Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although a poet and a painter as well as a novelist, Cao Xueqin (tsow shway-chihn) devoted himself almost exclusively, for the last two decades of his life, to writing his only novel, Dream of the Red Chamber. During this period, he continually revised it, even proposing to himself five different titles, in his search for perfection. He had not completed it to his satisfaction at the time of his death in his late forties.

Apart from the poems included in his novel, no others have been preserved. Fond of the theater, Cao once contemplated writing a play (his grandfather was the author of a successful play), but he apparently never carried out his intention. The song cycle he composed for chapter 5 of his novel may have been written during this period.

As an artist, Cao specialized in painting rocky landscapes. His paintings apparently were well received by his contemporaries, for their sale contributed substantially to his income during his years in Beijing.