We have to admit many things about Chinese citizens: They are smart in most things they do as almost a general rule for over 60% of their population.
Technology, culture, literature, and any other field and aspect you can think about, many of them have shown to be great in dominating all and bringing pride to their nation.
Among the people who have made history from the country, Cao Xueqin is one that can’t be missed in literature, even the international and worldwide one instead of the Chinese only.
Personally, we love his work, and he was a great author that left a legacy behind after his death centuries ago. However, it is inevitable to remember him and go over some of his most famous and renamed works of all times: Dream of the Red Chamber.
Among all his novels, you will discover the Dream of the Red Chamber is considered a classic one in Chinese literature, and for very good reasons.
This is why we will be focusing on it today and help you decide to start today with your reading. After all, it is a novel that is worth every second of your life. But first, let’s get to know the writer.
China’s Greatest Novelist? – In the Life of Cao Xueqin
Unlike many believe, we will have to go back to several decades and centuries to review the life of this outstanding author and novelist. Though, we believe our last introduction kind of gave you a spoiler in this.
Many believe Cao is a Chinese novelist during recent years, but they see their mistake quite soon when we are taken back to the early 1700s when he started his life and career as one of the best authors in the nation.
Starting with the simple, Cao Xueqin, who was supposedly born in 1715 and died in 1763, was a great writer of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). His style name was Mengruan, while his personal name was Zhan. Thus, you can also find information about him as “Cao Zhan.”
Cao was the posthumous grandson of Cao Yin, who was the Nanking Textile Commissioner and greatly favored by Emperor Kangxi.
His grandfather, Cao Yin, was the Cao family’s wealth and power and represented what the family had at the time as one of the wealthiest ones in the country.
However, the downfall of the Cao family came a few years after Cao Xueqin’s birth due to political reasons.
Cao’s childhood and adulthood are almost unknown to the point of redology scholars still debate Cao’s birthdate, but it is believed that he was around 40-50 years old at his death.
Some Radiologists believe he was the sound of Cao Yong. However, Cao Yong’s son was listed in the clan register (Wu Qing Tang Cao Shi Zong Pu ) and, as a result, professionals are further complicated by the fact that the register does not contain the names Cao Zhan or Cao Xueqin, which were the names his contemporaries used to call him.
What people know about his adulthood takes us to a few years later when Cao Xueqin was living in a Pekin slumlord in the west suburb in poverty.
The writer, who was around forty years old, died in 1763 and left behind a widow. He presumptively died from the loss of a son, though this hasn’t been confirmed during all this time.
He was exposed to the lifestyle of the ruling class and noble families in his youth, but he found that poverty allowed him to see life clearly and more deeply, which is believed he felt fulfilled by just having enough to survive and see his family live.
Learning the Plot: About the Dream of the Red Chamber
After knowing a bit more about the writer (we know you still have some questions), we can focus on the book for a couple of minutes. More specifically, in what it is about.
Nowadays, we know that people don’t feel really attracted to old novels and books unless they are actually studying anything related to literature and kind of “force” them to read the old classics, especially from other cultures.
However, we will say it one more time: This novel is worth your time no matter what people say.
For you to understand why we will insist on this all the time, let’s explain to you a bit about the plot.
The novel tells the story of a sentient Stone left behind by Nüwa, the goddess of heaven, not years but eons ago.
The Stone wants to experience the mundane world that is known as the “red dust” in the novel and get to know about all its pleasures.
A Taoist priest and Buddhist monk accept to take the Stone with them after it begged continuously to be taken to the mundane world once they are about to leave.
The Stone and a companion, though in Cheng-Gao versions, are combined into one character and are given a chance to learn from human existence.
To do so, the Stone enters the mortal realm as Jia Baoyu, which refers to “Precious Jade.” More than entering, it is reborn on this new character we are introduced to.
With this in mind, the novel is a chronicle of life in two branches of the wealthy, aristocratic Jia clan, which includes the Rongguo House and the Ningguo House, which reside in a large and adjacent family compound in the capital.
Their ancestors were made Dukes and provided with imperial titles they could be proud of. However, where does the novel set us?
The novel begins by mentioning and setting us with the two houses among the most illustrious families in the city.
One of the Jia daughters is made a Royal Consort, and to suitably receive her, the family constructs the Daguanyuan, a lush landscaped garden, the setting for much of subsequent action.
The novel describes the Jias’ richness and influence in great detail. It charts the Jias’ fall from the height of their prestige, following many main characters and secondary ones over the 120 chapters of the novel.
Among the main characters, we will have the carefree teenager male heir of the family, Baoyu, who in this life has formed a unique and special bond with his sickly cousin Lin Daiyu, who shares his love of music and poetry.
Baoyu is fated to marry Xue Baochai, his other cousin, which ends up leading us to a romantic rivalry and friendship among the three characters. At the same time, the backdrop of the family’s declining fortunes forms the epitome and center of the story.
To be more concise with the story frame, we can resume it as the life and decline of a large feudal clan in a very detailed novel.
The novel’s heart is a tragic love story of Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu, Xue Baiochai. But the author, instead of telling the love story superficially, tries to uncover the social causes of the tragedy by digging into the minds of the characters and their complicated relationships.
This exposes the hypocrisy, cruelty, and decadence of feudalism.
Popularity & Classical Novel – Greatest Piece of Work
With a simple overview, you can figure something out: The novel is more complex than it seems, and you will have things, situations, and aspects to read about if you decide to give it a try.
At first, people tend to believe it is just another romantic and traffic love story. Still, the novel entails much more, and the characters you are introduced to aren’t only a few, but rather over 400, being almost 40 of the main ones through the chapters.
Although we can’t say about the popularity back when it was written, the novel is one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels due to the focus on the situation during the Qing dynasty and the representation of a family that was at its peak just to fall to the deepest darkness.
We love it; we know you can already tell.
The novel is remarkable for how precise and detailed every chapter is regarding life, social structures, and society.
You won’t go over many plot holes nor feel like many factors are missing.
Instead, you will have a complex, unique, and very well-written novel that includes every single aspect of real-life during the 18th century in the country and how it influenced the life of many.
The novel is more than a tragic love story. It describes complex conflicts and struggles and predicts the end of feudal society.
It directly condemns feudalism and its corrupt politics, marriage system, and ethical relationships and passionately denounces its cruelty. A Dream of Red Chamber is highly regarded as an encyclopedia to analyze feudal society.
Now, there aren’t records about the book earnings in specific since the first printed edition goes back to 1791, and right now, the information isn’t disclosed; either the earnings or copies sold over the last few decades.
But, when was it written?
With so little information about the author’s life and its publication, it is usually hard to answer this question.
However, people believe it is written around the middle of the 18th century, considering the author’s life and when he most likely died.
From Paper to the Screen: The Dream of the Red Chamber (1977)
With a novel with so much history and popularity, you can expect it to be adapted to the big screen, which is exactly what the Chinese citizens did.
In 1977, the film with the drama, musical, and romance tags was released with the same name as the novel.
The director Li Han-Hsiang did his best to adapt the piece of art by Cao Xueqin, and although the critics of the movie weren’t that hard on it, it fell quite short of what was expected.
With a great cast at the time (and so many of them either deceased or still acting), the film is a classic in the Chinese cinema industry for the simple fact of being the first direct adaptation of the novel for the big screen. Though, there are a few series and short films focused on the story as well.
As for the earnings and details of the movie and actors, we don’t have this much information due to the date and how difficult it is for China to disclose the details.
4 Facts About the Dream of the Red Chamber
- The novel is often considered to be a semi-autobiography of the life of Cao Xueqin since it seems to mirror the rise and decline of his family.
- The novel is considered one of the stories with an unprecedented psychological depth that leaves you thinking.
- It wasn’t till 1868 when the novel was published in English.
- Some believe another author wrote the last 40 chapters of the novel.
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