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Hong Lou Meng

Hong Lou Meng, known as A Dream of Red Mansions to foreign readers, was written in the latter half of the 18th century. It is not only a great Chinese novel but also a gem of world literature. The author is Cao Xueqin (1715-1763), also known as Cao Zhan. He was born into a noble and powerful family, which was reduced from extreme prosperity to poverty in his lifetime. The life of luxury in his boyhood acquainted him with the ways of noble families and the ruling class, while poverty in his later life enabled him to observe life more clearly and penetratingly. Based on his own understanding of life and with his progressive ideas, serious attitude, and high craftsmanship, he was able to create A Dream of Red Mansions, a book regarded as the pinnacle ofthe Chinese classical novel.

Of the novel's 120 chapters, the first 8O were written by Cao Xueqin, while the last 4O chapters were thought to have been written by another writer, Gao E. Though certain differences with the first 80 chapters can be discerned in Gao E's sequel, in respect to ideological content and artistic achievement, it still basically follows Cao's original plan and makes the novel an integral whole.

A Deram of Red Mansions describes the life and declining fortunes of a large feudal family. At the heart of the novel is a tragic love story between Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu, and Xue Baochai. The author, instead of telling the love story superficially, tries to tap the social origins of the tragedy through probing deeply into the characters' minds and the complicated relationships among them, hence exposing the hypocrisy and cruelty of feudalism and the decadence of the ruling class.

The novel goes far beyond the tragic love story, to depict a broad swath of society through describing a series of complicated conflicts and struggles, and ultimately predicting the doomed fate of feudal society as a whole. The novel criticizes feudalism and its corrupt politics, marriage system, and ethical relationships and passionately denounces its cruelty and inhumanity in China. A Dream of Red Mansions is praised as an encyclopedia for analyzing feudal society.
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