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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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8. “Stirred Feelings Find Expression in Sound”


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“Stirred Feelings Find Expression in Sound”

The theater was a key part of eighteenth century Chinese literati life. Historians Susan Nanquin and Evelyn Rawski have gone so far as to claim that “More than any other activity, drama in the Qing period contributed to cultural integration and to the vitality of a Chinese culture in which all could share.”1 This fascination with drama was particularly true of Cao Xueqin, who like Jia Bao-yu, loved reading dramas, watching plays, and keeping company with actors. He was also highly influenced by the techniques of drama and intrigued by the genre’s literary possibilities, so much so that according to Red Inkstone Cao had originally planned Honglou meng to be a verse drama instead of a novel.2

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