Cao Xueqin(1716~1763), styled Mengruan, had the literary names Xueqin and Qinxi Jushi. His ancestral home was Liaoyang, and later was received as member of the Orthodox White Banner of the "Eight Banners" of the Man nationality in the Qing Dynasty.
From his great-grandfather to his father's generation, four persons of three generations of the Cao's successively held the post of Jiangning Zhizao, a post in charge of satin-weaving for the use of the emperor or officials, for as long as 60 years, enjoying imperial favor for along time and living a life of luxury and dissoluteness.
Emperor Kangxi lived in the office of Jiangning Zhizao four times during his six inspection tours to the south.
During the reign of Emperor Yongzheng, the house of Cao Family was searched and their property was confiscated, their family, once prosperous and prominent, being on the wane.
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, great calamity befell the family again.
Living in such a family, Cao Xueqin endured all kinds of frustrations and tribulations in his lifetime, getting a full taste of misery and bitterness.
Imperturbably he began to ponder and reflect upon the past. He dipped his brush heavily in poignant tears to blend the tragedy of the age with culture and life, which resulted in A Dream of Red Mansions, the summit of Chinese classical fiction.
Before he could complete the book, he passed away due to exhaustion, leaving behind merely 80 chapters of scribe's copy.
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, Gao E combined the 80-chapter transcript with over 30 volumes of incomplete draft and produced a 120-chapter edition to be block-printed.
A Dream of Red Mansions was originally entitled The Story of the Stone. It took the author 10 years to read over marginalia and make additions and deletions five times. The fiction was the crystalization of Cao's talent, emotion, scholarship and painstaking effort.
Its main thread was the passionate love between Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu, with the first five chapters as its key link. Through the depiction of the prosperity and adversity of the four big clans, namely, Jia family, Shi family, Wang family and Xue family, the author exposed and animadverted with profundity the evils of the feudal ruling class and feudal system. The tragedy of the times caused by the decadence and collapse of the Qing Dynasty was fully incarnated.
A Dream of Red Mansions was penetrated with an intense feeling of predestination, the concepts of “nihility" and that “the nature of the things was the emptiness" . It contained the historical sense of vicissitudes and the experience of life piercing to the bones. It was endowed with rich implication of tragedy.
As a great realistic magnum opus and a fiction of human feelings like an encyclopedia, it has been interpreted divergently by innumerable people.
The study of Cao Xueqin and A Dream of Red Mansions has already become a renowned cosmopolitan school called the Hongloumeng(A Dream of Red Mansions) scholarship.