Dream of the Red Chamber

by Chao Zhan

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1964

Madame Shih

Madame Shih, called the Matriarch, the widow of Chia Tai-shan and the oldest living female ancestor of the family Chia. In her eighties, she rules with authority and grace her large families in two palace compounds. Although she shows favoritism to her grandson, she is fair in her judgments and unselfish in her actions. She sacrifices her personal wealth to aid her decadent descendants, but she herself never compromises her integrity.

Chia Cheng

Chia Cheng, her younger son. A man of strict Confucian principles, he manages to keep his integrity in spite of calumnious actions against him. Extremely autocratic and strong-willed, he is puritanic as well. Although he loves his talented son, Chia Cheng cannot condone his frivolous ways or his lack of purpose; hence he disciplines the delicate boy too severely.

Madame Wang

Madame Wang, Chia Cheng’s wife.


Pao-yu, Chia Cheng’s son by Madame Wang and the favorite of the Matriarch. Born with a jade tablet of immortality in his mouth, the boy is thought by all to be favored by the gods and distinguished among mortals. He is extremely handsome, sensitive, and perceptive, though delicate in health. He is also lazy, self-indulgent, effeminate—in short all the things his father does not want him to be—and he lives surrounded by faithful maidservants whose loving care is most touching. His character develops as he associates with his beloved cousin, Black Jade, and her cousin, Precious Virtue. His loss of the jade amulet causes him great pain and trouble, especially when his parents and grandmother decide on the wrong wife for him. When Black Jade dies of a broken heart, he turns to scholarship and distinguishes himself and his family, renewing their fortune before he disappears in the company of a Buddhist monk and a lame Taoist priest. His filial piety in redeeming the reputation and fortune of the Chias atones for all the trouble he caused his family. Precious Virtue, his wife, bears him a son to carry on the family line.


Tai-yu, called Black Jade, another of the Matriarch’s grandchildren, a girl born into mortality from the form of a beautiful flower. Delicate in health and gravely sensitive, the beautiful and brilliant child comes to live in the Matriarch’s home after her mother dies. Immediately she and Pao-yu sense their intertwined destinies, and their mutual love and respect develop to uncanny depths. Given to jealousy and melancholy, she finally wastes away to the point that the Matriarch will not allow Pao-yu to have her in marriage. Black Jade dies when Pao-yu marries Precious Virtue, who is disguised as Black Jade.


Pao-chai, called Precious Virtue, the demure and reserved niece of Black Jade’s mother, brought into the Matriarch’s pavilion as a companion to her favored grandchildren. Obedient to her benefactress’ wishes, devoted to the handsome Pao-yu, loyal to Black Jade, and generous to all the many Chia relatives, Pao-chai well fits her name. Her virtues are the more remarkable in the face of the many trials placed before her, especially in giving herself in marriage to one who loves another. She is the model Chinese wife and companion, a great contrast to her brother Hsueh Pan, a reckless libertine.


Hsi-feng, called Phoenix, the efficient but treacherous wife of Chia Lien. At first a careful manager of the estate, she eventually indulges her greedy nature, lends money at high interest, and finally brings disgrace upon the Chia family. Her jealous nature causes tragedy and unhappiness among the loving members of the household, but she dies repentant.

Chia Lien

Chia Lien, the husband of Phoenix and the son of Chia Sheh by an unnamed concubine, an idle, lecherous man unfaithful to his wife. After the death of Phoenix he marries


Ping-er, called Patience, a devoted maid of the household.


Chia-chieh, the young daughter of Phoenix and Chia Lien.

Chia Sheh

Chia Sheh, the Matriarch’s older son and master of the Yungkuofu, one of the two great palace compounds of the Chia family. He is a man of ordinary talents, holds no important official post, and takes little part in the affairs of his household.

Madame Hsing

Madame Hsing, the wife of Chia Sheh.


Ying-chun, called Welcome Spring, the daughter of Chia Sheh by an unnamed concubine. Although the Matriarch and Chia Cheng oppose the match, Chia Sheh marries her to Sun Shao-tsu. Her husband beats her, and she is miserable in her marriage.

Chia Gen

Chia Gen, master of the Ningkuofu. A man of no scruples, he carries on an intrigue with his daughter-in-law, Chin-shih. He helps to bring disgrace on the Chia family when he is accused of corrupting the sons of noble families and of turning the Ningkuofu into a gambling resort.

Chia Ging

Chia Ging, Chia Gen’s aged father. He has renounced the world and retired to a Taoist temple.


Yu-shih, the wife of Chia Gen.

Chia Jung

Chia Jung, Chia Gen’s son. He involves himself in several family intrigues.


Chin-shih, the wife of Chia Jung. She dies after a long illness, possibly a suicide. Before her death, she carries on an affair with her father-in-law.


Hsi-chun, called Compassion Spring, the daughter of Chia Ging.

Chia Chiang

Chia Chiang, the Matriarch’s great-grandson. An orphan, he grows up in the household of Chia Gen and is a close friend of Chia Jung.

Chin Chung

Chin Chung, the brother of Chin-shih. He and Pao-yu become good friends. He dies while still a schoolboy.


Chih-neng, a young nun at Iron Sill Temple, in love with Chin Chung.

Cardinal Spring

Cardinal Spring, the daughter of Chia Cheng and Madame Wang. She brings great honor to the Chia family when she becomes an Imperial Concubine.

Chao Yi-niang

Chao Yi-niang, Chia Cheng’s concubine. Jealous of Pao-yu and hating Phoenix, she secretly pays to have a spell put on them. Both become desperately ill, and their coffins are prepared. Then a Buddhist monk and a lame Taoist priest miraculously appear and restore the power of Pao-yu’s jade tablet. Pao-yu and Phoenix recover.

Chia Huan

Chia Huan, Chia Cheng’s son by Chao Yi-niang. Like his mother, he resents the favoritism shown to Pao-yu.


Tan-chun, called Quest Spring, Chia Cheng’s daughter by Chao Yi-niang. She marries the son of an important frontier official.

Hsueh Yi-ma

Hsueh Yi-ma, a widow, the sister of Madame Wang. After her husband’s death, she goes with her son and daughter to live with the Chia family in the Yungkuofu. Precious Virtue, her daughter, becomes the bride of Pao-yu.

Hsueh Pan

Hsueh Pan, a drunkard and libertine always in pursuit of girls and young men. His purchase of a maid, Lotus, involves him in controversy and a lawsuit. Eventually he marries the quarrelsome Cassia and is unfaithful to her. Cassia dies, accidentally poisoned, while he is living in exile on the frontier. After his return, he makes Lotus his chief wife.


Cassia, Hsueh Pan’s selfish, quarrelsome, disobedient wife. While her husband is exiled she tries to seduce his cousin, Hsueh Kuo, but he repulses her. She then tries to poison Lotus, her husband’s maid, but drinks the poison by mistake and dies.

Hsueh Kuo

Hsueh Kuo, Hsueh Pan’s cousin. Incapable of disloyalty, he spurns Cassia’s attempts to make him her lover.


Lotus, Hsueh Pan’s maid. Stolen from her family while a child, she later attracts the attention of Hsueh Pan, who buys her but soon becomes indifferent to her beauty and grace. Married to her master after his wife’s death and his return from exile, Lotus dies in childbirth.

Chen Shih-yin

Chen Shih-yin, the father of Lotus. After his daughter has been stolen and he has lost all of his possessions in a fire, he and his wife go to live with her family. One day he disappears in the company of a lame Taoist priest and is never seen again.


Feng-shih, Cheng Shih-yin’s wife and the mother of Lotus. After her husband’s disappearance, she supports herself as a seamstress.

Lin Ju-hai

Lin Ju-hai, the well-born descendant of an ancient family of Soochow, the Matriarch’s son-in-law and the father of Black Jade. A widower without a male heir, he decides to give his daughter the education that in those times only sons of noble families received.

Chia Yu-tsun

Chia Yu-tsun, a scholar befriended by Chen Shih-yin. He becomes Black Jade’s tutor in the household of Lin Ju-hai. Later, he is appointed to the post of provincial prefect.


Hsiang-yun, called River Mist, a grandniece of the Matriarch. She lives with her Chia relatives for a time, but after Black Jade dies and Pao-yu and Precious Virtue are married she returns to her own family.

Yu Lao-niang

Yu Lao-niang, the stepmother of Yu-shih.


Er-chieh, the daughter of Yu Lao-niang by a previous marriage. Chia Lien, enamored of the girl, makes her his secret concubine and installs her with her sister, San-chieh, in a separate house. Phoenix, learning of her husband’s second establishment, pretends to be reasonable and without jealousy. Secretly hating her rival, she finds an accomplice in a maid from the other household. The maid insults her mistress and treats her with such abuse that Er-chieh commits suicide by swallowing gold.


San-chieh, the sister of Er-chieh. When Chia Gen and Chia Lien decide to find a husband for her, she announces that the only man she will marry is Liu Hsiang-lien, a handsome young actor. He changes his mind, however, after a formal engagement has been arranged. San-chieh, grief-stricken, kills herself with his sword.

Liu Hsiang-lien

Liu Hsiang-lien, a handsome young actor. Although a female impersonator, he is not effeminate in mind or habits, and he rejects Hsueh Pan’s suit when that licentious young nobleman pursues him. He breaks his betrothal to San-chieh after hearing gossip about her, and the girl commits suicide. Conscience-stricken, he cuts off his hair and goes away with a lame Taoist priest.


Hsi-jen, called Pervading Fragrance, Pao-yu’s devoted maid and concubine. After the disappearance of her master, she wishes only to remain faithful to his memory, but her brother arranges her marriage to a son of the Chiang family. To her surprise, her bridegroom is Chiang Yu-han, once called Chi-kuan, an actor who had been Pao-yu’s close friend.

Chiang Yu-han

Chiang Yu-han, a young actor whose professional name is Chi-kuan, a friend of Pao-yu. Accused of seducing the handsome player, Pao-yu is beaten severely by his stern father. Chiang Yu-han later marries Pervading Fragrance, his friend’s loyal maid.

Golden Bracelet

Golden Bracelet, a maid accused of attempting to seduce Pao-yu. Sent back to her family, she drowns herself.

Liu Lao-lao

Liu Lao-lao, a poor relation of Madame Wang. Visiting the Yungkuofu from time to time, she grows prosperous from gifts that the Chias give her.


Pan-er, her grandson, a shy boy.

Exquisite Jade

Exquisite Jade, a pious, fastidious nun living in the Yungkuofu. Bandits who break into the compound seize her and take her away beyond the frontier.

Chia Lan

Chia Lan, Pao-yu’s young kinsman, who also distinguishes himself in the Imperial Examinations.

Chia Jui

Chia Jui, an oaf who tries to force his attentions on Phoenix.

A Buddhist Monk

A Buddhist Monk and

A Taoist Priest

A Taoist Priest, mysterious figures, possibly messengers of the Immortals, who appear suddenly and mysteriously in times of revelation or crisis.




Ching-wen, called Bright Design,


Sheh-yueh, called Musk Moon,




Tzu-chuan, called Purple Cuckoo,

Autumn Sky

Autumn Sky, and

Snow Duck

Snow Duck, maids in the Yungkuofu.

Chiao Ta

Chiao Ta, a privileged old family servant.

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