Cao Xueqin

Chinese writer during the Qing dynasty (1724-1763)

Cáo Xuěqín (Chinese: 曹雪芹; 4 June 1715 or 172412 February 1763 or 1 February 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.

Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;
Real becomes not-real when the unreal's real.


  • 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 the introduction attributed to his younger brother (Cao Tangcun) to the first chapter of Dream of the Red Chamber, present in the jiaxu (1754) version (the earliest-known manuscript copy of the novel), 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

Pages full of idle words
Penned with hot and bitter tears:
All men call the author fool;
None his secret message hears.
  • 满纸荒唐言,一把辛酸泪!
    • Man zhi huangtang yan, yi ba xinsuan lei!
      Dou yun zuozhe chi, shei jie qizhong wei?
      • Pages full of idle words
        Penned with hot and bitter tears:
        All men call the author fool;
        None his secret message hears.
        • Chapter 1
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 一个空劳牵挂。一个是水中月,一个是镜中花。
    • All, insubstantial, doomed to pass,
      As moonlight mirrored in the water
      Or flowers reflected in a glass.
      • Chapter 5
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 一朝春尽红颜老,花落人亡两不知!
    • One day, when spring has gone and youth has fled,
      The Maiden and the flowers will both be dead.
      • Chapter 27


  • 字字看來皆是血,十年辛苦不尋常 。
    • Words on the paper mix with blood,
      The extraordinary labor of ten years!
      • Couplet in the preface to Dream of the Red Chamber, 1754 Jiaxu manuscript (甲戌本); the couplet is "generally considered to be written by Cao Xueqin", according to Wong Kwok-pun in Dreaming across Languages and Cultures (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), footnote on p. 71, but Zhou Ruchang attributes it to Red Inkstone in Between Noble and Humble, trans. Liangmei Bao (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), p. 181.

Quotes about Cao XueqinEdit

It's a tragedy that a lot of people know more about Shakespeare than about Cao Xueqin. ~ Liu Xinwu
  • Ts'ao Hsüeh-ch'in's forte is the unhurried exploration of every nuance of a situation.
    • Cyril Birch, Anthology of Chinese Literature, Vol. 2 (New York: Grove Press, 1972), p. 201
  • Proud bones such as yours the world finds rare;
    These are the crags of a true eccentric.
    You wield your brush like a roof beam, propelled by wine;
    From out your bosom pour rugged rocks.
    • Dun Min (敦敏), short poem to be inscribed on one of the 'rock' paintings that Cao specialized in, as quoted and reported by John Minford in Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, ed. Kerry Brown, Vol. III (Berkshire Publishing Group, 2017), p. 1106
  • 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' (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 45
  • Ostensibly, [Cao Xueqin] 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 Baoyu and the Jia clan, Cao Xueqin 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 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), pp. 296–297
  • Cao Xueqin is a master of language. His prose is so exquisite and aesthetically pleasing that it almost attains perfection in every way.

External linksEdit

  •   Encyclopedic article on Cao Xueqin at Wikipedia
  •   Media related to Cao Xueqin at Wikimedia Commons