Brilliant Masterpiece

The reading habit in Singapore is dying if not already dead. From what I’ve observed, the situation in HK and China is probably not as bad. Bookshops there are still big and well-stocked. The compounding factor for the slump here in Singapore is that we are a single -minded , simple-minded and narrow-minded society that is focused on just a few things in life like food, shopping and property. There is a lot more depth and diversity in healthier, multi-dimensional societies.

Who has time for literature? Well, maybe you, maybe me. Former BBC journalist Chip Tsao 曹捷 (better known by his pen name 陶傑) has a brilliant way of reading a heavyweight classic like 红楼梦. Born in 1958, Tsao can trace his ancestry to Guangxi Province. However, he was raised in HK and graduated in 1980 with a BA in English and European Literature from the University of Warwick. He went on to do a Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

While still reporting for BBC, he was talent-spotted by HK writer/publisher Louis Cha (better known as the late Jin Yong). He contributed many thought-provoking articles on the lives of Chinese immigrants in the West. That was when he started using his pen name To Kit.

Tsao is currently a news presenter with Apple Daily. While writing for English language publications, he was accused of being an anglophile. When writing in Chinese, he was accused of being racist. In recent years, Tsao has posted numerous thought-provoking videos. I have selected a few non-political ones below.

Many people nowadays proudly declare that they don’t read fiction because it wastes their time and they get nothing out of it. Not so. Chip Tsao tells us that even a dreamy and mundane literary brick like 红楼梦 can impart social skills and even street wisdom. I have not read it personally, but he certainly got me interested in checking it out to see if I can rewrite it (in English) for the modern reader.

Well, Chip Tsao just can’t stay away from politics for very long. From the verses quoted from 红楼梦 , it seems to be that this classic is not that difficult to read. The contrasting characters from the novel, 林黛玉 the rebel and liberal and 薛宝钗 , the conservative and conformist. At a crab party, the sight of cooked crabs elicited very different feelings from them. 林黛玉 saw the crabs as proudly sacrificed warriors. 薛宝钗 saw them as troublemakers who deserved to be eaten.

Finally, Chip Tsao gave us a very good guide (ala Da Vinci Code) to the multitude of characters in 红楼梦 . Was it mere coincidence that the characters were named this way? Or was it a deliberate plan of the author who died before finishing this masterpiece?

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