What, you may ask, was the origin of this book?
Though the answer to this question may at first seem to border on the absurd, reflection will show that there is a good deal more to it than meets the eye.” 
This opening to Story of the Stone (or Dream of Red Chambers, Honglou meng in Chinese) fits equally well with the textbook you see before you. (Someday a student will write a chapter in this book about this text, I trust.)
The origin of this book is in conversations I had over the years with several colleagues in the field of Sinology (the study of history, literature and culture of traditional China). The course title did not only attract the attention of the students, but also of people who would like to teach this material, and asked me for the syllabus and even suggested I write a textbook.
What meets the eye at first is a set of chapters written by the students who took the course in Spring 2019. The students are not experts at China, they do not know Chinese and thus had to rely on English-language materials available to them through our library and my personal collection. Many are at the start of their journey of learning to write for their college-level peers.
It may seem absurd to let these people write a textbook: shouldn’t we leave that to the experts? But although I know more than my students about Chinese history, and a bit more than they do about its magical creatures, I am not an expert at textbooks: I use them only for some courses, and I haven’t used one as a student would in many, many years. But I teach students who use textbooks all the time, and I thought they would have better ideas about what makes a textbook on the one hand attractive and inviting, or on the other hand abstruse, or otherwise becomes a roadblock to learning and discovery.
Reflection will show you that this textbook is part of the growing movement of Open Education Resources (OER) in higher education, fits in with conversations about access to education and the cost of textbooks, and follows the lead of others in student-faculty co-creation. Pressbooks makes all of this a lot easier than ever before, and in the spirit of Digital Learning and Digital Pedagogy, I embraced the existing technology to challenge my students and myself in exploring new ways of sharing knowledge.
What follows are the words of the students, how they feel about taking part in this project and their hopes and dreams for its future, before diving into the main body of the book. I hope you enjoy not only exploring the magical creatures of the Chinese traditions, but also the pedagogical invitation this textbook extends to you: its “Attribution-nonCommercial-ShareAlike” Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA) allows you to take these chapters, remix, adapt, and build upon them non-commercially, as long as you credit the authors, and license your new creations under the identical terms.
The magical Stone in the eponymous Story of the Stone was incarnated into the world of humans as a man who lived a full life, before it returned to its existence as a stone in a different plane of existence – but bearing an inscription detailing its adventures. Like the Stone, this textbook is now ready to go out into the world of humans, and hopefully its adventures will also be inscribed in the object itself, as future readers use, reuse, and remix the text.
- Cao Xueqin, The Golden Days. Vol. 1 of The Story of the Stone, translated by David Hawkes (Penguin Classics, 1973), 47. ↵