Nos. 77 & 78 (Spring & Autumn 2012)
Chinese Science Fiction: Late Qing and the Contemporary

New Story of the Stone: excerpts
By Wu Jianren
Translated by Sterling Swallow

Chapter 1

In which Baoyu encounters an old servant and past events
are strangely indistinct; he reads the newspaper and
becomes alarmed over the passage of time.

IT IS THE CASE that anyone, regardless if one is building a career or writing a piece of work, must establish a unique style in order to make something outstanding and proficient. If you take after others then you become a case of the newly labelled term, ‘dependent nature’, and moreover, you accomplish nothing of value. We needn’t speak of more weighty matters; even fiction is like this. If you don’t believe it, take a look at the Western Chamber 西廂; after the ‘Startled from a Dream’ scene, a later writer added a four-act sequel and was roundly condemned by the critic Jin Shengtan 金聖歎 (1610–1661). Then there was the Water Margin 水滸傳 followed by its sequels and The Story of the Criminal Bandits 蕩寇志, all subject to criticism. Finally there was the Journey to the West 西遊記, while the Later Journey to the West 後西遊記 is all but unknown.

    If we look at it this way, why trouble to ‘pin a dog’s tail to a marten’ and give occasion for ridicule? And now I myself have composed this New Story of the Stone out of thin air; am I not also ‘drawing a snake and adding feet’? Now The Story of the Stone is the original name of Dream of the Red Chamber. Since Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢 by Mr Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹 (1717–1763) was published, later authors have written countless sequels to the Dream of the Red Chamber, such as The Later Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓後夢, The Supplementary Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓補夢, Dreaming Again of the Exquisite Chamber 綺樓重夢—all sorts of preposterous and absurd tales too numerous to be mentioned individually. No one who has read them has said they are any good. Isn’t this New Story of the Stone of mine also committing the very same mistake? Yet, it seems to me that if a person raises his pen to write, he always begins with an intention. When he writes, he naturally does not expect admiration; he just follows his fancy, simply writing down what’s on his mind. The praise or censure that comes later is never relevant. I have, therefore, taken this to heart and set about composing this New Story of the Stone. If readers say it’s good that’s fine, if they say it’s hideous that’s also fine, in any case I can’t hear what they’re saying. But enough of this digression; let’s get to the story.

    To begin with, people who compose sequels to Dream of the Red Chamber always use the ploy of bringing Lin Daiyu 林黛玉 back to life, writing endlessly about the secret passions of youth. What if I were to say simply that Jia Baoyu 賈寶玉 doesn’t die, and engages in some quite proper undertakings? Even though it sounds preposterous, at least it might be good for a laugh. Dear readers, first listen to me spin together some introductory remarks.

Bringing peace and stability to the nation
Stalwart is the heart of worthy youth
A cosmos no bigger than a pellet
How can it withstand the hostile buffeting of powerful storms?
The ‘Dragonspring’ blade, but three feet long
Shoots forth a boundless radiance
The splendid light of the sun and moon—
Blocked, alas, by hundreds of layers of demons and barriers
It brings a passion like madness!
It brings a passion like madness!
A good head has no place to ruminate or rest
There remain but a thousand streams of hot tears
And hot blood filling the breast
Scattered over the great eastern ocean,
Roiling it into frightful billows and waves.
Suddenly looking back,
Past events all mere folly!
What are the world of letters, the battlefield, fame, and profit?
If you reckon them up,
They come to nothing but a five-thousand-year muddle.

    The story goes that, in that year Jia Baoyu took Jia Lan 賈蘭 to sit for the official examination. When the three sessions were completed and he left the examination grounds, the Buddhist mahāsattva Impervioso and Daoist illuminate Mysterioso were waiting outside to return him to nature and discover his pure self; thus it was that once Jia Lan turned his head Baoyu had disappeared. You must know that he had come to a thorough understanding of his karma and thus instantly cast everything aside; so no matter what kind of chaos this threw his family into, he abandoned them without looking back. The Buddhist adept and the Daoist master first led him to Piling post station and had him bid farewell to his father Jia Zheng 賈政, then took him to the foot of Greensickness Peak in the Great Fable Mountains, put up a thatched hut and set him to arduous self-cultivation.

    Hereafter, untold years and countless kalpas passed, with a mind like dead wood and cold ashes, seeing hundreds of thousands of years like one day. It was fated to happen and on this day Jia Baoyu suddenly began thinking, ‘The day when Nüwa smelted the five-coloured stones to repair heaven, all 36,500 blocks were used, only I was left unused. Later, although I came to life, all I did was fritter away the years with those girls. I did not fulfil my pledge to mend heaven. How can I accomplish this? If only I could, then even were I to become ash and smoke, I would have no complaint.’

    Once these worldly desires were awakened, before he knew it, a tide of blood rose in his heart and his mind caught fire; he forgot all about karma and retribution, and longed only to return home, to fulfil this pledge. But then he remembered that he had become a monk, and shaved his head, so how could he return in this awkward state. Not only would his father get angry if he saw, but the girls too would consider him filthy. It would better to be patient for a while, and go after his hair had grown out. Having settled on this plan, he let his hair grow out day by day.

    It is strange to tell; he had no idea how many aeons and kalpas passed while he was engaged in spiritual practice, yet the time passed as though it were a single day. But now that he was growing his hair out, a single day was actually harder to bear than a year. Every day he longed for his hair to grow, but the hair was perversely unwilling to grow quickly, irritating him to the point that he spent each day at home moaning and groaning. With great difficulty he managed to bear it for a little over a year until it grew to the length of one foot or so, such that he could more or less braid it, whereupon he was overjoyed and braided it up as best he could. He opened his bundle and saw that the suit of layman’s clothing he had worn to the exams was still there, only a bit worse for wear, so he took them out and put them on. He also put on his precious jade. He happened to notice something in his pocket, which, when he pulled it out, turned out to be the little mirror he had asked Zijuan 紫鵑 for so long ago; he looked into it, and considered his own appearance to be the same as ever. Thereupon he straightened up his clothes, left the thatched hut, and, with no idea where he was headed, went on his way.

    He hoped he would meet someone he could ask directions of. Who would have thought that, even though he walked on and on, he did not encounter a soul. He saw that the sun was setting in the west, and though he didn’t know how far he had walked, luckily his legs had not yet failed him. Looking back, he couldn’t see the slightest trace of Greensickness Peak and he did not know where he now was. As he wandered on, he suddenly looked up to see black clouds, spreading far and wide, and not a moment later rain began sprinkling down. A worried Baoyu stomped his foot and said, ‘This time I’m really done for! There are no dwellings in any direction. Where can I go to take shelter?’ With no idea what to do, all that was left to him was to pick up his heels and run. He ran ahead and, seeing a small forest, he hurriedly turned into it. He initially hoped that there might be people living in the woods, and he could take shelter with them. Once he had entered the woods, however, he found that although there were no houses, luckily there was a run-down temple. At this point it was as if Baoyu had received a great gift, and he promptly ran in. But the temple gate had collapsed, and it would be difficult to avoid the rain by standing under it, so he had to run up into the main hall.

     Now it was already twilight and the temple was surrounded by numerous trees of great height, throwing the hall into complete darkness. Baoyu was rushing in and just as he reached the porch he kicked something and tripped over it.
Just as he was about to get up, a person stood up at his feet with a whooshing sound and cursed, ‘What blind bastard just kicked his master!’ Baoyu was just about to apologize when he realized that the voice was quite familiar and unthinkingly fixed his gaze on him looking him over carefully. The person sized up Baoyu as well, then suddenly took a step closer and embraced him saying, ‘Oh! My dear little master, you have finally shown up! Please forgive your wretched servant!’ As it turns out, this person was none other than Baoyu’s personal servant Beiming 焙茗.

    ‘What are you doing here? What is this place?’ Baoyu replied happily.

    ‘Master, you’ve been gone for so long, so how is it you haven’t changed at all? And you came here yourself, so how can you not know where it is?’ Beiming said. While speaking, he took a look outside. In the half-light he caught sight of the collapsed temple gate, and blurted out in shock, ‘This is bad! I’ve slept myself silly—how did I come to a place like this? Second Master, what time is it now?’

    ‘You really are a silly little bugger! How could you sleep yourself into forgetting the time—it’s evening now, isn’t it?’ Baoyu remarked.

    ‘This is bad! Last night I went to bed early—how could I have slept the whole day through? This is clearly an abandoned temple, so there’s no one here. How can we get a fire going?’ Beiming thought a bit, and fortunately he still had his fire-starter bag with him. He fished it out, picked up the flint and started striking it wildly; it made lots of sparks, but the kindling would not light. He grew impatient and started groping around in all directions; when he had felt his way to the east side of the room he found a small door. He pushed it and entered, only to come across another courtyard and two small rooms; lamplight shone from the rooms. ‘There are people here,’ he enthusiastically declared. He strode right into the room finding an old Daoist monk squatting on the floor by a fire.

    The monk raised his head, and, shocked to see Beiming, let out an, ‘Ah!’ and hid in the corner, repeatedly calling for Buddha.

    ‘I’m a perfectly normal human being. Why are you calling on the Buddha?’ Beiming asked in astonishment.

    ‘Aren’t you the statue of the celestial youth that’s fallen over by the veranda?’ the Daoist monk asked.

    Beiming paid him no attention. Suddenly he smelled the aroma of porridge emanating from the pot; he was instantly famished and was eager to pick it up and eat it, but he immediately realized that Baoyu would also be hungry, so it would be best to invite him in and ask for a bowl from the Daoist monk; they would get through the night one way or another and then take stock. His mind made up, he went out and invited Baoyu to come back in with him.

    Just as they reached the door, someone suddenly brushed past them, rushed out and vanished like a puff of smoke. Baoyu was taken aback, and did not know what was going on. He followed Beiming into the room, and by the time Beiming had a chance to look around, the Daoist monk was gone. He went into the inner room to look, and nobody was there either. Now that there was light, Baoyu took a good look at Beiming, and said with a start, ‘How’d you get so filthy, you little bugger?’ 

    ‘Filthy?’ Beiming asked.

    Baoyu took out the little mirror and told him to have a look. Beiming looked and saw the accumulated dust and dirt on his face was over an inch thick; he felt astonished and amused at the same time. He hurriedly put down the mirror and looked around for a washbasin and towel; he also found a water jar, and not caring whether it was hot or cold, he scrubbed himself down. He was aware his body was covered in dust too, so he had to take off his clothes and shake them, all the while swearing, ‘What bastard did this to me!’ After he had shaken them out and put them back on, he found a bowl and chopsticks, washed them, filled the bowl with porridge, and served it to Baoyu.

    Baoyu ate one bowl then stopped. ‘Where does this porridge come from?’ he asked.

    ‘Master, don’t worry about it, just eat,’ Beiming said.

    Baoyu asked further, ‘What on earth is this place anyway?’  

    At this point, Beiming was starving, so while ladling up the porridge and eating he explained, ‘Ever since you disappeared the family was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Among the higher-ups, all the way from her ladyship on down, there was not one who wasn’t in tears. As for us servants, we were sent frantically searching everywhere. Later when the results of the examination were released, you, young master, placed seventh among the provincial candidates.’ Stopping here he suddenly said, ‘Oh yes, I haven’t congratulated you on that yet.’ So saying he set to kowtowing then got up and continued, ‘At the time there was so much trouble that even the emperor learned of it, so he put out a decree calling on every yamen to search for you, but still there was no news. Later on, once the Master, your father, returned, he said he had met you at Piling Post Station and that you had left home to become a monk. The Mistress, your mother, believed this at first, but later after giving it more thought she no longer did so; she said that when the Master met the monk they did not in fact speak face to face and it was probable that his eyes blurred and mistook him for Baoyu. So she called for another search. The capital was searched high and low, as well as the regions near the capital. She then dispatched people to different parts of the south; I was dispatched to Jinling. They thought that perhaps on a sudden whim you had returned to the southern mansion to stay for a while, and that’s why they had me come. When I entered the precincts of Jinling, it was already getting dark, and I was still more than ten li from the city. I was afraid I would not get to the city gate before it closed, so I went to what they called the Palace of the Jade Firmament to lodge for the night. That Palace of the Jade Firmament was resplendent in green and gold, and there were more than 100 Daoist monks in residence. They provided me accommodations in the side-wing. I don’t know how it could have been that I slept until now, and I don’t know how I came to sleep here. I am pretty confused.’ As he spoke, he finished his porridge.

    Baoyu was also dazed to the point of not being able to make head or tail of the situation and asked, ‘Whose porridge is this, how is it that no one is here?’

    ‘Master, just don’t ask. There’s a bed here, so go on in and make do and get some sleep, tomorrow we’ll go into the city and go to your own place,’ Beiming said. Baoyu did as he was told, and Beiming brought the lamp in.

    When Baoyu came into the inner room, he saw a table standing under the window, and several books spread out on it in disarray. He sat down by the table and picked up a book at random, intending to read it to relieve his boredom. He opened it to have a look, and it was Investiture of the Gods 封神榜; he put it down unread. He took up another book, and it turned out to be Tracks of the Immortals in the Green Fields 綠野仙蹤; neither of these books was worth reading. Then he saw several books wrapped in printed paper, which, he found were Buddhist scriptures when he took them out and examined them. He felt that the printed paper the books were wrapped in was extremely strange, so he spread it out to have a look. Horizontally arranged at the top of the page was the word ‘News’, and beside it a hole had been torn; it seemed as if there should be another word, but he did not know what it could be. Below, however, were some smaller words, and when he looked carefully he saw it was an essay. When he read to the end, on the back there were set out a lot of news items and notices of current affairs. He couldn’t help but feel puzzled.

    Holding the paper he read it back and forth, and over and over; there were some things he could understand and some he could not. He turned back to the front and abruptly caught sight of the first line, which read: ‘Such-and-such a day, such-and-such a month, the twenty-sixth year of Guangxu of the great Qing;(1) in the Western calendar, such-and-such a day, such-and-such a month, 1901, a Sunday’. He couldn’t help being utterly astonished. If you want to know what had startled him, listen to the explanation in the next chapter.


(1) The author is in error here: The twenty-sixth year of Guangxu actually corresponds to 1900.

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