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Cao Xueqin, who was a well-known Qing Dynasty Chinese writer, was born around 1715 and passed away on 12 February 1763. He came from a well-to-do family in Nanjing. At the age of thirteen, the family moved back to Beijing, consist in the rapidly fading (like the Jia family in the storyline). Since then, life became so hard that he had no choice but to experience the life of the poor. ” The Story of the Stone ” is carried out under conditions of that extreme hardship. He died in the early fifties because of the unexpected death of this beloved son. However, the book was not finalized at that time.
A verity of autobiographical elements is woven into his great work, The Story of the Stone, which is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literatures In 19 century. While the first 80 chapters were written by Cao Xueqin, Gao E, who prepared the first and second printed editions with his partner Cheng Weiyuan in 1791-2, added 40 additional chapters to complete the novel.
Introduction of the book:
It was written in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. It is considered to be a masterpiece of Chinese literature and is generally acknowledged to be the peak of Chinese novel. Till now, there are over 75 printed Chinese editions and over 15 foreign translations. “Redology” is the field of study devoted exclusively to decompose this great work. The title has also been translated as Red Chamber Dream and A Dream of Red Mansions. The novel handed down in manuscript copies with a number of different titles until its print publication in 1791. The novel is also often known as The Story of the Stone (çŸ³é è¨˜). Red Chamber is considered to be a semi-autobiographical work, which mirrors the rise and decline of the author Cao Xueqin’s own family and, by extension, of the Qing Dynasty. As the author details in the first chapter, it is regarded as a memorial to the female he knew in his youth: his relatives, friends and even servants. Dream of the Red Chamber contains an extremely huge number of characters: nearly forty main characters, and there are almost five hundred additional ones. The novel is known for the complex depiction of its many female characters as well. The novel is remarkable not only for its huge cast of characters and psychological scope, but also for typical social structures of 18th-century Chinese aristocracy and precise and its detailed observation of the life.
The novel is most often titled Hóng Lóu Mèng (ç´…æ¨“å¤¢), literally “Red Chamber Dream”. There are several definitions lie in the idiom ,”Red chamber”; one in particular means the sheltered chambers where the daughters of prominent families reside. It also refers to a dream in Chapter 5 that Baoyu has sat in a “red chamber”, where the destinies of many characters are foreshadowed.
Red Chamber Dream can be said as the encyclopedia of feudalistic society. The novel’s tone is both metaphysical and realistic, and was constructed in a way that reality and illusion are often hinted side by side and difficult to differentiate. It has been hailed as one of the most complex and psychologically penetrating works in all of world literature. The novel also provides great insight in its depiction of the Chinese culture of the time, including description of the era’s “manners, expectations, and consequences.” Many aspects of Chinese culture, such as medicine, cuisine, tea culture, proverbs, mythology, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, filial piety, opera, music, painting, classic literature, the Four Books, etc. are vividly portrayed. Among these, the novel is particularly notable for its grand use of poetry.
Passing through the gateway between the Land of Illusion and reality one can read the guiding principle behind the book:
Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal’s real.
Confusing ? Perhaps initially, but in Cao Xueqin’s masterful presentation the interplay of reality and fiction are made abundantly clear.
Two major themes that are prevalent throughout the novel are the nature of “reality” and of the “truth.” The name of the main family, Jia (è³ˆ, pronounced jiÇŽ), is a homophone with the Chinese character jiÇŽ å‡, meaning false or fictitious. Another family in the book has the surname Zhen (ç”„, pronounced zhÄ“n), a homophone for the word “real” (çœŸ). Thus, Cao Xueqin suggests that the novel’s family is both a realistic reflection and a fictional or “dream” version of his own family.
The novel provides a detailed, episodic record of the two branches of the wealthy and aristocratic Jia (è³ˆ) clan – the Rongguo House (æ¦®åœ‹åºœ) and the Ningguo House (å¯åœ‹åºœ) – 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 was made an Imperial Consort, and a lush landscaped garden was 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 bring it with them to see the world. The Stone, accompanied by a character named Divine Attendant-in-Waiting (ç¥žç‘›ä¾è€…) (while in Cheng-Gao versions they are merged into the same character), was given a chance to learn from the human existence. He enters the mortal realm and must find the path to enlightenment.. His fate is inextricably bound with another creature from the Land of Illusion, the Crimson Pearl Flower. The Stone is responsible for its transformation into a fairy girl — and she vows to repay him with “a debt of tears”, willing to suffer for a lifetime in the world of mere mortals. This is a significant beginning, holding many clues to the rest of the text.
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. He is recognized as an unusual child, especially by his grandmother and his maids. He is the great hope of the family. When he is still a boy a relative comes to live with his family — Lin Daiyu, the incarnation of the Crimson Pearl Flower, who shares his love of music and poetry. In the other world the two were meant for each other. Baoyu ,however, is predestined to marry another cousin, Xue Baochai, whose grace and intelligence exemplifies 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 forms the main story in the novel.
Bao-yu must fulfill his obligations in the mortal world to attain enlightenment, and the novel runs its inevitable course. He does sit for the national examinations, he does marry the one he is ordained to marry (with predictable results), and he does find enlightenment, becoming the Stone again.
Reception and influences in modern era:
In the late 19th century, Red chamber’s influence was so pervasive that the reformer Liang Qichao(æ¢å•Ÿè¶…) attacked it along with another classic novel Water Margin(æ°´æ»¸å‚³) as “incitement to robbery and lust,” and for smothering the introduction of Western style novels, which he regarded as more socially responsible. Scholar Wang Guowei(çŽ‹åœ‹ç¶), however, used them for solace. In the early 20th century, although the New Culture Movement(æ-°æ-‡åŒ-é‹å‹•) took a critical view of the Confucian classics, the scholar Hu Shih(èƒ¡é©) used the tools of textual criticism to put the novel in an entirely different light, as a foundation for national culture. He 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(è”¡å…ƒåŸ¹)’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(æ¯›æ¾¤æ±), 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 such works as Ba Jin(æŽå ¯æ£ , pen name:å·´é‡‘)’s novel, Family(å®¶) (1931), and Moment in Peking(äº¬è¯ç…™é›²) (1939) by Lin Yutang(æž-èªžå ‚). The early 1950s was a rich period for Redology with publication of major studies by Yu Pingbo(ä¿žå¹³ä¼¯). Zhou Ruchang(å‘¨æ±æ˜Œ), 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(ç™¾èŠ±é½Šæ”¾é‹å‹•), 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(æ-‡åŒ-å¤é©å‘½), 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 on the novel.
Opinion expressed in a book review:
This book especially highlights the love story of Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai. They three have totally different personality and thought: Baoyu and Daiyu hate to read Four Books and Five Classics. They dismiss to win the fame through imperial examination. Instead, they pursue individual freedom, gender equality and to marry the partner of one’s choice. This couple have a initial sense of democracy and also be considered as the betrayer of feudalism. On the contrary, Xue Baochai not only toe the line from time to time, but demand herself on morals and ethics. In addition, she always convince Baoyo to read more books of sages and make friends with celebrities for later to win fame and fortune. Cao Xueqin praise of Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu’s rebellious spirit and courageous pursuit of love and revealing and criticizing the Grandmother Jia, Jia Zheng and Ms. Wang’s feudal forces represented by the destruction of progressive forces. Readers can tell from these exposures and critics that the doom of feudal system is irreversible.
Cao Xueqin provides a great deal of insight into the Chinese culture of the time in his descriptions of protocol, manners, expectations, and consequences. Precisely described, with great psychological insight, Cao Xueqin conveys the slow decline of the Jia’s very convincingly.
The huge book is so rich and varied that it is difficult to convey how much there is to it. Cleverly constructed, there are hints and cross-references to hidden (and obvious) meanings throughout. Truth and falsity, reality and illusion are constant throughout.
There are few books can even be considered for the title of ‘Book of the Millennium’, however, The Story of the Stone surely is a strong contender. This classic novel from the Qing dynasty, considered the greatest work of Chinese fiction, is a brilliant achievement and a marvelous read. Only its length might scare off readers — otherwise there is nary a fault to find with this incredible work.
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