KUALA LUMPUR: Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy’s lifelong passion for Dream of the Red Chamber began on the fourth floor of Universiti Malaya’s main library.
As an undergraduate in the Chinese Studies Department 40 years ago, he has laid his hands on an ancient publication that evaluated and reviewed the literary masterpiece in black and red annotations.
“The book, produced in 1754, astonished me, almost like how I was charmed by my wife,” he said.
Having never seen such a book before, his curiosity was piqued and he yearned for more. Chan even wrote his thesis on the last 40 chapters of Dream of the Red Chamber.
Forty years later, Chan has, in his personal collection, thousands of priceless items related to Dream of the Red Chamber, including manuscripts, out-of-print copies, translated versions, paintings, couplets and more from all over the world.
Chan even has a Braille version of the book.
However, the former Transport Minister and ex-MCA deputy president feels that the time has come for his collection to have a greater impact on society instead of just satisfying his personal pleasure.
He decided to donate over 6,000 works – with the oldest aged more than 200 years – to his alma mater.
The Dream of the Red Chamber resource centre is now located at the very spot where he first got hooked on the most acclaimed Chinese work of all time, which is also known as the Story of the Stone.
The resource centre was first put together with a donation of RM300,000 contributed by UM Chinese Studies Department Alumni Association president Datuk Ng Tong Hai.
“Of course, I feel a bit heavy-hearted to part with this collection but this feeling vanished right after I made the donation.
“I believe this is a right decision, to share these materials with researchers of Chinese studies. The materials are even more valuable now,” Chan said.
Although Dream of the Red Chamber was written by Cao Xueqin in the 18th century, the book is still revered by literature enthusiasts around the world, who draw inspiration from the stories.
Chan said back when he was active in politics, he found solace and peace in the realm of Dream of the Red Chamber.
He said the masterpiece, which told the tale of carefree teenage protagonist Jia Baoyu in the mansion of his affluent family, had given him many inspirations and positive strength in life.
“This great masterpiece touches on all aspects of life, including religion, literature, linguistics, interpersonal ties, management and others. Its substance is boundless,” Chan said.
He also singled out Baoyu, his cousin and love interest Lin Daiyu and his personal maid Qingwen as the characters he adored the most out of some 400 characters that were mentioned in the book.
“These three are very genuine people.
“Sincerity and genuineness are very important, especially in today’s society.
“If you are sincere to people and they reciprocate, your friendship will last forever,” Chan said.
In his speech before some 200 guests eager to take a peek at his elaborate collection, Chan said he felt happy that his collection had found a new home, one which was committed to the future teaching and researching of this great classic novel.
“It is my personal hope that after setting up this resource centre, it will be fully utilised by the academic community of UM.
“I’d like to see local and international enthusiasts come here and also make full use of the collection here.”
“You do not know what you are missing until you pick up Dream of the Red Chamber,” he said.
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