X is for…

X is for xenial: X

Cao, Xueqin

 

 

Ok, I admit it, I’m breaking my rule for this one, but it’s a Chinese name, so technically the name order is reversed. My rules are all very complicated.

Only one author here today, and actually, only one author from here on out. This is the final stretch my friends, and we’re into the absolutely thin letters now.

The Story of the Stone, or Dream of the Red Chamber as it is sometimes known, was written by Chinese writer Cao Xueqin between 1755 and 1764 or thereabouts. He died before a final manuscript could be compiled, but with the first draft already completed his friends were able to post-humorously publish a final version for him. I’m not going to talk a whole lot about the book–in part because I haven’t read it– but also because my lovely and talented Alex Hurst has already written her synopsis on it over at her blog. Check it out here.

Cao Xuequin had a very unfortunate life which he wrote into his novel. He was born into a very wealthy, very affluent family, right before the whole clan was thrust into poverty. How could something like that happen so suddenly, you ask? Well, politics is a very messy business.

As it happened, the Cao family was really close to Emperor Kangxi. His grandfather and the emperor were playmates as children and his great-grandmother was the emperor’s wet nurse. When Kangxi took the throne, he appointed Cao’s great-grandfather the Commissioner of Imperial Textiles, a title that was generously passed down through the generations, even when the Cao heir died (the emperor allowed the clan to adopt a son to be the next successor).

The trouble started when Emperor Kangxi died and Emperor Yongzheng took his place. Yongzheng accused the family of mismanaging funds, or possibly just really didn’t like them. All of the Cao’s property and wealth was confiscated, and the family which at one point was affluent enough to host the emperor multiple times when he visited their region was thrown into poverty.

For his part, Cao Xueqin never rose out of poverty again. He made his living selling poems and paintings which were highly praised but apparently not very lucrative, and died before his magnum opus ever saw its final print version. How sad.

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13 thoughts on “X is for…

  1. Ok…I so shall I (read the book.) Moral of story (ok…stating the obvious)…Xao stayed with his passion, regardless of social status (maybe writers were looked down upon anyway,) and finished the first draft.

    Could we do the same?

  2. I love Asian lit too! Japanese in particular, but Chinese is also pretty awesome. I’m so far behind on my reading right now. I have to catch up with all your posts. I’m sorry, it will happen this week (vacation, woohoo!)

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