translations of the same content

Which one do you like better? Let me give you a hit, the three translations were done in 1890s, 1950s and 1970s.


‘It so happens that an opportunity of helping you has just presented itself,’ said Ru-hai. ‘Since my poor wife passed on, my mother-in-law in the capital has been worried about the little girl having no one to look after her, and has already sent some of her folk here by barge to fetch her away. The only reason she has so far not gone is that she has not been quite recovered from her illness. I was, however, only just now thinking that the moment to send her had arrived. And as I have still done nothing to repay you for your kindness in tutoring her for me, you may be sure that now this opportunity has presented itself I shall do my very best to help you.

‘As a matter of fact, I have already made a few arrangements. I have written this letter here entrusting my brother-in-law with your affair, explaining my indebtedness to you and urging him to see it properly settled. I have also made it quite clear in my letter that any expenses which may be involved are to be taken care of; so you have nothing to worry about on that account.’

Yu-can made an elaborate bow to his patron and thanked him profusely. He then ventured a question.

‘I am afraid I do not know what your relation’s position is at the capital. Might it not be a little embarrassing for a person in my situation to thrust himself upon him?’

Ru-hai laughed. ‘You need have no anxiety on that score. My brothers-in-law in the capital are your own kinsmen. They are grandsons of the former Duke of Rong-guo.


“Providence and good fortune are both alike propitious!” exclaimed Ju-hai. “After the death of my wife, my mother-in-law, whose residence is in the capital, was so very solicitous on my daughter’s account, for having no one to depend upon, that she despatched, at an early period, boats with men and women servants to come and fetch her. But my child was at the time not quite over her illness, and that is why she has not yet started. I was, this very moment, cogitating to send my daughter to the capital. And in view of the obligation, under which I am to you for the instruction you have heretofore conferred upon her, remaining as yet unrequited, there is no reason why, when such an opportunity as this presents itself, I should not do my utmost to find means to make proper acknowledgment. I have already, in anticipation, given the matter my attention, and written a letter of recommendation to my brother-in-law, urging him to put everything right for you, in order that I may, to a certain extent, be able to give effect to my modest wishes. As for any outlay that may prove necessary, I have given proper explanation, in the letter to my brother-in-law, so that you, my brother, need not trouble yourself by giving way to much anxiety.”

As Yü-ts’un bowed and expressed his appreciation in most profuse language,—

“Pray,” he asked, “where does your honoured brother-in-law reside? and what is his official capacity? But I fear I’m too coarse in my manner, and could not presume to obtrude myself in his presence.”

Ju-hai smiled. “And yet,” he remarked, “this brother-in-law of mine is after all of one and the same family as your worthy self, for he is the grandson of the Duke Jung.


Ju-hai said: ‘It has just happened at the right time. Because my wife has died, my mother-in-law at her home in the Capital keeps thinking of my little daughter with no one else by her on whom to lean. She has already sent boats with men and women to take her there. As my little daughter has not completely recovered I have not yet set off on the journey. I was just at this moment thinking about escorting her into the Capital. As I have not so far recompensed you for the favour you have bestowed in acting as her tutor, now that I meet this opportunity how can I but exert myself to the utmost to find a way of rewarding you? I have already thought about it and I have written a letter of recommendation and entrusted the matter to my wife’s elder brother for him to see it carried out. Thus I can give some slight expression to my humble sincerity. As for your expenses, I have written clearly about them in my letter to my brother-in-law. do not trouble to think any more about them.’

Yü-ts’un at once bowed low and, thanking him again and again, also enquired: ‘I do not know what office His Excellency your honourable kinsman occupies. This late-born is only afraid that I have a rustic appearance and do not dare to go in and call on him’.

Ju-hai smiled and said: ‘With respect to my humble kinsman, he belongs after all to the same clan as your honourable self. He is the duke of Jung’s grandson.

…excerpt from Chapter 3 of Dream of the Red Chamber

ONE: David Hawkes, 1974
TWO: H. Bencraft Joly, 1981
THREE: G. W. Bonsall, 1950s

Only the first one is not a free book, but I’m somehow drawn to the last one more than the first.


visual vs conceptual

Scan 1151When you read a book, do you imagine the scene as if you are drawing a picture in your mind? How does the character look? Do you see the folds on the skirt, know where the window is in the room, and notice the color of the drapery? Quite a few visual people told me that was how they read, one of whom was my oil painting teacher. I asked them to describe their dreams. Their dreams were all in vivid colors and with copious details.

But that is not at all how I read.

When I read, I’m in the scene, but only in a conceptual way. I do not ever picture a character’s face. Most of the time, the movies or TV shows made from my favorite books disappoint me, as the physical images of the characters cannot match up to my abstractly imagined ones. How can any face, no matter how handsome or beautiful, compete against the intangible concepts of say, integrity or bravery, of the character?

And I dream conceptually too.

A couple of days ago I dreamed of waking around a corner and all-a-sudden the Colosseum appeared in front of me. That scene should be very visual, right? But if you ask me what I have dreamed when I woke up, I’d tell you that I had a dream about Rome, without mentioning the Colosseum. If you then ask me whether my dream had color, I would say yes. Because I would have looked back to the scene of the dream and focused on the “picture”, and my mind would then paint the Colosseum with yellowish beige. Was the “I” in the dream in color? No, because there was no physical “I”. Even though there was an “I” in the dream who turned the street corner, but no physical body that had turned, only a conceptual one. And therefore the “I” in my dream had no color.

Does any of this make sense? Is there anybody out there who can relate to this?

book planning (1)

As I click-through from blog to blog, I can’t help but to be in awe of my fellow bloggers. I especially admire and respect the ones who post daily.

There are photo blogs where every photo deserves a pause and a closer look. Having played with Canon 5D and lightroom myself, I appreciate how difficult it is to consistently produce high quality work. There are artists who post pictures of their art work each day, whether it is one-oil-painting-a-day or one-drawing-a-day or one-watercolor-landscape-a-day. Having done painting and drawing myself, I know I could not possibly commit to that, or I won’t be able to do anything else. Although secretly, I wish that I have chosen daily posting of photos or art work and not writing. Most bloggers are writers, who write prolifically and thought-provokingly. I don’t know how much time everyone is spending on writing their blogs, but I think they all write much faster than I can. I’m writing in the speed of a snail or slower.

My purpose of this blog is simple – I want to practice writing regularly so that I could go on and write stories that captivate people’s imagination just like the thousands of stories that have enraptured me. My struggle is whether I shall write in English or my native tongue Chinese. I have no experience in either. After I left China, I have not written anything other than Happy New Year or Happy Birthday on cards in Chinese. So needless to say writing in Chinese would be a huge challenge as well, but at least I won’t be a laughing-stock as at least I won’t be making stupid language mistakes. Writing in English is different. Although I have learned English as a second language in school back in China, I have not ever taken even one English literature class anywhere. I learned the language from listening and talking to people around me. My writing was limited to business emails and presentations and maybe once-a-year personal Christmas newsletters to family and friends.

But I have read great books from non-native speakers, namely Ann Rand, who came to America when she was already 20 years old. Therefore it is not impossible. Yet, there are three things against me, in addition to my somewhat non-distinguished innate language ability. 1) I don’t read nearly enough. I have listened to many audio books, but that’s very different from reading. 2) I cannot recite any great works in English. In Chinese traditional teaching, reciting the 300 poems from Tang Dynasty would be part of the beginner’s course work. 3) I don’t have much practice in writing.

If this blog is to solve problem #3, I need to solve #1 and #2 as well. And reading Chinese novels online 16 hours a day is not going to help my cause.