and said: “Regarding who has asked me to do the tailoring, it isn’t any of Second Master’s business.” Baoyu wanted to speak but saw someone coming in, who said: “There are people outside who have invited us to pay a visit.” Baoyu heard this and hurriedly made his exit. Daiyu remarked to him as he was outside: “Amitābha Buddha, getting you to go back to you own quarters – it’s been the death of me.”

Baoyu returned to outside his chambers and saw Beiming35 [his manservant], who said: “An invitation has come from Elder Master Feng’s36 household [the Feng household were generational friends of the Jia household].” Baoyu listened and, realising that the matter concerned the words said yesterday, said: “I want the right clothes to go;” and went into the study. Beiming went directly to a spot in front of the second gate to wait and saw an old serving woman coming out. Beiming went up to her and said: “Second Master Bao is in the study waiting to change his clothes for going out. Take a message in with your old body.” The serving woman tut-tutted and said: “Pah! Go and fart in your mother’s face! Baoyu has recently been living in the residence, so all those in his retinue are in the residence, and you’ve run over here once again to bring a message.” Beiming heard this and, smiling, said: “You are quite right to curse me. I am also confused!” So saying, he went straight over to the second gate on the east of the residence. As it happened, some young manservants were kicking footballs on the ground under a covered walkway. Beiming told them the reason for his coming over, and a manservant ran inside and, after a long while, came out carrying a bundle, which he gave to Beiming. Going back into his study, Baoyu changed his clothes, had servants prepare his horse and, taking only the four manservants Beiming, Chuyao,37 Shuangrui38 and Shou’er,39 departed.

Straightaway, they reached Feng Ziying’s gateway, and someone went to report this to him, and he came out to greet them and welcome them inside. They could see that Xue Pan had already been waiting for them there a long time, and many youths whose vocation was to sing popular qu40 ballads were also there, as well as Jiang Yuhan, who sang the xiaodan41 [unmarried young woman] role in opera performances, and Yun’er, a singsong girl from the Brocade Fragrant Courtyard [presumably a house of ill repute].42 Everyone greeted one another and afterwards took tea. Baoyu raised his teacup and, smiling, said: “I have been brooding day and night on the matter ‘happiness and unhappiness’ that I spoke of the other day, and today, on hearing the invitation, came immediately.” Feng Ziying, smiling, said: “My most excellent sisters and cousins, please feel secure in your hearts. A few days ago, it was simply in the nature of a figure of speech that I had used, while most sincerely inviting you to drink a cup of wine, worried that you might vacillate, that I spoke these words. I had no idea that you would regard them as the truth and take them to heart.” When he had finished speaking, everyone laughed. After that, wine was set out and they sat down in due order. First, Feng Ziying had the youthful singers serve wine and afterwards had Yun’er come and pay respectful salutations with three cupfuls. No sooner had three cups of wine reached Xue Pan’s stomach than he found himself involuntarily forgetting all restraint, and so he took Yun’er by the hand and, smiling, said: “Sing an intimate and fresh qu ballad for me to listen to while I am drinking this jug of wine.” Yun’er heard what was said and, taking her pipa, sang:

When two lovers are wronged, their wrongs are difficult to shed: whether thinking of yourself or also worrying about him. The two of them, their figures and visages so fine and handsome that they are difficult to describe and depict. Thinking of yestereve, a dusky moment and secret tryst at the roseleaf raspberry trellis. One steals secret love; the other seeks to take. Even if seized and given a triple cross-examination as is directed to accused, accuser and witnesses, I would still have no answer to give.

Having finished singing, she smiled and said: “Drink up this jug.” Xue Pan heard what was said and, laughing, added: “That wasn’t worth a jug; you’ll have to sing something better.”

35 Beiming 焙茗: bake – tea.

36 Elder Master Feng 馮大爺. This refers to Feng Ziying.

37 Chuyao 鋤藥: hoe – medicine.

38 Shuangrui 雙瑞: pair – auspicious.

39 Shou’er 壽兒: means “longevity”; is a diminutive suffix.

40 Qu .

41 Xiaodan 小旦.

42 Brocade Fragrant Courtyard 錦香院.

Baoyu laughed and said: “Listen to what I’ve got to say: when drinking in such a debauched manner, it is easy to get drunk and not enjoy it at all. So let me take the lead: first, I will drink a large bowl43 and then make my contribution to the drinking game, and then each in turn will make theirs, and if anyone doesn’t abide by the rules of the game, their forfeit is to drink 10 large bowls in succession, and they will be expelled from the drinking circle and have to pour wine for everyone who is left.”

Feng Ziying and Jiang Yuhan said: “Makes sense, makes sense.” Baoyu took a bowl and drank it down in one go, saying: “This is how it works:44 everyone must use the four characters ‘sorrowful’, ‘anxious’, ‘happy’, ‘joyful’45 in a spoken contribution, but they should be deployed each in turn emerging from the word ‘daughter’,46 and the reason for employing these four characters should be clarified. Having spoken this, each should drink up his own cup and fill it again in preparation for the next stage of their contribution, that is, a requirement to sing a fresh qu ballad. For the final stage, they should, on the spur of the moment, use something on the table as inspiration to recite something equivalent to a citation from the ‘Melodies of the States’ section of The Book of Songs47 – for example, a set phrase from an ancient poem, an antique poetic couplet, the Four Books, or the Five Classics.”48

Xue Pan did not wait for him to finish, but stood up and interrupted: “I won’t take part, don’t count me in. This is simply an excuse to make fun of me!” Yun’er also got up, pushed him back down onto his chair, and smiling, said: “What is there to be afraid of? Given that you drink wine every day, can you not even reach my standard? If it comes to my turn again, I will still have to perform my contribution. If you perform something that is appropriate and correct, then nothing happens, but if it is inappropriate and incorrect, the forfeit is only having to drink a few cups of wine; will this really cause you to die in a drunken stupor? Right now, if you disorder the format of the drinking game, you will have to drink 10 large bowls, and from then on, will it not be you pouring out the wine?” Everyone clapped their hands and said: “How ingenious!” Xue Pan, having heard this said, realised that there was nothing else for it other than simply to sit down.

Part II of Chapter 28 will be presented in the next issue of Vantage.

43 The English translation does not do justice to the Chinese original, which is 댕베, meaning “ocean”, from which the large size of the bowl can be more readily grasped.

44 The rules of Chinese drinking games, then and now, can be obscure, as is the case here, but they have always been popular.

45 The four characters are 悲 愁 喜 樂.

46 Daughter 女兒.

47 “Melodies of the States” section of The Book of Songs《詩經·國風》. The Book of Songs comprises 305 poems, of which the first 160 are “Melodies of the States”, that is, songs representing the states of ancient China in turn.

48 The Four Books《四書》and the Five Classics 《五經》represent the principal canon of Confucian texts that Baoyu and his circle would have studied.

About the Author: Dr Colin Huehns studied violin with Emanuel Hurwitz. His first experience in music from outside the Western Classical tradition came at King’s College, Cambridge, when he wrote a dissertation on the music of Hunza Valley and Gilgit, Pakistan, an interest which culminated in a PhD thesis awarded by Cambridge University for “Music in Northern Pakistan” in 1992.

He studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and has remained active as a composer. Following a three-year British Academy Research Fellowship at Cambridge, Colin spent three years as a student at the Xi’an Music Conservatoire, studying the erhu with the distinguished virtuoso Jin Wei.

Since returning to the UK in 1999, he has taught electives in non-Western, traditional, and folk music at the Academy. He has also taught electives, which include learning the erhu, and Chinese and British members of the dulcimer family. As well as continuing to play the viol, viola, violin, rebec, Renaissance fiddle, and various dulcimers, his main teaching, research, performance, and composition interests now centre on his Chinese instruments, which include some 20 different members of the erhu, yangqin, and Mongolian horsehead fiddle families.

Colin’s erhu performances have included recitals in Munich, Leeds, Cambridge and Edinburgh, but he is particularly proud of having recorded two CDs of erhu music written especially for him.