Summary and Analysis
Volume III: Chapters 101-110
On her way to the Garden to see Tan-chun, Wang Hsi-feng , to her great horror, sees the ghost of Chin Ko-ching. As a result, Hsi-feng goes to the temple to pray to the Flower-Scattering Saint to ward off evil. She draws a divination lot predicting her future, and the Abbess interprets the oracle as a good omen: Wang Hsi-feng will "return home in splendor." Pao-chai, however explains to Pao-yu that the oracle could mean something else.
Although Wang Tzum-teng died while traveling, the deficit he left during his term of office must be paid by his brother Wang Tzu-sheng and by his nephew Wang Jen. In spite of the debt, however, Wang Jen is planning operas and feasts for an early celebration of his uncle's birthday in order to receive the money which is customarily given as a gift. Hateful as Wang Jen is, Chin Lien has to help him financially; otherwise, disgrace would reflect on them all.
In Chapter 102, Madame Yu bids farewell to Tan-chum on the day of her journey and goes back through the Garden at night. She is filled with apprehension because of its utter desolation, and when she arrives home, she falls ill. The prognosis is that a hostile ghost is the cause of the illness. It is the prediction of the diviner that Chin Chen will soon fall ill also. (The prediction will prove to be true.) The family members discuss the strange phenomena which have been occurring recently: Hsi-feng 's illness after going through the Garden, Ching-wen's becoming the Spirit of Hibiscus in the Garden, music sounding from above after Tai-yu's death, the latter indicating that Tni-yu must also be in charge of some flowers in the Garden. All of them are terrified by what seems to be "monsters" haunting the Garden. Chia Sheh calls in some Tanists to exorcise the spirits haunting the Garden, and all the people turn out to watch the priests catch the monsters. The healthy recovery of Chin Chen and the other invalids is attributed to the Taoists' magic.
In the last forty chapters, there are many descriptions of ghosts and angels, and the author depicts them realistically and imaginatively. But since so many of the misfortunes and deaths seem to be caused by the appearances of these ghosts, this handling reduces the significance and value of the novel's indictment of feudal society. However, to be fair, we should state that Tsao Hsueh-chin also included brief descriptions of ghosts, but they were illusionary ones and clearly served the purpose of indicating the unfortunate fate of the four aristocratic families and the destined end of the feudal system.
Chin Lien reports that Chin Cheng has been impeached by the governor and demoted three ranks. Accordingly, he will return to the capital to serve as assistant minister of the Ministry of Works. Kao Ngo describes the impeachment concisely, but even so, the exposure of the governor's leniency concerning his heavy taxation and cruel exploitation of the people is forceful. It illustrates the fact that officials help one another out of difficulties, and the venality of officialdom is laid bare before us once again.
In Chapter 103, Chin-kuei suddenly dies an unnatural death, and after a thorough investigation, significant facts are uncovered. In order to rid herself of Hsiang-ling, Chin-kuei plotted to poison her with arsenic, but, by mistake, Chin-kuei killed herself. Chin-kuei's mother and brother charge Hsiang-ling with the murder, but Pao-chan reveals the truth, making the cause of the death clear to everyone. Here, Kao Ngo succeeds beautifully in his portrayal of Chin-kuei, a shrew from a royal merchant family. Her intentions are obvious, and her death reveals the rotting dissension among the feudal family members. Chin Yu-tsun has been promoted to be the prefect of the capital in charge of taxation. On a tour of inspection, he passes by a small temple in a village and meets a Taoist whom he believes to be Chen Shih-yin. When Yu-tsun addresses him as his benefactor, the Taoist replies, "Why talk about chen [true] and chia [false]? They are the same." This is a sarcastic reference to the fact that truth and falsity are interchangeable in the feudal world.
Chapter 104 opens, and as Chin Yu-tsun leaves, the temple catches fire, but instead of going back to see if the priest is all right, he continues on his journey, asking one of his runners to investigate the whereabouts of the Taoist. Later, he learns that the Taoist mysteriously disappeared.
As Chia Yu-tsun reenters the capital, Ni Erh, the Drunken Diamond, refuses to get out of the way of the group and brags that not even high officials can interfere with his behavior. Yu-tsun orders him to be arrested and beaten.
Upon his return to the capital, Chia Cheng is summoned to see the Emperor and learn what has been decided regarding Chia Cheng's fate. When he emerges from the interview, Chin Cheng is dismayed and sweating because he has been thoroughly frightened by the Emperor's mentioning two instances of crimes committed by Chin Hua and Chin Fan, remote relatives of the Chia family. The Emperor is angry about Chin Fan's abduction of a good citizen's wife, an incident which illustrates the fact that the bad reputation of other branches of the Chin family influences the Chin family's prestige as a whole.
In Chapter 105, while Chin Cheng is entertaining his guests, Chao Chuan (of the Imperial Guards) and the Prince of Hsiping enter uninvited with the Emperor's decree, according to which Chin Sheh's property must be searched because he has allegedly been in league with provincial officials and has abused his power to molest the weak. Furthermore, the Emperor has ordered that Chin Sheh's hereditary rank is to be abolished, and, accordingly, Chin Sheh is to be arrested and must stand trial.
In the meantime, the commissioner's attendants and runners search both mansions and, in Chin Lien's house, they find some clothes from the palace and some title-deeds and promissory notes, contracted at illegally exorbitant rates of interest. The Prince of Peiching arrives to proclaim a second decree, asking Chin Cheng to hand over Chin Sheh's property.
At this, all the ladies' emotions are plunged into chaos and fear — the old lady crying from terror, unable to utter a word; Lady Wang and Lady Hsing terrified out of their wits; Hsi-feng crying out in alarm, then lying down on the ground as if dead; and Pao-yu and Pao-chai looking on, helpless.
Chin Cheng and Chin Lien are trying to calm them all when Chiao Ta arrives, announcing the arrest of Chin Chen and Jung and complaining about his dissatisfaction with his masters' neglecting his warnings and their treatment of him as a sworn enemy.
Next, Hsueh Ku brings more bad news concerning the Ning Mansion: Chin Chen is accused by two censors of corrupting young nobles and abducting an honest citizen's wife.
This is a particularly well-written chapter. Kao Ngo again follows Tsao Hsueh-chin's creative intent, vividly describing the heavy blows descending one by one on the Chin family — particularly the ransacking of the mansions, which is indicative of the lack of unity among the feudal rulers and the decline of the feudal class as a whole. However, we are not meant to be too sympathetic: the wickedness, debauchery, and unethical behavior of the Chin family rulers over the years have aroused the people. In turn, the people have risen and revealed their hatred for the Chin family, exposing their crimes, and, to some degree here, those crimes are punished and evil is denounced.
In Chapter 106, a messenger from the Emperor arrives to announce his decision concerning Chin Cheng and Chin Lien: Chin Cheng is to retain his post in the Ministry of Works, and only his share of the family property is to be confiscated, a foreshadowing of the later revival of the Chin family's prosperity. In addition, all of the promissory notes contracted at usurious, illegal rates of interest are to be confiscated. Chin Lien is dismissed from his post, but will be released without further punishment.
On a personal level, Chin Cheng is especially troubled by the disclosure of Hsi-feng 's misdeeds, while she is conscience-stricken, blaming her own greediness as the cause of all this calamity.
Chin Cheng's soliloquy emphasizes his concern for the deficits in the family's accounts and the family members' extravagance in making a show of affluence all these years while, in reality, their expenditures far exceeded their income. Lady Dowager, born a Shih, prays to heaven for mercy. Her sobbing and praying make everyone weep, but that brings no solution to the terrible family calamity.
In Chapter 107, according to the Emperor's edict, Chin Sheh and Chin Chen are to be sent to the frontier to expiate their crimes, and Chin Chen's hereditary title is to be revoked. Chin Cheng's property is restored, and the Emperor bestows once again the Chin family's hereditary title, Duke of Jungkuo, on Chin Cheng.
All the family members are relieved, and their relatives come to offer their congratulations. Lady Dowager shares her personal savings and belongings to clear all the debts, as well as to pay for Chin Chen's journey to the coast and Chin Sheh's journey to the frontier.
Since the family's income continues to fall short of its expenditures, the stewards and some wealthy servants try to find excuses to leave the Chia family, but not Pao Jung, who hears a conversation between two fellows outside about the reason why the mansions were raided. It seems that Prefect Chin Yu-tsun was responsible for the raid, which he encouraged so that he would not be accused of shielding the Jung and Ning Mansions. Chin Yutsun is furious when he hears this and kicks them in front of the Emperor — a shameful act. As always, he is hunting for fame and fortune, ungrateful to those who have helped him, always playing up to those in power. Here, though, his wickedness is exposed in just a few words and a single act.
From this chapter on, Kno Ngo deals with the revival of the Chin family, beginning with the restoration of Chin Cheng's position and title, and thus he further distorts Tsao Hsueh-chin's original creative intent. Chapter 108 finds Shih Hsiang-yun visiting the Chin family after her marriage. At Lady Dowager's suggestion, a party will be held to celebrate Pao-chai's birthday. Yuan-yang is asked to preside over the drinking game. Hsi-feng tries her best to please the old lady, but she is less witty and amusing than she once was.
Pao-yu is lost in thought when Yuan-yang's dice-pot is set before him, and he throws "The Twelve Girls with Golden Hairpins." This reminds him of his dream of the twelve girls from Chinling. When he thinks of Tai-yu, tears well up in his eyes, and he slips away to the Garden, accompanied by Hsi-jen. As he walks towards Bamboo Lodge, he hears sobbing inside. Pao-yu's visit to the Garden terrifies everyone, and the old lady orders several maids to fetch him, fearing that his visit will bring on another fit of derangement.
In Chapter 109, Pao-yu asks Pao-chai's permission to sleep outside; ostensibly, he wants a change and a chance for better sleep, but actually he wants to dream, without being disturbed, of Tai-yu. Pao-chai agrees and sends His-jen to accompany him for the first night; Sheh-yueh and Wu-erh will accompany him during the second night. Because Wu-erh resembles Ching-wen, Pao-yu wants to make love to her; however, they are disturbed by a sound outside and by Pao-chai's coughing inside, so Wu-erh tiptoes back to her bed.
Ying-chun's husband, Mr. Sun, sends some servants to ask her to return from Pao-Chai's birthday celebration immediately, and Ying-chun has to hurry back. Soon she is reported to have died — after only a little over a year of marriage. Her tragic end is part of Tsao Hsueh-chin's master plan to describe the fates of four "chun" (Yuan-chun, Ying-chun, Tan-chun, and Hsi-chun). If you were reading this book in Chinese, you would give a sigh if you read the four "chun" together in order — that is, Yuan, Ying, Tan, and Hsi.
Lady Dowager falls ill, and doctors are called in. Varying diagnoses are made — one for chills and indigestion, another for an illness caused by chills and vexation. None of the medicines prove effective, and eventually she develops diarrhea. Soon she is near death.
In Chapter 110, Lady Dowager breathes her last, and the Ministry of Rites is ordered to take charge of the sacrifice. Hsi-feng is asked to take charge of the old lady's funeral, which is another opportunity for her to show off her powerful administrative ability. She sees the task as a familiar one, since she gained experience in dealing with Chin Ko-ching's funeral.
To her great surprise and dissatisfaction, Lady Hsing and Lady Wang do not support her. With very little cash in hand, Hsi-feng must pay for the funeral expenses and attend to all of the preparations by herself, since the servants are not as obedient as they once were. Thus, the guests are neglected, and Hsi-feng is criticized behind her back. Because she now lacks sufficient power to order people around, the heavy, tiring work is too much for her, and suddenly she vomits mouthfuls of blood.
The two funerals which Hsi-feng manages sharply contrast in that they reflect two periods of the Chin family — the first, one of prosperity; the second, one of tragic decline.