Cao Xueqin and Gao E: The Story of the Stone

(ca. 1750–1792)

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The Story of the Stone, China's most famous novel, is one of the world's longest literary works. The Chinese text is about fifteen hundred pages long, divided into 120 chapters. David Hawkes's English translation, from which this excerpt is taken, runs to about twenty-five hundred pages. In the first chapter the reader is told that the novel was written ages ago on a giant stone, hence the title. Other translations use the title A Dream of Red Mansions or, more often, Dream of the Red...