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Burying Fallen Blossoms: Honglou meng Across Media

Wed, June 24, 9:00 to 10:55am, South Building, Floor: 7th Floor, S702


One of the most memorable scenes in Honglou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber, or The Story of the Stone) is the heroine Daiyu burying fallen blossoms. This scene has been transformed repeatedly into iconic pictures, recognized and celebrated not only by ardent readers but also by people who have had little chance to read the novel. This paper flips these pictures and asks where they come from, beyond their textual source in the book chapters. Examining an array of visual representations of Daiyu, ranging from late eighteenth-century illustrations to twenty-first-century Honglou meng merchandise, and contextualizing these images within various textual, visual, and performative conventions, I argue that the iconic “Daiyu burying fallen blossoms” pictures evolved from pictorial renderings of “Daiyu coaching the parrot,” and the fallen blossoms motif became the prevailing symbol of the heroine mostly after it was subjected to early twentieth-century celebrity culture, promoted by theater and photography. The iconof burying fallen blossoms has migrated through fiction, commentary, poetry, drama, fine art, print, stage, film, photography, advertisements, and consumer goods, in and out of, and finally farther and farther away from, the original text. This journey of the iconic scene shows not only how an abstract idea in a novel transformed into a symbol of mass culture, but also how various media interact with literature and shape the Honglou meng that we know today, in scholarship, in the popular imagination, and everywhere in between.