Dream of the Red Chamber

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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.

Dream of the Red Chamber, also called The Story of the Stone, composed by Cao Xueqin, is one of China's Four Great Classical Novels. It was written sometime in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. Long considered a masterpiece of Chinese literature, the novel is generally acknowledged to be the pinnacle of Chinese fiction.

Red Chamber is believed to be semi-autobiographical, mirroring the rise and decline of author Cao Xueqin's own family and, by extension, of the Qing Dynasty. As the author himself says in the introduction to the first chapter, it is intended to be a memorial to the damsels he knew in his youth: friends, relatives and servants. The novel is remarkable not only for its huge cast of characters and psychological scope, but also for its precise and detailed observation of the life and social structures typical of 18th-century Chinese society.

Quotations[edit]

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in English are taken from The Story of the Stone, 5 vols., trans. David Hawkes and John Minford (Penguin, 1973–1986). The first 80 chapters of the novel were written by Cao Xueqin, and the last 40 chapters were completed by Gao E.
  • 看官:你道此書從何而起?說來雖近荒唐,細玩頗有趣味。
    • Gentle Reader,
      What, you may ask, was the origin of this book?
      Though the answer to this question may at first seem to border on the absurd, reflection will show that there is a good deal more in it than meets the eye.
      • Chapter 1
  • 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; Crimson Pearl Flower (later Lin Daiyu)'s debt of tears to the Stone (later Jia Baoyu).
  • 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
Girls are made of water and boys are made of mud.
  • 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; spoken by Baoyu.
  • 一双丹凤三角眼,两弯柳叶掉梢眉,身量苗条,体格风骚,粉面含春威不露,丹唇未启笑先闻。
    • Eyes like a painted phoenix,
      eyebrows like willow-leaves,
      a slender form,
      seductive grace;
      the ever-smiling summer face
      of hidden thunders showed no trace;
      the ever-bubbling laughter started
      almost before the lips were parted.
  • 座上珠玑昭日月,堂前黼黻焕烟霞。
    • May the jewel of learning shine in this house more effulgently than the sun and moon.
      May the insignia of honour glitter in these halls more brilliantly than the starry sky.
      • Chapter 3
A harum-scarum, to all duty blind,
A doltish mule, to study disinclined.
  • 潦倒不通庶务,愚顽怕读文章。
    • A harum-scarum, to all duty blind,
      A doltish mule, to study disinclined.
      • Chapter 3; of Baoyu.
  • 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; Baoyu dislikes this couplet.
Jia zuo zhen shi zhen yi jia,
Wu wei you chu you huan wu.
  • 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
You chose the player fortune favoured,
Unmindful of your master's doom.
  • 枉自温柔和顺,空云似桂如兰。
    堪羡优伶有福,谁知公子无缘。
    • What price your kindness and compliance,
      Of sweetest flower the rich perfume?
      You chose the player fortune favoured,
      Unmindful of your master's doom.
  • 玉带林中挂,金簪雪里埋。
    • The jade belt in the greenwood hangs,
      The gold pin is buried beneath the snow.
Blessed with a shrewd mind and a noble heart,
Yet born in time of twilight and decay.
  • 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.
  • 富贵又何为?襁褓之间父母违。
    • What shall avail you rank and riches,
      Orphaned while yet in swaddling bands you lay?
For all your would-be spotlessness
And vaunted otherworldliness,
You that look down on common flesh and blood,
Yourself impure, shall end up in the mud.
  • 欲洁何曾洁?云空未必空。可怜金玉质,终陷淖泥中。
    • For all your would-be spotlessness
      And vaunted otherworldliness,
      You that look down on common flesh and blood,
      Yourself impure, shall end up in the mud.
  • 一从二令三人木,哭向金陵事更哀。
    • 'Two' makes my riddle with a man and tree:
      Returning south in tears she met calamity.
      • Chapter 5; of Wang Xifeng.
  • 桃李春风结子完,到头谁似一盆兰。
    如冰水好空相妒,枉与他人作笑谈。
    • The plum-tree bore her fruit after the rest,
      Yet, when all's done, her Orchid was the best.
      Against your ice-pure nature all in vain
      The tongues of envy wagged; you felt no pain.
      • Chapter 5; of Li Wan.
  • 光摇朱户金铺地,雪照琼窗玉作宫。
    • Gleam of gold pavement flashed on scarlet doors,
      And in jade walls jewelled casements snow white shone.
      • 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
Even a wife so courteous and so kind
No comfort brings to my afflicted mind.
  • 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
And yet if fate had meant them for each other,
Why was their earthly meeting all in vain?
  • 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; of Baoyu and Daiyu.
All is insubstantial, doomed to pass,
As moonlight mirrored in the water
Or flowers reflected in a glass.
  • 一个枉自嗟呀,一个空劳牵挂。一个是水中月,一个是镜中花。
    • In vain were all her sighs and tears,
      In vain were all his anxious fears:
      All, 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; of Miaoyu.
  • 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; of Miaoyu.
  • 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; of Wang Xifeng.
  • 家富人宁,终有个家亡人散各奔腾。
    • Fall'n the great house once so secure in wealth,
      Each scattered member shifting for himself.
      • 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; of Wang Xifeng.
  • 留余庆,留余庆,忽遇恩人;幸娘亲,幸娘亲,积得阴功。劝人生济困扶穷,休似俺那爱银钱忘骨肉的狠舅奸兄。正是乘除加减,上有苍穹。
    • Some good remained,
      Some good remained:
      The daughter found a friend in need
      Through her mother's one good deed.
      So let all men the poor and meek sustain,
      And from the example of her cruel kin refrain,
      Who kinship scorned and only thought of gain.
      For far above the constellations
      One watches all and makes just calculations.
  • 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
  • ‘意淫’二字,可心会而不可口传,可神通而不能语达。
    • "Lust of the mind" cannot be explained in words, nor, if it could, would you be able to grasp their meaning. Either you know what it means or you don't.
      • Chapter 5; Goddess of Disenchantment to Baoyu.
  • 莫失莫忘,仙寿恒昌。
    • Mislay me not, forget me not,
      And hale old age shall be your lot.
      • Chapter 8; inscription on Baoyu's magic jade.
  • 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; inscription on Baochai's gold locket.
  • 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
  • 彼时合家皆知,无不纳闷,都有些伤心。那长一辈的想他素日孝顺,平辈的想他素日和睦亲密,下一辈的想他素日慈爱,以及家中仆从老小想他素日怜贫惜贱、爱老慈幼之恩,莫不悲号痛哭。
    • By this time the entire household had heard the news. All seemed bewildered by it and all were in one way or another deeply distressed. Those older than Qin-shi thought of how dutiful she had always been; those in her own generation thought of her warmth and friendliness; her juniors remembered how kindly and lovingly she had treated them; even the servants, irrespective of sex and age, remembering her compassion for the poor and humble and her gentle concern for the old and the very young, all wept and lamented as loud and bitterly as the rest.
      • Chapter 13
  • 忽又听见秦氏之丫鬟,名唤瑞珠,见秦氏死了,也触柱而亡。此事更为可罕,合族都称叹。
    • News was suddenly brought that Qin-shi's little maid Gem, on hearing that her mistress was dead, had taken her own life by dashing her head against a pillar. Such rare devotion excited the wondering admiration of the entire clan.
      • Chapter 13
  • 秦钟既死,宝玉痛哭不止,李贵等好容易劝解半日方住,归时还带余哀。贾母帮了几十两银子,外又另备奠仪,宝玉去吊祭。七日后便送殡掩埋了,别无记述。只有宝玉日日感悼,思念不已,然亦无可如何了。又不知过了几时才罢。
    • Now that Qin Zhong was indisputably dead, Bao-yu wept long and bitterly, and it was some time before Li Gui and the rest could calm him. Even after their return he continued tearful and distressed. Grandmother Jia contributed thirty or forty taels towards Qin Zhong's funeral expenses and made additional provision for offerings to the dead. Bao-yu condoled and sacrificed, and on the seventh day followed his friend's coffin to the grave. He continued in daily grief for Qin Zhong for a very long time afterwards. But grief cannot mend our losses, and a day did at last arrive when he had ceased to mourn.
      • Chapter 17
  • 谁信世间有此境,游来宁不畅神思?
    • Who would have thought on earth such scenes to find
      As here refresh the heart and ease the mind?
      • Chapter 18
  • 他便料定天地间灵淑之气只钟于女子,男儿们不过是些渣滓浊沫而已。因此把一切男子都看成浊物,可有可无。
    • [Bao-yu] had come to the conclusion that the pure essence of humanity was all concentrated in the female of the species and that males were its mere dregs and off-scourings. To him, therefore, all members of his own sex without distinction were brutes who might just as well not have existed.
      • Chapter 20
  • 巧者勞而智者憂,無能者無所求,飽食而遨游,泛若不系之舟。
    • The cunning waste their pains;
      The wise men vex their brains;
      But the simpleton, who seeks no gains,
      With belly full, he wanders free
      As drifting boat upon the sea.
      • Chapter 22; quotation from the Zhuangzi, recalled by Baoyu.
How can I, full of sickness and of woe,
Withstand that face which kingdoms could o'erthrow?
  • 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?
  • 看看三日的光阴,凤姐宝玉躺在床上,连气息都微了。合家都说没了指望了,忙的将他二人的后事都治备下了。贾母、王夫人、贾琏、平儿、袭人等更哭的死去活来。只有赵姨娘外面假作忧愁,心中称愿。
    • By the third day the patients were so weakened that they lay on their beds motionless and their breathing was scarcely perceptible. The whole family had by now abandoned hope and were already making preparations for their laying-out. Grandmother Jia, Lady Wang, Jia Lian, Patience and Aroma had cried themselves into a state bordering on prostration. Only Aunt Zhao was cheerful – though she did her best to look miserable.
      • Chapter 25
  • 花魂点点无情绪,鸟梦痴痴何处惊。
    • Tears filled each flower and grief their hearts perturbed,
      And silly birds were from their nests disturbed.
      • Chapter 26
  • 至次日乃是四月二十六日,原来这日未时交芒种节。尚古风俗:凡交芒种节的这日,都要设摆各色礼物,祭饯花神,言芒种一过,便是夏日了,众花皆卸,花神退位,须要饯行。闺中更兴这件风俗,所以大观园中之人都早起来了。那些女孩子们,或用花瓣柳枝编成轿马的,或用绫锦纱罗叠成干旄旌幢的,都用彩线系了,每一棵树头每一枝花上,都系了这些物事。满园里绣带飘摇,花枝招展,更兼这些人打扮的桃羞杏让,燕妒莺惭,一时也道不尽。
    • Next day was the twenty-sixth of the fourth month, the day on which, this year, the festival of Grain in Ear was due to fall. To be precise, the festival's official commencement was on the twenty-sixth day of the fourth month at two o'clock in the afternoon. It has been the custom from time immemorial to make offerings to the flower fairies on this day. For Grain in Ear marks the beginning of summer; it is about this time that the blossom begins to fall; and tradition has it that the flower-spirits, their work now completed, go away on this day and do not return until the following year. The offerings are therefore thought of as a sort of farewell party for the flowers.
      This charming custom of 'speeding the fairies' is a special favourite with the fair sex, and in Prospect Garden all the girls were up betimes on this day making little coaches and palanquins out of willow-twigs and flowers and little banners and pennants from scraps of brocade and any other pretty material they could find, which they fastened with threads of coloured silk to the tops of flowering trees and shrubs. Soon every plant and tree was decorated and the whole garden had become a shimmering sea of nodding blossoms and fluttering coloured streamers. Moving about in the midst of it all, the girls in their brilliant summer dresses, beside which the most vivid hues of plant and plumage became faint with envy, added the final touch of brightness to a scene of indescribable gaiety and colour.
      • Chapter 27
  • 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
Let others laugh flower-burial to see:
Another year who will be burying me?
  • 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
One day, when spring has gone and youth has fled,
The Maiden and the flowers will both be dead.
  • 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; spoken by Daiyu.
  • 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?' he thought, '—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; Baoyu after receiving a severe beating from his father.
  • 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; Baoyu to Xiren.
  • 玉烛滴干风里泪,晶帘隔破月中痕。
    • Wax tears their petals seem, by wind congealed,
      Or filtered moonlight, flecked with many a spot.
      • Chapter 37
None more than you the villain world disdains;
None understands your proud heart as I do.
  • 数去更无君傲世,看来惟有我知音。
    秋光荏苒休孤负,相对原宜惜寸阴。
    • None more than you the villain world disdains;
      None understands your proud heart as I do.
      The precious hours of autumn I'll not waste,
      But bide with you and savour their full taste.
      • Chapter 38; poem by Shi Xiangyun.
  • 又听见窗外竹梢蕉叶之上,雨声淅沥,清寒透幕。
    • Then she listened to the insistent rustle of the rain on the bamboos and plantains outside her window. The coldness penetrated the curtains of her bed. Almost without noticing it she had begun to cry.
      • Chapter 45
  • 是真名士自风流。
    • True wits make elegant whate'er they touch.
      • Chapter 49
Easier a golden hoard to win
Than find one understanding heart.
  • 万两黄金容易得,知心一个也难求!
    • Easier a golden hoard to win
      Than find one understanding heart.
      • Chapter 57
  • 女孩兒未出嫁是顆無價寶珠,出了嫁不知怎么就變出許多不好的毛病兒來,再老了,更不是珠子,竟是魚眼睛了。分明一個人,怎么變出三樣來。
    • A girl before she marries is like a priceless pearl, but once she marries the pearl loses its lustre and develops all sorts of disagreeable flaws, and by the time she's an old woman, she's no longer like a pearl at all, more like a boiled fish's eye. How can the same person, at different times in her life, seem like three completely different people?
      • Chapter 59; spoken by Baoyu (as quoted by a maid).
  • 不經一事,不長一智。
    • Never suffer, never learn.
      • Chapter 60
A welcoming fire when you see her, but a stab in the back when it's dark.
  • 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
  • 桃花帘外东风软,桃花帘内晨妆懒。
    帘外桃花帘内人,人与桃花隔不远。
    • Peach pink the tender flowers outside the window blow;
      Peach pink on sleepy face the morning colours glow.
      Tree-flowers outside the room and lady-flower inside:
      Only a few short steps the flowery forms divide.
      • Chapter 70
  • 泪眼观花泪易干,泪干春尽花憔悴。
    憔悴花遮憔悴人,花飞人倦易黄昏。
    • As she gazes on the smiling flowers, her tears at last grow dry;
      But as they dry, the springtime ends and the flowers fade.
      The flowers fade, and an equal blight the lady's fair cheek palls.
      The petals drift; she is weary; and soon the darkness falls.
      • Chapter 70
  • 一声杜宇春归尽,寂寞帘栊空月痕。
    • A nightingale is singing a dirge for the death of spring,
      And moonlight steals through the casement and dapples the silent walls.
      • Chapter 70
  • 蜂围蝶阵乱纷纷:几曾随逝水?岂必委芳尘?万缕千丝终不改,任他随聚随分。韶华休笑本无根:好风凭借力,送我上青云。
    • Like fluttering moths or silent white bees swarming:
      Not for us a tomb in the running waters,
      Or the earth's embalming.
      The filaments whence we are formed remain unchanging,
      No matter what separates or unifies.
      Do not, earth-child, our rootlessness despise:
      When the strong wind comes he will whirl us upwards
      Into the skies.
      • Chapter 70
A stork's dark shape crosses the cold, bright water –
Where, moon-embalmed, a dead muse lies in state.
  • 寒塘渡鹤影,冷月葬诗魂。
    • A stork's dark shape crosses the cold, bright water –
      Where, moon-embalmed, a dead muse lies in state.
      • Chapter 76
  • 花原自怯,岂奈狂飚?柳本多愁,何禁骤雨!
    • It is not to be thought that a shrinking flower could withstand the whirlwind's blast, or a tender willow-tree be proof against the buffetings of the tempest.
      • Chapter 78
  • 茜纱窗下,我本无缘;黄土陇中,卿何薄命!
    • I by my rosy-misted casement seem most cruelly afflicted;
      And you beneath the yellow earth seem most cruelly ill-fated.
      • Chapter 79; Baoyu to Daiyu.
In every family affair, one side or the other has to win. If it's not the East Wind it's the West.
  • 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; spoken by Daiyu.
  • 又想梦中光景,无倚无靠,再真把宝玉死了,那可怎么样好!一时痛定思痛,神魂俱乱。
    • The scenes of her dream passed before her eyes again. She was on her own in the world, she reflected. Supposing Bao-yu really died – what then? The thought was enough to bring back all the pain and confusion.
      • Chapter 82
  • 素心如何天上月。
    • A moonlike purity remains
      My constant goal.
      • Chapter 87; poem by Daiyu.
If all the Seas of Paradise were mine, with my simple gourd I'd be content.
  • 任凭弱水三千,我只取一瓢饮。
    • If all the Seas of Paradise were mine, with my simple gourd I'd be content.
      • Chapter 91; spoken by Baoyu.
  • 忽然听着黛玉说道:“宝玉,你为什么病了?”宝玉笑道:“我为林姑娘病了。”
    • Suddenly Dai-yu said:
      'Bao-yu, why are you sick?'
      Bao-yu laughed.
      'I'm sick because of Miss Lin.'
      • Chapter 96
  • 见案上红灯,窗前皓月,依然锦绣丛中,繁华世界。定神一想,原来竟是一场大梦。浑身冷汗,觉得心内清爽。仔细一想,真正无可奈何,不过长叹数声。
    • The red lamp was on the table. The moon was shining brilliantly through the window. He was back among the elegant comforts of his own home. A moment's reflection told him that what he had just experienced had been a dream. He was in a cold sweat. Though his mind felt strangely lucid, thinking only intensified his feeling of helpless desolation, and he uttered several profound sighs.
      • Chapter 98
'Bao-yu! Bao-yu! How could you...'
  • “宝玉!宝玉!你好——”
    • 'Bao-yu! Bao-yu! How could you...'
      • Chapter 98; Daiyu's dying words.
  • 香魂一缕随风散,愁绪三更入梦遥!
    • Her fragrant soul disperses, wafted on the breeze;
      Her sorrows now a dream, drifting into the night.
      • Chapter 98
  • “林妹妹,林妹妹!好好兒的,是我害了你了!你別怨我,只是父母作主,并不是我負心!”
    • 'Oh, Cousin Lin! Cousin Lin! How could I have wounded you so! Please don't reproach me! Don't feel bitter towards me! It was my father and mother who made the choice. In my heart I was always true to you!'
      • Chapter 108; spoken by Baoyu.
  • 宝玉的事,明知他病中不能明白,所以众人弄鬼弄神的办成了;后来宝玉明白了,旧病复发,时常哭想,并非忘情负义之徒。今日这种柔情,一发叫人难受。只可怜我们林姑娘真真是无福消受他。如此看来,人生缘分,都有一定,在那未到头时,大家都是痴心妄想,及至无可如何,那糊涂的也就不理会了,那情深义重的也不过临风对月,洒泪悲啼。可怜那死的倒未必知道,这活的真真是苦恼伤心,无休无了。算来竟不如草木石头,无知无觉,倒也心中干净。
    • It seems plain that the family conspired together and tricked him into the wedding at a time when he was too ill to understand. Then afterwards, when he knew what he had done, he suffered one of his attacks and that's why he hasn't been able to stop weeping and moping ever since. He's obviously not the heartless, wicked person I took him for. Why, today his devotion was so touching, I felt really sorry for him. What a dreadful pity it is that our Miss Lin never had the fortune to be his bride! Such unions are clearly determined by fate. Until fate reveals itself, men continue to indulge in blind passion and fond imaginings; then, when the die is cast and the truth is known, the fools may remain impervious, but the ones who care deeply, the men of true sentiment, can only weep bitterly at the futility of their romantic attachments, at the tragedy of their earthly plight. She is dead and knows nothing; but he still lives, and there is no end to his suffering and torment. Better by far the destiny of plant or stone, bereft of knowledge and consciousness, but blessed at least with purity and peace of mind!
      • Chapter 113; reflection by the maid Zijuan.
    • Variant translation:
      • It's common knowledge that Baoyu got married when he was out of his mind, and they tricked him into it. Later he came to his senses but then fell ill again and often wept with longing—it's not as if he were heartless. The feeling he showed today was really touching. What a pity our Miss Lin didn't have the good fortune to marry him! This shows that everybody's fate is predestined. Right up to the end they cherish foolish fancies; then when the blow strikes and there's no help for it, blockheads let it go at that while sensitive souls can only shed tears and lament to the breeze or moon. The dead may have no consciousness but, alas, there is truly no end to the anguish of the living. So it seems we are worse off than rocks or plants which can rest at peace, having no knowledge or feeling.
  • 假去真來真勝假,無原有是有非無。
    • When Fiction departs and Truth appears, Truth prevails;
      Though Not-real was once Real, the Real is never unreal.
      • Chapter 116
  • 我所居兮青埂之峰,我所游兮鴻蒙太空。
    誰與我逝兮吾誰與從?渺渺茫茫兮歸彼大荒!
    • On Greensickness Peak
      I dwell;
      In the Cosmic Void
      I roam.
      Who will pass over,
      Who will go with me,
      Who will explore
      The supremely ineffable
      Vastly mysterious
      Wilderness
      To which I return!
      • Chapter 120
  • 說到辛酸處,荒唐愈可悲。由來衕一夢,休笑世人痴!
    • When grief for fiction's idle words
      More real than human life appears,
      Reflect that life itself's a dream
      And do not mock the reader's tears.
      • Chapter 120

Quotations about Dream of the Red Chamber[edit]

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. ~ Lin Yutang
All realistic novels are, of course, autobiographical, the writer's knowledge of realities being drawn chiefly from his own experience. But The Red Chamber is autobiographical in a more complete sense. Indeed, one even feels that, were it not for the rigid framework imposed by tradition, Tsao might easily have fallen into the error of transcribing with too careful a fidelity the monotonies of actual life. It is in his accounts of dreams that as an imaginative writer Tsao Hsueh-Chin rises to his greatest heights; and it is in these passages that we feel most clearly the symbolic or universal value of his characters—Pao-Yu, the hero, standing for Imagination and Poetry; his father, for all those sordid powers of pedantry and restriction that hamper the artist in his passage through life.
~ Arthur Waley
The Dream of the Red Chamber is to its native literature very much what The Brothers Karamazov is to Russian and Remembrance of Things Past is to French literature... It is beyond question one of the great novels of all literature. ~ Anthony West
(arranged in chronological order)
  • The memorial to my beloved girls could at one and the same time serve as a source of harmless entertainment and as a warning to those who were in the same predicament as myself but who were still in need of awakening.
    • 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), p. 21
  • The Story of the Stone is a book of the deepest feelings and the truest words.
    • Red Inkstone, comment in the 1760 manuscript of Dream of the Red Chamber, as quoted in Rereading the Stone (1997) by Anthony C. Yu, p. 7
  • HUNG-LOU-MÊNG: 紅樓夢. A famous Chinese novel in the Peking dialect, popularly known as the Dream of the Red Chamber, dealing chiefly with events of domestic life which are very graphically described, and attributed to Ts'ao Hsüeh-ch'in of the 17th cent. Many Chinese are said to have died for love of the heroine, Miss Lin, so exquisitely has that young lady been portrayed by the author; but the book being considered a dangerous one to fall into the hands of youth was accordingly placed in the Index Expurgatorius of China [...]. The title should properly be "The Dream of the Red-storeyed Mansion," the allusion being to the wealthy establishment at which the scene of the story is laid, and to the pomp and power of its inmates, destined by the inevitable turn of Fortune's wheel to lapse into poverty and decay.
    • Herbert Giles, A Glossary of Reference on Subjects Connected with the Far East (1900), pp. 128–129
  • The Hung Lou Mêng, conveniently but erroneously known as "The Dream of the Red Chamber," is the work...touching the highest point of development reached by the Chinese novel. ... No fewer than 400 personages of more or less importance are introduced first and last into the story, the plot of which is worked out with a completeness worthy of Fielding, while the delineation of character—of so many characters—recalls the best efforts of the greatest novelists of the West. As a panorama of Chinese social life, in which almost every imaginable feature is submitted in turn to the reader, the Hung Lou Mêng is altogether without a rival. Reduced to its simplest terms, it is an original and effective love story, written for the most part in an easy, almost colloquial, style, full of humorous and pathetic episodes of everyday human life, and interspersed with short poems of high literary finish. The opening chapters, which are intended to form a link between the world of spirits and the world of mortals, belong to the supernatural; after that the story runs smoothly along upon earthly lines, always, however, overshadowed by the near presence of spiritual influences...
    • Herbert Giles, A History of Chinese Literature (1901), pp. 355–356
  • Dream of the Red Chamber may be regarded as the tragedy of tragedies.
    • Wang Guowei, "Hung-lou meng p'ing-lun" ["A Critique of Dream of the Red Chamber"] (1904), as quoted in Wang Kuo-wei: an Intellectual Biography (1986) by Joey Bonner, p. 84
  • [W]orthy of being considered as the one great masterpiece in the realm of Chinese art.
    • Wang Guowei, as quoted in Lin Yutang's appreciation of "The Red Chamber Dream", Renditions (Spring 1974), p. 23
  • One of the best known, and probably the best of Chinese works of fiction. ... It abounds in humour and pathos, and is invaluable for anyone who would study the social life of the Chinese.
  • The author was of a very wealthy and over-refined family that fell into poverty in a very short time. Ts'ao-chan took to drinking and died young. In his book he describes the glory of bygone days. We see how Chia Pao-yu grows up in the midst of the girls of the family, which brings about a great number of love-tangles and tragedies. The most pathetic is Pao-yu's love for Lin Tai-yu who dies of love-sickness after Pao-yu's parents have tricked him into a marriage with another girl. Pao-yu leaves home and meets his father when, many years later, he has died to the world and became a monk.
    • Richard Wilhelm, Die Chinesische Literatur ['Chinese Literature'], as quoted in Joseph Schyns's One Thousand Five Hundred Modern Chinese Novels & Plays (Peking, 1948), p. 371
  • Dream of the Red Chamber, so revolutionary in many ways, is nevertheless easily recognizable as the descendant of these [All Men Are Brothers, Monkey, and Romance of Three Kingdoms] three great popular romances. It has their inordinate length (it is certain that The Red Chamber, as planned by Tsao, ran to at least a hundred chapters), their lack of faith in the interestingness of the everyday world, leading to the conviction that a realistic story must necessarily be set in a supernatural framework. It has the story-teller's tendency to put far more art into the technique of the individual séance or chapter, than into the construction of the work as a whole. It has the same moralizing tendency; for, as I have said, Chinese fiction is always on the defensive—is always, with an eye on official Puritanism, trying to prove that, like serious and approved literature, it has a "message." In The Red Chamber indeed this message is reserved for the later chapters, which Tsao did not live to complete. But we know that the edifying final episodes (for example, Pao-Yu's entry into the Buddhist Church) were part of the author's original plan. But the Dream of the Red Chamber is unlike all previous Chinese novels in that Tsao, instead of embroidering upon existing legends or histories, describes a group of people wholly unknown to the reader; and stranger innovation still, these people (as Dr. Hu Shih has proved) are the author and his family. All realistic novels are, of course, autobiographical, the writer's knowledge of realities being drawn chiefly from his own experience. But The Red Chamber is autobiographical in a more complete sense. Indeed, one even feels that, were it not for the rigid framework imposed by tradition, Tsao might easily have fallen into the error of transcribing with too careful a fidelity the monotonies of actual life. [...] It is in his accounts of dreams that as an imaginative writer Tsao Hsueh-Chin rises to his greatest heights; and it is in these passages that we feel most clearly the symbolic or universal value of his characters—Pao-Yu, the hero, standing for Imagination and Poetry; his father, for all those sordid powers of pedantry and restriction that hamper the artist in his passage through life.
  • No mere summary can be just to the extraordinary content of such a realistic and diversified story of Chinese family life as "The Dream of the Red Chamber" presents within its strange setting. This is a great novel. With "The Three Kingdoms" it ranks foremost among the novels of the old Chinese literature. ... The effort to read "The Dream of the Red Chamber" is eminently worth making.
  • 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.
  • The book contains 120 chapters, 235 male and 213 female characters. According to the Chinese critics it is unique of its kind. The plot is perfect, the style is finished. It is written in the language of the better classes of Peking at the time of its appearance. Also in this novel, according to the same critics, love is expressed in the most perfect way. Who knows how many readers, men as well as women, have been moved to tears by the death of Ch'ing Wen and Tai Yu. Every feeling, every gesture in the book is natural.
    • Wu I-t'ai, Le Roman Chinois (Paris, 1935), pp. 63 ff., as quoted in Joseph Schyns's One Thousand Five Hundred Modern Chinese Novels & Plays (Peking, 1948), p. 371
  • [At the beginning of the Red Chamber Dream], a Taoist monk found the story inscribed on a huge rock, which was the extra one left behind by the legendary goddess Nüwo when she was using 36,500 rocks to mend a huge crack in the sky, caused by a terrific fight of "Olympian" giants. This rock was one hundred and twenty feet high and two hundred and forty feet wide. The Taoist monk copied the story from the rock inscriptions, and when it came to Ts'ao Hsüehch'in's hands he worked at it for ten years and revised it five times, dividing it into chapters, and he wrote a verse on it:

    These pages tell of babbling nonsense,
    A string of sad tears they conceal.
    They all laugh at the author's folly;
    But who could know its magic appeal?

    At the end of the story, when one of the most tragic and deeply human dramas was enacted, and the hero had become a monk and the soul which had given him intelligence and capacity for love and suffering had returned to the rock as Nüwo left it thousands of years ago, the same Taoist monk reappeared. This monk is said to have copied the story again and one day he came to the author's study and put the manuscripts in his care. Ts'ao Hsüehch'in replied, laughingly: "This is only babbling nonsense. It is good for killing time with a few good friends after a wine-feast or while chatting under the lamp-light. If you ask me how I happen to know the hero of the story, and want all the details, you are taking it too seriously." Hearing what he said, the monk threw the manuscripts down on his table and went away laughing, tossing his head and mumbling as he went: "Really it contains only babbling nonsense. Both the author himself and the man who copies it, as well as its readers, do not know what is behind it all. This is only a literary pastime, written for pleasure and self-satisfaction."
    • Lin Yutang, My Country and My People (1935), pp. 269–270
  • 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: a fabulously beautiful Chinese house-garden; a great official family, with four daughters and a son growing up and some beautiful female cousins of the same age, living a life of continual raillery and bantering laughter; a number of extremely charming and clever maid-servants, some of the plotting, intriguing type and some quick-tempered but true, and some secretly in love with the master; a few faithless servants' wives involved in little family jealousies and scandals; a father for ever absent from home on official service and two or three daughters-in-law managing the complicated routine of the whole household with order and precision [...]; the "hero," Paoyü, a boy in puberty, with a fair intelligence and a great love of female company, sent, as we are made to understand, by God to go through this phantasmagoria of love and suffering, overprotected like the sole heir of all great families in China, doted on by his grandmother, the highest authority of the household, but extremely afraid of his father, completely admired by all his female cousins and catered for by his maid-servants, who attended to his bath and sat in watch over him at night; his love for Taiyü, his orphan cousin staying in their house, who was suffering from consumption and was fed on bird's nest soup, easily outshining the rest in beauty and poetry, but a little too clever to be happy like the more stupid ones, opening her love to Paoyü with the purity and intensity of a young maiden's heart; another female cousin, Paots'a, also in love with Paoyü, but plumper and more practical-minded and considered a better wife by the elders; the final deception, arrangements for the wedding to Paots'a by the mothers without Paoyü's or Taiyü's knowledge, Taiyü not hearing of it until shortly before the wedding, which made her laugh hysterically and sent her to her death, and Paoyü not hearing of it till the wedding night; Paoyü's discovery of the deception by his own parents, his becoming half-idiotic and losing his mind, and finally his becoming a monk. All of this is depicted against the rise and fall of a great family, the crescendo of piling family misfortunes extending over the last third of the story, taking one's breath away like the Fall of the House of Usher.
    • Lin Yutang, My Country and My People (1935), pp. 272–273
  • 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.
    • Lin Yutang, My Country and My People (1935), p. 274
  • 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), p. 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 story is simple in its theme but complex in implication, in character study and in its portrayal of human emotions. ~ Pearl S. Buck
  • Hung Lou Meng, or The Dream of the Red Chamber...was written originally as an autobiographical novel by Ts'ao Hsüeh Ching, an official highly in favor during the Manchu regime and indeed considered by the Manchus as one of themselves. ... He never finished his novel, and the last forty chapters were added by another man, probably named Kao O. The thesis that Ts'ao Hsüeh Ching was telling the story of his own life has been in modern times elaborated by Hu Shih, and in earlier times by Yuan Mei. Be this as it may, the original title of the book was Shih T'ou Chi [The Story of the Stone], and it came out of Peking about 1765 of the Western era, and in five or six years, an incredibly short time in China, it was famous everywhere. Printing was still expensive when it appeared, and the book became known by the method that is called in China, «You-lend-me-a-book-and-I-lend-you-a-book».
    The story is simple in its theme but complex in implication, in character study and in its portrayal of human emotions. It is almost a pathological study, this story of a great house, once wealthy and high in imperial favor, so that indeed one of its members was an imperial concubine. But the great days are over when the book begins. The family is already declining. Its wealth is being dissipated and the last and only son, Chia Pao Yü, is being corrupted by the decadent influences within his own home, although the fact that he was a youth of exceptional quality at birth is established by the symbolism of a piece of jade found in his mouth. The preface begins, «Heaven was once broken and when it was mended, a bit was left unused, and this became the famous jade of Chia Pao Yü.» Thus does the interest in the supernatural persist in the Chinese people; it persists even today as a part of Chinese life.
    This novel seized hold of the people primarily because it portrayed the problems of their own family system, the absolute power of women in the home, the too great power of the matriarchy, the grandmother, the mother, and even the bondmaids, so often young and beautiful and fatally dependent, who became too frequently the playthings of the sons of the house and ruined them and were ruined by them. Women reigned supreme in the Chinese house, and because they were wholly confined in its walls and often illiterate, they ruled to the hurt of all. They kept men children, and protected them from hardship and effort when they should not have been so protected. Such a one was Chia Pao Yü, and we follow him to his tragic end in Hung Lou Meng.
    I cannot tell you to what lengths of allegory scholars went to explain away this novel when they found that again even the emperor was reading it and that its influence was so great everywhere among the people. I do not doubt that they were probably reading it themselves in secret. A great many popular jokes in China have to do with scholars reading novels privately and publicly pretending never to have heard of them. At any rate, scholars wrote treatises to prove that Hung Lou Meng was not a novel but a political allegory depicting the decline of China under the foreign rule of the Manchus, the word Red in the title signifying Manchu, and Ling Tai Yü, the young girl who dies, although she was the one destined to marry Pao Yü, signifying China, and Pao Ts'ai, her successful rival, who secures the jade in her place, standing for the foreigner, and so forth. The very name Chia signified, they said, falseness. But this was a farfetched explanation of what was written as a novel and stands as a novel and as such a powerful delineation, in the characteristic Chinese mixture of realism and romance, of a proud and powerful family in decline. Crowded with men and women of the several generations accustomed to living under one roof in China, it stands alone as an intimate description of that life.
  • [Dream of the Red Chamber] is an interesting social, psychological and emotional study. It is very objectionable because of the sentimental atmosphere, and must not be read by younger people.
    • Joseph Schyns, One Thousand Five Hundred Modern Chinese Novels & Plays (1948), p. 371
  • Dream of the Red Chamber or the Hung Lou Meng is the greatest of all Chinese novels and the first of its kind to break completely with the past.
    • Chi-Chen Wang, Dream of the Red Chamber (1958), Introduction, p. xii
  • Chinese architecture provides for the mass of the population low, one-story buildings. A mansion with a second story is called lou—and Hung Lou stands for "Red Two-Story Building." According to Buddhist usage, it is also a metaphor for such concepts as worldly glory, luxury, wealth, and honors—similar to the Buddhist interpretation of "red dust" as "worldly strivings," "the material world."
    • Franz Kuhn, The Dream of the Red Chamber (1958), Introduction, p. xiii
  • 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.
  • The Dream of the Red Chamber and the Japanese Tale of Genji are the two greatest works of prose fiction in all the history of literature.
    • Kenneth Rexroth, "The Chinese Classic Novel in Translation", in Bird in the Bush (1959), p. 251
  • It is a tale about a gifted and sensitive young man who, through contemplation of the twelve registers of the passions, represented by the twelve categories of female characters in the Registers of Beauty, and through the experience of disillusionment, attains a state of mystic contemplation and of liberating peace. The Passionate Monk, whose spiritual odyssey is sketched out in the first chapter, is Baoyu himself.
    • David Hawkes, essay from 1963, originally delivered as a lecture in French at the Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises in Paris (21 March 1963), translated by Angharad Pimpaneau in Classical, Modern, and Humane: Essays in Chinese Literature (1989), eds. John Minford and ‎Siu-Kit Wong, p. 68
  • 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 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
  • In the Dream of the Red Chamber is drawn a vast panorama of Chinese family life, represented by the great house of Chia with its two main branches, their numerous offshoots, and a proliferation of kinsmen, as well as a large retinue of dependents and domestics. [...] Most graphically described in the Chinese novel are the life and activities of some thirty main characters flanked by four hundred or more minor ones who flit in and out of the novel in their secondary roles. This immense body of materials, presented in a realistic manner, provides one of the best documents for a study of the extended Chinese family: its structure, organization, and ideals such as clan solidarity and honor, respect for old age, parental authority, filial obedience, sex relationship, the position of women, the role of the concubines, maidservants, and other domestics.
    • Wu-chi Liu, An Introduction to Chinese Literature (1966), p. 238
  • For social realism and psychological insight, Dream of the Red Chamber is a work to be placed alongside the greatest novels in the Western tradition.
    • C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel (1968), p. 17
  • Dream of the Red Chamber...is the greatest of all Chinese novels.
    • C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel (1968), p. 245
To show his scorn for contemporary Chinese writing, a scholar versed in traditional literature would often ask, "What has been produced in the last fifty years that could equal Dream of the Red Chamber?" But one could turn the tables on him and ask with equal expectation of a negative answer: "What work previous to Dream could equal it?" ... Dream which embodies the supreme tragic experience in Chinese literature is also its supreme work of psychological realism.
~ C. T. Hsia
  • Even the finest of the modern novels cannot compare with Dream of the Red Chamber in depth and scope... To show his scorn for contemporary Chinese writing, a scholar versed in traditional literature would often ask, "What has been produced in the last fifty years that could equal Dream of the Red Chamber?" But one could turn the tables on him and ask with equal expectation of a negative answer: "What work previous to Dream could equal it?" ... Dream which embodies the supreme tragic experience in Chinese literature is also its supreme work of psychological realism.
    • C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel (1968), pp. 245–246
  • [Pao-yü]'s secret wish is not unlike that of a much-admired adolescent hero in recent American fiction: to be a catcher in the rye and rescue all lovely maidens from the brink of custom and sensuality. Pao-yü enjoys the trust and friendship of all the girls around him, therefore, not because they look upon him as a lover but because, almost alone among their menfolk, he sympathizes with their condition and shares their thoughts.
    • C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel (1968), pp. 267–268
  • What Pao-yü is determined to give up is not only his sensual self but his active sympathy and compassion so that he may be released from his long obsession with suffering. The tragic dilemma posed in the drama of Pao-yü's spiritual awakening is surely this: Is insensibility the price of one's liberation? Is it better to suffer and sympathize, knowing one's complete impotence to redeem the human order, or is it better to seek personal salvation, knowing that, in achieving this, one becomes a mere stone, impervious to the cries of distress around one?
    • C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel (1968), p. 287
  • Ostensibly, therefore, he [Ts'ao Hsüeh-ch'in] has written a Taoist or Zen Buddhist comedy, showing mankind's hopeless involvement in desire and pain and the liberation of at least a few select individuals besides the hero. But only ostensibly, because the reader cannot but feel that the reality of suffering as depicted in the novel stirs far deeper layers of his being than the reality of Taoist wisdom; he cannot but respond to the author's vast sympathy for young and old, innocent and scheming, self-denying and self-indulgent. [...] In devoting his creative career to tracing the history of Pao-yü and the Chia clan, Ts'ao Hsüeh-ch'in is therefore the tragic artist caught between nostalgia for, and tormented determination to seek liberation from, the world of red dust.
    • C. T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel (1968), pp. 296–297
  • When you first read about all these people with strange names doing curious things in an exotic setting, you get lost. Then gradually the sheer human mass of Chinese fiction, a mass whose components are all highly individuated, envelops and entrances you. You realize yourself as part of a universe of human beings endless as the dust of nebulae visible in the Mount Palomar telescope, and you are left with the significance of a human kinship powerful as flowing water and standing stone.
    • Kenneth Rexroth, "The Dream of the Red Chamber", in Classics Revisited (1968), p. 150
  • However great, Genji does seem a little hysterical in comparison with the vastly humane Chinese novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber.
    • Kenneth Rexroth, "On Japanese Literature", in With Eye and Ear (1970), p. 96
"The Dream of the Red Chamber" should be read five times before one can rightfully talk about it.
~ Mao Zedong
  • Hung Lou Meng is worth reading. It is a good book. We should read it not for its story but as history. It is a historical novel. Its language is the best in classical fiction. The author, Ts'ao Hsueh-ch'in, had made a lively portrayal of Feng Tzu. The characterization of Feng Tzu is excellent. You won't be able to do the same. If you don't read Hung Lou Meng, how could you know about feudal society?
    • Mao Zedong, conversation with his niece Wang Hai-jung, as translated by the Joint Publications Research Service in Translations on Communist China (21 December 1970), p. 40
  • The Story of the Stone is an amazing achievement and the psychological insight and sophisticated humour with which it is written can often delude a reader into judging it as if it were a modern novel.
    • David Hawkes, Introduction to The Story of the Stone, Vol. 1: 'The Golden Days' (1973), p. 43
  • The idea that the worldling's 'reality' is illusion and that life itself is a dream from which we shall eventually awake is of course a Buddhist one; but in Xueqin's hands it becomes a poetical means of demonstrating that his characters are both creatures of his imagination and at the same time the real companions of his golden youth. To that extent it can be thought of as a literary device rather than as a deeply held philosophy, though it is really both.
    • David Hawkes, Introduction to The Story of the Stone, Vol. 1: 'The Golden Days' (1973), p. 45
  • "The Dream of the Red Chamber" should be read five times before one can rightfully talk about it. It should be read five times. ... Among Chinese classical novels, "The Dream of the Red Chamber" is the best.
    • Mao Zedong, at a meeting in December 1973, partially quoted in Paths to Power: Elite Mobility in Contemporary China (1986) by David Lampton, p. 241
  • A unique feature of the novel is the space given to the chambermaids. In no other novel that I know is such extended treatment given to adolescent maidservants. ... It is this rich humanity of all characters, high and low, that compels me to recognize Ts'ao Hsueh-ch'in as a "great" novelist, and his work, in spite of the natural remoteness of its language and customs to the Western reader, a masterpiece to rank probably with the world's ten greatest novels.
The Dream of the Red Chamber provides in one volume a summation of the three-thousand-year span of Chinese literary civilization. ... As a result, the work stands in its own cultural milieu as the major works of Homer, Virgil, Murasaki, Dante, Milton, Cervantes, Goethe, and more recently Proust and Joyce, do in theirs: as an encyclopedic compendium of an entire tradition in a form that itself serves as a model against which to judge works of less imposing stature.
~ Andrew H. Plaks
  • The Dream of the Red Chamber provides in one volume a summation of the three-thousand-year span of Chinese literary civilization. ... As a result, the work stands in its own cultural milieu as the major works of Homer, Virgil, Murasaki, Dante, Milton, Cervantes, Goethe, and more recently Proust and Joyce, do in theirs: as an encyclopedic compendium of an entire tradition in a form that itself serves as a model against which to judge works of less imposing stature.
    • Andrew H. Plaks, Archetype and Allegory in the "Dream of the Red Chamber" (1976), Ch. 1, p. 11
  • The story of Pao-yü is tested against three ideals of Chinese culture: the Confucian path of dutiful service urged upon him by his father and the Goddess of Disillusionment, the Taoist-Buddhist path of self-liberation, and the romantic path of individualist nonconformity sanctioned by the literary tradition. Pao-yü is naturally inclined to take the third path, but his spiritual nature (symbolized by his stone) complicates matters because it actively involves him in the world of suffering even while it prepares him for enlightenment. After a period of idiocy during which he is literally numbed by suffering, Pao-yü decides to follow the religious path, but, ironically, this decision also marks the tragic extinction of the most endearing component of his spiritual nature, his active sympathy and compassion.
    • C. T. Hsia, "Archtype and Allegory in the Dream of the Red Chamber: A Critique" (1979), in C. T. Hsia on Chinese Literature (2004), p. 179
  • The acknowledgement that the text seeks to exact from its reader is...not only that fiction betokens a systematic reinforcement of illusion, but also that it focalizes, ironically, both the need and danger of that reinforcement. ... The profound paradox emerging from Cao Xueqin's masterpiece seems to be that the illusion of life, itself a painful avowal of the non-reality and untruth of reality, can only be grasped through the illusion of art, which is an affirmation of the truth of insubstantiality.
    • Anthony C. Yu, Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 48–49
  • If life is illusory like a dream or fiction, what are we to do with so engaging an illusion as fiction? ... The trajectory of the plot, since it follows Bao-yu's quest for deliverance from his sufferings, may tempt the reader to think that the novel supplies but a mimetic enactment of the Buddhist vision. If the analysis in the present study thus far is not far off the mark, however, then I believe that the "flavor" or "secret message" of the work lies in the differentiation between the Buddhist "reading" of the world and our reading of literary fiction. ... Whereas Buddhism draws from its "reading" the conclusion that detachment is the ultimate wisdom, the experience of reading fiction, at least according to our author, is nothing if not the deepest engagement. In Hongloumeng, therefore, the medium subverts the message, the discourse its language.
    • Anthony C. Yu, Rereading the Stone: Desire and the Making of Fiction in Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 149
  • The most valuable treasure in Chinese literature or even Chinese culture lies in Dream of the Red Chamber.
    • Liu Zaifu, Reflections on "Dream of the Red Chamber", trans. Shu Yunzhong (Cambria Press, 2008), p. xx
  • I'd like to think that in another generation the heroine of "The Dream of the Red Chamber," Lin Daiyu, could be as recognizable to English-speaking readers as Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina, but I'm not wildly optimistic.
  • This book is believed by many to be the greatest Chinese novel ever written. For me it is like a bible for everything to do with Chinese culture. ... Books like this remind Chinese people what the true Chinese culture is all about and how to preserve it, which is why I call it the 'Bible of Chinese Culture'.
  • China's greatest work of literature, the 18th-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, ... is still virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. In its native land, The Story of the Stone, as the book is also known – Stone for short – enjoys a unique status, comparable to the plays of Shakespeare. Apart from its literary merits, Chinese readers recommend it as the best starting point for any understanding of Chinese psychology, culture and society.

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