CEAS COLLOQUIUM, SPRING 2010-11
Wei Shang Associate Professor of Chinese Literature, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University
The Grand Prospect Garden, the primary setting for The Story of the Stone, figures prominently in many Stone illustrations and paintings. This should not surprise any readers, as the text itself often invites them to visualize the garden from a painter's perspective. In Chapter 42, Jia Xi-chun, Jia Bao-yu's youngest female cousin, embarks on an ambitious project: to capture a panorama of the garden in one gigantic painting. Her announcement of the project prompts Xue Bao-chai to dictate a long list of stationery, pigments, and utensils she thinks Xi-chun needs to have at her disposal. In her usual teasing tone, Lin Dai-yu predicts that it will take Xi-chun at least two years to complete her proposed painting, whose scope and scale, as Dai-yu implies, far exceeds her own capacity.
It would be difficult to match Xi-chun's panoramic landscape in scale, but the book llustrators and painters of the time did their best to map out the garden on the limited space of a single piece of paper or silk, or a full print folio. Their efforts highlight issues of enormous importance for the comprehension of the cultural dynamics of the time: the dialectics of reality and illusion, the mutual fertilization of genre and technology, and the constant negotiations between the written and graphic media and between the high and low cultures. This paper will offer a selective survey of the visual representations of the Grand Prospect Garden in the nineteenth century while addressing the above issues, with special attention to the murals of The Story of the Stone in the Palace of Eternal Spring, the Forbidden City.
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