Dream of the Red Chamber, also called The Story of the Stone, composed by Cao Xueqin, is one of China's Four Great Classical Novels. It was written sometime in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing dynasty. Long considered a masterpiece of Chinese literature, the novel is generally acknowledged to be the pinnacle of Chinese fiction. "Redology" is the field of study devoted exclusively to this work.
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 its print publication, in 1791. Gao E, who prepared the first and second printed editions with his partner Cheng Weiyuan in 1791–92, added 40 additional chapters to complete the novel.
Red Chamber is believed to be semi-autobiographical, mirroring the rise and decline of author Cao Xueqin's own family and, by extension, of the Qing Dynasty. As the author details in the first chapter, it is intended to be a memorial to the damsels 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 society.
Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢
A scene from the novel, painted by Xu Baozhuan (1810–1873)
The novel is composed in written vernacular (baihua) rather than Classical Chinese (wenyan). Cao Xueqin was well versed in Chinese poetry and in Classical Chinese, having written tracts in the semi-wenyan style, while the novel's dialogue is written in the Beijing Mandarin dialect, which was to become the basis of modern spoken Chinese. In the early 20th century, lexicographers used the text to establish the vocabulary of the new standardized language and reformers used the novel to promote the written vernacular.
Dream of the Red Chamber's textual history is involved and complex, and has long been a subject of critical scrutiny, debate, and conjecture.Cao Xueqin, a member of an eminent family that had served the Qing dynasty emperors but whose fortunes had begun to decline, began composing Dream of the Red Chamber during the 1740s. By the time of his death in 1763 or 1764, Cao had completed the first 80 chapters of the novel and may possibly have drafted the remaining chapters. The first 80 chapters circulated during Cao's lifetime in hand-copied manuscripts, first among Cao's personal friends and a growing circle of aficionados, then eventually on the open market where they sold for large sums of money. The first printed version, published by Cheng Weiyuan and Gao E in 1791, contains edits and revisions not authorized by the author. It is possible that Cao destroyed the last chapters or that at least parts of Cao's original ending were incorporated into the 120 chapter Cheng-Gao versions, with Gao E's "careful emendations" of Cao's draft.
A page from the "Jimao manuscript" (one of the Rouge versions) of the novel, 1759.
Up until 1791, the novel circulated in hand-copied manuscripts. Even amongst some 12 independent surviving manuscripts, small differences in some characters, rearrangements and possible rewritings cause the texts to vary a little. The earliest manuscripts end abruptly at the latest at the 80th chapter. The earlier versions contain comments and annotations in red or black 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 Zhiyanzhai, who revealed much of the interior structuring of the work and the original manuscript ending, now lost. These manuscripts, the most textually reliable versions, are known as "Rouge versions" (zhī běn脂本).
The early 80 chapters brim with prophecies and dramatic foreshadowings that 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. A branch of Redology, known as tànyì xué (探佚學), is focused on recovering the lost manuscript ending, based on the commentators' annotations in the Rouge versions, as well as the internal foreshadowings in the earlier 80 chapters.
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 the Illustrated Dream of the Red Chamber (繡像紅樓夢). While the original Rouge manuscripts have eighty chapters, the 1791 edition completed the novel in 120 chapters. The first 80 chapters were edited from the Rouge versions, but the last 40 were newly published.
In 1792, Cheng and Gao published a second edition correcting 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.
The debate over the last 40 chapters and the 1791–2 prefaces continues to this day. 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 differs from 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. 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."
The book is usually published and read in Cheng Weiyuan and Gao E's 120 chapter version. Some modern editions, such as Zhou Ruchang's, do not include the last 40 chapters.
In 2014, three researchers using data analysis of writing styles announced that "Applying our method to the Cheng–Gao version of Dream of the Red Chamber has led to convincing if not irrefutable evidence that the first 80 chapters and the last 40 chapters of the book were written by two different authors."
A piece from a series of brush paintings by Qing Dynasty artist Sun Wen (1818–1904), depicting a scene from the novel.
The novel provides a detailed, episodic record of life in the two branches of the wealthy, 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. 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 is made a Royal Consort, and a lush landscaped garden is 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 novel'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 take it with them to see the world. The Stone, along with a companion (in Cheng-Gao versions they are merged into the same character), is then 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 exemplify 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 form the main story in the novel.
An 1889 Qing Dynasty woodcut print depicting a scene from the novel, where Xue Baochai is chasing after butterflies (Chapter 27).
Dream of the Red Chamber contains an extraordinarily large number of characters: nearly forty are considered major characters, and there are over four hundred additional ones. The novel is also known for the complex portraits of its many female characters. According to Lu Xun in the appendix to A Brief History of Chinese Fiction, Dream of the Red Chamber broke every conceivable thought and technique in traditional Chinese fiction; its realistic characterizations present thoroughly human characters who are neither "wholly good nor wholly bad", but who seem to inhabit part of the real world.
The names of the maids and bondservants are given in pinyin transcription and in David Hawkes' translation.
Jia Baoyu and the Twelve Beauties of Jinling
Jia Baoyu (simplified Chinese: 贾宝玉; traditional Chinese: 賈寶玉; pinyin: Jiǎ Bǎoyù; Wade–Giles: Chia Pao-yu; Meaning: Precious Jade) The main protagonist is about 12 or 13 years old when introduced in the novel. The adolescent son of Jia Zheng and his wife, Lady Wang, and born with a piece of luminescent jade in his mouth (the Stone), Baoyu is the heir apparent to the Rongguo House. Frowned on by his strict Confucian father, Baoyu reads Zhuangzi and Story of the Western Wing on the sly, 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 Dàiyù; 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. She dies of a broken heart after learning of the marriage of Baoyu and Baochai.
Xue Baochai (simplified Chinese: 薛宝钗; traditional Chinese: 薛寶釵; pinyin: Xuē Bǎochāi; 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 Yuánchūn; 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. She dies at the age of forty.
Jia Tanchun (simplified Chinese: 贾探春; traditional Chinese: 賈探春; pinyin: Jiǎ Tànchūn; Wade–Giles: Chia Tan-chun; Meaning: Seeking Spring) Baoyu's younger half-sister by Concubine Zhao. 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. She later marries into a military family on the South Sea far away from home.
Shi Xiangyun (simplified Chinese: 史湘云; traditional Chinese: 史湘雲; pinyin: Shǐ Xiāngyún; 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 treats 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. Her young husband dies shortly after their marriage. She vows to be a faithful widow for the rest of her life.
Miaoyu (Chinese: 妙玉; pinyin: Miàoyù; 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. Her fate is not known after her abduction by bandits.
Jia Yingchun (simplified Chinese: 贾迎春; traditional Chinese: 賈迎春; pinyin: Jiǎ Yíngchūn; 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 Xīchūn; Wade–Giles: Chia Hsi-chun; Meaning: Treasuring Spring) Baoyu's younger cousin from the Ningguo House, but brought up in the Rongguo House. A gifted painter, she is also a devout Buddhist. She is the young 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 Xīfèng; Wade–Giles: Wang Hsi-feng; Meaning: Splendid Phoenix), 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, humorous, conversable and, at times, vicious and cruel. Undeniably the most worldly woman in the novel, Xifeng is in charge of the daily running of the Rongguo household and wields remarkable economy 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, rules 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 frail, weak-willed beauties of 18th-century Chinese literature. She makes a fortune through loan sharking and brings downfall to the family. She dies soon after the family assets are seized by the government.
Jia Qiaojie (simplified Chinese: 贾巧姐; traditional Chinese: 賈巧姐; pinyin: Jiǎ Qiǎojiě; Wade–Giles: Chia Chiao-chieh) 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 Kěqīng; 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. She distributes her savings among her relatives after the seizure of their properties by the government shortly before her death.
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. He is a Confucian scholar who tries to be an upright and decent person. He is out of touch with reality and is a hands-off person at home and in court.
Jia Lian (simplified Chinese: 贾琏; traditional Chinese: 賈璉; pinyin: Jiǎ Liǎn; 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. He is a cad with a flawed character but he still has a conscience.
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 Jingui (夏金桂) who is jealous of her and tries to poison her. Xue Pan makes her the lady of the house after Jingui's death. She soon dies while giving birth.
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. 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. She is supremely loyal to her mistress, but more soft-hearted and sweet-tempered.
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 Fūren) A Buddhist, primary wife of Jia Zheng. Daughter of one of the four most prominent families of Jinling. 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.
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. After Baoyu's disappearance, she unknowingly marries actor Jiang Yuhan, one of Baoyu's friends.
Qingwen (Chinese: 晴雯; pinyin: Qíngwén; Hawkes/Minford translation: Skybright, Meaning: Sunny Multicolored Clouds) Baoyu's personal maid. 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 (simplified Chinese: 鸳鸯; traditional Chinese: 鴛鴦; pinyin: Yuānyang; Hawkes/Minford translation: Faithful; Meaning: "Pair of Mandarin Ducks") The Dowager's chief maid. She rejects a marriage proposal (as concubine) to the lecherous Jia She, Grandmother Jia's eldest son and commits suicide right after the Dowager's death.
Xueyan (Chinese: 雪雁; pinyin: Xuěyàn; Hawkes/Minford translation: Snowgoose) Daiyu's other maid. She came with Daiyu from Yangzhou, and comes across as a young, sweet girl. She is asked to accompany the veiled bride Baochai to trick Baoyu into believing that he is marrying Daiyu.
Concubine Zhao (simplified Chinese: 赵姨娘; traditional Chinese: 趙姨娘; pinyin: Zhào Yíniáng) 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 own life.
Notable minor characters
Qin Zhong (秦鐘) – His elder sister is Qin Keqing, Baoyu's nephew's wife, and so he is technically a generation younger than Baoyu. Both he and Qin Keqing are the adopted children of Qin Ye (秦業). The two boys enroll in the Jia clan's school together and he becomes Baoyu's best friend. The novel leaves open the possibility that things might have gone beyond innocent friendship. Qin Zhong and the novice Zhineng (智能, "Intelligent"; "Sapientia" in the Hawkes translation) fall in love with tragic consequences, for Qin Zhong dies soon after from a combination of a severe beating administered by his father, sexual exhaustion, grief and remorse.
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 You, 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 lover. Though a kept woman before she was married, after her wedding she becomes a faithful and doting wife. Because of Wang Xifeng's intrigue, she finally kills herself by swallowing a large piece of gold.
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 malignant nature by spilling candle wax, intending to blind his half-brother Baoyu.
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.
In the opening chapter of the novel, a couplet is introduced:
Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal's real.
— Dream of the Red Chamber
As one critic points out, the couplet signifies "not a hard and fast division between truth and falsity, reality and illusion, but the impossibility of making such distinctions in any world, fictional or 'actual.'" The name of the main family, Jia (賈, pronounced jiǎ), is a homophone with the character jiǎ 假, meaning false or fictitious; this is mirrored by another family that has the surname Zhen (甄, pronounced zhēn), a homophone for the word "real" (真). It is suggested that the novel's family is both a realistic reflection and a fictional or "dream" version of Cao's own family.
The novel is most often titled Hóng lóu Mèng (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. It also refers to a dream in chapter five 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 be an erroneous understanding of the phrase hónglóu, which should more accurately be translated as "chamber", according to scholar Zhou Ruchang.
Early Chinese critics identified its two major themes as those of romantic love, and of the transitoriness of earthly material values, as outlined in Buddhist and Taoist philosophies. Since the rediscovery of Cao Xueqin as the novel's author, its autobiographical aspects have come to the fore, in particular that of Cao Xueqin's clan which was similarly raided in real life, and placed under the scrutiny of 20th- and 21st-century critics. During Mao Zedong's era, a Marxist interpretation of the novel was the focus of some Chinese critics, which deplores the feudal society's corruption and emphasizes the clashes between the classes. Since the 1980s, critics began embracing the novel's richness and aesthetics in a more multicultural context.
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. The eminent scholar Wang Guowei, however, achieved a new method of literary interpretation in an innovative and path-breaking 1904 essay which invoked the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Wang called the novel "the tragedy of tragedies," in contrast to the prosperous endings in most earlier drama and fiction.
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. 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. The influence of the novel's themes and style are evident in many modern Chinese prose works. 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. 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.
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. In 2006, Zhou, who had long distrusted Gao E's editions, and the novelist Liu Xinwu, author of popular studies of the novel, joined to produce a new 80 chapter version which Zhou had edited to eliminate the Cheng-Gao emendations. Liu completed an ending that was supposedly more true to Cao's original intent.
Translations and reception in the West
... one of the great monuments of the world's literature ....
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. A recent study concluded that the work is a "challenge even to the most resourceful of translators, and the process of rendering it into another language is bound to involve more translation problems, techniques, and principles than the process of rendering any other literary work."
The first recorded attempt at translating the novel into English was done by the noted Protestant missionary and sinologist Robert Morrison (1782–1834) in 1812 when he translated part of chapter four of the novel for the purpose of having it published in the second volume of his 1812 book Horae Sinicae (this book was never published). In 1816, Morrison did publish a translation of a conversation from chapter 31 in his Chinese language textbook Dialogues and Detached Sentences in the Chinese Language. In 1819, a short excerpt from chapter 3 was translated by the famous British diplomat and sinologist John Francis Davis (1795–1890) and published in the London Journal Quarterly Review. Davis also published a poem from chapter 3 of the novel in 1830 in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society.
The next 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.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.
An abridged translation by Wang Chi-Chen which emphasized 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..." 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. 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." In 1958 Wang published an expansion on his earlier abridgement, though it was still truncated at 60 chapters.
The stream of translations and literary studies in the West grew steadily, building on Chinese language scholarship. The 1932 German translation by Franz Kuhn was the basis of an abridged version, The Dream of the Red Chamber, by Florence and Isabel McHugh published in 1958, 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. 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."Kenneth Rexroth in a 1958 review of 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."
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).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 2,339 pages of actual core text (not including Prefaces, Introductions and Appendices). The wordcount of the Penguin Classics English translation is estimated as 845,000 words. 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." Cynthia L. Chennault of the University of Florida stated that "The Dream is acclaimed as one of the most psychologically penetrating novels of world literature." 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."
Extracts from the Hawkes translation were published as The Dream of the Red Chamber (New York: Penguin, Penguin 1960s Classics Series, 1996. ISBN 0-14-600176-1.)
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, three volumes, 1978–1980).
In 2014, an abridged translation of Dream by writer Lin Yutang resurfaced in a Japanese library. Lin's translation, about half the length of the original, is reportedly not a literal one.
Sequels and continuations
Owing to its immense popularity, numerous sequels and continuations to the novel have been published, even during the Qing era. There are currently more than thirty recorded sequels or continuations to the novel, including modern ones. Modern (post-1949) continuations tend to follow after the eightieth chapter, and include those by Zhang Zhi, Zhou Yuqing, Hu Nan and Liu Xinwu.
At least fourteen cinematic adaptations of the Dream of the Red Chamber have been made, including the 1944 film directed by Bu Wancang, the Hong Kong Shaw Brothers adaptation starring Sylvia Chang and Brigitte Lin, and the 1988 film directed by Xie Tieli (谢铁骊) and Zhao Yuan (赵元). This last film took two years to prepare and three years to shoot, and remains, at 735 minutes, the longest Chinese film ever made.
At least ten television adaptations have been produced (excluding numerous Chinese opera adaptations), and they include the renowned 1987 television series, which is regarded by many within China as being a near-definitive adaptation of the novel. It was initially somewhat controversial as few Redologists believed a TV adaptation could do the novel full justice. Producer and director Wang Fulin's decision in employing non-professional young actors was vindicated as the TV series gained enormous popularity in China. The series' success owes much to composer Wang Liping (王立平). He set many of the novel's classical verses to music, taking as long as four years to deliberate and complete his compositions. Other television versions include a 1996 Taiwanese series and a 2010 version directed by Fifth Generation director Li Shaohong.
Unlike the other great Chinese novels, particularly Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West, the Dream of the Red Chamber has received little attention in the gaming world, with only two Chinese language visual novels having been released as of 2017. Hong Lou Meng and Hong Lou Meng: Lin Daiyu yu Bei Jingwang (Chinese: 红楼梦：林黛玉与北静王) were both released by Beijing Entertainment All Technology (Chinese: 北京娱乐通). The latter one was released on 8 January 2010, and it is an extended version of the first game, with the main heroines of the game fully voiced and additional CG+endings.
^The Story of the Stone, Vol I The Golden Days, translated by David Hawkes, pp. 206–209, 300, 320–23. See also Jonathan Spence, "Ch'ing," in K.C. Chang, ed., Food in Chinese Culture (Yale University Press, 1977), p. 279.
^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.
^Joey Bonner, "Yü P'ing-Po and the Literary Dimension of the Controversy over Hung Lou Meng," The China Quarterly 67 (1976): 546–581 doi:10.1017/S0305741000035517; Merle Goldman, Literary Dissent in Communist China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).
^Gray, Ronald "The Stone's Curious Voyage to the West: A Brisk Overview of Honglou Meng’s English Translation History and English Hongxue." Journal of Sino-Western Communication 3.2 (December, 2011).
^Robert Thom, The Chinese Speaker; or, Extracts from Works Written in the Mandarin Language, as Spoken at Peking (Ningpo: Presbyterian mission Press, 1846).
^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) "Chinese Text Initiative". Archived from the original on 14 October 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
Eifring, Halvor (2016). Dream of the Red Chamber. Oxford Online Bibliographies (Chinese Studies). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 April 2017. Annotated bibliography of Western and Chinese language books and articles (subscription required).
C.T. Hsia, Ch VII, "The Dream of the Red Chamber," in The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (1968; rpr. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, Cornell East Asia Series, 1996. ISBN 1885445741), pp. 245–297.
Zaifu Liu, Yunzhong Shu, Reflections on Dream of the Red Chamber (Amherst, N.Y.: Cambria Press, 2008).
Minford, John; Hegel, Robert E. (1986). "Hung-lou meng 紅樓夢". In Nienhauser, William H. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 452–56. ISBN 0-253-32983-3.
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).
Schonebaum, Andrew; Lu, Tina (2012). Approaches to Teaching the Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber). New York: Modern Language Association of America. ISBN 9781603291101. Articles on the nature, content, and history of the novel.
Shang, Wei (2010). "The Literati Era and Its Demise (1723–1840)". In Chang, Kang-i Sun. The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Volume II: From 1375. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 245–342. ISBN 978-0-521-85559-4.
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