Cao Xueqin

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Pages full of idle words
Penned with hot and bitter tears:
All men call the author fool;
None his secret message hears.
Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;
Real becomes not-real when the unreal's real.

Cáo Xuěqín (Chinese: 曹雪芹; 1715 or 1724 – 1763 or 1764) was a Chinese writer during the Qing dynasty. He is best known as the author of Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.

Quotes[edit]

  • 今风尘碌碌,一事无成。忽念及当日所有之女子,一一细考较去,觉其行止见识,皆出于我之上。何我堂堂之须眉,诚不若彼裙钗哉?实愧则有余,悔又无益之大无可如何之日也!当此,则自欲将已往所赖天恩祖德,锦衣纨绔之时,饫甘餍肥之日,背父兄教育之恩,负师友规谈之德,以至今日一技无成,半生潦倒之罪,编述一集,以告天下人:我之罪固不免,然闺阁中本自历历有人,万不可因我之不肖,自护己短,一并使其泯灭也。
    • Having made an utter failure of my life, I found myself one day, in the midst of my poverty and wretchedness, thinking about the female companions of my youth. As I went over them one by one, examining and comparing them in my mind's eye, it suddenly came over me that those slips of girls – which is all they were then – were in every way, both morally and intellectually, superior to the 'grave and mustachioed signior' I am now supposed to have become. The realization brought with it an overpowering sense of shame and remorse, and for a while I was plunged in the deepest despair. There and then I resolved to make a record of all the recollections of those days I could muster – those golden days when I dressed in silk and ate delicately, when we still nestled in the protecting shadow of the Ancestors and Heaven still smiled on us. I resolved to tell the world how, in defiance of all my family's attempts to bring me up properly and all the warnings and advice of my friends, I had brought myself to this present wretched state, in which, having frittered away half a lifetime, I find myself without a single skill with which I could earn a decent living. I resolved that, however unsightly my own shortcomings might be, I must not, for the sake of keeping them hid, allow those wonderful girls to pass into oblivion without a memorial.
      • Cao Xueqin, as quoted in his younger brother's introduction to the first chapter of Dream of the Red Chamber – translated by David Hawkes in The Story of the Stone: The Golden Days (Penguin, 1973), pp. 20–21

Dream of the Red Chamber (c. 1760)[edit]

The Story of the Stone, Volume 1: 'The Golden Days', trans. David Hawkes (Penguin Books, 1973); The Story of the Stone, Volume 2: 'The Crab-Flower Club', trans. David Hawkes (Penguin Books, 1977); The Story of the Stone, Volume 3: 'The Warning Voice', trans. David Hawkes (Penguin Books, 1980)
Girls are made of water and boys are made of mud.
Blessed with a shrewd mind and a noble heart,
Yet born in time of twilight and decay.
Even a wife so courteous and so kind
No comfort brings to my afflicted mind.
One day, when spring has gone and youth has fled,
The Maiden and the flowers will both be dead.
Since the inevitable consequence of getting together was parting, and since parting made people feel lonely and feeling lonely made them unhappy, ergo it was better for them not to get together in the first place.
None more than you the villain world disdains;
None understands your proud heart as I do.
A welcoming fire when you see her, but a stab in the back when it's dark.
In every family affair, one side or the other has to win. If it's not the East Wind it's the West.
  • 满纸荒唐言,一把辛酸泪!
    都云作者痴,谁解其中味?
    • Pages full of idle words
      Penned with hot and bitter tears:
      All men call the author fool;
      None his secret message hears.
      • Chapter 1
  • 他是甘露之惠,我并无此水可还。他既下世为人,我也去下世为人,但把我一生所有的眼泪还他,也偿还得过他了。
    • I have no sweet dew here that I can repay him with. The only way in which I could perhaps repay him would be with the tears shed during the whole of a mortal lifetime if he and I were ever to be reborn as humans in the world below.
      • Chapter 1
  • 乱哄哄,你方唱罢我登场,反认他乡是故乡。
    • In such commotion does the world's theatre rage:
      As each one leaves, another takes the stage.
      • Chapter 1
  • 身后有余忘缩手,眼前无路想回头。
    • As long as there is a sufficiency behind you, you press greedily forward.
      It is only when there is no road in front of you that you think of turning back.
      • Chapter 2
  • 女兒是水作的骨肉,男人是泥作的骨肉。我見了女兒,我便清爽;見了男子,便覺濁臭逼人。
    • Girls are made of water and boys are made of mud. When I am with girls I feel fresh and clean, but when I am with boys I feel stupid and nasty.
      • Chapter 2
  • 既熟惯,则更觉亲密,既亲密,则不免一时有求全之毁,不虞之隙。
    • Greater familiarity bred greater intimacy. And of course, with greater intimacy came the occasional tiffs and misunderstandings that are usual with people who have a great deal to do with each other.
      • Chapter 5
  • 世事洞明皆学问,人情练达即文章。
    • True learning implies a clear insight into human activities.
      Genuine culture involves the skilful manipulation of human relationships.
      • Chapter 5
  • 假作真时真亦假,无为有处有还无。
    • Jia zuo zhen shi zhen yi jia,
      Wu wei you chu you huan wu.
    • Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;
      Real becomes not-real when the unreal's real.
      • Chapter 5
    • Variant translation:
      • When the unreal is taken for the real, then the real becomes unreal;
        Where non-existence is taken for existence, then existence becomes non-existence.
        • Chi-Chen Wang (trans.), Dream of the Red Chamber (Anchor Books, 1958), p. 42
  • 厚地高天,堪叹古今情不尽;痴男怨女,可怜风月债难偿。
    • Ancient earth and sky
      Marvel that love's passion should outlast all time.
      Star-crossed men and maids
      Groan that love's debts should be so hard to pay.
      • Chapter 5
  • 才自精明志自高,生于末世运偏消。
    • Blessed with a shrewd mind and a noble heart,
      Yet born in time of twilight and decay.
      • Chapter 5
  • 开辟鸿蒙,谁为情种?都只为风月情浓。
    • When first the world from chaos rose,
      Tell me, how did love begin?
      The wind and moonlight first did love compose.
      • Chapter 5
  • 都道是金玉良姻,俺只念木石前盟。空对着山中高士晶莹雪,终不忘世外仙姝寂寞林。叹人间,美中不足今方信;纵然是齐眉举案,到底意难平。
    • Let others all
      Commend the marriage rites of gold and jade;
      I still recall
      The bond of old by stone and flower made;
      And while my vacant eyes behold
      Crystalline shows of beauty pure and cold,
      From my mind can not be banished
      That fairy wood forlorn that from the world has vanished.
      How true I find
      That every good some imperfection holds!
      Even a wife so courteous and so kind
      No comfort brings to my afflicted mind.
      • Chapter 5
  • 若说没奇缘,今生偏又遇着他;若说有奇缘,如何心事终虚化?
    • If each for the other one was not intended,
      Then why in this life did they meet again?
      And yet if fate had meant them for each other,
      Why was their earthly meeting all in vain?
      • Chapter 5
  • All [is] insubstantial, doomed to pass,
    As moonlight mirrored in the water
    Or flowers reflected in a glass.
    • Chapter 5
  • 却不知太高人愈妒,过洁世同嫌。
    • But the world envies the superior
      And hates a too precious daintiness.
      • Chapter 5
  • 到头来,依旧是风尘肮脏违心愿。
    • Yet, at the last,
      Down into mud and shame your hopes were cast.
      • Chapter 5
  • 機關算盡太聰明,反誤了卿卿性命。
    • Too shrewd by half, with such finesse you wrought
      That your own life in your own toils was caught.
      • Chapter 5
  • 忽喇喇似大厦倾,昏惨惨似灯将尽。 呀!一场欢喜忽悲辛。叹人世,终难定。
    • Like a great building's tottering crash,
      Like flickering lampwick burned to ash,
      Your scene of happiness concludes in grief:
      For worldly bliss is always insecure and brief.
      • Chapter 5
  • 问古来将相可还存,也只是虚名儿与后人钦敬。
    • All those whom history calls great
      Left only empty names for us to venerate.
      • Chapter 5
  • 好一似食尽鸟投林,落了片白茫茫大地真干净!
    • Like birds who, having fed, to the woods repair,
      They leave the landscape desolate and bare.
      • Chapter 5
  • 莫失莫忘,仙寿恒昌。
    • Mislay me not, forget me not,
      And hale old age shall be your lot.
      • Chapter 8
  • 不离不弃,芳龄永继。
    • Ne'er leave me, ne'er abandon me:
      And years of health shall be your fee.
      • Chapter 8
  • 白骨如山忘姓氏,无非公子与红妆。
    • Heaped charnel-bones none can identify
      Were golden girls and boys in days gone by.
      • Chapter 8
  • 我就是个多愁多病身,你就是那倾国倾城貌。
    • How can I, full of sickness and of woe,
      Withstand that face which kingdoms could o'erthrow?
      • Chapter 23
  • 花谢花飞花满天,红消香断有谁怜?
    • The blossoms fade and falling fill the air,
      Of fragrance and bright hues bereft and bare.
      • Chapter 27
  • 侬今葬花人笑痴,他年葬侬知是谁?
    • Let others laugh flower-burial to see:
      Another year who will be burying me?
      • Chapter 27
  • 试看春残花渐落,便是红颜老死时;
    一朝春尽红颜老,花落人亡两不知!
    • As petals drop and spring begins to fail,
      The bloom of youth, too, sickens and turns pale.
      One day, when spring has gone and youth has fled,
      The Maiden and the flowers will both be dead.
      • Chapter 27
  • 滴不尽相思血泪抛红豆,开不完春柳春花满画楼,睡不稳纱窗风雨黄昏后,忘不了新愁与旧愁。
    • Still weeping tears of blood about our separation:
      Little red love-beans of my desolation.
      Still blooming flowers I see outside my window growing.
      Still awake in the dark I hear the wind a-blowing.
      Still oh still I can't forget those old hopes and fears.
      • Chapter 28
  • 人有聚就有散,聚时欢喜,到散时岂不冷清?既清冷则伤感,所以不如倒是不聚的好。
    • Since the inevitable consequence of getting together was parting, and since parting made people feel lonely and feeling lonely made them unhappy, ergo it was better for them not to get together in the first place.
      • Chapter 31
  • 我不过挨了几下打,他们一个个就有这些怜惜悲感之态露出,令人可玩可观,可怜可敬。假若我一时竟遭殃横死,他们还不知是何等悲感呢!既是他们这样,我便一时死了,得他们如此,一生事业纵然尽付东流,亦无足叹惜,冥冥之中若不怡然自得,亦可谓糊涂鬼祟矣。
    • What have I undergone but a few whacks of the bamboo?—yet already they are so sad and concerned about me! What dear, adorable, sweet, noble girls they are! Heaven knows how they would grieve for me if I were actually to die! It would be almost worth dying, just to find out. The loss of a life's ambitions would be a small price to pay, and I should be a peevish, ungrateful ghost if I did not feel proud and happy when such darling creatures were grieving for me.
      • Chapter 34
  • 人谁不死,只要死的好。那些个须眉浊物,只知道文死谏,武死战,这二死是大丈夫死名死节。竟何如不死的好!
    • We all have to die, as you said yourself just now. The problem is how to die well. Those whiskered idiots who take quite literally the old saw that "a scholar dies protesting and a soldier dies fighting" and get themselves killed off on the assumption that those are the only two ways in which a man of spirit can die gloriously, would do better to die in their beds.
      • Chapter 36
  • 数去更无君傲世,看来惟有我知音。
    • None more than you the villain world disdains;
      None understands your proud heart as I do.
      • Chapter 38
  • 是真名士自风流。
    • True wits make elegant whate'er they touch.
      • Chapter 49
  • 明是一盆火,暗是一把刀。
    • A welcoming fire when you see her, but a stab in the back when it's dark.
      • Chapter 65
  • 但凡家庭之事,不是东风压了西风,就是西风压了东风。
    • In every family affair, one side or the other has to win. If it's not the East Wind it's the West.
      • Chapter 82

Quotes about Cao[edit]

I regard the Red Chamber Dream as one of the world's masterpieces.
~ Lin Yutang
  • The Hung Lou Mêng is in every way a unique book. No Chinese novel can compare with it, either for the grace and refinement of the language...or for the subtle characterisation and artistic integrity of the plot.
  • I regard the Red Chamber Dream as one of the world's masterpieces. Its character-drawing, its deep and rich humanity, its perfect finish of style and its story entitle it to that. Its characters live, more real and more familiar to us than our living friends, and each speaks an accent which we can recognize. Above all, it has what we call a great story. [...] The easiest way to find out a Chinaman's temperament is to ask him whether he likes Taiyü more or Paots'a more. If he prefers Taiyü, he is an idealist, and if he prefers Paots'a, he is a realist. [...] The Chinese, men and women, have most of them read the novel seven or eight times over, and a science has developed which is called "redology" (hunghsüeh, from Red Chamber Dream), comparable in dignity and volume to the Shakespeare or Goethe commentaries. The Red Chamber Dream represents probably the height of the art of writing novels in China, all things considered.
    • Lin Yutang, My Country and My People (1935), pp. 272–274
  • In the Chinese novel Red Chamber Dream, the boy hero, a sentimental mollycoddle very fond of female company and admiring his beautiful female cousins intensely and all but sorry for himself for being a boy, says that, "Woman is made of water and man is made of clay," the reason being that he thinks his female cousins are sweet and pure and clever, while he himself and his boy companions are ugly and muddle-headed and bad-tempered. If the writer of the Genesis story had been a Paoyü and knew what he was talking about, he would have written a different story. God took a handful of mud, molded it into human shape and breathed into its nostrils a breath, and there was Adam. But Adam began to crack and fall to pieces, and so He took some water, and with the water He molded the clay, and this water which entered into Adam's being was called Eve, and only in having Eve in his being was Adam's life complete. At least that seems to me to be the symbolic significance of marriage. Woman is water and man is clay, and water permeates and molds the clay, and the clay holds the water and gives its substance, in which water moves and lives and has its full being.
    • Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living (1937), pp. 182–183
  • The Dream of the Red Chamber is a good book and should be recommended. ... It's an historical novel, and the author's language is the best of all classical novels. ... I have read Dream of the Red Chamber five times, but haven't been influenced by it because I regarded it as history. In the beginning, I read it as a story, and later as history. In reading Dream of the Red Chamber, nobody seems to have paid any attention to its fourth chapter which, in fact, is a general outline of the entire book ... with specific references being made to the four affluent families. Although Dream of the Red Chamber was written more than two hundred years ago, those who have studied it have not yet understood it, thus showing how difficult is the problem.
    • Mao Zedong, encouraging his alleged niece Wang Hai-jung to read the Dream of the Red Chamber, on June 24, 1964, as quoted in "A background to the Maoist criticism of Water Margin" by Hsueh-wen Wang, Issues & Studies, Vol. 11, ed. 12 (December 1975), pp. 50–51
  • The Dream of the Red Chamber, the fascinating eighteenth-century Chinese novel ... is to its native literature very much what The Brothers Karamazov is to Russian and Remembrance of Things Past is to French literature. ... This Chinese author of the eighteenth century is saying, with the same technique and with the same voice, what the great nineteenth-century Russians were to say—that the entire basis of our lives is corrupt, that life must be transformed from the bottom upward by a vast awakening of the spirit. This, though it makes his novel interesting, and an unexpected product of its time and culture, does not affect its quality as literature; what demonstrates that is its richness of invention, both of incident and of character, and the authenticity of its psychological insights, insights that, though sometimes hard to recognize in their exotic trappings, are often thrilling in their penetration. By virtue of these aspects of its content, it is beyond question one of the great novels of all literature.

External links[edit]

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