The Problem of Being in a Dream of Red Mansions

Victor Hugo claimed: Men live, and things exist. That is to say, human existence is not, and should not be, akin to the existence of things which are merely here or there. Instead, human beings actively live, and should live actively. Yet, what does it mean that human beings live? Martin Heidegger insisted that human beings do not just occur in the world along other kinds of beings; instead, in their very existence, their existence become an issue and concern for them; human beings are self-conscious beings. Heidegger dubbed the human being as “Dasein”, which means being there. He saw the human being to be an agent whose agency structure includes self-consciousness. Jean-Paul Sartre argued that human beings must not exist in the mode of being-in-itself, but should be in the mode of being-for-itself; in life, we must not practice bad faith. For Sartre, the human being is a being of no-thingness. These thinkers all hold that human existence must not be a thing-like existence. Living, what a burden for humanity! Human living must not be thing-like existence, what a requirement! Cao Xueqin’s A Dream of Red Mansions is, to rephrase the Chinese scholar Zhou Ruhang (周汝昌), a work of philosophy of humankind’s living. That is to say, it is a philosophical work of the Being of human existence. The word “Being” with a capital letter here is distinguished from the word “being” in low case. The former refers to what makes an existence meaningful and real, while the latter means existence. Thus, to claim that A Dream of Red Mansions is a work of the Being of human living is to claim that it is of that which makes human living meaningful and intelligible. Wang Guowei (王国维) also claimed A Dream of Red Mansions to be a work of metaphysics. By metaphysics, Wang meant the philosophical discipline that is of the Being of humanity and human existence. That is to say, A Dream of Red Mansions is a work of metaphysics of the Being of humankind. Qu Qixiang (吕启祥) indicates that because A Dream of Red Mansions explores “the human soul, human experience, the meaning of human nature, and the meaning of human living”, it therefore can become the spiritual home of modern men and women.”


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