Honglou meng is perhaps one of the earliest novels about adolescence. It is certainly one of the most detailed. And, as an iconic work in Chinese literary history, it transports the idea of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood to the centre of Chinese cultural life. Until recently, however, scholars and readers have not recognized the main characters in Honglou meng as adolescents. As in the pre-modern West, Cao Xueqin is vague about the lifespan developmental psychology that underpins modern ideas of childhood. He does not describe Baoyu's life in terms of his age. Rather, he locates Baoyu's boyhood and adolescence in different social spaces with different daily rituals and expectations as he grows towards adulthood, marriage, and fatherhood. The social spaces of elite Chinese boyhood and adolescence in Honglou meng are culturally specific. We argue in the final section that Baoyu's adolescence is defined by the different social spaces he inhabits. These spaces revolve around relationships, especially family relationships. They are highly regulated, with boundaries that forestall and contain childhood explorations through regimes of discipline, play, and education. The precise delineation of the architectural space in Honglou meng suggests that pre-modern Chinese views on childhood, adolescence, and adulthood are spatially, rather than temporally, constructed.
|35 - 66
|Published - 2005