Dream of the Red Chamber
Dream of the Red Chamber

Dream of the Red Chamber is one of China’s four classical novels. The others are Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Journey to the West. Written during the mid-18th century of Qing Dynasty by Cao Xueqin, Chinese scholars regard the work as the apex of Chinese literature. The book primarily recounts relationships with women that Xueqin had in his youth as well as depicting the lifestyle, culture and atmosphere among the Chinese elite of that time. The book shows the fall of a prominent, wealthy family during the epoch.

Though condensed versions of the book exist, the complete text features over 120 chapters, 1300 pages and more than 700,000 words. Cao Xueqin wrote the first 80 chapters of the work while his editor, Gao E, added 40 more chapters to complete the masterpiece. Redologist, a term coined for scholars devoted to the novel, dispute how much Gao E contributed to the novel, but many believe that he wrote the last 40 chapters of the novel.

The book is loaded with over 400 minor characters and 30 major characters but the primary story focuses on the relationship between Jia Baoyu, a teenage boy, Lin Daiyu, a teenage girl and Jia’s love interest as well as Xue Baochai, also a teenage girl. Jia likes both girls, whom are his cousins, but loves Lin. Jia’s family arranges for him to marry Xue and so a complex love story unfolds that some liken to a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet. During that period of Chinese history it was socially acceptable to either marry or be romantically involved with cousins within a family.

Here are two famous quotes from Dream of the Red Chamber:
The cunning waste their pains
The Wise Men vex their brains
But the simpleton who seeks no gains
With bell fully, he wanders free
As drifting boat among the sea

Another famous quote from the book goes:
Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal’s real