Books that Changed Humanity: The Story of the Stone/Dream of the Red Chamber

Books that Changed Humanity: The Story of the Stone/Dream of the Red Chamber
Jia Baoyu, the principal character of The Story of the Stone. From an early 19th-century illustration by Gai Qi.

Books that Changed Humanity is an initiative of the Humanities Research Centre, based at the Australian National University. The HRC invites experts to introduce and lead discussion of major texts from a variety of cultural traditions, all of which have informed the way we understand ourselves both individually and collectively as human beings.

Join us as Professor John Minford (School of Culture, History & Language, Australian National University) introduces and discusses Cao Xueqin's 18th Century masterpiece, The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber).

It is 47 years since the Penguin Classics chief editor Betty Radice bravely commissioned the 5-volume translation of the classic Chinese novel The Story of the Stone 石頭記, also known as A Dream of Red Mansions 紅樓夢. The task of translation was divided between David Hawkes (chapters 1-80), and his student John Minford (81-120), thus replicating the traditional division between the first 80 chapters (left unfinished by Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹) and the last 40 chapters (edited by Gao E 高鶚). The translations appeared over a period of 13 years (1973-1986).

In this talk Professor Minford will reflect on this grandest and most essential expression of the Chinese identity, which is now a part of global culture. The young aristocrats of the Jia family, living in the idyllic setting of Prospect Garden, have been transported. The Garden is open to the world.

All members of the public are welcome to come, listen, and share their thoughts about this great work of literature over a friendly glass of wine.


John Minford was born in England in 1946 and educated at Winchester College (1956-1963). In 1964 he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where, having switched to Chinese Studies, he studied with Professor David Hawkes, graduating in 1968 with First Class Honours. In 1970 he and Hawkes began their collaborative 5-volume translation for Penguin Classics of the great 18th-century novel The Story of the Stone, otherwise known as The Dream of the Red Chamber, which was finally completed in 1986. He wrote his PhD dissertation at the Australian National University from 1977 to 1980, under the supervision of Professor Liu Ts’un-yan. In 1980 he travelled to China, where he taught postgraduate students translation for two years at the Tianjin Foreign Languages Institute. From 1982 to 1986 he worked at the Chinese University of Hong Kong with Stephen C. Soong, editing the translation journal Renditions. Since then he has published a large number of translations of Chinese literature, classical and modern, and taught Chinese literature and translation in various universities in China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Chinese at the ANU, and Sin Wai Kin Distinguished Professor of Chinese Culture and Translation at the Hang Seng Management College, Hong Kong. In November 2016 he was awarded the Australian Academy of Humanities Inaugural Award for Excellence in Translation, for his 2014 translation of the Chinese classic, the I Ching. In 2018 his new translation of the Taoist classic The Tao and the Power will be published in New York by Viking-Peking.

With Geremie Barmé, he is co-founder of the Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology in Featherston, New Zealand.

Date & time

Fri 03 Nov 2017, 5.30–7pm


Theatrette, Sir Roland Wilson Building


Professor John Minford (ANU)


Penny Brew
+61 2 6125 4357


Updated:  17 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head, Centre/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications