Divided into five volumes, of which The Dreamer Wakes is the fifth, it charts the glory and decline of the illustrious Jia family (a story which closely accords with the fortunes of Cao Xueqin's own family). The characters are set against a rich tapestry of humour, realistic detail and delicate poetry which accurately reflects the ritualized hurly-burly of Chinese family life. But over and above the novel hangs the constant reminder that there is another plane of existence -a theme which affirms the Buddhist belief in a supernatural scheme of things.
The Story of the Stone, also known by the title of The Dream of the Red Chamber, is the great novel of manners in Chinese literature.
The fifth part of Cao Xueqin's magnificent saga, The Dreamer Awakes, was carefully edited and completed by Gao E some decades later. It continues the story of the changing fortunes of the Jia dynasty, focussing on Bao-yu, now married to Bao-chai, after the tragic death of his beloved Dai-yu. Against such worldly elements as death, financial ruin, marriage, decadence and corruption, his karmic journey unfolds. Like a sleepwalker through life, Bao-yu is finally awakened by a vision, which reveals to him that life itself is merely a dream, 'as moonlight mirrored in the water'.
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Cao Xueqin (1715-63) was born into a family which for three generations held the office of Commissioner of Imperial Textiles in Nanking, a family so wealthy they were able to entertain the Emperor four times. However, calamity overtook them and their property was consfiscated. Cao Xueqin was living in poverty when he wrote his famous novel The Story of the Stone.