A Dream of Red Mansions – Chapter 120


Chapter 120

Zhen Shiyin Expounds

the Illusory Realm

Jia Yucun Concludes the Dream

of Red Mansions

On hearing from Qiuwen that Xiren was dying, Baochai hurried to her bedside with Qiaojie and Pinger. Finding her unconscious after a heart attack they revived her with a drink of boiled water, then laid her down again and sent for a doctor.

~’How did Sister Xiren fall so ill?” Qinojie asked.

Baochai explained, ‘~The other evening she wept so bitterly that she fainted away. The mistress made people help her back to sleep; but be­cause of that commotion outside we didn’t get her a doctor.”

The doctor arriving just then, they withdrew. After taking her pulse he attributed her illness to anxiety and anger, and made out a prescription accordingly.

Now Xiren had heard it rumoured that if Baoyu failed to return all his maids would be dismissed, and anxiety on this score aggravated her ill­ness. After the doctor had gone Qiuwen brewed medicine for her, but lying there alone she had no peace of mind. She seemed to see Baoyu before her, then had a hazy vision of a monk who was leafing through an album and who told her, ~’Don’t make a wrong decision. I’m having nothing more to do with you.

Before she could question him, Qiuwen came over saying, “Here’s your medicine. Drink it up, sister.”

Xiren opened her eyes and kept to herself what she now knew had been a dream.When she had drunk the medicine she reflected, “Baoyu must have left with the monk. That time when he tried to take the jade out, he looked as if he wanted to escape. When I stopped him he wasn’t his usual self, the rough way he pushed and shoved me without any feel­ing at all; and later he had less patience with Madam Bao and not the least feeling for the other girls either, as if he’d awoken to the Truth. But

even so, how can you abandon your wife? I was sent by the mistress to wait on you, and though I’ve been getting the monthly allowance of a concubine, this was never publicly announced to the masters and mis­tresses. If they dismiss me and I insist on staying, people will laugh at me; yet if I leave I shan’t be able to bear it, remembering how good Baoyu was to me.” She could not resolve this dilemma until recalling her dream in which it had been implied that she and Baoyu were destined to part she decided, “Better die and be done with it.”

The medicine had eased the pain in her heart, yet she had to lie there in discomfort for several days before getting up again to wait on Baochai. The latter secretly shed tears of longing for Baoyu, lamenting her wretched fate; however, since her mother was preparing to ransom her brother, there was much to attend to and she had to help out. But no more of this for the present.

ha Zheng escorting the old lady’s coffin, and Jia Rong those of Keqing, Xifeng and Yuanyang, had now reached Jinling where they had them interred. Then Jia Rong took Daiyu’s coffin to be buried in her ancestral graveyard, leaving Jia Zheng to supervise the building of the tombs. One day he received a letter from home, and the news that Baoyu and Jia Lan had passed the examination delighted him; but Baoyu’s disappearance so perturbed him that he felt constrained to hurry back at once. On the way he heard of the general amnesty and received another letter from home confirming his pardon and official reinstatement. Much heartened, he pressed on rapidly day and night.

The day they reached the Piling post station, it suddenly turned cold and began to snow, and their boat moored in a secluded spot. Jia Zheng sent servants ashore to deliver cards to friends in that locality, and to explain that he had no time to call and they should not trouble to call on him either, as the boat would be leaving again immediately. Only one page remained to wait on him as he wrote a letter to send home by a messenger travelling ahead by road. Before broaching the subject of Baoyu he paused. Looking up through the snow, he glimpsed at the prow of the boat a figure with a shaven head and bare feet, draped in a red felt cape.This man prostrated himself before Jia Zheng, who hurried out of

the cabin, meaning to raise him up and see who he was, but the man had already kowtowed four times, then stood up and made him a Buddhist salutation. Jia Zheng was about to bow in return when he recognized his son.

“Is it Baoyu?” he asked in amazement.

The other made no answer, looking torn between grief and joy.

“If you are Baoyu, what are you doing here, and in this costume?” Jia Zheng asked again.

Before Baoyu could reply, a monk and a Taoist priest appeared, each taking one of his arms. “Your worldly obligations have been fulfilled,” they declared. “Why delay your departure?” Then all three of them glided ashore.

Though it was slippery underfoot, Jia Zheng hurried after them but could not overtake them. However, he heard one of them chant:

My home is Blue Ridge Peak,

I roam the primeval void.

Who will go with me to keep me company,

Returning to the Great Waste of infinity!

ha Zheng pursued them round a slope, only to find they had vanisbed. Limp and out of breath, his heart misgave him. Turning, he found that the page had followed him.

“Did you see those three men just now?” Jia Zheng asked.

“Yes, sir. As you were running after them I came too. But then I lost sight of those three.”

ha Zheng was tempted to go on, but in the white wilderness there was no one in sight. Marvelling, he had to turn back.

When the servants returned and found their master gone, the boat­man told them that he had gone ashore in pursuit of two monks and a Taoist priest. They followed his footprints in the snow and, seeing him approaching in the distance, went to meet him and escorted him back to the boat. After he had sat down and caught his breath he told them of his encounter with Baoyu. They suggested searching the vicinity.

“You don’t understand,” he sighed. “I saw them with my own eyes, they were not apparitions. And I heard them chanting a most occult poem. When Baoyu was born with jade in his mouth, I knew it was uncanny and

boded no good; but because the old lady doted on him we brought him up all these years. As for the monk and the priest, I have seen them three times. The first time was when they came to explain the miraculous na­ture of the jade; the second time, when Baoyu was so ill and the monk took the jade in his hand and intoned some incantation to cure him; the third time, when he brought back the jade and I saw him sitting in the front hall, then all of a sudden he vanished. Although that increased my misgivings, I thought Baoyu fortunate to have the protection of these Buddhist and Taoist saints. Little did I know that Baoyu was a spirit who had come to earth to undergo certain trials, and who managed to fool the old lady for nineteen years! Only now is it clear to me.” He shed tears.

“If Master Bao was really a Buddhist saint, he shouldn’t have be­come ajuren,” they objected. “Why take the official examination then leave?”

“You don’t understand that all the stars in the heavens, the saints in the mountains and the spirits in caves have each their own different na­ture. Baoyu never showed any inclination to study, yet he’d only to glance at a book to master it. By temperament, too, he was different from other people.” He sighed again.

They consoled him with talk of Jia Lan’s success and the improve­ment in the family’s fortunes. Then Jia Zheng went on with his letter, describing this incident and urging the family not to grieve. He sealed the letter and sent it off with a servant, then continued on his way. No more of this.

Aunt Xue, after hearing of the amnesty, told Xue Ke to raise loans in various quarters until she had enough to ransom her son. The Board of Punishments sanctioned this and after receiving the money issued an order for Xue Pan’s release. We need not dwell on their family reunion with its natural intermingling ofjoy and sorrow.

“If I ever run amuck again,” swore Xue Pan, “may I be killed and disembowelled!”

His mother stopped his mouth. “Just make up your mind to it instead of raving. Why must you swear such a blood-curdling oath?” she scolded. “Now I’ve a proposal to make. Xiangling’s had so much to put up with

since becoming your concubine, that now that your wife has killed herself and poor though we are we can still make ends meet, I suggest making her my daughter-in-law. What do you think?”

Xue Pan nodded his agreement.

“Quite right and proper,” agreed Baochai and the rest.

Xiangling flushing crimson protested, “I shall go on serving the master as his maid. There’s no need to raise my status.”

Thereupon they started addressing her as the young mistress, and none of the household objected.

Then Xue Pan went to thank the Jia family, and Aunt Xue and Baochai went over too. When all were assembled and they had talked for a while, Jia Zheng’s messenger arrived and presented his letter, announcing that the master would soon be home. Lady Wang made Jia Lan read the letter out, and when he reached the passage describing the encounter with Baoyu the whole family wept, Lady Wang, Baochai and Xiren being the most affected. They discussed Jia Zheng’s injunction to them not to mourn for Baoyu because he was a reincarnated spirit.

One said, “If he’d become an official then had the misfortune to get into trouble and ruin the family, that would have been worse. It’s better to have produced a Bodhisattva, thanks to the virtue of our master and mistress. In fact, Lord Jing of the East Mansion practised alchemy for more than ten years yet never became an immortal. It’s harder still to become a Bodhisattva! If you look at it this way, madam, you’ll feel better.”

Lady Wang confided tearfully to Aunt Xue, “I don’t blame Baoyu for deserting me, it’s my daughter-in-law’s cruel fate that upsets me most. When they’d only just been married a couple of years, how heartless it was of him to abandon her!” This made Aunt Xue’s heart ache too.

Baochai, weeping, was oblivious to all around her; and as the men of the family had withdrawn to the outer apartments, Lady Wang went on, “He kept me on tenterhooks all those years, till he got married and passed the examination and I was pleased to hear that Baochai was pregnant. To think it should end like this! If I’d known, I wouldn’t have found him a wife or ruined your daughter’s life!”

“This was their fate,” Aunt Xue answered. “What else could fami­

lies like ours have done? It’s lucky that she’s with child. If she gives birth to a son, he’s bound to make good and all’s well that ends well. Look at your elder daughter-in-law: now Lan’s juren and next year he’ll be a court scholar doesn’t that mean that he’ll become an official? After all that bitterness, she’s having a taste of sweetness now to re­ward her for her goodness.You know my daughter, sister. She’s not flighty or petty-minded; you needn’t worry about her.”

Lady Wang, convinced of the truth of this, reflected, “B aochai was always a quiet, unassuming child with simple tastes; that’s why this has happened to her. It seems that everyone’s lot in life is predestined! Though she wept so bitterly, she retained all her dignity and even tried to console me she’s really one in a thousand. What a pity, though, that a boy like Baoyu lost out on his share of good fortune in this dusty world!” Com­forted by these reflections she went on to consider Xiren’s case and thought, “The other maids are easily disposed of: the older ones can be married off and the younger ones kept here to wait on Baochai. But what’s to be done about Xiren?” As there were others present, she decided to discuss this with Aunt Xue that evening.

Aunt Xue did not go home that day, staying with her heart-broken daughter to cornfort her. However, Baochai showed her usual good sense, saying that it was no use complaining as Baoyu had been someone quite unique and this had been fated to happen.When she spoke so reasonably her mother, much relieved, went over to tell Lady Wang what she had said.

Lady Wang nodded. “I wouldn’t deserve such a good daughter-in-law if I hadn’t done some good deeds!” she sighed, giving way to grief again.

Aunt Xue consoled her for a while then raised another question. “Xiren’s only the shadow of her old self, what with pining for Baoyu,” she said. “The proper wife should stay at home as a widow, and some­times a concubine wants to do the same; but in Xiren’s case, her rela­tionship with Baoyu was never made public.”

“Exactly,” said Lady Wang. “This is just what I wanted to talk over with you. If we dismiss her, I’m afraid she’ll be unwilling, or threaten to kill herself; but I doubt whether my husband would agree to keeping her

on. That’s our dilemma.”

“I’m sure he would never agree, especially as he doesn’t know her position and thinks her simply a maid, with no reason to stay on here. You’ll have to get one of her family to come, insist on them finding her a respectable husband, then give her a generous dowry. Being a sensible girl and still young, she should realize that she hasn’t served you for nothing and that you’ve treated her quite handsomely, sister. I shall have a good talk with her too. Even after you’ve sent for one of her family, you needn’t tell her about it until a good match has been fixed up and we’ve made sure that the family’s well-off and the man’s presentable. Then we can send her away.

“That’s an excellent idea. Otherwise, if I let the master dispose of her off-hand wouldn’t that be the ruin of her?”

Aunt Xue nodded her agreement and after some further talk went to see Baochai. Finding Xiren still in tears there she tried to console her; and the good-hearted girl, not being acrimonious, agreed to all she said.

“It’s good of you to talk like this to a serving-maid, madam,” said Xiren. “I should never dream of disobeying the mistress.”

Aunt Xue felt even more drawn to her, finding her so submissive. Baochai also spoke of a woman’s duties in life, and so they found them­selves in complete accord.

A few days later, Jia Zheng arrived home and all the men went out to welcome him. By now Jia She and Jia Zhen were also back and, meeting again, they described their experiences since parting. But the women of the house, when they saw Jia Zheng, could not help grieving at the thought of Baoyu.

Jia Zheng urged them not to be distressed, telling Lady Wang, “This was fated. From now on those of us outside will have to manage the family affairs with your assistance inside, on no account letting things slide as we did before. The different households can see to their own affairs; there is no need for a general manager. You can decide, as you think right, on everything done in our family’s inner apartments.”

When Lady Wang told him that Baochai was with child and suggested dismissing Baoyu’s former maids, he simply nodded in silence.

The next day Jia Zheng went to court to ask the chief ministers how

he should express his gratitude for the Imperial favour while still in mourn­ing. They petitioned the Emperor on his behal{ and the Sovereign in his great goodness granted him an audience. When Jia Zheng had expressed his thanks and received various instructions, the Emperor asked what had become of Baoyu and marvelled at the account which Jia Zheng gave him.

The Emperor decreed, “The brilliance of Baoyu’s writing must be due to his being an immortal. Were he at court we could have promoted him. Now, since he would never accept a noble rank, let him be given the title ‘The Immortal of Literary Genius.

Jia Zheng kowtowed his thanks and withdrew, to be welcomed home by Jia Lian and Jia Zhen. When told of the Emperor’s decree, the whole household was overjoyed.

Jia Zhen reported, “The Ning Mansion has been cleaned up, and with your permission we shall move over now. Sister Xichun can have Green Lattice Nunnery in the Garden for her devotions.”

Jia Zheng made no comment, but after a pause he urged them to do their best to repay the Imperial favour.

Then Jia Lian informed him that his parents were willing to marry Qiaojie to the Zhou family. Jia Zheng, who had heard the previous night of all that had happened to her, said, “That’s for the Elder Master and Elder Mistress to decide. We shouldn’t despise country people, providing they are honest folk and their son is studious and seems promising. Not all the officials at court are city bred, are they?”

“No, sir,” agreed Jia Lian. “But as my father is growing old and suffers from chronic asthma, he hopes to live quietly for a few years, leaving you in overall charge.”

“I only wish I could live as a recluse in the country myself,” Jia Zheng answered. “But I haven’t yet repaid our Sovereign’s great kindness.” With that he went inside.

Jia Lian sent for Granny Liu to tell her the match was agreed on, after which she called on Lady Wang to predict that now they would win offi­cial promotion and all the family’s sons and grandsons would prosper.

Just then, a maid announced Xiren’s sister-in-law, from whom Lady Wang elicited that some relatives had proposed a match for Xiren with a

certain Jiang family in the south city who owned houses, land and shops. The prospective bridegroom was a few years older but he had never been married and, as far as appearances went, was one in a hundred.

Lady Wang was favourably inclined and replied, “You can agree to it. Come back in a few days’ time to fetch your sister-in-law.” She also sent to make inquiries and, on being assured that it would be a good match, informed Baochal and asked Aunt Xue to break the news gently to Xiren.

Xiren was desolated yet dared not disobey. She remembered, that year Baoyu called on her family, she had sworn to them that she would rather die than be redeemed and go home. “Now the mistress is set upon this,” she thought. “If I ask to stay they’ll say I have no sense of shame; yet I really don’t want to leave here!” She started sobbing. When Aunt Xue and Baochai reasoned with her she reflected, “If I died here that would be a poor return for Her Ladyship’s kindness. I’d better die at home.” So suppressing her grief she bade them all farewell, heart-rend­ing as she found it to leave the other maids.

She mounted the carriage determined to kill herself, and when she saw her brother and sister-in-law she could not speak for sobbing. Her brother showed her one by one the betrothal gifts sent by the Jiang family as well as the dowry he had prepared, telling her which items had been given by Lady Wang, which they had bought themselves, so that Xiren was even more at a loss for words. After a couple of days at home she thought, “My brother’s done things so handsomely, how can I cause him trouble by killing myself in his house?” In a dilemma, she felt her heart would break yet had to bear up.

The day came to fetch the bride, and not being the type to make a scene however wronged she felt, she let herself be carried off in the sedan-chair, deferring her decision till her arrival. However, once over their threshold, she found that the Jiangs had made scrupulous prepara­tions according to all the correct wedding etiquette, and as soon as she entered the house she was addressed by the maid-servants as “Mis­tress.” All treated her so well that, once again, she did not like to bring trouble on them by committing suicide there. That night she wept and refused her husband’s advances, yet he very tenderly deferred to her


The next day when her chests were opened and he saw his old scarlet sash, he realized that this was Baoyu’s maid. At first he had thought her one of the old lady’s attendants, never dreaming that she was Xiren. Now, abashed by the memory of Baoyu’s past friendship with him, he treated her even more kindly, deliberately showing her the pale green sash which Baoyu had given him in exchange. Only then did Xiren under­stand that he was Jiang Yuhan. Convinced that their marriage must have been predestined, she told him how she had meant to kill herself. Deeply impressed by her loyalty, Jiang Yuhan showed her even more consider­ation so that Xiren felt she had really nowhere to die.

Now, Honourable Readers, though certain things are predestined and “cannot be helped,” it is wrong for sons of concubines or ministers of vanquished states as well as for men of principle and chaste women to keep using this phrase as a handy excuse. That was why Xiren was ranked in the Third Register. As a former poet passing the Temple 9f Lady Peach-blossom wrote:

Since time immemorial, the hardest thing is to die;

It is not the Lady of Xi1 alone who was broken-hearted.

But let us leave Xiren embarking on a new life and return to Jia Yucun, who had been found guilty of embezzlement and condemned to punish­ment. He was pardoned under the general amnesty, but ordered back to his native place and reduced to the status of a common citizen. Having sent his family home first, he was making his way there with a baggage-cart and a page when, by the Ford of Awakening in the Stream of Rapid Reversal, he saw a Taoist priest emerge from a thatched shed to greet him. Recognizing his old friend Zhen Shiyin, he promptly returned the greeting.

“How have you been, worthy Mr. ha?” asked Shiyin.

“So you are Master Zhen, Immortal One!” replied Yucun. “How is it that last time we met you refused to recognize me? Later I was very worried to hear that your temple had been burned down. Now that I am lucky enough to meet you again, I am sure your virtue must be even greater. As for me, owing to my own inveterate folly, I’ve now been reduced to this.”

“Last time you were a high official, so how could a poor priest claim acquaintance with you? As an old friend I ventured to offer you some advice, but you ignored it. However, wealth and poverty, success and failure are predestined. How amazing that we should meet again today! My humble temple is not far from here. Would you care to come for a chat?” Yucun agreed willingly.

They walked off hand in hand, followed by the page with the cart till they reached a thatched temple. Shiyin invited Yucun in to sit down, and a boy served tea.

Asked how he had come to renounce the world, Shiyin said with a smile, “It’s easily done, with the speed of thought. Coming from the great world, sir, don’t you know of a certain Baoyu who used to live in the lap of luxury?”

“Of course I do! Recently it has been rumoured that he has entered Buddhist orders too. I met him several times, but never dreamed he would take such a decision.”

“That’s where you were wrong! I knew his strange story in advance, and had already met him at the time when the two of us talked before the gate of my old house in Renqing Lane.”

“How could that be?” exclaimed Yucun in surprise. “With the capital so far from your honourable district!”

“I met him in spirit a long time ago.”

“Then you know, no doubt, where he is now?”

“Baoyu means ‘divine jade.’ Before the raid on the Rong and Ning Mansions, on the day when Baochai and Daiyu separated, that jade had already left the world of men to escape from calamity and effect a re­union. Then, former ties of affection severed, form and essence once more became one. It further showed its miraculous origin by passing the examination with distinction and begetting a noble son, proving that this jade is a treasure tempered by the divine powers of nature, not to be compared with ordinary objects. It was taken to the mortal worla by me Buddhist of Infinite Space and the Taoist of Boundless Time. Now that its mortal course is run, they have carried it back to its original place: this is what has happened to Baoyu.”

Yucun, though he understood barely half of this, nodded and mar-

velled, “So that’s the way it was! I’was too ignorant to know. But why, with such a spiritual origin, was Baoyu so enamoured of girls before he became so enlightened? Would you explain that?”

“This may be hard for you to grasp fully, sir. The Illusory Land of Great Void is the Blessed Land of Truth. By reading the registers twice, he saw the beginning and the ending too all set down there in detail. How could that fail to enlighten him? Since the fairy herb has reverted to her true form, shouldn’t the jade of ‘spiritual understanding’ do the same?”

Yucun was mystified, but knowing that this was some divine secret he did not press for a fuller explanation.”You have told me about Baoyu,” he said. “But there are many ladies in our humble clan; how is it that apart from the Imperial Consort all the others came to such undistinguished ends?”

“You must allow me to speak bluntly, sir. All noble ladies come from the realm of love and retribution. From time immemorial, carnal desire has been their cardinal sin, and they must not even immerse themselves in ~ove. Thus Cui Yingying and Su Xiaoxiao2 were immortals with earthly desires, while Song Yu and Sima Xiangru3 were writers of genius whose works were wicked. Anyone ensnared by love can come to no good end!”

Yucun absently stroked his beard and sighed. “I have one more ques­tion, Reverend Immortal,” he ventured. “Will the Rong and Ning Man­sions be restored to their former prosperity?”

“It is an immutable law that the good are favoured by fortune while the dissolute meet with calamity. In these two mansions now, the good are laying up virtue, the bad repenting their crimes; so naturally their houses will prosper again with the orchid and fragrant osmanthus bloom­ing together.”

Yucun lowered his head in thought, then suddenly laughed, “I get it! One of the sons of their house called Lan4 has passed the examination; so that prediction of yours has come true. But just now, Reverend Immortal, you spoke of ‘the orchid and fragrant osmanthus blooming together, and you mentioned that Baoyu has begotten a noble son. Is this as yet unborn son going to advance rapidly in his official career?”

“This belongs to the future,” said Shiyin with a smile. “It’s not for me to predict.”

Yucun had more questions on the tip of his tongue but the other, un­willing to answer them, ordered his servant to prepare food and invited Yucun to share it. After the meal, Shiyin forestalled further questions about Yucun’s own future by urging him to have a rest in his temple.

“I still have some worldly affairs to settle and must attend to them today,” he explained.

“What worldly affairs can you have, Immortal One, you whose life is given to cultivating virtue?” asked Yucun in surprise.

“Simply some private business concerned with family affection.”

“What do you mean?” Yucun was yet more amazed.

“You are unaware, sir, that my daughter Yinglian met with misfortune as a child, and at the start of your official career you judged a case in which she was involved. She has married into the Xue family, but is dying now in childbirth leaving behind her a son to carry on the Xues’ line. Since the time has come for her to sever all mortal ties, I must go to guide her spirit.” With a flick of his sleeve he rose.

Yucun, left dazed, fell asleep in this thatched temple by the Ford of Awakening in the Stream of Rapid Reversal, while Shiyin went to con­duct Xiangling to the Illusory Land of Great Void to enter her name in the record of the Goddess of Disenchantment. As he passed the archway, he saw a monk and a priest come drifting towards him.

“Congratulations, holy men!” he called. “Have you severed all their entanglements of love?”

“Not completely,” they replied. “But we have brought that stupid object back with us. We still have to return him to his original place and record his experiences in the world, so that he won’t have descended there for nothing.”

Shiyin saluted and left them, whereupon the monk and the priest took the divine jade to Blue Ridge Peak and left it in the place where Nu Wa had melted down stones to repair heaven. This done, they went their different ways. Thus:

A book not of this world records events not of this world; A man with two lives reverts to his first form.

One day the Taoist immortal the Reverend Void, coming to Blue Ridge

Peak again, found there the stone left unused when heaven was repaired, with the same inscription on it that he had seen before. On reading it carefully once more, he discovered that appended to the epilogue-poem were more accounts of the denouement.

He nodded and sighed, “When I first read this strange story of Brother Stone, I said that it could be made known to the world and therefore had it transcribed. But at that time I hadn’t read how he returned to his original form and place. This is quite a story I wonder when it was added? Apparently Brother Stone after his descent to the world of men was burnished and awoke to the truth, which is highly gratifying! If too many years pass and the inscription is blurred, it may be misconstrued. I had better transcribe it again and find someone with the leisure to circu­late it, to show the illusory nature of marvels, mundane matters, truth and falsehood. Then perhaps some men tired of mortal vanity may return to the truth, or some friendly mountain spirit may enable the Stone to de­scend again to the world.”

Thereupon he copied out the inscription again, tucked it into his sleeve and searched the haunts of splendour and wealth; but he found there only men striving to advance thier careers or to feed and clothe them­selves not one had time for the story of the Stone. However, when he reached the thatched temple by the Ford of Awakening in the Stream of Rapid Reversal, he discovered a man sleeping there and felt that here was someone sufficiently leisured to be given this Story of the Stone. The sleeper did not wake when called, but when the Reverend Void tugged at him he sat up slowly and opened his eyes, then leafed through the manuscript before putting it down again.

“Yes, I witnessed this whole business myself,” he said. “The account you have copied out is quite correct. I’ll tell you someone who will circu­late it, so that this extraordinary case can be concluded.”

The Reverend Void at once asked whom he had in mind.

“Wait till such-and-such a year, month, day and hour, then go to Mourn­ing-the-Red Studio where you will find a certain Mr. Cao Xueqin,” was the answer. “Just give him Jia Yucun’s name, and tell him what you want of him.” With that he lay down and went to sleep again.

The Reverend Void bore these instructions in mind and, after no one

knows how many generations or aeons, sure enough he found Mourning-the-Red Studio, where Mr. Cao Xueqin was reading an ancient history. He gave him Jia Yucun’s message and handed him the Story of the Stone.

Cao Xueqin laughed, “This certainly sounds like Jia Yucun!”5

“How did you come to know him, sir?” asked the Reverend Void. “What makes you willing to pass this tale on for him?”

Mr. Cao chuckled, “They call you Void, and you really are devoid of sense! Since this is a fictitious rustic tale, provided it contains no clerical errors or perverse contradictions, it will serve to while away the time with a couple of friends after wine and food, or to dispel loneliness some rainy evening under the lamp by the window. It doesn’t have to be vouched for or launched by men of consequence. All these questions you ask show that you’re a pig-headed pedant and won’t get you anywhere!”

The Reverend Void threw back his head and laughed, then tossed him the manuscript and left saying to himself, “So it’s all hot air – fantastic! Neither author, transcriber, nor readers can tell what it is about. It is nothing but a literary diversion to entertain readers.”

When this tale later came to be read, someone wrote four lines of verse to elucidate the author’s meaning, as follows:

A tale of grief is told,

Fantasy most melancholy.

Since all live in a dream,

Why laugh at others’ folly?

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