Also known as Dream of Red Mansion or Story of the Stone. The first 80 chapters are attributed to Cao Xueqin, but after Cao’s death, publisher Gao’ E is said to have added the last 40 chapters. The story is supposedly semi-autobiographical.
Due to its length and language usage, it is considered a very difficult novel to translate. The story includes many lines of poetry, proverbs, and names. The original story was written not in pure classical Chinese, but in a mix of classical and vernacular language. And due to its length and many different characters, it can be hard to keep track of what’s happening and who’s who (character sheets while reading highly recommended).
Dream of the Red Chamber is considered one of China’s greatest novels (if not the), and an entire field of study, called “Red studies” or “redology” (hóngxué红学), is devoted to this novel alone.
Dream of the Red Chamber tells the story of two wealthy families in the late Qing era, focusing on the romantic relations and friendships/foes of protagonist Jia Baoyu, who lives a protected life in his courtyard house, together with his pretty cousins (Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai) and many servant girls.
TranslationsCao Xueqin, Gao E. (1973). The story of the stone: A Chinese novel in five volumes David Hawkes & John Minford, Trans.). London: Penguin.
The first full-length, and most well-known translation is David Hawke’s three-volume translation of the first 80 chapters (1973, 1977, 1980). John Minford (who wrote the DCB article on Cao Xueqin) completed the translation of the last forty chapters. The complete translation consists of 5-volumes, 2,480 pages.Cao Xueqin, & Gao E. (1978). A dream of red mansions (Xianyi Yang & Gladys Yang, Trans.). Peking: Foreign Languages Press.
The only other English-language, full-text translation is by the prolific translator duo Gladys and Xianyi Yang, A Dream of Red Mansions, published in three volumes by the Foreign Language Press in Beijing (1978-1980). As opposed to the Hawkes/Minford translation, the Yangs’ version is considered to be too literal, and less pleasurable to read.
Not actually a translation, but a reinterpretation and retelling of the story is Pauline A. Chen’s The Red Chamber (http://paulineachen.com/). Her webpage includes some links to additional information about the original novel, pronunciation of names, and historical notes.
There are dozens of TV series and movies based on the novel, as the story lends itself perfectly for the “soap opera” format. (List and reviews to come.)
A basic outline of the novel/characters and secondary sources: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~asia/DreamRedChamberOutline.html
Read the article on Dream of the Red Chamber from the Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, or learn more about Ming and Qing novels.
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