Jiayao Wang

Date of Award

Fall 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Michael Hill

Second Advisor

Jie Guo


My dissertation examines the games derived from Cao Xueqin’s novel Dream of The Red Chamber during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1880s-1920s) through its various literary and textual representations. In brief, the games create a sense of otherworldliness for players to imagine their mode of being in a space that is set apart from the daily grinds of the historical transition. Dramatic and literary sources have been a constant motif or theme for traditional games in China. However, it was after the publication of Dream of Red Chamber that the characters, the themes and motifs of the novel became a prominent element for various kinds of games in their visual design and game rules. The games became both an object for play and the medium through which the elite readers’ remarks and taste were effected. In this way, the games became an alternative medium for the reproduction of literati culture itself. My analysis concentrates on the rules and play of the games. Some of the game texts stand on the boundary between games (for play) and texts (for reading): on the one hand, it provided an interactive and communicative space for leisurely entertainment in social gatherings; on the other hand, some of the game rules were not practical to serve as instruction for social play and was emblematic display of elite readers’ own readerly pleasure in inserting fiction comments in the absurd context of game rules. I argue that the preference of the elite readers brought to the composition of games an increasingly literary emphasis intended more for the reader than for the player.

The main body of this dissertation is divided into four chapters. Chapter two looks at a verbal game and traces the game rules to the banter and daily conversation in novel and the game texts in the encyclopedia books that were widely circulating in the market of the time. Chapter three looks at the connoisseurship object of seal carving and seal albums not only as a writing medium that carries and reproduces the content of the verbal game, but also as an “small item ” for play or amusement (yawn xiaopin 雅玩小品) for its own sake. Chapter four analyzes the rules of drinking game and the internal structures of divinatory practices in a larger social and cultural dimension. I explore the interrelationship between games and divination, and use of games as a writing technique of prophecies in the novel and in an imitation work of the novel. The last chapter traces the card games back to the interplay between personhood evaluation and appreciation (pinzao renwu 品藻人物) and the printed ephemerals of playing cards since the Ming.