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Wandering Between Two Worlds

The Formative Years of Cao Xueqin 1715–1745

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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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4. “The Embroidered Jackets Raid”

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CHAPTER FOUR



“The Embroidered Jackets Raid”

At approximately 8 in the evening of December 30, 1722, when Cao Xueqin was seven years old, an event occurred in a restored garden and palace to the northwest of Beijing named Changchun yuan (Garden of Delightful Spring) which would soon have direct and long-term consequences for the Cao family: the death of the Emperor Kangxi. The last years of Kangxi’s life had been sadly consumed with the problem of who would succeed him as emperor for he had 35 sons, 20 of whom grew to maturity. Traditionally, according to Manchu practices, the title of heir apparent was not automatically conferred on a ruler’s eldest son. Instead, after he died leading nobles and his close relatives held a special conclave to select a qualified candidate to be the next leader from a pool of the emperor’s sons and close kin.

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