Hong Lou Meng
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
(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