Cao Xueqin wrote The Story of the Stone, the novel that was the basis of The Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the most celebrated novels in the history of Chinese literature.

Cao Xueqin (Ts’ao Hsueh-ch’in) was born in Nanjing into a powerful and wealthy family. Shortly after Cao’s birth, the family became involved in political intrigues, falling into disgrace and financial ruin. Beginning in 1742 Cao lived in poverty in the western suburbs of Beijing, making a little money selling his own paintings. It was there that he wrote Shitou ji (The Story of the Stone).

Although the manuscript was left unfinished when he died, handwritten copies with eighty chapters began to appear before long. In 1792 the novel was printed with an additional forty chapters, usually attributed to Gao E, under the title Honglou meng (The Dream of the Red Chamber). It is one of the most celebrated novels in the history of Chinese literature. The novel, which has some strong autobiographical elements, focuses on the downfall of the Jia family. The principal characters are Baoyu, who is born from a stone into the Jia family, and Daiyu, who is deeply but unhappily in love with Baoyu. The decline of the Jia family follows the death of one of the daughters who was an imperial consort, but in the end the imperial favors are restored, and Baoyu passes the imperial examinations. The novel has been translated into English several times.

Further Reading

Cao Xueqin. (1973–1986; 1979–1987). The Story of the Stone: A Chinese novel in five volumes (D. Hawkes & J. Minford, Trans.). Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books; Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). CAO Xueqin. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 276–276. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

CAO Xueqin (Cáo Xuěqín 曹雪芹)|Cáo Xuěqín 曹雪芹 (CAO Xueqin)

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