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Cao Xueqin And A Dream of Red Mansions

A Dream of Red Mansions was written in the latter half of the 18thcentury. 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 CaoZhan. He was born into a noble and powerful family, which was reduced from extreme prosperity to poverty. The life of luxury in his boyhoodacquainted him with the ways of noble families and the ruling class,while poverty in his old age enabled him to observe life more clearlyand penetratingly. Based on his own understanding of life and with hisprogressive ideas, serious attitude and high craftsmanship, he was ableto create A Dream of Red Mansions, a book regarded as the pinnacle ofthe Chinese classical novel. of its 120 chapters, the first 8O were writtenby Cao Xueqin, while the last 4O chapters were thought to have beenwritten by another writer, Gao E. Though certain differences with theformer 80 chapters can be discerned in Gao E's sequel, in respect toideological content and artistic achievement, it still basically follows Cao'soriginal plan and makes the novel an integral whole.

A Deram of Red Mansions describes the life and declining fortunesof a large feudal family. At the heart of the novel is a tragic love storybetween Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai. The author, instead oftelling the love story superficially, tries to tap the social origins of thetragedy through probing deeply into the characters' minds and thecomplicated relationships among them, hence exposing the hypocrisyand cruelty of feudalism and the decadence of the ruling class. The novelgoes far beyond the tragic love story, to depict a broad swath of societythrough describing a series of complicated conflicts and struggles, andultimately predicting the doomed fate of feudal society as a whole. Thenovel criticizes feudalism, its corrupt politics, marriage system and ethicalrelationships and passionately denounces its cruelty and inhumanity InChina, A Dream of Red Mansions is praised as an encyclopedia foranalyzing feudal society.

A Dream of Red Mansions portrays a galaxy of unforgettablecharacters, including Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu, Xue Baochai, Wang Xifeng,Yuanyang, Qingwen, Lady Dowager, Jia Zheng, jia She, jia Zhen and JiaLian. Jia Baoyu is a rebel of the feudal noble class. He lives in a largefeudal family, but he resents their decadence and hypocrisy, and finallyabandons them. His rebellious character is fully expressed in his attitudeof indifference to the ways of aristocratic life. He holds in contempt thetiresome men and greatly sympathizes with the women, oppressed andtrampled by the feudal system. Jia Baoyu's anti-feudal awareness is alsoreflected in his persistent pursuit of true love. The tragic love storybetween Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu is in fact a social tragedy.

Lin Daiyu is also a rebellious figure in the novel. She represents, toa certain degree, women's unfortunate fate in feudal society and theirresistance to its oppressiveness. But her weakness is in her restrainedand fragile character, typical of noble girls. Baoyu and Daiyu are the twomost beloved characters of the author. In contrast to Baoyu and Daiyu,Baochai is portrayed as a conventional woman of feudal society. But inthe declining period of the feudal system, she is also a tragic figure.

The author also portrays a large number of servant-girls such asQingwen and Yuanyang, who live at the bottom rung of the jia family.These girls are kind, pure and brave. The successful portrayal of theseoppressed servant-girls manifests the author's progressive democraticideas.

Jia She, Jia Lian, Jia Zhen, Wang Xifeng and other negative charactersrepresent the dissipated, greedy and sinister ruling clique of feudalsociety. The two-faced Wang Xifeng especially makes a deep impression.on readers, with her cruel heart under a mask of sugarcoated words.Wang Xifeng is an outstanding archetypal personality among characterscreated in Chinese novels.

A Dream of Red Mansions made great artistic achievements, whichis especially reflected in its characterization. Unlike The Romance of theThree Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh, in which characters aremainly set off by exciting stories, A Dream of Red Mansions portraysthe characters by describing their different mental outlooks and innerthoughts and emotions. The novel also provides a great deal of detaileddescriptions of characters' daily lives, which is perfectly combined withthe depiction of the characters. Cao Xueqin attained a flawlessness inlanguage, greatly influencing later fiction writers. A Dream of RedMansions reflected high aesthetic quality in many aspects includingpoetry, drama, art, architecture and gardens.

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