Dream of the Red Chamber

From Academic Kids

Dream of the Red Chamber (Chinese: 紅樓夢; pinyin: hng lu mng) or Chronicles of the Stone (Chinese: 石頭記; pinyin: sh tu j), written by Cao Xueqin, is one of the masterpieces of Chinese fiction and is considered by many to be one of the greatest novels ever written. It was composed in the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty.

The novel is usually grouped with other pre-modern Chinese works of fiction, collectively known as the four Classics. Chinese fiction developed much differently from the West's; literature in general was considered more to encompass philosophy and poetry rather than fiction (known is Chinese as "minor speech"). The essence of this novel was arguably more realized after having come under scrutiny by scholars everywhere after China began adopting Western methods of writing fiction; coinciding approximately with the May Fourth Movement.

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


The novel is semi-autobiographical, mirroring the fortunes of Cao Xueqin's own family. Originally extremely wealthy, with a female member made an imperial concubine, the family eventually fell into disfavour with the emperor, and had their mansions raided and confiscated.

It was also intended to be a memorial to women he knew in his youth; friends, relatives and servants.

The main character, Jia Baoyu (賈寶玉) is an adolescent boy, apparently the reincarnation of a stone. In that previous life he fell in love with a flower, who is incarnated now as Baoyu's sickly cousin, the emotional Lin Daiyu (林黛玉). However, he is predestined in this life, despite his love for Daiyu, to marry another cousin; Xue Baochai (薛寶釵). The novel follows this tragic love triangle against the backdrop of the family's declining fortunes.

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 suggests that the novel's family is both a version of his own family, and simultaneously fictional - or a "dream"-version of his family. (Confusingly, Baoyu occasionally dreams of another Baoyu, whose surname is "Zhen", which puns on "real").

The novel is normally called Hong Lou Meng (紅樓夢) - literally "Red Mansion Dream". "Red Mansion" was an idiom for the daughters of rich men; thus the title can be understood as a "dream of rich young women". It can also be understood as referring to a (wet) dream that Baoyu has - in a "Red Mansion" - at the beginning of the novel, where the deaths of many of the female characters are prophecized. "Red" also suggests the Buddhist idea that the whole world is "red dust" - merely illusory and to be shunned. Thus the novel fits in perfectly with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs that to find enlightenment, one must realize that the world is but a dream from which we must awake.

Textual Problems

Cao Xueqin revised his novel five times, and died before he had finished the fifth version. To compound this problem, a friend lost the latter chapters of the book, so we only have 80 chapters that are definitively written by the author.

However, some versions of these eighty pages have comments written on them by members of Cao's family, which give some clues as to how the novel was originally going to end. Furthermore, the book brims with prophecies and dramatic ironies, which again give hints ss to how the book would continue. For example, it is obvious that Lin Daiyu would eventually die; that Baoyu would become a monk; various characters would suffer in the snow; and that the whole estate would finally be consumed by flames.

In 1792, Chen Weiyuan and Gao E brought together a "complete" 120-chapter version of Dream, claiming to have composed the ending based on the author's manuscripts. However, the ending neither wholly fits with the foreshadowings of the first 80 chapters, nor the knowledge of Cao's family. According to Hu Shi, who first put forth the theory that the last 40 chapters were a forgery by Gao E, the ending of the novel does not coincide with the various foreshadowings of the chief characters' fates in the prophetic poetic lines.

Scholars since then have argued the extent to which Gao E had revised Cao's original intentions, or whether he did have any access to the extant manuscripts of the author in the first place. Some scholars have contrary ideas, and feel very strongly that Gao E had at least a glimpse of Cao's rudimentary plans for the novel's last 40 chapters, or even that he was merely the acting editor for Cao's working papers. Others however think Chen Weiyuan and Gao E may have been duped into taking a forged continuation as the author's original work.

The book, is, nevertheless, normally published in Gao E's 120 chapter version.

Family trees of the main characters

The Jia clan

                                                    common ancestor               
               |                                                                        |
            Jia Yan                                                                  Jia Yuan
        Duke of Ning-guo                                                         Duke of Rong-guo
               |                                                                        |
          Jia Dai-hua                                                              Jia Dai-Shan === Grandmother Jia (ne Shi)
               |                                                                                 |
        ,------+-------.                                   ,-------------------------------------+---+------------------------------------------.
        |              |                                   |                                         |                                          |
      Jia Fu       Jia Jing                             Jia She === Lady Xing                    Jia Zheng === Lady Wang                     Jia Min === Lin Ru-hai
                       |                                         |                                          |                                         |
                ,------+-------.                           ,-----------.                    ,---------+-----+--+---------+----------.                 |
                |              |                           |           |                    |         |        |         |          |                 |
  You-shi === Cousin Zhen   Xi-chun   Wang Xi-feng === Jia Lian   Ying-chun*  Li Wan === Jia Zhu  Yuan-chun  Bao-yu  Tan-chun*  Jia Huan*        Lin Dai-yu
           |                                        |                                 |
      Jia Rong === Qin-shi                       Qiao-jie                          Jia Lan

 * denotes a child by a concubine

The Wang family

            |                    |              |                                 |
   Wang Xi-feng's father    Wang Zi-teng    Lady Wang === Jia Zheng       Aunt Xue (ne Wang)
            |                                          |                          |
     ,------+--.                           ,-----------+--+--------.         ,----+---.
     |         |                           |              |        |         |        |
 Wang Ren  Xi-feng === Jia Lian   Jia Zhu === Li Wan  Yuan-chun  Bao-yu   Xue Pan  Bao-chai

External links

de:Der Traum der roten Kammer eo:Ruĝdoma sonĝo lb:Den Dram vun der rouder Kummer ja:紅楼夢 zh:红楼梦


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