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Dream of the Red Chamber (original title 红楼梦) is considered one of the Four Great Classics of Chinese literature, along with Water Margin, Journey to the West and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Written in the mid-18th century by Cao Xueqin, it tells the story of the slow fall from grace of a rich family, the Jia household.
At the beginning of the story, Nüwa, an elder goddess of the Taoist pantheon, mends the heavens with stones. One of them is discarded but, having been touched by the goddess, acquires sentience. A Taoist priest and a Buddhist monk chance upon it and bring it into the world so that it may be reborn as a human.
The stone sees a crimson pearl flower, itself marked for reincarnation as a human being, and falls in love with it. The stone and the flower are respectively reincarnated into the heir to a rich family named Jia Baoyu, and his cousin Lin Daiyu. While unaware of their supernatural origins, Baoyu and Daiyu feel a deep attraction to each other; but Baoyu is expected to marry another girl, the demure Xue Baochai. This love triangle forms the main plot of the novel, against the backdrop of the decline of the family.
Dream of the Red Chamber contains examples of:
- Author Existence Failure: Cao Xueqin died before the work could be completed, leaving other authors to finish the book from notes that he wrote.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Baoyu sometimes, particularly when he loses the magic jade was born with.
- Country Mouse: Grannie Liu. The character actually coined an idiom in Chinese that refers to a bumpkin in an unfamiliar, sophisticated environment.
- Distant Prologue
- Downer Ending: And depressingly so. Lin Daiyu dies, thus causing Jia Baoyu to go to a monastery and become a monk.
- Depends on which compilation you read, the fate of the family can be a Bittersweet Ending.
- Dream Sequence: Multiple instances, including a recurring Dream Land.
- And arguably, human existence as we know it, by Buddhist standards invoked in the opening and closing lines of the novel.
- Driven to Suicide: The list is long.
- Executive Meddling: Possibly. See the Other Wiki for details.
- Foreshadowing: A set of poems Baoyu finds early in the novel tells the fates of many main characters in riddle form.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: The various live-action TV adaptations invariably feature those, as is appropriate for a cast of upper-class Qing Dynasty women.
- Ill Girl: Lin Daiyu
- Incest Is Relative
- It Got Worse: All of the lead characters and the extended family face death, strife, spiritual corruption and financial ruin. And so on.
- Kill'Em All: Or most of them. Many characters are just ruined, without actually dying.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Over four hundred of 'em, most of them female.
- Love Triangle: Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai.
- Meaningful Name: Baoyu means "precious jade", a reference to his previous state as a sentient stone.
- Also, many of the characters have names that are homophones of meaningful words or phrases.
- Many of the locations in the novel also have meaningful names. It's sometimes intentional on the part of the characters, sometimes not.
- It might also be relevant to note that Baoyu shares a character from his name with both Daiyu and Baochai.
- Multigenerational Household
- Reincarnation Romance
- Rule 34: The novel has been adapted, among other things, into a hentai online game.
- Shrinking Violet: Jia Yingchun
- Team Mom: Baochai
- Tomboy: Shi Xiangyun. As an occasional Wholesome Crossdresser, she also looks good in boys' clothes.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Miaoyu.
- Tsundere: Daiyu.
- Also Daiyu's "double", Qingwen.
- Unwanted Harem: Bao-yu, despite being eccentric and effeminate, is surrounded by beautiful women who are somewhat interested in him.
- Hardly unwanted! Baoyu is well-known, even a bit notorious, for being very fond of pretty young ladies. And one of his eccentricities is being almost nauseatingly nice to girls.
- Yandere: Wang Xifeng, who also has some Stepford Smiler tendencies.