Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber (曹雪芹新传, literally New Biography of Cao Xueqin) is a translation of a scholarly work by the famous mainland Chinese critic Zhou Ruchang. Written for the Western reader, it historicizes the life and times of the Chinese novelist Cao Xueqin (c. 1715-1763) and comprehensively introduces the origins of the novel
Dream of the Red Chamber (
Honglou meng). This translation is unique because it offers the first book-length biography of Cao Xueqin in English. Zhou carefully historicizes the decline of the once illustrious Cao clan, and he demonstrates how Cao Xueqin’s own childhood experiences in a wealthy bondservant family during the Qing dynasty profoundly informed the encyclopedic narrative that he would later write. In
Between Noble and Humble, Zhou also offers intriguing and controversial theories about
Honglou meng based on decades of careful research, for instance, that the famous commentator Red Inkstone was in fact a female relative of Cao Xueqin.