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Journal Article

The Influence of Nietzsche in Wang Guowei's Essay "On the Dream of the Red Chamber"

Zong-qi Cai
Philosophy East and West
Vol. 54, No. 2 (Apr., 2004), pp. 171-193
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1400236
Page Count: 23

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Topics: Nietzschean philosophy, Overman, Aesthetics, Desire, Darwinism, Kantianism, Ethics, Humanity, Morality, Catharsis
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The Influence of Nietzsche in Wang Guowei's Essay "On the Dream of the Red Chamber"
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Abstract

There are numerous traces of Nietzsche's influence in Wang Guowei's "On the Dream of the Red Chamber" even though there is not a single mention of Nietzsche's name in that seminal essay. Nietzschean thought looms large where Wang openly disagrees with or quietly departs from the views of Schopenhauer and, to a lesser extent, those of Kant and Aristotle. His questioning of Schopenhauer's "no-life-ism" harks back to Nietzsche's challenge to Schopenhauer's life-negating ethics. His portrayal of Bao Yu reveals three distinctive character traits of the Nietzschean overman. In particular, the praise of Bao Yu's rebellious character reveals Wang's preference for the iconoclastic Nietzschean overman over the passive Schopenhauerian saint. A strong influence of Nietzsche's views of tragedy may also be observed in Wang's discussion of the tragic form. His modification of Aristotle's catharsis seems to have been made in the spirit of Nietzsche's criticism of its "pathological discharge." His stress on the ultimate salvational function of the Dream strongly reminds us of what Nietzsche has said about the life-saving role of the Dionysian tragedy in the Birth. Finally, in his conditional endorsement of "live-life-ism" we can see a thinly disguised repudiation of the extreme Darwinian tendency he mistakenly reads into Nietzsche's works. It should not be surprising that there are so many echoes of Nietzschean thought in "On the Dream." While writing this essay Wang was deeply occupied with the study of Nietzsche's aesthetic and ethical theories through comparisons with Schopenhauer's. If this influence of Nietzsche can be established on the basis of the evidence given above, there is then a need to reassess Nietzschean thought as a catalyst more important than hitherto thought for the rethinking of traditional Chinese literary and cultural traditions--a broad twentieth-century critical and intellectual trend initiated by none other than Wang's "On the Dream."

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