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Tragic Ending and Inversion in The Tale of Orchid Dream

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This essay examines the representation of gender conflict in the late Qing novel Lanhua meng qizhuan (The tale of orchid dream) through an analysis of the novel's responses to its two literary models: Cao Xueqin's Honglou meng (Dream of the red chamber) and Wen Kang's Ernü yingxiong zhuan (A tale of heroes and lovers, 1878). Written as an imitation of Cao Xueqin's masterpiece and a reversal of Wen Kang's novel (itself also a rewriting of Cao Xueqin's work), Lanhua meng qizhuan consciously returns to the tragic mode of representation while it re-polarizes the themes of heroism and love (or ritualized morality versus private feeling) in its portrayal of the married life of a female hero, Song Baozhu. Through the deterioration of the heroine's marriage and her death, the novel exposes the deep-seated male centeredness in Chinese society and culture. At the same time, it reveals the ideological and artistic clashes of the hero-lover model promoted by Wen Kang and undermines his effort of assimilating qing (love, feelings) into the domain of public morality. The author's effort in Lanhua meng qizhuan, while seriously tackling the social problem of gender inequality in its time, also challenged old conventions and opened new avenues in Chinese fiction.

Affiliations: 1: Mount Holyoke College;, Email:


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