The House of Fallen Cards: Gambling, Enchantment, and Gender in Qing Fiction

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

The dangerous pursuit of the thrills through games of cards, dice, and betting constitutes a fruitful ground on which to unravel notions of play, fate, and identity in late imperial Chinese fiction. This paper focuses on gambling in the eighteenth-century “The Dream of the Red Chambers” (Honglou meng 紅樓夢). First, it engages gambling as the chronotope of play: it shows how games of chance open disruptive sites outside regular time, both in the very literal sense of the cycle of day and night, as well as in the sense of the life cycles of the protagonists and their expected life journeys. By scrambling established conventions of propriety, sobriety, and identity in and outside the households the characters inhabit, gambling in this novel alters and disrupts morals, fate, and identity in irreversible, tragic ways. Second, it maps how the times and spaces of gambling constitute pleasure, and offer conduits to the dissolution of self, boundaries, as well as of resources. Finally, the paper faces off male players against female protagonists to chart pleasure and angst in the capacity of men and women to use play and games to penetrate and reconfigure socio-economic domains and gender boundaries.

About the Speaker

Paola Zamperini is a Professor of Pre-modern Chinese Literature and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University, where she is the founding chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. Her research and teaching interests span pre-modern Chinese Literature, Gender Studies, Chinese History, Fashion Theory, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, and contemporary Chinese fiction, cinema, and popular culture. She has written and published extensively about prostitution, female suicide, pornography and spiritual resonance in pre-modern Chinese literature.

After the Seminar

To allow for informal discussion, the seminar will be followed by a dinner with the guest speaker at 6:15pm. The location of the restaurant will be announced at the seminar. All are welcome, though those who attend will need to pay for their own food and drinks. As reservations must be made at the restaurant, please RSVP by noon of the day before the seminar to

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute, the Research School of Asia and the Pacific, and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University.