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China Humanities Seminar featuring Yiqun Zhou – A Book for Hard Times: Wu Mi and Dream of the Red Chamber
March 22, 2022 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Speaker: Yiqun Zhou, Stanford University
This talk examines the role that Dream of the Red Chamber played in the life and work of Wu Mi 吳宓 (1894-1978), a pioneer in the study of Comparative Literature in China and a cultural conservative known for his staunch resistance to the prevailing New Culture Movement. Long condemned to infamy and oblivion because his ideological positions were at odds with the mainstream, Wu has seen a comeback in the past two or three decades.
In opposition to the interpretations in vogue in the 1910s-1920s, which treated Dream either as the author’s autobiography or as a roman à clef about Qing politics, Wu advocated an approach that was literary and comparative. From 1942 to 1949, during the Sino-Japanese War and the subsequent civil war, Wu’s public lectures on Dream drew large crowds and became local sensations. In the remaining years of Wu’s life, especially during the Cultural Revolution, he constantly turned to Dream for emotional support and spiritual consolation. By looking at how reading, studying, and lecturing on Dream were bound up with the quests, trials, and tribulations in Wu’s Quixotic career, this talk tackles questions about the relationship between literature and politics, the relevance of classics in modern times and to the general public, and the use of comparison in the study of traditional Chinese literature.
Presented via Zoom