Dream of the Red Chamber

Dream of the Red Chamber
Dream of the Red Chamber
A scene from the story, painted by Xu Baozhuan (1810-1873)
Author(s) Cao Xueqin
Country China
Language Chinese
Genre(s) Novel
Publication date 18th century
Published in
1868, 1892; 1973–1980 (1st complete English translation)
Media type Scribal copies/Print

Dream of the Red Chamber (simplified Chinese: 红楼梦; traditional Chinese: 紅樓夢; pinyin: Hóng Lóu Mèng; Wade–Giles: Hung Lou Meng), composed by Cao Xueqin, is one of China's Four Great Classical Novels. It was composed in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. It is considered to be a masterpiece of Chinese vernacular literature and is generally acknowledged to be a pinnacle of Chinese fiction. "Redology" is the field of study devoted exclusively to this work.[1]

The title has also been translated as Red Chamber Dream and A Dream of Red Mansions. The novel circulated in manuscript copies with various titles until print publication in 1791. The novel is also often known as The Story of the Stone (simplified Chinese: 石头记; traditional Chinese: 石頭記; pinyin: Shítóu jì). While the first 80 chapters were written by Cao Xueqin, Gao E, who prepared the first and second printed editions with his partner Cheng Weiyuan in 1791-2, added 40 additional chapters to complete the novel.[2]

Red Chamber is believed to be semi-autobiographical, mirroring the rise and decay of author Cao Xueqin's own family and, by extension, of the Qing Dynasty.[3] As the author details in the first chapter, it is intended to be a memorial to the women he knew in his youth: friends, relatives and servants. The novel is remarkable not only for its huge cast of characters and psychological scope, but also for its precise and detailed observation of the life and social structures typical of 18th-century Chinese aristocracy.[4]



The novel is composed in written vernacular rather than classical Chinese. Cao Xueqin was well versed in Chinese poetry and in classical Chinese, having written tracts in the semi-wenyan style, while novel's conversations were written in the Beijing Mandarin dialect, which was to become the basis of modern spoken Chinese. In the early twentieth century lexicographers used the text to establish the vocabulary of the new "national language" (guoyu 國語) and reformers used the novel to promote the written vernacular. [5]


The novel is most often titled Hóng Lóu Mèng or Hung Lou Meng (紅樓夢), literally "Red Chamber Dream". "Red chamber" is an idiom with several definitions; one in particular refers to the sheltered chambers where the daughters of prominent families reside.[6] It also refers to a dream in Chapter 5 that Baoyu has, set in a "red chamber", where the fates of many of the characters are foreshadowed. "Chamber" is sometimes translated as "mansion" because of the scale of the Chinese word "樓". However the word "mansion" is thought to neglect the flavour of the word "chamber" and it is a mistranslation according to scholar Zhou Ruchang.[7]

The novel's tone is both metaphysical and realistic,[8] and was constructed in a way that reality and illusion are often hinted side by side and difficult to differentiate.[8] It has been described as one of the most complex and psychologically penetrating works in all of world literature.[9] The novel also provides great insight in its depiction of the Chinese culture of the time, including description of the era's "manners, expectations, and consequences."[8] Many aspects of Chinese culture, such as medicine, cuisine, tea culture, proverbs, mythology, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, filial piety, opera, music, painting, classic literature, the Four Books, etc. are vividly portrayed. Among these, the novel is particularly notable for its grand use of poetry.[10]

Two major themes that are prevalent throughout the novel are the nature of "reality" and of the "truth."[11] The name of the main family, Jia (賈, pronounced jiǎ), is a homophone with the Chinese character jiǎ 假, meaning false or fictitious. Another family in the book has the surname Zhen (甄, pronounced zhēn), a homophone for the word "real" (真). Thus, Cao Xueqin suggests that the novel's family is both a realistic reflection and a fictional or "dream" version of his own family.

Plot summary

A piece from a series of brush paintings by Qing Dynasty artist Sun Wen (1818-1904), depicting scenes from the novel.

The novel provides a detailed, episodic record of the two branches of the wealthy and aristocratic Jia (賈) clan — the Rongguo House (榮國府) and the Ningguo House (寧國府) — who reside in two large, adjacent family compounds in the capital Beijing. Their ancestors were made Dukes and given imperial titles, and as the novel begins the two houses are among the most illustrious families in the city. One of the clan’s offspring was made an Imperial Consort, and a lush landscaped garden was built to receive her visit. The novel describes the Jias’ wealth and influence in great naturalistic detail, and charts the Jias’ fall from the height of their prestige, following some thirty main characters and over four hundred minor ones. Eventually the Jia clan falls into disfavor with the Emperor, and their mansions are raided and confiscated.

In the story's frame story, a sentient Stone, abandoned by the goddess Nüwa when she mended the heavens aeons ago, begs a Taoist priest and a Buddhist monk to bring it with them to see the world. The Stone, accompanied by a character named Divine Attendant-in-Waiting (神瑛侍者) (while in Cheng-Gao versions they are merged into the same character), was given a chance to learn from the human existence, and enters the mortal realm.

The main character of the novel is the carefree adolescent male heir of the family Jia Baoyu. He was born with a magical piece of "jade" in his mouth. In this life he has a special bond with his sickly cousin Lin Daiyu, who shares his love of music and poetry. Baoyu, however, is predestined to marry another cousin, Xue Baochai, whose grace and intelligence exemplifies an ideal woman, but with whom he lacks an emotional connection. The romantic rivalry and friendship among the three characters against the backdrop of the family's declining fortunes forms the main story in the novel.[8]


A Qing Dynasty woodcut print depicting a scene from the novel, 1889

Dream of the Red Chamber contains an extraordinarily large number of characters: nearly thirty are considered major characters, and there are over four hundred additional ones.[12] The novel is also known for the complex portrait of its many female characters.[13] The names of the maids and bondservants are given in the original pinyin pronunciations and in David Hawkes' translation.

Baoyu and Jinling's Twelve Beauties

  • Jia Baoyu (simplified Chinese: 贾宝玉; traditional Chinese: 賈寶玉; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Bǎo​yù​; Wade–Giles: Chia Pao-yu; Meaning: Precious Jade)
    The main protagonist is about 12 or 13 years old when introduced in the novel.[14] The adolescent son of Jia Zheng (賈政) and his wife, Lady Wang (王夫人), and born with a piece of luminescent jade in his mouth (the Stone), Baoyu is the heir apparent to the Rongguo House (榮國府). Frowned on by his strict Confucian father, Baoyu reads Zhuangzi and Romance of the West Chamber rather than the Four Books of classic Chinese education. Baoyu is highly intelligent, but dislikes the fawning bureaucrats that frequent his father's house. A sensitive and compassionate individual, he has a special relationship with many of the women in the house.
  • Lin Daiyu (Chinese: 林黛玉; pinyin: Lín​ Dài​yù​; Wade–Giles: Lin Tai-yu; Meaning: Blue-black Jade)
    Jia Baoyu's younger first cousin and his primary love interest. She is the daughter of Lin Ruhai (林如海), a Yangzhou scholar-official, and Lady Jia Min (賈敏), Baoyu's paternal aunt. She is sickly, but beautiful in a way that is unconventional. She also suffers from a respiratory ailment. The novel proper starts in Chapter 3 with Daiyu's arrival at the Rongguo House shortly after the death of her mother. Fragile emotionally, prone to fits of jealousy, Daiyu is nevertheless an extremely accomplished poet and musician. The novel designates her one of the Twelve Beauties of Jinling, and describes her as a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure. Daiyu is the reincarnation of a flower from the frame story, and the purpose of her mortal birth is to repay Baoyu with tears for watering her in her previous incarnation.
  • Xue Baochai (simplified Chinese: 薛宝钗; traditional Chinese: 薛寶釵; pinyin: Xuē​ Bǎo​chāi​​; Wade–Giles: Hsueh Pao-chai; Meaning: Jeweled Hair Pin or Precious Virtue)
    Jia Baoyu's other first cousin. The only daughter of Aunt Xue (薛姨媽), sister to Baoyu's mother, Baochai is a foil to Daiyu. Where Daiyu is unconventional and hypersensitive, Baochai is sensible and tactful: a model Chinese feudal maiden. The novel describes her as beautiful and intelligent, but also reserved and following the rules of decorum. Although reluctant to show the extent of her knowledge, Baochai seems to be quite learned about everything, from Buddhist teachings to how not to make a paint plate crack. She is not keen on elaborately decorating her room and herself. The novel describes her room as being completely free of decoration, apart from a small vase of chrysanthemums. Baochai has a round face, fair skin, large eyes, and, some would say, a more voluptuous figure in contrast to Daiyu's willowy daintiness. Baochai carries a golden locket with her which contains words given to her in childhood by a Buddhist monk. Baochai's golden locket and Baoyu's jade contain inscriptions that appear to complement one another perfectly. Her marriage to Baoyu is seen in the book as predestined.
  • Jia Yuanchun (simplified Chinese: 贾元春; traditional Chinese: 賈元春; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Yuán​chūn​; Wade–Giles: Chia Yuan-chun; Meaning: First Spring)
    Baoyu's elder sister by about a decade. Originally one of the ladies-in-waiting in the imperial palace, Yuanchun later becomes an Imperial Consort, having impressed the Emperor with her virtue and learning. Her illustrious position as a favorite of the Emperor marks the height of the Jia family's powers. Despite her prestigious position, Yuanchun feels imprisoned within the four walls of the imperial palace.
  • Jia Tanchun (simplified Chinese: 贾探春; traditional Chinese: 賈探春; pinyin: Jiǎ​Tàn​chūn​; Wade–Giles: Chia Tan-chun; Meaning: Seeking Spring)
    Baoyu's younger half-sister by Concubine Zhao. Brash and extremely outspoken, she is almost as capable as Wang Xifeng. Wang Xifeng herself compliments her privately, but laments that she was "born in the wrong womb," since concubine children are not respected as much as those by first wives. She is also a very talented poet. Tanchun is nicknamed "Rose" for her beauty and her prickly personality.
  • Shi Xiangyun (simplified Chinese: 史湘云; traditional Chinese: 史湘雲; pinyin: Shǐ ​Xiāng​​yún​; Wade–Giles: Shih Hsiang-yun; Meaning: Xiang River Clouds)
    Jia Baoyu's younger second cousin. Grandmother Jia's grandniece. Orphaned in infancy, she grows up under her wealthy maternal uncle and aunt who use her unkindly. In spite of this Xiangyun is openhearted and cheerful. A comparatively androgynous beauty, Xiangyun looks good in men's clothes (once she put on Baoyu's clothes and Grandmother Jia thought she was a he), and loves to drink. She is forthright and without tact, but her forgiving nature takes the sting from her casually truthful remarks. She is well educated and as talented a poet as Daiyu or Baochai.
  • Miaoyu (Chinese: 妙玉; pinyin: Miào​yù​; Wade–Giles: Miao-yu; Hawkes/Minford translation: Adamantina; Meaning: Wonderful/Clever Jade)
    A young nun from Buddhist cloisters of the Rong-guo house. Extremely beautiful and learned, while also extremely aloof, haughty and unsociable. She also has an obsession with cleanliness. The novel says she was compelled by her illness to become a nun, and shelters herself under the nunnery to dodge political affairs.
  • Jia Yingchun (simplified Chinese: 贾迎春; traditional Chinese: 賈迎春; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Yíng​chūn​; Wade–Giles: Chia Ying-chun; Meaning: Welcoming Spring)
    Second female family member of the generation of the Jia household after Yuanchun, Yingchun is the daughter of Jia She, Baoyu's uncle and therefore his elder first cousin. A kind-hearted, weak-willed person, Yingchun is said to have a "wooden" personality and seems rather apathetic toward all worldly affairs. Although very pretty and well-read, she does not compare in intelligence and wit to any of her cousins. Yingchun's most famous trait, it seems, is her unwillingness to meddle in the affairs of her family. Eventually Yingchun marries an official of the imperial court, her marriage being merely one of her father's desperate attempts to raise the declining fortunes of the Jia family. The newly married Yingchun becomes a victim of domestic abuse and constant violence at the hands of her cruel, abusive husband.
  • Jia Xichun (simplified Chinese: 贾惜春; traditional Chinese: 賈惜春; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Xī​chūn​; Wade–Giles: Chia Hsi-chun; Meaning: Treasuring Spring)
    Baoyu's younger second cousin from the Ningguo House, but brought up in the Rongguo House. A gifted painter, she is also a devout Buddhist. She is the sister of Jia Zhen, head of the Ningguo House. At the end of the novel, after the fall of the house of Jia, she gives up her worldly concerns and becomes a Buddhist nun. She is the second youngest of Jinling's Twelve Beauties, described as a pre-teen in most parts of the novel.
  • Wang Xifeng (simplified Chinese: 王熙凤; traditional Chinese: 王熙鳳; pinyin: Wáng​ Xī​fèng​; Wade–Giles: Wang Hsi-feng), alias Sister Feng.
    Baoyu's elder cousin-in-law, young wife to Jia Lian (who is Baoyu's paternal first cousin), niece to Lady Wang. Xifeng is hence related to Baoyu both by blood and marriage. An extremely handsome woman, Xifeng is capable, clever, amusing and, at times, vicious and cruel. Undeniably the most worldly of the women in the novel, Xifeng is in charge of the daily running of the Rongguo household and wields remarkable economic as well as political power within the family. Being a favorite of Grandmother Jia, Xifeng keeps both Lady Wang and Grandmother Jia entertained with her constant jokes and amusing chatter, playing the role of the perfect filial daughter-in-law, and by pleasing Grandmother Jia, ruling the entire household with an iron fist. One of the most remarkable multi-faceted personalities in the novel, Xifeng can be kind-hearted toward the poor and helpless. On the other hand, Xifeng can be cruel enough to kill. Her feisty personality, her loud laugh, and her great beauty contrast with many of the frail, weak-willed beauties of the literature of 18th-century China.
  • Jia Qiaojie (simplified Chinese: 贾巧姐; traditional Chinese: 賈巧姐; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Qiǎojiě​; Wade–Giles: Chia Chiao-chieh, Meaning: Splendid Phoenix)
    Wang Xifeng's and Jia Lian's daughter. She is a child through much of the novel. After the fall of the house of Jia, in the version of Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan, she marries the son of a wealthy rural family introduced by Granny Liu and goes on to lead a happy, uneventful life in the countryside.
  • Li Wan (simplified Chinese: 李纨; traditional Chinese: 李紈; pinyin: Lǐ​ Wán​; Wade–Giles: Li Wan; Meaning: White Silk)
    Baoyu's elder sister-in-law, widow of Baoyu's deceased elder brother, Jia Zhu (賈珠). Her primary task is to bring up her son Lan and watch over her female cousins. The novel portrays Li Wan, a young widow in her late twenties, as a mild-mannered woman with no wants or desires, the perfect Confucian ideal of a proper mourning widow. She eventually attains high social status due to the success of her son at the Imperial Exams, but the novel sees her as a tragic figure because she wasted her youth upholding the strict standards of behavior.
  • Qin Keqing (Chinese: 秦可卿; pinyin: Qín​ Kě​qīng​; Wade–Giles: Ch'in Ko-ching)
    Daughter-in-law to Jia Zhen. Of all the characters in the novel, the circumstances of her life and early death are amongst the most mysterious. Apparently a very beautiful and flirtatious woman, she carried on an affair with her father-in-law and dies before the second quarter of the novel. Her bedroom is bedecked with priceless artifacts belonging to extremely sensual women, both historical and mythological. In her bed, Bao Yu first travels to the Land of Illusion where he has a sexual encounter with Two-In-One, who represents Xue Baochai and Lin Daiyu. Two-in-One's name is also Keqing, making Qin Keqing also a significant character in Bao Yu's sexual experience. The original twelve songs hint that Qin Keqing hanged herself.

Other main characters

A scene from the story, painted by Xu Baozhuan
  • Grandmother Jia (simplified Chinese: 贾母; traditional Chinese: 賈母; pinyin: Jiǎmǔ​), née Shi.
    Also called the Matriarch or the Dowager, the daughter of Marquis Shi of Jinling. Grandmother to both Baoyu and Daiyu, she is the highest living authority in the Rongguo house and the oldest and most respected of the entire clan, yet also a doting person. She has two sons, Jia She and Jia Zheng, and a daughter, Min, Daiyu's mother. Daiyu is brought to the house of the Jias at the insistence of Grandmother Jia, and she helps Daiyu and Baoyu bond as childhood playmates and, later, kindred spirits.
  • Jia She (Chinese: 贾赦; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Shè​; Wade–Giles: Chia Sheh)
    The elder son of the Dowager. He is the father of Jia Lian and Jia Yingchun. He is a treacherous and greedy man, and a womanizer.
  • Jia Zheng (simplified Chinese: 贾政; traditional Chinese: 賈政; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Zhèng​; Wade–Giles: Chia Cheng)
    Baoyu's father, the younger son of the Dowager. He is a disciplinarian and Confucian scholar. Afraid his one surviving heir will turn bad, he imposes strict rules on his son, and uses occasional corporal punishment. He has a wife, Lady Wang, and two concubines: Zhao and Zhou.
  • Jia Lian (simplified Chinese: 贾琏; traditional Chinese: 賈璉; pinyin: Jiǎ​ Lián​​; Wade–Giles: Chia Lien)
    Xifeng's husband and Baoyu's paternal elder cousin, a notorious womanizer whose numerous affairs cause much trouble with his jealous wife, including affairs with men that are not known by his wife. His pregnant concubine (Second Sister You) eventually dies by his wife's engineering. He and his wife are in charge of most hiring and monetary allocation decisions, and often fight over this power.
  • Xiangling (香菱; Hawkes/Minford translation: Caltrop; Meaning: Fragrant Water caltrop) — the Xues' maid, born Zhen Yinglian (甄英蓮, a homophone with "deserving pity"), the kidnapped and lost daughter to Zhen Shiyin (甄士隱), the country gentleman in Chapter 1. Her name is changed to Qiuling (秋菱) by Xue Pan's spoiled wife, Xia Jin'gui (夏金桂).
  • Ping'er (平兒; Hawkes/Minford translation: Patience; Meaning: Peace)
    Xifeng's chief maid and personal confidante; also concubine to Xifeng's husband, Jia Lian. The consensus among the novel's characters seem to be that Pinger is beautiful enough to rival the mistresses in the house. Originally Xifeng's maid in the Wang household, she follows Xifeng as part of her "dowry" when Xifeng marries into the Jia household. She handles her troubles with grace, assists Xifeng capably and appears to have the respect of most of the household servants. She is also one of the very few people who can get close to Xifeng. She wields considerable power in the house as Xifeng's most trusted assistant, but uses her power sparingly and justly.
  • Xue Pan (Chinese: 薛蟠; pinyin: Xuē Pán​​​; Wade–Giles: Hsueh Pan; Meaning: To Coil (as a dragon))
    Baochai's older brother, a dissolute, idle rake who was a local bully in Jinling. He was known for his amorous exploits with both men and women. Not particularly well educated, he once killed a man over a servant-girl (Xiangling) and had the manslaughter case hushed up with money.
  • Granny Liu (simplified Chinese: 刘姥姥; traditional Chinese: 劉姥姥; pinyin: Liú​ Lǎolao)
    A country rustic and distant relation to the Wang family, who provides a comic contrast to the ladies of the Rongguo House during two visits. She eventually rescues Qiaojie from her maternal uncle, who wanted to sell her.
  • Lady Wang (Chinese: 王夫人; pinyin: Wáng​ Fū​ren​)
    A Buddhist, primary wife of Jia Zheng. Because of her purported ill-health, she hands over the running of the household to her niece, Xifeng, as soon as the latter marries into the Jia household, although she retains overall control over Xifeng's affairs so that the latter always has to report to her. Although Lady Wang appears to be a kind mistress and a doting mother, she can in fact be cruel and ruthless when her authority is challenged. She pays a great deal of attention to Baoyu's maids to make sure that Baoyu does not develop romantic relationships with them.
  • Aunt Xue (simplified Chinese: 薛姨妈; traditional Chinese: 薛姨媽; pinyin: Xuē Yí​mā​), née Wang
    Baoyu's maternal aunt, mother to Pan and Baochai, sister to Lady Wang. She is kindly and affable for the most part, but finds it hard to control her unruly son.
  • Hua Xiren (simplified Chinese: 花袭人; traditional Chinese: 花襲人; pinyin: Huā​ Xírén​; Hawkes/Minford translation: Aroma; Meaning: Flower Assails Men)
    Baoyu's principal maid and his unofficial concubine. While she still has standing as the Dowager's maid, the Dowager gave her to Baoyu so, in practice, Xiren is his maid. Considerate and forever worried about Baoyu, she is the partner of his first adolescent sexual encounter in the real world in Chapter 5.
  • Qingwen (Chinese: 晴雯; pinyin: Qíngwén​; Hawkes/Minford translation: Skybright, Meaning: Sunny Multicolored Clouds)
    Baoyu's handmaiden. Brash, haughty and the most beautiful maid in the household, Qingwen is said to resemble Daiyu very strongly. Of all of Baoyu's maids, she is the only one who dares to argue with Baoyu when reprimanded, but is also extremely devoted to him. She is disdainful of Xiren's attempt to use her sexual relation with Baoyu to raise her status in the family. Lady Wang later suspected her of having an affair with Baoyu and publicly dismisses her on that account; angry at the unfair treatment and of the indignities and slanders that attended her as a result, Qingwen dies of an illness shortly after leaving the Jia household.
  • Yuanyang (Chinese: 鸳鸯; pinyin: Yuānyang; Hawkes/Minford translation: Faithful; Meaning: "Pair of Mandarin Ducks")
    The Dowager's chief maid. She rejected a marriage proposal (as concubine) to the lecherous Jia She, Grandmother Jia's eldest son.
  • Xueyan (Chinese: 雪雁; pinyin: Xuě​yàn​; Hawkes/Minford translation: Snowgoose; Meaning: Snowgoose)
    Daiyu's other maid. She came with Daiyu from Yangzhou, and comes across as a young, sweet girl.
  • Concubine Zhao (simplified Chinese: 赵姨娘; traditional Chinese: 趙姨娘; pinyin: Zhào Yí​niáng​)
    A concubine of Jia Zheng. She is the mother of Jia Tanchun and Jia Huan, Baoyu's half-siblings. She longs to be the mother of the head of the household, which she does not achieve. She plots to murder Baoyu and Xifeng with black magic, and it is believed that her plot cost her her own life.

Notable minor characters

  • Qin Zhong (秦鐘) — Qin Keqing's handsome and shy younger brother. He is a good friend and classmate to Baoyu, while the novel occasionally suggests that the relationship between the two might be more than just friends. He was bullied by another student at school, who suggests that he is a homosexual. This turned the school upside-down when Baoyu and his servants try to defend Qin against the rogues. He has had a romantic relationship with a teenage nun later in the story. He died young.
  • Jia Lan (賈蘭) — Son of Baoyu's deceased older brother Jia Zhu and his virtuous wife Li Wan. Jia Lan is an appealing child throughout the book and at the end succeeds in the imperial examinations to the credit of the family.
  • Jia Zhen (賈珍) — Head of the Ningguo House, the elder branch of the Jia family. He has a wife, Lady Yu, a younger sister, Jia Xichun, and many concubines. He is extremely greedy and the unofficial head of the clan, since his father has retired. He has an adulterous affair with his daughter-in-law, Qin Keqing.
  • Lady You (尤氏) — Wife of Jia Zhen. She is the sole mistress of the Ningguo House.
  • Jia Rong (賈蓉) — Jia Zhen's son. He is the husband of Qin Keqing. An exact copy of his father, he is the Cavalier of the Imperial Guards.
  • Second Sister You (尤二姐) — Jia Lian takes her in secret as his concubine. Though a loose woman before she was married, after her wedding she becomes a faithful and doting wife. She is the elder sister of Third Sister You.
  • Lady Xing (邢夫人) — Jia She's wife. She is Jia Lian's stepmother.
  • Jia Huan (賈環) — Son of Concubine Zhao. He and his mother are both reviled by the family, and he carries himself like a kicked dog. He shows his malign nature by spilling candle wax, intending to blind Bao Yu.
  • Sheyue (麝月; Hawkes/Minford translation: Musk) — Baoyu's main maid after Xiren and Qingwen. She is beautiful and caring, a perfect complement to Xiren.
  • Qiutong (秋桐) — Jia Lian's other concubine. Originally a maid of Jia She, she is given to Jia Lian as a concubine. She is a very proud and arrogant woman.
  • Sister Sha (傻大姐) — A maid who does rough work for the Dowager. She is guileless but amusing and caring. In the Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan version, she unintentionally informs Daiyu of Baoyu's secret marriage plans.

Versions and textual challenges

A page from the "Jimao manuscript" (one of the Rouge versions) of the novel, c. 1759.[15]

The textual problems of the novel are extremely complex and have excited much critical scrutiny, debate and conjecture in modern times. Cao did not live to publish his novel, and it is believed by some scholars that the original version of this novel consist of 110 or 108 chapters; however, for unknown reasons, only about 80 chapters were later circulated.[16] Only hand-copied manuscripts survived after his death until 1791, when the first printed version was published. This printed version, presented by Cheng Weiyuan and Gao E, contains edits and revisions not authorised by the author.[17] It is possible that Cao personally destroyed the last 30 chapters of the novel;[18] or that at least parts of Cao's original ending were incorporated into the 120 chapter Cheng-Gao versions,[19] and it was done with Gao E's "careful emendations" of original manuscripts.[20]

Rouge versions

Up until 1791, the novel circulated merely in scribal transcripts. These early hand-copied versions end abruptly at the latest at the 80th chapter. The earlier ones furthermore contain transcribed comments and annotations in red ink from unknown commentators. These commentators' remarks reveal much about the author as a person, and it is now believed that some of them may even be members of Cao Xueqin's own family. The most prominent commentator is Rouge Inkstone (脂硯齋), who revealed much of the interior structuring of the work and the original manuscript ending, now lost. These manuscripts are the most textually reliable versions, known as Rouge versions (脂本). Even amongst some 12 independent surviving manuscripts, small differences in some of the characters, rearrangements and possible rewritings cause the texts to vary a little.

The early 80 chapters brim with prophecies and dramatic foreshadowings which also give hints as to how the book would continue. For example, it is obvious that Lin Daiyu will eventually die in the course of the novel; that Baoyu and Baochai will marry; that Baoyu will become a monk.

Most modern critical editions use the first 80 chapters based on the Rouge versions.

Cheng-Gao versions

In 1791 Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan brought together the novel's first printed edition. This was also the first "complete" edition of The Story of the Stone, which they printed as Dream of the Red Chamber (绣像红楼梦). While the original Rouge manuscripts have eighty chapters, the 1791 edition completed the novel in one hundred and twenty chapters. The first eighty chapters were edited from the Rouge versions, but the last forty were newly published.

In 1792, Cheng and Gao published a second edition correcting "typographical and editorial" errors of the 1791 version. In the 1791 prefaces, Cheng claimed to have put together an ending based on the author's working manuscripts.[20]

The debate over the last forty chapters and the 1791-2 prefaces continues. Many modern scholars believe these chapters were a later addition. Hu Shih, in his 1921 essay Proofs on A Dream of the Red Chamber, argued that the ending was actually written by Gao E, citing the foreshadowing of the main characters' fates in Chapter 5, which deviates with the ending of the 1791 Cheng-Gao version. However, during the mid-20th century, the discovery of a 120 chapter manuscript that dates well before 1791 further complicated the questions regarding Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan's involvement, whether they simply edited or actually wrote the continuation of the novel.[21] Though it is unclear if the last 40 chapters of the discovered manuscript contained the original works of Cao, Irene Eber found the discovery "seems to confirm Cheng and Gao's claim that they merely edited a complete manuscript, consisting of 120 chapters, rather than actually writing a portion of the novel."[21]

The book is normally published and read in Cheng Weiyuan and Gao E's one hundred and twenty chapter version. Some editions move the last forty chapters to an appendix. Also, some modern editions (like that of Zhou Ruchang's) do not include the last forty chapters.

Reception and influences in modern era

In the late 19th century, Hong Lou Meng's influence was so pervasive that the reformer Liang Qichao attacked it along with another classic novel Water Margin as "incitement to robbery and lust," and for smothering the introduction of Western style novels, which he regarded as more socially responsible.[22] Scholar Wang Guowei, however, used them for solace. In the early 20th century, although the New Culture Movement took a critical view of the Confucian classics, the scholar Hu Shih used the tools of textual criticism to put the novel in an entirely different light, as a foundation for national culture. Hu and his students, Gu Jiegang and Yu Pingbo, first established that Cao Xueqin was the work's author. Taking the question of authorship seriously reflected a new respect for fiction, since the lesser forms of literature had not been traditionally ascribed to particular individuals.[23] Hu next built on Cai Yuanpei's investigations of the printing history of the early editions to prepare reliable reading texts. The final, and in some respects most important task, was to study the vocabulary and usage of Cao's Beijing dialect as a basis for Modern Mandarin.

In the 1920s, scholars and devoted readers developed Hongxue, or Redology into both a scholarly field and a popular avocation. Among the avid readers was the young Mao Zedong, who later claimed to have read the novel five times and praised it as one of China's greatest works of literature.[24] The influence of the novel's themes and style are evident in such works as Ba Jin's novel, Family (1931), and Moment in Peking (1939) by Lin Yutang. The early 1950s was a rich period for Redology with publication of major studies by Yu Pingbo. Zhou Ruchang, who as a young scholar had come to the attention of Hu Shih in the late 1940s, published his first study in 1953, which became a best seller.[25] But in 1954 Mao personally criticized Yu Pingbo for his "bourgeois idealism" in failing to emphasize that the novel exposed the decadence of "feudal" society and the theme of class struggle. In the Hundred Flowers Campaign, Yu came under heavy criticism but the attacks were so extensive and full of quotations from his work that they spread Yu's ideas to many people who would not otherwise have known of their existence.[26] During the Cultural Revolution, the novel initially came under fire, though it quickly regained its prestige in the following years. Zhou Ruchang resumed his lifework, eventually publishing more than sixty biographical and critical studies on the novel.[27]

Translations and reception in the West

It is a major challenge to translate Cao's prose, which utilizes many levels of colloquial and literary language and incorporates forms of classic poetry that are integral to the novel.[28] According to Anne Lonsdale in the Times Literary Supplement, the novel is "notoriously difficult" to translate.[8] Nonetheless, many took on the task, for various reasons.

The earliest translation into English was a literal translation of selected passages prepared for foreigners learning Chinese published by the Presbyterian Mission Press of Ningbo in 1846.[29] Edward Charles Bowra of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs published a translation of the first eight chapters in 1868 and H. Bencraft Joly of the first fifty-six chapters in 1892.[30]

An abridged translation by Wang Chi-Chen, which emphasized on the central love story, was published in 1929 with a preface by Arthur Waley. Waley said that in the passages which recount dreams: "we feel most clearly the symbolic or universal value" of the characters. "Pao Yu", Waley continued, stands for "imagination and poetry" and his father for "all those sordid powers of pedantry and restriction which hamper the artist..."[31] In a 1930 review of Wang's translated version, Harry Clemons of The Virginia Quarterly Review wrote "This is a great novel," and along with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it "ranks foremost" among the novels of classic Chinese literature.[32] Although Clemons felt "meaning was only fragmentarily revealed" in the English translated prose and that "many of the incidents" and "much of the poetry" were omitted, he nevertheless thought "at any rate the effort to read The Dream of the Red Chamber is eminently worth making."[32]

The stream of translations and literary studies in the West grew steadily, building on Chinese language scholarship. The 1932 German translation by Franz Kuhn[33] was the basis of an abridged version The Dream of the Red Chamber, by Florence and Isabel McHugh published in 1958[34] and a later French version. Bramwell Seaton Bonsall, completed a translation in the 1950s, Red Chamber Dream, a typescript of which is available on the web.[35] British critic Anthony West wrote in The New Yorker in 1958 that the novel is to the Chinese "very much what The Brothers Karamazov is to Russian and Remembrance of Things Past is to French literature" and "it is beyond question one of the great novels of all literature."[36] Kenneth Rexroth in a 1958 review on the McHugh translation, describes the novel as among "the greatest works of prose fiction in all the history of literature," for it is "profoundly humane."[37]

The first complete English translation to be published was by David Hawkes some century and a half after the first English translation. Hawkes was already a recognized redologist and had previously translated Chu Ci when Penguin Classics approached him in 1970 to make a translation which could appeal to English readers. After resigning from his professorial position, Hawkes published the first eighty chapters in three volumes (1973, 1977, 1980).[38] The Story of the Stone (1973-1980), the first eighty chapters translated by Hawkes and last forty by John Minford consists of five volumes and 2,480 pages.[39] In a 1980 review of the Hawkes and Minford translation in The New York Review of Books, Frederic Wakeman, Jr. described the novel as a "masterpiece" and the work of a "literary genius."[40] Michael Orthofer of the online literary site Complete Review proclaims it as one of the few works that can be considered for the title "Book of the Millennium," and a rare piece of literature "in which one can lose oneself completely."[8]

A highly abridged version of Hawkes translation is The Dream of the Red Chamber (New York: Penguin Group 1996. ISBN 0146001761.)

The respected and prolific team Gladys Yang and Yang Hsien-yi also translated a complete version, A Dream of Red Mansions (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, four volumes, 1978–1980).


  1. ^ Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York: Norton, 1990), 106-110.
  2. ^ David Hawkes, "Introduction," The Story of the Stone Volume I (Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 15-19.
  3. ^ Jonathan D. Spence, Ts'ao Yin [Cao Yin] and the K'ang-Hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master (New Haven,: Yale University Press, 1966) is a study of Cao's grandfather.
  4. ^ "CliffsNotes, About the Novel: Introduction". Cliffsnotes.com. http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/id-92,pageNum-2.html. Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  5. ^ "Vale: David Hawkes, Liu Ts'un-yan, Alaistair Morrison". China Heritage Quarterly of the Australian National University. http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/features.php?searchterm=019_vale.inc&issue=019. 
  6. ^ "词语“红楼”的解释 汉典". Zdic.net. http://www.zdic.net/cd/ci/6/ZdicE7ZdicBAZdicA2305233.htm. Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  7. ^ Zhou, Ruchang. 红楼夺目红. 作家出版社. p. 4. ISBN 7506327082. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f "The Story of the Stone (The Dream of the Red Chamber)". Complete review. http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/orientalia/tsots.htm. 
  9. ^ Chennault, Cynthia. "CHT 4111, “Dream of the Red Chamber”". University of Florida. http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/cchenna/DRC%20-%20syllabus%20S09.pdf. 
  10. ^ Liu, Zaifu and Yunzhong Shu (2008). Reflections on Dream of the red chamber. Cambria Press. p. 115. ISBN 1604975245. 
  11. ^ Boellstorff, Tom (2010). Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton University Press. p. 35. ISBN 0691146276. 
  12. ^ Yang, Weizhen; Guo, Rongguang (1986). 《红楼梦》辞典. 山东文艺出版社. Introduction. There are entries for 447 named characters. ISBN 7-5329-0078-9. 
  13. ^ Helen Tierney (1999). Women's studies encyclopedia, Volume 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 247. ISBN 0313310718. 
  14. ^ Cao, Xueqin; Gao E. "Chapter 23". Hong Lou Meng. 
  15. ^ Yu, Anthony C. (2001). Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber. Princeton University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0691090130. 
  16. ^ "The Dream of the Red Chamber". University of Victoria. http://web.uvic.ca/pacificasia/chinese/hlm/author.html. 
  17. ^ A convenient summary of this scholarship is David Hawkes, "Introduction," The Story of the Stone Volume I (Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 15-19. The pioneering discussion in English is Shih-Ch'ang Wu, On the Red Chamber Dream : A Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the 18e Century (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1961).
  18. ^ "曹雪芹自己销毁了110回《红楼梦》的后30回 (Cao Xueqin himself destroyed the 110 chapter Dream of the Red Chambers' last 30 chapters)". ifeng.com of Phoenix Television. 2008-02-04. http://q.ifeng.com/group/article/5845.html. 
  19. ^ Nan nü: men, women, and gender in early and Imperial China, Volume 1, Issue 1. Brill Academic Publishers. 1999. p. 64. 
  20. ^ a b Louise P. Edwards (2001). Men and women in Qing China: gender in the Red Chamber Dream. University of Hawaii Press. p. 11. ISBN 0824824687. 
  21. ^ a b Irene Eber, "Riddles in the Dream of the Red Chamber," in Galit Hasan-Rokem, and David Dean Shulman, eds. Untying the Knot : On Riddles and Other Enigmatic Modes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 237.
  22. ^ Leo Ou-fan Lee, "Literary Trends I: The Quest for Modernity, 1895-1927," in John K. Fairbank, ed., Cambridge History of China Vol. 12 Republican China 1912-1949 Pt I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983): 455.
  23. ^ Haun Saussy, "The Age of Attribution: Or, How the "Honglou Meng" Finally Acquired an Author," Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) 25 (2003): 119-132.
  24. ^ Dr. Li Zhisui,The Private Life of Chairman Mao (New York: Random House, 1994), p. 82.
  25. ^ Editor's Preface, Ruchang Zhou, Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), xiv. [1].
  26. ^ Joey Bonner, "Yü P'ing-Po and the Literary Dimension of the Controversy over Hung Lou Meng," The China Quarterly.67 (1976): 546-581; Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent in Communist China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).
  27. ^ Editor's Preface, Ruchang Zhou, Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), xiv. [2].
  28. ^ Li Liyan. "The Stylistic Study of the Translation of A Dream of Red Mansions". http://dlib.cnki.net/kns50/detail.aspx?filename=2003051540.nh&dbname=CMFD2002&filetitle=%E3%80%8A%E7%BA%A2%E6%A5%BC%E6%A2%A6%E3%80%8B%E8%8B%B1%E8%AF%91%E6%9C%AC%E7%9A%84%E6%96%87%E4%BD%93%E7%A0%94%E7%A9%B6. "伟大不朽的古典现实主义作品《红楼梦》是我国古典小说艺术成就的最高峰。"  (Chinese)
  29. ^ Robert Thom, The Chinese Speaker; or, Extracts from Works Written in the Mandarin Language, as Spoken at Peking (Ningpo: Presbyterian mission Press, 1846).
  30. ^ E. C. Bowra The China Magazine (Hong Kong: Noronha & Sons, 1868-1870) University of Virginia Chinese Text Initiative (This etext contains only the Preface and Chapter 1) [3]; The Dream of the Red Chamber or (Hung Lou Meng) (Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh) 1891, 1892. Hung Lou Meng, from the Project Gutenberg, Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh, 1892–1893, paper published edition is also available. Wildside Press, ISBN 0809592681; and Hard Press, November 3, 2006, ISBN 1406940798. Text of the 1892–1893 English translation at University of Adelaide
  31. ^ Dream of the Red Chamber (Wang Chi-Chen), (New York: Doubleday; London: Routledge, 1929) enlarged version (New York: Twayne: 1958 ISBN 0385093799).
  32. ^ a b Clemons, Harry (Spring 1930). "Book Reviews: The Dream of the Red Chamber". The Virginia Quarterly Review. http://www.vqronline.org/articles/1930/spring/clemons-dream-red/. 
  33. ^ Der Traum Der Roten Kammer (Leipzig: Insel-verlag, 1932).
  34. ^ (New York: Pantheon: 1958, ISBN 0837181135). Available at Open Library (link).
  35. ^ Red Chamber Dream. Translation from Chinese by B.S. Bonsall
  36. ^ West, Anthony (1958-11-22). Through a Glass Darkly. The New Yorker. 
  37. ^ Rexroth, Kenneth. "The Chinese Classic Novel in Translation". University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences, original from Kenneth Rexroth 1958. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~traister/rexroth.html. 
  38. ^ Gittings, John (2009-08-25). "Obituary for the Scholar and translator David Hawkes". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/25/obituary-david-hawkes. Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  39. ^ (Penguin Classics and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, five volumes, 1973–1980. ISBN 0-14-044293-6, ISBN 0-14-044326-6, ISBN 0-14-044370-3; ISBN 0-14-044371-1, ISBN 0-14-044372-X).
  40. ^ Wakeman Jr., Frederic (1980-06-20). Review (Book review): The Genius of the Red Chamber. The New York Review of Books. 

Further reading

Book collection.jpg Novels portal
  • Dore J. Levy, Ideal and Actual in the Story of the Stone (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).
  • Zaifu Liu, Yunzhong Shu, Reflections on Dream of the Red Chamber (Amherst, N.Y.: Cambria Press, 2008).
  • Andrew H. Plaks, Archetype and Allegory in the "Dream of the Red Chamber" (Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press, 1976). Reprinted: (Ann Arbor: U.M.I. Books on Demand, Reprint, 1993). .
  • Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, ISBN 0-393-30780-8
  • Shih-Ch'ang Wu, On the Red Chamber Dream: A Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the 18th Century (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1961).
  • Chi Xiao, The Chinese Garden as Lyric Enclave: A Generic Study of the Story of the Stone (Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Chinese Studies Publications, 2001).
  • Anthony Yu, "Dream of the Red Chamber," in Barbara Stoller Miller, ed., Masterworks of Asian Culture (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe): 285-299.
  • Anthony C. Yu, Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997). ISBN 97002207
  • Ruchang Zhou, Edited by Ronald R. Grey, Mark S. Ferrara, Between Noble and Humble : Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (New York: Peter Lang, 2009). Translated by Liangmei Bao and Kyongook Park. ISBN 978-1433104077 Google Book (link)

External links

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