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Longstanding Philological Mystery Solved by NTHU Researcher Huang Yi-long
The Qing dynasty writer Cao Xueqin is best known as the author of the celebrated novel Dream of the Red ChamberDream of the Red Chamber, but he is also reputed to have written or illustrated several other works. Huang Yi-long, distinguished chair professor of NTHU’s Institute of History, has been researching this topic for some time. Employing a hybrid methodology combining traditional philology and big data, Huang has determined the real-life identities of three of the characters in Dream of the Red ChamberDream of the Red Chamber, and has also verified that Cao was indeed the author-illustrator of a manuscript on craftwork in eight volumes titled the “FeiyizhaiFeiyizhai Collection Collection.” 《廢藝齋集稿》
 
Huang, also an Academician of Academia Sinica, said that solving this controversy which had been going on for nearly half a century also enhances our understanding of Cao, who turns out to have been not just a romantic novelist, but also a down-to-earth craftsman with extensive knowledge of a wide range of craftwork and practical skills, including kite making, horticulture, and cooking. Cao was also a humanitarian, for this little-known work of his was actually written as an instruction manual for teaching disabled people practical skills that they could use to make a living.
 
Huang’s groundbreaking findings have attracted considerable attention, and his article “Authenticating Authenticating CaoCao Xueqin’s Authorship of the ‘Feiyizhai Collection Xueqin’s Authorship of the ‘Feiyizhai Collection’” has recently been featured in the journal Chinese CultureChinese Culture published by the Chinese National Academy of Arts in Beijing.
 
A half-century controversy
 
Huang explains that the “Feiyizhai CollectionFeiyizhai Collection” consists of eight fascicles, each covering a different craft: carving woodblocks for printing; making kites; weaving; molding; darning; textile printing and dyeing; horticulture; and cooking. The volume titled “Southern HawkSouthern Hawk,, Northern Eagle Northern Eagle: A: A Survey on Kite Fabrication Survey on Kite Fabrication” gives detailed instructions on how to build a wide variety of kites, along with diagrams, color illustrations, and mnemonic verses. The illustrations are reminiscent of a passage in chapter 70 of Dream of the Red ChamberDream of the Red Chamber, in which Jia Baoyu flies a kite.
 
This craft book first came to light in 1943 in Japanese-occupied Beijing. At that time Kong Xiangze was a young art student. His teacher, a Japanese kite enthusiast, heard about a Japanese antique dealer in Beijing with a set of eight manuscripts which included a volume devoted to Chinese kites, and he sent Kong to make a copy of the manuscript.
 
The owner refused to allow Kong to photograph the manuscript collection, but did allow him to borrow it for one month to make a hand-written copy, with one condition: every day Kong had to prepare for the owner one of the dishes described in the last volume of the collection. Having readily agreed, Kong set about copying the text and using tracing paper to duplicate the diagrams and illustrations, beginning with the volume on kites. However, after only 26 days, when the copy was still incomplete, the owner suddenly took back the manuscript and sent it to Japan, and its present whereabouts remain unknown.
 
In 1973 Wu Enyu published an article purporting that the inscription at the end of the preface of the “Feiyizhai CollectionFeiyizhai Collection” identifies Cao as its author, thereby setting off a heated controversy amongst redologists (scholars specializing in the Dream of the Red ChamberDream of the Red Chamber).
 
Three mysterious characters
 
At the beginning of 2019 Huang went to Beijing to visit the centenarian Kong, and it was through their discussions that Huang came up with “e-critique,” a hybrid philological methodology combining big data and traditional philology.
 
Huang said that in the volume on kites there is an essay titled “Pinghu Maozhai JPinghu Maozhai Jishengisheng.” Written by Cao’s friend Dunmin, the essay describes a banquet Dunmin held at Taiping Lake at the southwest corner of Beijing’s inner city during the 23rd year of the Qianlong Emperor, during which the host invited the famous painter-calligrapher Dong Bangda and several friends to admire some paintings and appreciate the exquisite kites made by Cao Xueqin. Huang asserts that several of these guests were actually characters who appear in Dream of the Red ChamberDream of the Red Chamber, and that verifying that these characters were real people known to Cao would prove that Cao was the author of the “Feiyizhai CollectionFeiyizhai Collection.”
 
The first person amongst the guests to be identified by Huang was one whose name was partly illegible in the manuscript, and who was previously believed by some to be Dunmin's maternal uncle. Huang, however, suspected that he was in fact the prince's maternal uncle in DreamDream, and by applying his e-criticism methodology he was able to identify a real person who was identical in terms of age, class, and position in the family, and who had been given a mansion—one of Qianlong’s maternal uncles, one of whose descendants is known to have married the son of Cao’s cousin.
 
The second mysterious character at the banquet was Guo Sanye, whose courtesy name was Zihe. The PinghuPinghu essay states that Dunmin went to the Tongzhou district of Beijing to receive a certain Guo Zihe, who had arrived via the Grand Canal. This mode of transportation led Huang to surmise that Guo may have come from the south, and that since Dunmin went personally to receive him, he must have had a high social status, perhaps as a scholar. Based on these considerations, Huang made a search for scholars of the period surnamed Guo who lived near the route followed by the Grand Canal as it passed through the provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang, Jiangxi. As a result, he came up with a scholar named Guo Bingjun. The third mysterious character at the banquet who also appears in DreamDream was Hui Min. Although a member of royal clan, he is described as lame, orphaned, and widowed, and therefore Dunmin hoped that Cao would teach him how to make kites. Huang was able to show that Hui Min was actually Dunmin’s cousin.
 
Philological detective work
 
Employing the same methodology, Huang has also been able to solve a number of other related mysteries, including Cao’s authorship of the “Painting AlbuPainting Album of Cao Zhan the Celery Farmerm of Cao Zhan the Celery Farmer.”
 
Huang’s research has resulted in the digitization of a huge amount of historical records—more than ten billion characters to date—but the traditional approach to philology and textual criticism is still indispensable. As Huang puts it, “A good scholar must know how to ask a good question and how to effectively find the answer. It’s not a matter of simply entering some keywords and making a blind search.”
 
After graduating from the Department of Physics at NTHU, Huang obtained a Ph.D. in astronomy from Columbia University in New York. After working several years as a radio astronomer, he began conducting research in the history of science and technology, and now specializes in redology.
 
In carrying out his philological detective work Huang relies on a solid knowledge of literature and history, rich associative thinking, and big data to solve knotty textual issues. In fact, recognizing his extraordinary detective skills, some of the largest private investigation agencies in Taiwan have sought to hire both Huang and his students.
 
Huang recently went to Beijing to congratulate Kong Xiangze on his 100th birthday. During his visit he presented Kong with a copy of his latest research report and said that he hopes that before long it will be possible to have the entire “Feiyizhai CollectionFeiyizhai Collection” published.
 

Prof. Huang Yi-long of NTHU’s Institute of History has recently verified that Cao Xueqin was the author-illustrator of the “Feiyizhai Collection,”

Prof. Huang Yi-long of NTHU’s Institute of History has recently verified that Cao Xueqin was the author-illustrator of the “Feiyizhai Collection,”

Huang (left) with centenarian Kong Xiangze, who copied the “Feiyizhai Collection” back in the early 1940s.

Huang (left) with centenarian Kong Xiangze, who copied the “Feiyizhai Collection” back in the early 1940s.

 Huang has shown that one of the people mentioned in the “Feiyizhai Collection” is actually one of Qianlong’s maternal uncles, a portrait of whom can still be seen at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

Huang has shown that one of the people mentioned in the “Feiyizhai Collection” is actually one of Qianlong’s maternal uncles, a portrait of whom can still be seen at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

 
The volume in the “Feiyizhai Collection” titled “Southern Hawk, Northern Eagle: A Survey on Kite Fabrication” gives detailed instructions on how to build a wide variety of kites, along with diagrams, color illustrations, and mnemonic verses, and has been made the basis of several recent publications.

The volume in the “Feiyizhai Collection” titled “Southern Hawk, Northern Eagle: A Survey on Kite Fabrication” gives detailed instructions on how to build a wide variety of kites, along with diagrams, color illustrations, and mnemonic verses, and has been made the basis of several recent publications.


Cao’s kite named “lean swallow” features bats—a traditional symbol of good fortune—on the wings and tails.

Cao’s kite named “lean swallow” features bats—a traditional symbol of good fortune—on the wings and tails.


Cao’s kite named “plump swallow” features lions on the wings and tails.

Cao’s kite named “plump swallow” features lions on the wings and tails.

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