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Wandering Between Two Worlds

The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715–1745


Ronald R. Gray

Wandering Between Two Worlds: The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715–1745 is a biographical account of the first 30 years of the life of the eighteenth-century Chinese novelist who wrote Honglou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber). It covers Cao Xueqin’s life from his birth in Nanjing in 1715 to the time when it is roughly estimated he began to seriously write his massive work. The book attempts to provide a brisk but broad overview of the important familial, social, historical, literary, and intellectual influences on Cao and his decision to write Honglou meng. Wandering Between Two Worlds relies upon extensive interviews done with noted mainland Chinese scholars on the novel, such as Zhou Ruchang, Cai Yijiang, Duan Jiangli, Shen Zhijun, Zhang Qingshan, and Sun Yuming, during the author’s eight-year stay in China; recent research done by Western scholars on Qing dynasty literature, gender, qing, philosophy, and education; and insights from the burgeoning field of the New Qing history. This is only the second biography of Cao Xueqin’s life to appear in English, and the first to examine in detail his early life and to be written by a non-Chinese. It is intended for students of traditional Chinese literature and culture, as well as general readers interested in the novel and features a special foreword written by the distinguished redologist Zhou Ruchang.
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3. “Dressed in Silks and Delicately Nurtured”


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“Dressed in Silks and Delicately Nurtured”

Cao Yin’s sudden death in 1712 plunged the Cao family into a very precarious situation. They now held no official position, their personal ties to the court were diminishing (Cao Yin’s mother, Lady Sun, the beloved former wet nurse of Kangxi had died in 1706), and they owed hundreds of thousands of taels to the government because of Cao Yin’s financial irregularities. Their future was looking increasingly bleak. Luckily, Kangxi decided to step in and again show the family special favor. On August 27, the provincial governor of Jiangxi, Lang Tingji, sent a palace memorial reporting that after Cao Yin’s death, a large group of local officials, civilians, merchants, and textile factory owners had appeared in front of his yamen to plead that he appoint Cao Yong 曹颙, Cao Yin’s only son, to be the next Imperial Textile Commissioner for Nanjing. Lang sent their petition to Beijing, and the Emperor quickly appointed Cao Yong to his father’s former position.

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