Summary and Analysis
Volume II: Chapters 62-70
Chapter 62 finds everybody in the Garden busy with birthday preparations for Pao-yu's birthday. By coincidence, Pao-yu shares his birthday with Pao-chin, Ping-erh, and Hsiu-yen. This coincidence makes everybody extremely happy, so, in addition to sending each other gifts, they decide to collect money for a really sumptuous feast, outside in the Garden so that they can all drink and have fun — to their hearts' content!
Accordingly, all of the girls and the maids, including Pao-yu too, take part in the celebration. They have a very good time together, playing games, drinking wine as a forfeit, and making fun of each other.
From this celebration, we can see that the young master and the young ladies seem to be on comparatively equal terms with the maids in the Garden during the absence of the Chia authorities, but their happiness is brief. The young ladies, especially, live a kind of precarious, parasitic life, since their destinies lie in the hands of the family authorities. (Later we will see that the fate of the maids and actresses is indeed bitter and miserable.) However, for today, they are all free to enjoy the happy, carefree gaiety of the Garden. Here, the notions of equality and happiness pervade the atmosphere. The young master and the young ladies are all equal today — because the Chia authorities are away. Never again will there be so much happiness in the Garden. In fact, this chapter will soon serve as a dramatic contrast to the cruel search of the houses in later chapters.
The first part of Chapter 63 focuses on the girls in the Garden, feasting and celebrating Pao-yu's birthday. They drink wine, play games, and sing songs — throwing all caution to the wind. Some of them even get drunk. The girls are all very excited about the celebration, and even Miao-yu (a nun) sends a celebration card to show her respect for Pao-yu.
Miao-yu is an unconventional person. She has practiced asceticism for ten years and is a bit eccentric; she looks down on common people. She became a nun because she offended certain powerful people and was forced to come to Iron Threshold Temple for protection. Pao-yu is overjoyed when he receives her card; immediately, he sends a message to her to show his gratitude.
The second part of the chapter deals with the death of the Old Master, Chia Cling, and Madame Yu's managing the funeral preparations single-handedly. She asks for the Emperor's permission to fetch Chia Chen, Chia Jung, and old Mrs. Yu and her two daughters (Second Sister Yu and Third Sister Yu) to come and help her. Giving up the noble title of Palace Graduate, Chia Ching long ago retired to live quietly in the Mysterious Truth Temple, outside the city. He took elixirs every day, hoping to enjoy longevity and become an immortal.
Here is evidence that certain aristocratic landlords want to maintain their rule forever so that they can remain rulers for generations to come. The author describes the death of Chia Cling with irony and humor, revealing his (the author's) contempt for the ruling class, which tries to achieve eternal life by practicing absurd Taoist breathing exercises and taking elixirs so as to maintain the feudal rule forever. We see here the spiritual emptiness and the extreme decadence of all the feudal families. The author does not use many words to depict the Old Master, yet the old one's case is typical of the feudal society in those days.
The first part of Chapter 64 finds Pao-yu going to visit Tai-yu; Pao-chai also arrives for a call, and they read Tai-yu's five poems about five beautiful women from ancient times. These poems reveal Tai-yu's feelings about talented, beautiful women in olden days, some of whom lived enviable lives and some of whose lives were tragic. Pao-chai makes use of this opportunity to preach hard-core feudal ideology — that is, a lack of talent in a woman is a virtue, and versifying accomplishments are secondary for a woman.
The second part of the chapter concerns a wholly different matter. When Chia Ching's coffin is taken to Iron Threshold Temple, all of the family members must escort the coffin, leaving Mrs. Yu and her two daughters in charge of the household.
Chia Lien (Hsi-feng 's husband) seizes on this opportunity to run an errand for Chia Chen in order to meet the beautiful Second Sister Yu. Chia Jung sees through Chia Lien's scheme to eventually marry Second Sister Yu, and he offers his help in getting permission first from Mrs. Yu and then from Chia Chen. Before choosing an auspicious day for the wedding, they succeed in canceling the engagement between Second Sister Yu and Chang Hua.
Here we can see how amorous, dissipated, and unashamed these feudal aristocrats are. To satisfy their lustful, dissolute purposes, Chia Lien, Chia Jung, and Chia Chen all work hand-in-glove with each other. Regardless of Chia Cling's funeral arrangements, they conspire to have an unlawful marriage arranged. The author is more convincing than ever with these self-evident facts about the feudal class's decline. There is no hope and no way out for the feudal society. The author is very clear about this inevitable historical trend.
After making all of the proper preparations, Chia Lien marries Second Sister Yu and puts the bride, Mrs. Yu, and Third Sister Yu in a new house located "outside," leaving his other wife, Hsi-feng , ignorant (for the moment) of his devious disloyalty.
Two months pass, and one day Chia Chen comes to visit the "new house," hoping especially to see Third Sister. She appears, and Mrs. Yu no sooner leaves them alone until they are nestling together outrageously. Chia Lien arrives, and warmly embraces Second Sister; then they go to the west courtyard. Chia Chen offers Third Sister some wine, and suddenly she flares up and leaps onto the kang, loudly abusing Chia Chen and Chia Lien for treating her and Second Sister like prostitutes. Chia Chen and Chia Lien are speechless. (In northern China, a kang serves both as a bed with firewood burned beneath to keep people warm and also as a place for meals.)
Third Sister is clearly superior to other women in looks, conversation, and behavior, but she is still considered somewhat wanton because of her behavior in years past. Now, however, she has reformed and made a vow of chastity until her beloved Liu Hsiang-lien returns.
Later, conversing with Chia Lien's servant Hsing-erh, Second Sister learns a good deal about the Chia family and about Hsi-feng , in particular. She hears that Hsi-feng is a two-faced hypocrite, but Second Sister has no idea just how dangerous Hsi-feng is until later — when she is driven to commit suicide because of Hsi-feng 's cunning manipulations.
In Chapter 66, Chia Lien is sent away on a long trip to attend to some confidential business, and he promises Third Sister to try his best to find out the whereabouts of Liu Hsiang-lien. On the way, by chance, Chia Lien, happens to meet Hsueh Pan and Liu Hsiang-lien (who saved Hsueh Pan's life when he was robbed by brigands); now, the two men (who were once enemies) are sworn blood brothers.
After Chia Lien tells Liu about Third Sister's matchless beauty and her pledge of devotion to Liu, Liu gives his swords (a "duck" and a "drake") to Chia Lien as pledges to marry the matchlessly beautiful Third Sister.
Later, however, when he considers all of the ramifications of Third Sister's relationship with the Chia family, he regrets having promised to marry her. In his opinion, the only "clean things" in the Chia family are the two stone lions at the gate. Therefore, he begs Chia Lien to return the swords. Third Sister overhears Liu's request and cuts her throat with the "duck" sword. Liu is stunned; he is so instantly impressed with the young girl's obvious chastity that he is torn with remorse. Vowing to become a monk, he disappears with a lame Taoist priest.
In this chapter, we see that Third Sister Yu is a girl who has lived a rebelliously decadent and debauched life among the feudal aristocrats, but regardless of their power and authority, she dares to verbally abuse her animal-like masters. She is a spokesperson for the oppressed people. She defies the lustful desires of the feudal landlords and does her best with courage and cleverness to defend her character and her newfound chastity. In this way, she is fighting for her individual freedom in marriage. Her bold behavior is in sharp contrast with the docile nature of Second Sister and the submissive girls in the Garden. Clearly, Third Sister could have lived a happily married life — were it not for the fact that Liu rashly jumped to the wrong conclusions about her relationship with the Chia family. Therefore, Third Sister's committing suicide and Liu's becoming a monk are indictments of the numerous crimes committed by feudal lords (like the Chias) and by feudalism itself.
In Chapter 67, Hsueh Pan returns from his trip with two enormous cases of gifts for his mother and sister. Pao-chai is a considerate person; she keeps a few gifts for herself and then gives the rest to the many members of her family. Tai-yu, however, receives twice as many presents as anyone else. Ironically, everyone is joyous and grateful — except Tai-yu, who is grief-stricken because the gifts come from the south, reminding her of her deceased parents and her old hometown. Pao-yu tries to comfort her when he sees her in tears.
Meanwhile, Hsi-feng learns that her husband, Chia Lien, has married a "second wife." She summons Hsing-erh and questions him closely about the details of the arrangement. Out of fear and hoping to escape a severe beating, Hsing-erh tells her everything, and Hsi-feng 's anger and jealousy is without parallel. She is furious, and quickly she conceives a cunning plan "to kill several birds with one stone."
Again, we realize that Wang Hsi-feng is the best conceived and the liveliest-drawn character in the novel. Her wit, cunning, and treachery (and her cruelty, as well) are vividly realized here — particularly in the scene where she interrogates Hsing-erh. In the author's careful depiction of Hsi-feng , he proves himself once more to be a skilled master of character portrayal.
In Chapter 68, Hsi-feng sets her devious scheme in motion. First, she orders workmen to have three rooms decorated identically to her own. Then she goes to visit Second Sister Yu in her new house and invites her to come live with the Chia family; she promises to treat Second Sister as an equal. Hsi-feng 's fraudulently sweet tongue and her high-sounding phrases convince the credulous and inexperienced Second Sister to move into the newly decorated rooms of the Chia family's mansion during Chia Lien's absence.
Meanwhile, Hsi-feng orders a man-servant to convince Clang Hua (Second Sister's formerly betrothed suitor) to bring legal action against Chia Lien for being secretly married to Second Sister during a period of state and family mourning. Then Hsi-feng goes to see Chia Jung and Madame Yu and abuses them with foul language. When Hsi-feng requests to see Chia Chen, Madame Yu and Chia Jung promise to pay five hundred taels. Madame Yu and Chia Jung repeatedly beg to be kept out of the lawsuit, so Hsi-feng pretends to agree and assures them that once the official mourning period is over, Second Sister Yu can live with Chia Lien in the new quarters.
Then Hsi-feng tells Second Sister what has happened and "promises" to keep her out of the dilemma. At this point, Hsi-feng has them all frightened with possible legal humiliation. Her treacherous scheme of convincing Chang Hun to bring charges against Chia Lien offers us full proof of her two-faced character as she unravels her wicked revenge on the naive and unsuspecting Second Sister. Furthermore, Hsi-feng makes use of the Chia family's corrupt influence with the court and the judge in order to fully satisfy her selfish motives. Here is evidence that the court, once bribed, willingly serves as an instrument of the powerful Chia family. The darkness and decadence of feudal politics and officials are convincingly laid bare here.
In Chapter 69, Hsi-feng brings Second Sister Yu and Madame Yu to pay their respects to Lady Dowager and Lady Wang. Both of the high-born ladies consider Hsi-feng extremely generous for allowing Chia Lien to marry a second wife. Behind the scenes, however, Hsi-feng is now urging Chang Hua to claim his former fiancée, Second Sister Yu, for his bride. But, bribed by Chin Chen and Chia Jung, Chang Hua and his father leave the city. When Hsi-feng learns of this, she orders a servant to have Chang Hua killed so that he will not return and cause trouble for her. Her servant, however, reluctant to commit murder, lies to Hsi-feng and tells her that both father and son were killed during a highway robbery.
Upon Chin Lien's return, old Chia Sheh rewards him with a hundred taels and gives him his maid Chiutung as a concubine. Hsi-feng is furious: Now she has another rival. However, she is not easily bested, and she quickly makes use of Chiu-tung's naiveté and sense of superiority, urging her to find continual fault with Second Sister. Before long, Second Sister Yu falls ill and miscarries a son — all because of Chiu-tung's maltreatment. Finally, Second Sister Yu is so distraught and unhappy that she commits suicide by swallowing a piece of gold. Her tragic ending is narrated in a sympathetic tone, revealing the author's indictment of the cold and immoral crimes of these feudal rulers.
As Chapter 70 opens, Chin Lien is busy with the funeral ceremonies of Second Sister Yu, who is to be buried near the grave of Third Sister Yu.
Meanwhile, Pao-yu is reflecting upon a long series of misfortunes: the loss of his friend Liu Hsiang-lien, the suicides of Second Sister and Third Sister, and Liu Wu-erh's illness. He feels terribly dejected, and he often acts like a madman. His mood lightens, though, when Hsiang-yun suggests to him that all the members of the poetry club should again try their hands at poetry. Soon, they are all enjoying reading their poems to one another, but suddenly they hear the sound of a big butterfly kite crashing into the wild bamboo, and immediately, they are all eager to fly kites and thereby dispel evil influences and bad luck.
This get-together is a little different from previous ones. The four families' financial descent is compared to faded flowers and withered willows. The previous meetings for poetry writing served as a kind of reflection of the Chin family's prosperity. This time, however, the gathering is symbolically pictured as a kind of decay, a gradual decline of all four families. The young people's kites are all released finally, drifting away until they vanish from sight. This seems to be a symbolic omen for all the beauties in Grand View Garden, because later on, they all will be dispersed, leaving behind them a scene of desolation.