Dream of the Red Chamber

From New World Encyclopedia

Dream of the Red Chamber
Author Cáo Xuěqín
Original title 紅樓夢
Translator David Hawkes/John Minford
Country China
Language Chinese
Genre(s) Novel
Released 18th century
Released in English 1973–1980 (1st complete translation)
Media type Scribal copies/Print

Dream of the Red Chamber (Traditional Chinese: 紅樓夢; Simplified Chinese: 红楼梦; pinyin: Hónglóu mèng), also known as A Dream of Red Mansions, The Story of the Stone, or Chronicles of the Stone (Traditional Chinese: 石頭記; Simplified Chinese: 石头记; pinyin: Shítóu jì) is one of the masterpieces of Chinese fiction. It was composed sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century during the Qing Dynasty. Its authorship is attributed to Cáo Xuěqín (曹雪芹, Cao Zhan), though the last forty chapters of the work were apparently created later by another author. The novel is usually grouped with three other pre-modern Chinese works of fiction, collectively known as the Four Great Classical Novels. Of these, Dream of the Red Chamber is often taken to be the zenith of Chinese classical fiction.

The novel is a detailed, episodic record of the lives of the members of the Jia Clan, whose good fortune is assured when one of its daughters becomes an imperial concubine, and then declines after her death. The story centers on a love triangle consisting of the main character, Jia Baoyu, his beautiful cousin Lin Daiyu, and his future wife, another beautiful cousin named Xue Baochai.

Plot Summary

A scene from the story, painted by Xu Bao (born 1810).
Other scenes.

It is believed that the novel is semi-autobiographical, mirroring the fortunes of Cao Xueqin's own family, and was intended to be a memorial to the women Cao knew in his youth: friends, relatives, and servants. Cao belonged to a Han Chinese clan which reached the height of its prestige and power under the Emperor Kangxi(康熙皇帝, 1654 -1722), who appointed Cao Xueqin's great-grandfather, Cao Xi (曹玺), as the Commissioner of Imperial Textiles in Jiangning(江宁织造). By the early 1700s, the Cao clan had become so rich and influential as to be able to play host four times to the Emperor Kangxi in his six separate itinerant trips down south to Nanjing. The family's fortunes lasted until Kangxi's death and the ascension of Emperor Yongzheng(雍正皇帝), who was much less tolerant of the official debts incurred by the family. In 1727, after a series of warnings, he confiscated all Cao family properties, including their mansion, and put Cao Fu (Cao Xuequin’s father or uncle) under arrest. Many believe this purge was politically motivated. When Cao Fu was released from prison a year later, the family, totally impoverished, was forced to relocate to Beijing. Cao Xueqin, still a young child then, followed the family in this odyssey. Cao eventually settled in the Western suburbs of Beijing where he lived through the larger part of his late years in poverty, selling off his paintings and working diligently on Dream of the Red Chamber.

The novel itself is a detailed, episodic record of the lives of the extended Jia Clan, made up of two branches, the Ning-guo and Rong-guo Houses, which occupy two large adjacent family compounds in the Qing capital, Beijing. Their ancestors were made Dukes, and at the beginning of the novel, the two houses were still one of the most illustrious families in the capital. Originally extremely wealthy and influential, with a female member made an Imperial Concubine, the Jia clan eventually fell into disfavor with the Emperor, and their mansions were raided and confiscated. The novel traces the Jias' fall from the height of their prestige, centering on some 30 main characters and over four hundred minor ones.

The story is prefaced with supernatural Daoist and Buddhist overtones. A sentient Stone, abandoned by the Goddess Nüwa when she mended the heavens, enters the mortal realm after begging a Daoist priest and Buddhist monk to bring it to see the world.

The main character, Jia Baoyu, is the adolescent heir of the family, apparently the reincarnation of the Stone (the most reliable Jiaxu manuscript, however, depicts the Stone and Jia Baoyu as two separate, though related, entities). In his previous life as a stone, he had a relationship with a flower, who is incarnated now as Baoyu's sickly cousin, the emotional Lin Daiyu. However, he is destined in this life, despite his love for Daiyu, to marry another cousin, Xue Baochai. The novel follows this love triangle against the backdrop of the family's declining fortunes.

The novel is remarkable not only for its large number of characters,—over four hundred in all, most of whom are female—and its psychological scope, but also for its precise and detailed observations of the life and social hierarchy of eighteenth-century China.[1]


Fiction / Reality

The name of the main family, "賈" looks similar to the author's surname 曹 and has the same pronunciation in Mandarin as another Chinese character "假," which means fake or sham. Thus Cao Xueqin (曹雪芹) suggests that the novel's family is both a reflection of his own family, and simultaneously a fictional or a "dream" version of his family. (Baoyu occasionally dreams of another Baoyu, whose surname is "Zhen," which is a pun on "real".)

The novel is normally called Hong Lou Meng (紅樓夢), literally "Red Mansion Dream." "Red Mansion" was an idiom for the sheltered chambers where the daughters of wealthy families lived; thus the title can be understood as a "dream of young women." It can also be understood as referring to a dream foreshadowing the fates of many of the female characters, which Baoyu dreams in a "Red Mansion" in Chapter Five of the novel. "Red" also suggests the Buddhist idea that the whole world is "red dust" (紅塵), merely illusory and to be shunned. Thus the novel embodies the Buddhist (佛) and Daoist (道) concept that in order to find enlightenment, one must realize that the world is only a dream from which we must awake.


The novel, written in Vernacular Chinese and not Classical Chinese, is one of the works which established the legitimacy of the vernacular idiom. Its author was well versed in Classical Chinese, writing some tracts in erudite semi-wenyan, and in Chinese poetry. The novel's conversations are written in a vivid Beijing Mandarin dialect which was to become the basis of modern spoken Chinese, with influences from Nanjing Mandarin (where Cao's family lived in the early 1700s).


The novel contains nearly 30 characters which could be considered major, and hundreds of minor ones. Cao centered the novel on Jia Baoyu, the male protagonist, and the female relations around him, at one point intending to call the book The Twelfth Beauties of Jinling. In this novel, females take the central role and are frequently shown to be more capable than their male counterparts. They are also well-educated, unlike most Qing maidens of their time.

Main characters

The Masters and Mistresses

Jia Baoyu - the main protagonist is the adolescent son of Jia Zheng and his wife, Lady Wang. Born with a piece of luminescent jade in his mouth, Baoyu is the heir apparent to the fortunes and official honors of the Rongguo line. Much to his strict Confucian father's displeasure, however, Baoyu prefers reading novels and other types of casual literature to the philosophical and pedantic Four Books that were considered staples of a classical Chinese education. Although highly intelligent, Baoyu hates the company of the fawning bureaucrats that frequent his father's house and shuns the company of most men, whom he considers morally and spiritually inferior to women. Sensitive and compassionate, Baoyu famously holds the view that "girls are in essence pure as water, and men are in essence muddled as mud." Handsome and talented, Baoyu nevertheless spends all his time and energy attending to the needs of the women in the family, lamenting their helpless fate as pawns in the hands of a strict Confucian society and harboring many friendships with his female cousins and his sisters, all of whom he deems more gifted and deserving than men. Baoyu's sincere distaste for worldly affairs, and his frustrated but persistent love for his cousin Daiyu, later cause him to become slightly mad. At the end of the novel, after the death of Daiyu and the fall of the house of Jia, Baoyu becomes a Buddhist monk and renounces all his worldly ties.

Lin Daiyu is Jia Baoyu's first cousin and his true love. She is the daughter of a Jinling scholar-official, Lin Ruhai, and Lady Jia Min, the sister of Baoyu's father, Minister Jia Zheng. The story of the novel starts in Chapter Three, with Daiyu's arrival at the Rongguo house, where Baoyu and his family live, shortly after the death of her mother. Beautiful but emotionally fragile and prone to fits of jealousy, Daiyu is nevertheless an extremely accomplished poet, writer and musician. The novel designates her as one of the "Twelve Beauties of Jin Ling," describing her as a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure. Like Baoyu, Daiyu has a mythical origin in the novel—she was originally a crimson-tipped plant (the "Crimson Pearl") grown in the heavens, which flourished and bloomed as a result of constant nurturing by the Jiangyin Attendant, a minor divinity and apparently guardian to the gardens in heaven. According to the novel, Daiyu is the reincarnation of Crimson Pearl, and the very purpose of her mortal birth is to repay her divine nurturer, reborn as Baoyu, for the water and attention he had lavished on her in their previous existence. She is to repay the water Crimson Pearl received from the Jiangyin Attendant with tears in their shared mortal existence. This "debt of tears" is a main theme of the novel and foreshadows the tragic ending of the love between Daiyu and Baoyu. Daiyu, along with Baochai, are said to be one of the two most accomplished poets and the greatest beauties among all the remarkable women in the Jia Household and in all of the city of Jin Ling.

Xue Baochai is Jia Baoyu's first cousin from his mother's side. The only daughter of Aunt Xue, sister to Baoyu's mother, Baochai is depicted as a foil to Daiyu in many ways. While Daiyu is unconventional and hypersensitive, Baochai is sensible, tactful and a favorite of the Jia household, a model Chinese feudal maiden. The author describes her as an exceedingly beautiful and intelligent girl, but also very reserved. 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. Also one of the "Twelve Beauties in Jin Ling," Baochai has a round face, fair skin and some say a voluptuous figure, in contrast to Daiyu's willowy daintiness. Baochai always carries a golden locket with her; the locket contains words given to her by a Buddhist monk in her childhood, and is meant to bring her closer to her future husband. Baochai's golden locket and Baoyu's jade contain inscriptions that appear to complement one another perfectly; for this reason, it is rumored by some that their match is predestined. Baochai's golden locket is a source of tension between Daiyu and Baoyu early in the novel; later, it becomes instrumental in convincing the family of the suitability of her marriage to Baoyu.

Grandmother Jia, née Shi, is also called the Matriarch or the Dowager. She is the daughter of Marquis Shi of Jinling, the capital city of the fictitious dynasty set up in the novel. Baoyu's and Daiyu's grandmother, she is the highest living authority in the Rongguo house (and the oldest and most respected of the entire clan) and a doting figure. She has two sons, Jia She and Jia Zheng, and a daughter, Min, Daiyu's mother. It is at the insistence of Grandmother Jia that Daiyu is brought to the house of Jia, and it is with her help that Daiyu and Baoyu form inseparable bond as childhood playmates and later, kindred spirits. She later dies of natural causes.

Shi Xiangyun is Jia Baoyu's second cousin by Grandmother Jia. She is Grandmother Jia's grand-niece. Orphaned since infancy, she has grown up under her maternal uncle and aunt who use her unkindly and make her do embroidery and needlework for the whole family late into the night. In spite of her misfortunes, however, Xiangyun is opened-hearted and cheerful. A comparatively androgynous beauty, Xiangyun looks good in men's clothes, loves to drink and eat meat (considered a male trait) and speaks openly without tact. She is extremely learned and seemed to be as talented a poet as Daiyu or Baochai. She later marries a young man from a well-connected family but her husband soon dies of tuberculosis. She lives the rest of her life as a widow. She is also one of Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties.

Jia Yuanchun is Baoyu's elder sister by the same parents and Baoyu's senior by about a decade. Originally one of the ladies-in-waiting in the imperial palace (the daughters of illustrious officials were often selected for such honorary posts), Yuanchun later impresses the emperor with her virtue and learning and becomes an Imperial Consort. Her illustrious position as a favorite of the emperor marks the height of the Jia family's powers before its eventual decline. In spite of her prestigious position, Yuanchun appears remarkably unhappy and feels imprisoned within the walls of the imperial palace, as splendid a cage as it is. Even though the novel calls Yuanchun fortunate in having attained so much at such a young age, it portrays her as a lonely, tragic figure who loved a quiet life at home but who was sent to court by her parents and her family to help maintain the family fortunes. Toward the end of the novel, Yuanchun's early and sudden death precipitates the fall of the Jia family; some say Yuanchun dies because of palace intrigue, the result of political forces moving against the Jia family. She is included in Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties.

Wang Xifeng, alias Phoenix, Sister Feng is Baoyu's elder cousin-in-law, young wife to Jia Lian (who is Baoyu's paternal first cousin), and niece to Lady Wang. Xifeng is 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 niece of Lady Wang, Xifeng keeps both Lady Wang and Grandmother Jia entertained with her constant jokes and amusing chatter, plays 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; her charitable contributions to the family of Granny Liu remain gratefully acknowledged, and she seems to feel genuine affection for Baoyu and his sisters. On the other hand, Xifeng can be cruel enough to kill; she emotionally abuses her husband's concubine to such a degree that the young woman commits suicide, orders the death of a man just to prevent him from revealing her secret machinations, and causes the death of a man who falls in love with her by torturing his mind and body. While she is a jealous shrew who detests her husband's womanizing ways, Xifeng nevertheless uses her good looks to seduce the young, attractive male members of the Jia family for her own amusement. Her feisty personality, her loud laugh and her great beauty form a refreshing contrast to the many frail, weak-willed beauties that plagued the literature of eighteenth century China. Xifeng's name translates to "the Phoenix" - a mythical bird of authority. Xifeng eventually dies of illness after the house of Jia falls apart about her and she is held accountable for all her past acts. The first few chapters of the book foreshadow that Xifeng will die after being divorced by her husband and the Jia household, and will die and have her body sent home to the city of Jin Ling; this ending, however, never comes to pass in the last forty chapters of the book. She is also one of Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties.

Jia Zheng is Baoyu's father, a stern disciplinarian and Confucian scholar. Afraid that his one surviving son will turn bad, he imposes strict rules and occasional corporal punishment for his son. He has a wife, Lady Wang, and two concubines.

Lady Wang is Baoyu's mother, 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 ironclad control over Xifeng's affairs, so that the latter always has to report to her regarding important financial and family matters. Although Lady Wang appears to be a kind mistress and a doting mother, she can be in fact cruel and ruthless when her authority is challenged. At the beginning of the novel, Lady Wang's cruelty is revealed when she publicly chastises and shames one of her maid servants for flirting with her son Baoyu, causing her to commit suicide. Toward the end of the book, Lady Wang again uses her powers to publicly humiliate and dismiss Qinwen, one of Baoyu's most trusted maid servants. It is said that Lady Wang is one of the chief architects in arranging for the marriage between Baoyu and Baochai, because Baochai is her sister's daughter; Lady Wang's role in the affair hastens the rapid deterioration of Daiyu's health, causing the eventual tragedy of Daiyu's death and Baoyu's decision to become a Buddhist monk.

Jia Yingchun is the second daughter of the Jia household after Yuanchun. Yinchun is the daughter of Jia She, Baoyu's uncle and therefore his eldest female cousin. A kind-hearted, weak-willed, devout Daoist, Yingchun is said to have a "wooden" personality and seems rather apathetic toward all worldly affairs. Although very pretty, she does not have the brilliant beauty of Baochai and Daiyu, and although 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; she would rather read a book than command her servants or quarrel with others. Eventually Yingchun marries a new favorite of the imperial court, her marriage is merely one her father's desperate attempts to raise the declining fortunes of the Jia family. About two thirds of the way through the novel, the newly married Yingchun becomes a victim of domestic abuse and constant violence at the hands of her cruel, militaristic husband. Yingchun dies within a year of marriage. She is one of Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties.

Jia Tanchun is Baoyu's younger half-sister, by Concubine Zhao, second wife to Jia Zheng. Brash and extremely outspoken, she is described as being almost as capable as Wang Xifeng, once temporarily taking over the family's day-to-day financial affairs when the latter is ill after a miscarriage. Wang Xifeng herself compliments her privately, but laments she was "born in the wrong womb" because concubines' offspring are not treated with as much respect as those by first wives. Tanchun has a nickname of "Rose," which describes her beauty and also her prickly personality. Tanchun is eventually married off to a husband in a faraway land. Some versions of the novel say that she is bound in a political marriage to the ruler of a foreign country as a result of a post-war treaty; either way, the original version of the novel describes her marriage as ultimately happy even though she misses her relatives far away. She is also one of Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties.

Li Wan is Baoyu's elder sister-in-law, widow of Baoyu's deceased elder brother, Zhu. 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 twenties, as a mild-mannered woman with no wants or desires, the Confucian ideal of a proper mourning widow. She eventually attains high social status due to the success of her son, but the novel sees her as a tragic figure because she has wasted her youth upholding the strict standards of behavior imposed by a Confucian society on its young women, and in the end is never happy in spite of her family fortunes. She is also one of Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties.

Jia Xichun is Baoyu's younger second cousin from the Ningguo House, but brought up in the Rongguo Mansion. A gifted painter, she is also a devout Buddhist. 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 Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties, described as a pre-teen in most parts of the novel.

Aunt Xue, née Wang is Baoyu's maternal aunt, mother to Pan and Baochai, sister to Lady Wang. She is kindly and affable for the most part, but plays an important part in the novel by marrying her daughter Baochai to Baoyu.

Xue Pan is Baochai's older brother, a dissolute, idling rake who is a local bully in Jinling. Not particularly well studied, he once killed a man over a servant-girl and had the manslaughter case dismissed by bribing the authorities.

Jia Lian is Xifeng's husband and Baoyu's paternal elder cousin, a notorious womanizer whose numerous affairs cause much trouble with his jealous wife. He has at least four or five concubines, one of whom dies by his wife's hand; others she sends away. Possessing political and financial sensibility, Jia Lian is the one in charge of building the great garden in which the main characters spend most of their time. Along with Xifeng, he manages the Jia household inside and out. He and his wife are in charge of most decisions about hiring and allocating money, and often fight over this power. After Xifeng's death, he marries Ping'er, Xifeng's trusted personal maid and his unofficial concubine.

Jia Qiaojie is Wang Xifeng's and Jia Lian's daughter. The youngest of the Twelve Beauties of Jin Ling, she is a child through much of the novel. After the fall of the house of Jia, she marries the son of a country land-owner from Granny Liu's village and leads an uneventful middle-class life in the countryside.

Qin Keqing is a daughter-in-law to Jia Zhen, and one of the Twelve Beauties. Of all the characters in the novel, the circumstances of her life and early death are among the most mysterious; different editions of the novel are dramatically different. Discrepancies in chapter titles indicate clearly that the author has edited the present edition. Apparently a very beautiful and flirtatious woman, she carries on an affair with her father-in-law and dies before the second quarter of the novel. The present text hints at death by suicide, although some scholars speculate that she may have been connected politically and was murdered or ordered to be put to death, and that the political circumstances that surround her death later played a part in precipitating the fall of the house of Jia.

Miaoyu (Adamantina) is a young nun from Buddhist cloisters of the Rongguo house. She is beautiful, very learned, but arrogant and disdainful. She is later kidnapped by bandits and is rumored to have been killed by her abductor when she resisted his sexual advances. She is the last of Jin Ling City's Twelve Beauties to be introduced.

Granny Liu is 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 takes Qiaojie away to hide in her village when her maternal uncle wants to marry her off as a concubine of a feudal prince.

The maids and bondservants

Xiren (Invading Fragrance) is Baoyu's principle maid and his unofficial concubine. (At that period in Chinese history, a man often had sexual relations with his maids, but they were only honored with the title of a second wife (concubine) after the man married his principal wife from an appropriate social background.) Originally the maid of the Dowager, Xiren is given to Baoyu because of her extreme loyalty toward the master she serves. Considerate and forever worrisome over Baoyu, she is his first adolescent sexual encounter during the early chapters of the novel. Her name, Xiren, refers to a line of classical poetry that says "In an enclosed room, the fragrance of the flowers invade one's senses, sending one into raptures over its warmth;" it was given her by Jia Baoyu after he learned that her surname was Hua, or "flower."

Qingwen (Skybright) is Baoyu's other 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 never has a sexual affair with Baoyu and is disdainful of Xiren's attempt to use her relationship with Baoyu to raise her status in the family. Lady Wang later suspects her of having an affair with Baoyu and publicly dismisses her on that account; angry at the unfair treatment she has received and of the indignities that attend her as a result, Qingwen dies shortly after leaving the Jia household.

Ping'er (Patience) is Xifeng's chief maid and personal confidante; also concubine to Xifeng's husband, Jia Lian. The consensus among the novel's characters seems to be that Ping'er is beautiful enough to rival the mistresses in the house, and is at least much more beautiful than Xifeng, her own mistress. Originally Xifeng's maid in the Wang household, she follows Xifeng as part of her "dowry" when Xifeng marries into the Jia household. Ping'er leads a hard life, being torn between the jealous and violent Xifeng and the arrogant and womanizing Jia Lian. However, she handles her troubles with grace 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. She later becomes Jia Lian's primary wife after the death of Wang Xifeng.

Xiangling (Fragrant Lotus) is the Xues' maid, born Zhen Ying-lian (a pun on "she who is to be pitied"), the lost and kidnapped daughter of Zhen Shiyin, the country gentleman in Chapter One. She is the cause of a manslaughter case involving Xue Pan. She later dies giving birth to a son, after Xue Pan gets out of prison and makes her his primary wife.

Zijuan (Purple Nightingale) is Daiyu's chief maid, bequeathed by Grandmother Jia to her granddaughter, and is a very faithful companion to Daiyu.

Yuanyang (Mandarin Duck) is Grandmother Jia's chief maid. She rejects a proposal to become a concubine of the lecherous Jia She, Grandmother Jia's eldest son. After Grandmother Jia's death during the clan's declining days, she commits suicide.

Mingyan (Tealeaf Smoke) is Baoyu's young, male servant-attendant and knows his master thoroughly.

Textual Problems

The history of the manuscript of Dream of the Red Chamber is extremely complex and has been the subject of much critical scrutiny and conjecture by modern scholars.[2] Cao did not live to publish his novel, and only hand-copied manuscripts existed after his death until 1791, when the first printed version was published. This version, known as the "Chenggao edition," contains edits and revisions not authorized by the author.

Early manuscript versions

The novel was published anonymously until the twentieth century. Since then, after Hu Shi's analyses, it has been generally agreed that Cao Xueqin wrote the first 80 chapters of the novel.

A small group of close family and friends appears to have been transcribing his manuscript when Cao died quite suddenly in 1763-1764. Extant handwritten copies of this work were in circulation in Beijing shortly after Cao’s death and scribal copies soon became prized collectors' items.

Early hand-copied versions—many of which are 80 chapters, all incomplete—have comments and annotations written on them in red ink. These commentators clearly knew the author in person, and some are believed to be members of Cao Xueqin's own family. The most prominent commentator is Red Inkstone (脂砚斋). These manuscripts are the most textually reliable versions, known amongst scholars as "Rouge versions" (脂本). Even among the eleven or so independent surviving manuscripts, small differences in some of the characters used, rearrangements, and possible rewritings made each of them vary a little from the others.

According to novel's first chapter, Cao Xueqin revised his novel five times, and died before he had finished the fifth version. To compound this problem, parts of the latter chapters of the book were lost, so only 80 chapters are definitively written by the author.

The early 80 chapters brim with prophecies and dramatic foreshadowings which also give hints as to how the story will develop. For example, it is obvious that Lin Daiyu will eventually die; that Baoyu will become a monk; various characters will suffer in the snow; and that the whole estate will finally be consumed by flames.

Most modern critical editions have the first 80 chapters, based on the "Rouge versions."

The 120-chapter version

In 1791, Cheng Weiyuan and Gao E brought together the novel's first movable type edition. This was also the first "complete" edition of The Story of the Stone, which they printed as Dream of the Red Chamber. The original Rouge manuscripts have 80 chapters, ending roughly three-quarters into the plot and clearly incomplete. The 1791 movable type edition completed the novel in 120 chapters, with the next 40 newly published.

In 1792, they published a second edition correcting many typographical and editorial errors of the 1791 version. In the 1792 preface, the two editors claimed to have put together an ending based on the author's working manuscripts, which they bought from a street vendor.

The debate over the last 40 chapters still goes on. Most modern scholars believe these chapters were a later addition, with the plot and the quality of the prose inferior to the earlier 80 chapters. Hu Shih argued that the ending was forged by Gao E; he cited as support the ending of the 1791 Chenggao version, which does not coincide with the various foreshadowings of the chief characters' fates in Chapter Five.

Other critics suggest Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan may have been duped into taking someone else's forgery as an original work. A few scholars believe that the last 40 chapters do contain Cao's own work; these, however, are in the minority.

The book is still normally published and read in Cheng Weiyuan and Gao E's 120-chapter complete version. Some critical editions move these last 40 chapters to an appendix to indicate they were by another's hand.

Cultural Significance

“Dream of the Red Chamber” is one of the best-loved Chinese works of fiction; some literary scholars have devoted their entire careers to its study. Dream of the Red Chamber was the first outstanding work of Chinese fiction to have a tragic ending, and reached unprecedented psychological depth with its portrayal of the interactions among a large number of well-developed characters.

The narrative is frequently interrupted by accounts of poetry contests, a literary device which makes the novel difficult to follow for some Western readers.

In 1989, the novel was made into a serial feature film, directed by Zie Tieli, and produced by the Beijing Film Studio. The project required two years of preparation and three years of filming. The film runs for 13 hours consists of eight episodes in six parts, following the narrative pattern of the book. About 150 of the book’s nine hundred characters appear in the film.

There are two craters on asteroid 433 Eros named after the novel's fictional characters, Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu.


  1. About the Novel, CliffsNotes. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
  2. Dore Jesse Levy. Ideal and Actual in The Story of the Stone, Reprint ed. (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1999), 7.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cao, Xueqin. The Story of the Stone: a Chinese Novel: Vol 1, The Golden Days, trans. David Hawkes. 1973. ISBN 0140442936
  • Cao, Xueqin. The Story of the Stone: a Chinese Novel: Vol 2, The Crab-flower Club, trans. David Hawkes. 1973. ISBN 0140443266
  • Cao, Xueqin. The Story of the Stone: a Chinese Novel: Vol 3, The Warning Voice, trans. David Hawkes. 1973. ISBN 0140443703
  • Cao, Xueqin. The Story of the Stone: a Chinese Novel: Vol 4, The Debt of Tears, trans. John Minford. 1973. ISBN 0140443711
  • Cao, Xueqin. The Story of the Stone: a Chinese Novel: Vol 5, The Dreamer Wakes, trans. John Minford. 1973. ISBN 014044372X
  • Levy, Dore Jesse. Ideal and Actual in the Story of the Stone, Reprint ed. Columbia Univ. Press, 1999. ISBN 0231114079
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. ISBN 0393307808
  • Tsao Hsueh Chin, and Kao Ngo. A Dream of Red Mansions, ABRIDGED, translated by Yang Hsien Yi. Cheng & Tsui; Abridged ed., 1999. in English, ISBN 0887271782
  • Tsao, Hsueh-Chin (Cao, Xueqin). Dream of the Red Chamber, Translated & abridged by Chi-Chen Wang, Doubleday Anchor, 1958. ISBN 0385093799

External links

All links retrieved January 30, 2024.


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