Today I’m going to finish up our look at Ru Wan’s Red Wedding Dress (如宛的《紅嫁衣》). This time, I’ll start with the novel within the novel, which finishes up rather early in the text. The engagement party between Xiaoqian and Sheng Jun is coming up, and Xiaoqian comes around the house more and more, preparing to take over. The servants try to please her, and only Yanran is cold to her because she considers the woman too gaudy. Yanran’s impoliteness and noncompliance angers Xiaoqian. They get into an argument. After the party, the marriage is set for nearly two and a half years later. In the interim, Sheng Jun falls ill and must go to the hospital then can convalesce at home. He doesn’t seem to be improving. Xiaoqian comes to visit her fiance less and less often, which stirs up gossip. Yanran takes care of him, and he wonders why his fiancée hasn’t stopped by to see him.
Sheng Jun’s family hires a fortune-teller to tell them what they must do to cure his illness. They decide he must marry to be cured, but Xiaoqian is reluctant to do so now, and her parents refuse to let her marry Sheng Jun for such a superstitious reason. Xiaoqian admits she doesn’t love Sheng Jun but only agreed to marry him because of her parents pressuring her. Yanran offers to marry him instead, and they agree. This is supposed to be the ending of the novel, but Xiaofei’s editor says he doesn’t want a happy ending after all, so she writes a new one. The new novel ending has Sheng Jun falling out of love with Yanran and taking up with a dancer who is pregnant with his child and demands he divorce Yanran. He asks her if she will agree to a divorce, and she refuses. Sheng Jun is injured, I’m not sure if Yanran does something to him since this part is a bit confusing, but he dies in the hospital after they both apologize to each other.
The novel Xiaofei writes parallels the main story but is quite anti-climactic compared to it. Xiaofei tries to call Gaotian, but his line is busy, and she notes that so is Dan Dan’s line. She wonders if they are talking together. She decides to work overtime and gets home after dark. The cat is outside. Xiaofei takes a flashlight to investigate since it sounds sick, and she discovers that it is injured. Good, she thinks, it can’t jump into the windows anymore. Xiaofei talks with grandmother a moment before going upstairs, and she sees DanDan is dressed in the red wedding dress in her room, sitting before her makeup table, talking to herself. Xiaotian, Xiaofei hears her say, am I pretty? If you saw me dressed up like this, you’d definitely like me. Xiaofei wonders if Xiaotian is Gaotian. Dan Dan’s strange behavior terrifies Xiaofei, who wonders if Dan Dan was possessed by an evil spirit because she’s wearing the dress. She wonders if the dress truly is the one grandmother told her the story about.
Dan Dan wakes up thirsty in the middle of the night, but her water bottle is empty, so she goes down to the kitchen. On her way down the steps, she hears the sound of the knife being sharpened again. Is it Xiaofei? It is, and she’s got a fierce expression on her face. Dan Dan doesn’t dare go in to get water. A cat yowls. This isn’t a dream this time, and Dan Dan is terrified for the cat. It must be hurt, and she gets a flashlight to go look for it. A black shadow appears before her – it’s the cat! It’s dead with its head split open. She can’t even scream or run. A human shadow appears before her, a woman dressed in ghostly white. Xiaofei coldly admits she killed the cat, puts down the knife, and blithely goes upstairs, leaving Dan Dan too stunned to move.
Xiaofei had a nightmare that night that the cat was resurrected and came looking for Xiaofei. No one was there to save her. The cat bit her on the neck, and blood spurt out everywhere. Xiaofei tells herself that no one could blame her for killing the cat since it was dying anyway. In the morning when she goes into the kitchen, she sees grandmother is there skinning the cat. She says she found it dead in the living room and wants to make slippers with the pelt. Xiaofei feels numb and realizes her grandmother is really strange, and her stomach lurches. She looks in the pot and sees grandmother made dumplings for breakfast. Xiaofei looks at the pot in terror.
Dan Dan is talking on the phone in her room to Xiaotian, telling him about how Xiaofei may have discovered they are together, so Dan Dan can’t meet him. When there’s a knock on the door, Dan Dan hangs up. Xiaofei comes in, bringing Dan Dan a plate of the dumplings. Dan Dan looks at them reluctantly and asks what meat they are made from. Xiaofei says it is cat meat. Dan Dan throws up in the sink. For two days, Dan Dan won’t eat anything unless she makes it herself and looks sick.
When grandmother goes out for a walk, Dan Dan wears the red wedding dress in her room again. Xiaofei sees her, and Dan Dan asks her about her reaction to the dress. Xiaofei admits that it’s evil. She tells Dan Dan the story behind it and that elderly people like grandmother think a dress like that is unclean. Dan Dan goes back to her room and looks at herself in the mirror in the old dress, agreeing that she looks like a different woman. She does think the original bride has attached herself to her body. The candle suddenly goes out. She imagines someone is calling out the instructions to bow in the traditional wedding ceremony, and she thinks she sees a demon. She screams.
After another day or two, Dan Dan decides she can’t stay in this house anymore. She decides she’s leaving in the morning, and she waits up with grandmother to talk to Xiaofei when she gets home. She admits to grandmother she wants to move out, saying that she’s stayed there too long and found work. Her new job is too far away to stay at their house. Dan Dan falls asleep on the couch, and she dreams she hears a woman crying, sees a woman who looks like a corpse. Xiaofei comes home and wakes Dan Dan, who says the house is truly haunted. Xiaofei suggests it’s because Dan Dan wore the red wedding dress that she’s so crazy. Dan Dan tells Xiaofei of her moving plans, talking vaguely about staying with a different friend, which leaves Xiaofei suspicious that this has something to do with Gaotian and thinking that her practical joke with the pork dumplings and tape recording of the old wedding pushed Dan Dan over the edge.
The next day, Xiaofei helps Dan Dan move to a guesthouse where she is surprised to meet Gaotian. Suspicious as to why he’s really there and that he’s having an affair with Dan Dan, she gets upset, gives the luggage to Gaotian, and lets him take the luggage up to Dan Dan while she returns home. Gaotian immediately arrives at her house, demanding to talk with her, wondering why his declarations of love weren’t enough to calm her down. She tells him to get out. He leaves, confused by her mood, and she writes more of her novel. Xiaofei spends a lot of time driving herself crazy in her fear that she’s losing Gaotian and overanalyzes the signs that he is cheating on her.
One night, a group of people come up to Xiaofei’s car and ask about Dan Dan. It’s San Ge and other “friends” of hers. She realizes this was the guy who followed her home that one night, and he admits that he was. He says Dan Dan owes him money and asks for her help in finding her. Xiaofei tells him Dan Dan no longer lives with her, but angry at what she assumes is Dan Dan’s affair with Gaotian, she tells San Ge exactly where to find her to teach Dan Dan a lesson. Later, Xiaofei’s writing time is interrupted by a phone call from Dan Dan’s boyfriend who asks her to help him save Dan Dan from San Ge. Xiaofei is still angry and hangs up on him, telling him to save her himself. She turns off the phone. That night, Xiaofei dreams San Ge has an axe, threatens Dan Dan and chops her to pieces.
The next day, Gaotian calls her to tell her Dan Dan was badly beaten up by this San Ge character and is in a very bad state both mentally and physically. She goes to the police station where Dan Dan is waiting with a young man who introduces himself as Xiaotan Lei. He was the one who called her the night before. Xiaofei realizes her mistake in thinking Dan Dan meant Gaotian when she was talking to Xiaotian on the phone that night. He tells her that Dan Dan hid at her house because she was afraid of San Ge. She would go out to meet Xiaotian at night sometimes but was afraid San Ge would discover them. Xiaofei realizes she really has been acting like a monster to Dan Dan, and she brings her back to her house.
Xiaofei sees the extent of San Ge’s beating when Dan Dan takes a bath and feels guilty. Xiaofei starts to cry. She makes Dan Dan’s favorite meal but nearly drops it when she takes it up to Dan Dan. Dan Dan is sitting in the red wedding dress and has cut up her face! When Xiaofei goes down to get her grandmother, Dan Dan jumps from the upstairs window. They rush her to the hospital, but she dies. Aunt and uncle come from their village to identify the body. Xiaofei apologizes to them for not taking better care of her friend, but they blame San Ge. Gaotian asks Xiaofei how San Ge knew where to find Dan Dan, and Xiaofei gets defensive, lying that she didn’t tell him. Gaotian says he didn’t think she did, that he knew she’d never harm Dan Dan that way.
Grandmother asks Xiaofei about the red wedding dress, linking it to Dan Dan’s death, but Xiaofei thinks she’s too superstitious. Grandmother arranges for a Taoist priest to come and keep Dan Dan’s spirit from taking revenge on them. The priest comes to bless the house and leaves yellow paper charms with strange symbols all over the house, especially over Dan Dan’s door, which grandmother wants to keep sealed. Xiaofei starts seeing Dan Dan in the red wedding dress everywhere as she goes about her day, in the elevator, on her computer, at a public phone. Everyone is alarmed by Xiaofei’s reaction. Gaotian comes to get her, and Yan Mo is back from Java, and they go out for a drink. Xiaofei has another vision of Dan Dan in the red wedding dress and checks to see if Gaotian and Yan Mo see her, but neither of them do.
She confides in Gaotian that she has been seeing Dan Dan everywhere. He says that is impossible, that ghosts don’t exist, but she confesses that she was the one who told San Ge where to find her and that Dan Dan wants revenge on her specifically. He is shocked, and she lies saying she didn’t know San Ge was evil. The rest of the story develops with lots of small, sinister moments that turn out to be nothing major, though the one where her grandmother is killing a chicken in the house surprised me since that can be so messy. That incident leaves the lively corpse the chicken accidentally clawing Xiaofei’s face up, an echo of the slashing of the ghostly bride’s face. After that, she starts going into Dan Dan’s room when grandmother isn’t around to think about Dan Dan. She goes up to the village where Dan Dan’s parents live to burn paper offerings at Dan Dan’s grave to appease her spirit, and she’s stuck there for a few days of sinister goings on because of a heavy rainstorm.
Joss Paper Offerings, photo by Victoria D Fong:
Also developing in the rest of the novel is Xiaofei’s growing suspicion that Gaotian is having an affair with Yan Mo. She misinterprets many meetings with Yan Mo and Gaotian as potentially romantic, and she even secretly asks Yan Mo’s little sister Lin Mo about their relationship, which she says is probably romantic. That sends Xiaofei over the edge. She tries setting up Yan Mo with a coworker’s nephew, but that doesn’t seem to work out, and she sees Yan Mo at the hospital waiting to get an abortion, which she assumes must be Gaotian’s fault after Yan Mo’s awkward explanation insinuates he knew about the abortion and neither of them told Xiaofei. She goes to see Gaotian at his job, makes all sorts of accusations after slapping him, and tells him they are breaking up. He is totally surprised and calls her crazy.
Grandmother decides it’s time to burn the red wedding dress, but Xiaofei refuses, thinking that’s too superstitious. Grandmother falls, and Xiaofei takes her to the hospital. While grandmother is recuperating, Xiaofei spends more and more time in Dan Dan’s room talking with her spirit. While she’s talking to the ghost, Xiaofei falls to the floor, feeling heavy. Meanwhile, grandmother has a dream where she sees Dan Dan in the red wedding dress, talking with a crying, prostrate Xiaofei, then she sees Dan Dan’s spirit possess Xiaofei. Grandmother wakes up and wants to go home, but the hospital won’t let her leave, so she realizes she has to sneak out. Xiaofei asks Dan Dan’s ghost how to win Gaotian back, and she tells her to come into her room every night. The next morning, she makes breakfast for Dan Dan, they eat and watch TV together. Her coworker wonders why she didn’t come in that day, and grandmother is at the hospital worried that she hasn’t come to visit for a few days.
Grandmother arrives at the house when it’s very dark, and it doesn’t look like Xiaofei is at home. She interrupts Xiaofei’s nighttime discussion with Dan Dan in her bedroom as she prepares to put on the red wedding dress, and grandmother falls again, this time down the steps, after she threatens to burn the dress for good. Dan Dan tells Xiaofei that Yan Mo killed grandmother. Full of rage, Xiaofei calls Yan Mo to ask her for help since grandmother is injured.
As Yan Mo prepares to go out, she talks with her sister Lin Mo and chides her for causing so much trouble with Xiaofei when she lied and told her Yan Mo and Gaotian might be in love. Lin Mo said she lied so Yan Mo would have a chance with Gaotian since Lin Mo wants him for a brother-in-law. Yan Mo arrives at the house but no one appears to be home. She goes in, someone hits her over the head, and she wakes up tied to a bed. Xiaofei is dressed in the red wedding dress with her face torn up, and she starts to cut up Yan Mo’s face, too. After a bit of conversation, Xiaofei unties her, and Yan Mo finds a way to call Gaotian.
When he arrives, Xiaofei is very out of things, having more visions of Dan Dan and grandmother, but he tries to explain what really was going on. Yan Mo brings Lin Mo to explain that she lied. Yan Mo explains the baby she aborted was by a man she met while studying in Java, and Gaotian was just helping her deal with this secret. Xiaofei stays at a mental hospital until her long-absent parents arrive from America to help her. Her father promises Yan Mo he will pay for a plastic surgeon so her face won’t scar, and he and his wife blame Xiaofei’s illness on Dan Dan’s death and her now dead grandmother’s superstitions. Xiaofei still doesn’t think Dan Dan is dead, and she still has the red wedding dress. I don’t think there’s a sequel, but from her grandmother’s perspective, there’s no chance of controlling the ghost now with those two factors still in play.
Next time we return to Japan to look at Hinata Mori’s light novel, Rhetorical Chronicle: A Lying Negotiator and His Fox Mistress!
Part three of a three part series.