Jenny Suen

Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities

20042005 Forum on Sleep and Dreams

Jenny Suen

Comparative Literature, Political Science

College '06

The Dream of the Red Chamber: How China Remembers a Story of Revolution, Holocaust, and Social Degeneration

The Cultural Revolution in China (1966–76) was a profound rupture in Chinese history, culture, and society. Imagine a decade in which children did not go to school, but instead were sent away to the countryside to be “re-educated” in revolutionary thought and lifestyle. Imagine a decade in which people were slaughtered for absurd, political reasons. It was a decade of immense trauma, inflicted not only by demagogues from above, but also with the consent and agency of the entire population. How is this decade “remembered” in the so-called “scar literature” of the period? Many Chinese authors have addressed problems of historical memory and the depiction of trauma through dream sequences in their narratives or through dream-like and surreal stylistic forms. Dreams act as a psychological mechanism that complicates the notion of historical memory that is often found in straightforward memoirs, which emphasize objectivity in a subjective experience; it also functions to distance the individuals from their own experiences. I will analyze the way dreams are used in the “scar literature” from the period. My final project will be to write a novel, in which I will explore the application of dreams as a literary device, as well as a paper outlining my findings.