He wrote the most awesome novel in China

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Many years later, duncheng will still think of the new year’s Eve in the 28th year of Qianlong’s reign (1763), when thousands of lights were on in Beijing, and every household had delicious food and laughter. Everyone devoutly burned incense and prayed that the old year would pass quickly, and the new year would be disaster free, auspicious and safe.

Duncheng waited for the sad news that made people cry:

Cao Xueqin died of illness, leaving only a few incomplete manuscripts and an unfinished dream of Red Mansions.


Cao Xueqin was born in the south of the Yangtze River, where he lived in the Cao mansion with “burning fire and cooking oil, flowers and brocade”.

The heyday of the Cao mansion was completely consistent with the Kangxi Dynasty.

Cao Xueqin’s great grandmother, sun, was a nanny in Kangxi’s childhood; His great grandfather Caoxi was the second-class bodyguard of the inner court. Later, he was sent by Kangxi to the Jiangnan region to serve as the weaver of Jiangning.

Because of this special relationship, Cao Yin, Cao Xueqin’s grandfather, began to serve as the Imperial Guard of Kangxi at the age of 16. After Cao Xi died, his son “inherited his father’s work” and also started Jiangning weaving.

Although the grade of Jiangning weaving is not high, it is only the fifth grade. On the one hand, this position is to purchase silk and cloth for the court, and on the other hand, it is the emperor’s spy in Jiangnan.

Because they undertake special tasks, the ministers who serve as Jiangning weaving are generally close ministers of the Manchu and Qing emperors, and their position in the Jiangnan area is second only to the governor of Liangjiang, which is an important position to the letter.

At that time, the annual output value of the silk weaving industry in Jiangnan area reached 12million taels of silver, while the highest financial revenue of the Kangxi Dynasty was only more than 40million taels of silver. It can be seen that Jiangning weaving was rich in oil and water.

Kangxi went to Jiangnan six times and lived in Cao Yin’s house five times. Each time there was only one item of food and drink, and Cao Yin often offered more than 100 tables of imperial banquet. Later, in a dream of Red Mansions, Cao Xueqin said, under the pretext of fictional characters, that Cao Yin had picked up the car five times and “spent his money like flowing water”.



? painting a complete picture album of a dream of Red Mansions by Sun Wen of the Qing Dynasty, source: network.

However, Cao Xueqin could only hear a few words from the old mother during the Kangxi South tour. Because when he was born, the Cao family had already passed the heyday of decades and began to go downhill – a particularly steep and dangerous slope.

Since the 31st year of Kangxi’s reign as Jiangning weaver, Cao Yin, his son Caoxian and his heir caofeu have been consecutively elected as Jiangning Weaver for nearly 40 years. The long-term Royal reception task made the two generations of Cao’s agents who specifically undertook the reception have to misappropriate the funds of Jiangning Zhizao mansion, resulting in a huge financial deficit.

In the autumn of the 51st year of Kangxi’s reign (1712), Cao Yin’s malaria became more serious, and the life-saving drug quinine given by Kangxi died before it was delivered.

After Cao Yin’s death, Kangxi thought of Cao Yin’s parents and Cao Yin’s own contributions, so Cao Yu, Cao Yin’s only son, took over as Jiangning Weaver. However, two years later, Cao Yu was ordered to attend an audience in Beijing. Unfortunately, he contracted a disease and died after ineffective treatment. He was only 24 years old.

In March of the 54th year of the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1715), when Cao Fu, the younger brother of Cao Yu, took over as the weaving worker in Jiangning, Cao Yu’s wife Ma Ma, who had been pregnant in Jiangning for seven months, was Cao Xueqin.



? statue of Cao Xueqin, image source: the creativity of figure insects.


Cao Xueqin used a single name of “Yi”, which alludes to the sentence “I am born of hundreds of valleys since I have enough” in the bookofsongs. It is obvious that the Cao family hopes that this child, who was born without a father, will continue to “earn” Royal favor and honor their ancestors in the future.

However, what the Cao family elders did not expect was that the child did not embark on the “Sunshine Road” to gain fame, but chose the “path” that people despised and despised in the past – writing novels.

The Cao family has always been a civil and military heiress with profound cultural heritage, which has a far-reaching impact on Cao Xueqin. “Reading and shooting are not mutually defensive.”.

Cao Yin was a famous poet in the early Qing Dynasty. His poems were praised by everyone in the literary world at that time. The touching plot of Dai Yu burying flowers in a dream of Red Mansions is derived from Cao Yin’s poem of burying flowers: one is the painting of ink apricot flowers in Liu Village: “the spring scenery of Gou Wu is from Kuai Ju, and how many frosty spots are on the temples. The provincial girl has all the sleeves, and the hundred year old solitary tomb buries peach flowers.” Another is the picture of apricot blossoms under the moon and the beard of the king: “there are countless flowers on the wall. Look at the new red house. The day before yesterday, swallows came to the nest, and plum blossoms were buried in the spring rain.”

His uncle Cao Fu was an example for Cao Xueqin to follow. He was fond of antiquity and learning, was able to write poems and understand operas, and enjoyed a reputation in the south of the Yangtze River.

In this way, Cao Xueqin spent a life of wealth and luxury with his family in Jiangning, Nanjing and Yangzhou.

But the good days didn’t last long. The disaster happened soon after Yongzheng ascended the throne, mixed with the political events of “one after another and worrying about four things”.

Previously, the Cao family’s economic deficit had been completely filled up under the special care of the old emperor before his death. After Yongzheng succeeded to the throne, he launched a large-scale action to sort out the financial deficit, and the Cao family was not affected.

But the problem lies elsewhere.

Cao Xueqin’s uncle, Suzhou Weaver Li Xu (Cao Yin’s eldest brother-in-law), was found to have spent 800 liang of silver to buy five Suzhou women as gifts to the emperor’s eighth son Yinzhen in the 52nd year of Kangxi’s reign. Yinzhen was the sworn enemy of Yongzheng’s seizing the throne. Li Xu was almost executed and later exiled to the northeast by Yongzheng.

However, Cao Fu, who barely escaped the limelight, was dismissed from his post for his mediocrity, disobeying the holy will, harassing the post station and hiding his property. His land, houses and servants were rewarded to Jiangning weaving’s successor.

This time, Cao Xueqin’s young soul was deeply branded by the house hunting. The building was inclined when it was said to be inclined. It was really a “tree fell and monkeys scattered”. This is the first great change Cao Xueqin has experienced since he was born.



? Nanjing Jiangning weaving Museum, picture source: the idea of the figure worm.


Fortunately, Yongzheng did not put the Cao family to death, leaving a little “vast grace”. CaoXueqin, a 13-year-old girl, followed her family. With fear, hesitation, helplessness and unwillingness, she left Jinling, where she had lived for nearly a year, and embarked on the road back to the north.

In the seventh year of Yongzheng reign (1729), Sui Hede, the successor of Jiangning weaving, wrote a letter asking for instructions to give the Cao family 17 and a half rooms and six domestic servants at suanshikou, outside Chongwen gate, the capital.

In the following years, although the Cao family was trembling, there was always a way to maintain it. With the important in laws of the Cao family becoming available, it seems that the Cao family will see the dawn of rebirth.

Yongzheng died suddenly in August of his thirteenth year as emperor. His fourth son Hongli succeeded to the throne, namely Emperor Qianlong. After the new emperor came to power, it brought a new destiny to the Cao family.

Great grandfather Caoxi was originally entitled to the title of a Book of ministers, but now he has added a letter of patent. Uncle Cao Fu was also reinstated as a member of the house of internal affairs. Many of the new debts he incurred when he was weaving in Jiangning were also included in the allowance. In other words, both political crimes and economic crimes have become a thing of the past.

Later, Cao Xueqin also found a job in the palace, and soon transferred to the religious school. He made some friends, the most important of which were dunmin and duncheng brothers.

They are the fifth grandchildren of prince he shuoying, azig. Like the CaoXueqin family, they have had a glorious past, and also had a painful experience of being whipped by the imperial power – they were also brutally persecuted due to the internal contradictions of the royal family.

The same life experience and Cao Xueqin’s talent and demeanor deeply attracted the Dun brothers.

Dun Cheng wrote in his thoughts on Cao Xueqin: “at that time, the tiger gate was counting the mornings and evenings, the west window was cutting candles, and the wind and rain were dim. The fence was covered with pride, and the eloquence was touched by the lice.” It can be seen that the Dun brothers admire Cao Xueqin’s speech and knowledge, and think that he is a man like Wang Meng, a wonder of the generation who can talk about world affairs.

Yu Rui, another royal descendant, once recorded the appearance of Cao Xueqin: “he is fat, has a wide head and dark color, is good at talking, elegant games, touches the environment and brings about spring. Hearing his strange stories makes people tireless all day. His book is perfect.”

From this limited historical data, we know that Cao Xueqin is a man who laughs and scolds with high spirits. He is different from the vulgar and humorous. People who sit with him often applaud his wonderful remarks.

Like Cao Yin, Cao Xueqin is not only a brilliant poet, but also a master of both literature and martial arts. In the poetry records of his friends, Cao Xueqin was good at poetry and painting. He could not only dance the sword, but also play the piano. “The sound of the piano is indifferent, and the sword is broken across the box.”.

This gradually revived family did not last long and experienced another change. Now, the Cao family is completely ruined.

The details of this accident are not recorded in the literature, so later generations have to speculate and imagine appropriately. It is said that Cao Xueqin fell into difficulties from a well-off family for more than ten years. He felt the warmth and coldness of life. At the most difficult time, he was reduced to living in the stables of a royal residence. He was extremely poor.

In the 16th year of Qianlong’s reign (1751), Cao Xueqin came to Huangshan Village in Xishan and began another stage of his life. There, he experienced more difficult livelihood setbacks, but also focused more on his literary creation.



? Huangshan Huangye village, Xishan, picture source: the idea of picture insects.


The creation of a dream of Red Mansions probably began in the eighth year of Qianlong’s reign (1743). Since then, Cao Xueqin “read in the memorial hall for ten years, added and deleted five times, compiled a catalogue and divided chapters”, and has been writing, enriching and improving continuously for the whole decade.

In this regard, Cao Xueqin himself said:

Are you busy and busy? The feast ended.

Joys and sorrows are all illusory, and a dream is absurd.

It is said that the tears of red tea are heavy, and there is a long period of infatuation and hatred.

Every word seems to be blood. Ten years of hard work is unusual.

It is said that when Cao Xueqin wrote a dream of Red Mansions, he had no money to buy paper, so he opened the old calendar, folded the pages back, made a book, and wrote the words on the back of the calendar.

In the process of writing, relatives and friends often come to borrow manuscripts. Because they often express emotion in the process of reading, they also shed a handful of bitter tears and wrote a lot of words on the manuscripts with Zhubi. As a result, a dream of Red Mansions has become a “strange book”, a strange book full of comments.

Among them, there were two people who left comments and signatures on the manuscript the most: Zhiyanzhai and quwatsou. (Note: there are controversies in the academic circles about their specific identities.)

Zhiyanzhai conscientiously read a dream of Red Mansions from the beginning to the end, and then added the first batch. During the seven years from the 19th year of Qianlong to the 25th year of Qianlong, he reviewed the dream of Red Mansions four times, and called the book he transcribed and commented on “the story of Zhiyanzhai re commenting on stones”.

Cao Xueqin’s life in Xishan was plain and full. There, he also got to know zhangyiquan, a teacher who was once a flag bearer of the Han army but was unfortunately reduced. They had a good time drinking wine and wrote poems and paintings.

Zhangyiquan appreciated Cao Xueqin’s cultivation and sentiment, and compared him to Chen Tuan, a strange man in the early Song Dynasty and Mr. Baiyun: “ask who has been like in ancient times. Ambition should be retained by Baiyun.”

In addition, Cao Xueqin once taught a lame veteran to make kites in Shudu to make a living.

Yu Shudu, a Jiangning native, injured his leg after returning from the war and lived in Beijing selling paintings for a living. As there are people from old to young, it is difficult to make a living with a small amount of money to sell paintings. In severe winter, we can only go hungry.

Yu Shudu came to visit CaoXueqin and told him about his plight. He also mentioned the recent situation in the capital. He said that there was a noble young master in the capital who wanted to buy a kite. He sold it for dozens of gold. Unfortunately, he didn’t know the craft.

Surprisingly, CaoXueqin learned kite making skills from nowhere in his early years, so he helped Yu Shudu make some kites and borrowed some money for him so that he could spend the new year at ease.

It was snowing heavily that new year’s Eve. Before the snow in Shudu, the donkey was loaded with chickens, ducks, fruits, vegetables and wine.

It turned out that Cao Xueqin’s kite was favored by the noble young master in the city and solved Yu Shudu’s temporary dilemma. He specially came to repay his kindness.

Cao Xueqin was greatly shocked by Yu Shudu’s experience. He compiled a volume of kite pasting techniques he knew, and named it “the work record of the southern kite and the northern kite”, so that people with disabilities can also rely on this technique to support themselves.

Year after year passed in the blink of an eye. In the 28th year of Qianlong reign (1763), Cao Xueqin, who lived in the western suburbs of Beijing, received a letter with a small poem:

The east wind blows apricot rain, and the flowers fall early.

It’s a waste of time for my old friend to come to see xiaoyuanchun.

The poet remembers Cao Zhi, and the wine is ashamed of Chen Zun.

Three days ago, I was tired and drunk.

——Dunmin’s “small poems sent to Cao Xueqin on behalf of Jane”

This year was the 30th birthday of Dun Cheng, his good friend. He and his brother dunmin warmly invited CaoXueqin to have a small gathering in the beginning of March. They enjoyed flowers and drinks as before, and talked about life with pleasure. “Work hard and get drunk.”.

However, this year’s dunmin and duncheng brothers did not come to CaoXueqin’s appointment as they wished, because his only son was ill and died soon.

Cao Xueqin also fell ill in grief and died on New Year’s Eve that year.



? TV stills of a dream of Red Mansions.


Cao Xueqin experienced all the hardships in his life. He had no father in his early years, lost his wife in his middle age and lost his son in his late life. He had experienced all the three hardships of life. In a dream of Red Mansions, he once said through the mouth of the crazy lame Taoist:

All the people in the world know that immortals are good, but they can’t forget their fame.

Where are the ancient and modern generals? There is no grass in the wasteland.

The world knows that immortals are good. Only gold and silver can’t forget them.

In the end, I only hate to get together without much, and my eyes are closed for a long time.

All the people in the world know that immortals are good. Only a beautiful wife can’t forget them.

On your birthday, you said you were kind, and when you died, you went with others.

The world knows that immortals are good. Only children and grandchildren can’t forget them.

Since ancient times, there have been many infatuated parents who have been filial to their children and grandchildren?

——”All right song”

However, being able to see is not necessarily equal to being able to let go.

In a dream of Red Mansions, the continued author wrote that when Daiyu died, he arranged for Lindaiyu to die on the day Jia Baoyu and xuebaochai got married. Before she died, Daiyu had only one family member, Zijuan. Holding Zijuan’s hand tightly, she said, “sister, I have no family here. My body is clean. You should ask them to send me back to Yangzhou.”

The author’s arrangement for Daiyu’s death is permeated with the original author Cao Xueqin’s memories of Yangzhou and his feelings for the family’s past into a dream of Red Mansions.

Just like the fall of the Cao family and the death of Daiyu, the past “was born in prosperity and finally declined”.



? stills of Lindaiyu and JiaBaoyu.

After CaoXueqin’s death, Zhiyanzhai was extremely sad and mourned in his comments for many times: “Qin died of tears before the book was completed; I have tried to cry Qin, and tears are waiting to be exhausted!” “I couldn’t help crying when I read five things. Where was the writer thirty years ago?” “From now on, I wish the creator could produce another celery and fat. How lucky is the book! The other two will soon follow the nine springs!”

His former friends wrote sad elegies one after another:

The remains of the ox ghost mourn Li He, and the deer cart and the crane bury Liu Ling.

Where can I summon my soul and give it to Chu Chu?

——Dun Cheng’s “bringing CaoXueqin”

The morning dew by the pool of Xie Cao is fragrant, and the journey takes place without tears.

The cold soul of the north wind is hard to return, and the snow song is a long dream.

——Zhangyiquan’s wounded Qin River resident

CaoXueqin once lamented in his book that “the paper is full of absurd words and bitter tears”. If he could know that later generations are obsessed with a dream of Red Mansions, he would probably feel that the Red Mansions are like a dream?

Many years later, his friend duncheng will still think of the new year’s Eve in the 28th year of Qianlong’s reign (1763). Everyone devoutly burned incense and prayed that the old year would pass quickly and the new year would be disaster free.

But dun Cheng waited for the sad news of Cao Xueqin’s death. When he died, he left only a few incomplete manuscripts and an unfinished dream of Red Mansions.

It may still be snowing outside the window. The vast white land is really clean.


Zhouruchang: biography of Cao Xueqin, Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House, 2003

Fanzhibin: biography of Cao Xueqin, Zhonghua Book Company, 2012

Zhouruchang: new evidence of a dream of Red Mansions, people’s Literature Press, 1976

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