Xinran: Five Books to Understand China
On the Five Books blog, author and journalist Xinran lists the five books she thinks everyone should read the understand Chinese culture. About the first book on the list, Dream of the Red Chamber:
Why is it so important to you?
Well, it is such a good guide to our culture. In the book more than 100 people, buildings, poems, paintings and dreams are described in great detail. So you really find out the lifestyles of the people living there. I have read this book again and again ever since my childhood.
For example, there is a part which sums up how important food is in Chinese society. Xueqin writes about an aubergine recipe, which is a famous dish in the book, where the mother describes to her daughter and grandchildren how you need to wash the aubergines in snow, soak them with spring dew, pickle them with flowers from summer to season them and the thorns from autumn. And these are known as four season aubergines. That is so beautiful. And why I think this book is so important is because it has helped Chinese culture to survive despite all the political upheavals and civil wars which have taken place since it was written.