Dream of the Red Chamber

Characters

Dream of the Red Chamber contains an extraordinarily large number of characters: nearly forty are considered major characters, and there are almost five hundred additional ones.[11] The novel is also known for the complex portraits of its many female characters.[12] The names of the maids and bondservants are given in the original pinyin pronunciations and in David Hawkes' translation.

Baoyu and Jinling's Twelve Beauties

  • Jia Baoyu (simplified Chinese: 贾宝玉; traditional Chinese: 賈寶玉; pinyin: Jiǎ Bǎoyù; Wade–Giles: Chia Pao-yu; Meaning: Precious Jade) The main protagonist is about 12 or 13 years old when introduced in the novel.[13] The adolescent son of Jia Zheng (賈政) and his wife, Lady Wang (王夫人), and born with a piece of luminescent jade in his mouth (the Stone), Baoyu is the heir apparent to the Rongguo House (榮國府). Frowned on by his strict Confucian father, Baoyu reads Zhuangzi and Story of the Western Wing (Xi Xiang Ji), rather than the Four Books of classic Chinese education. Baoyu is highly intelligent, but dislikes the fawning bureaucrats that frequent his father's house. A sensitive and compassionate individual, he has a special relationship with many of the women in the house.
  • Lin Daiyu (Chinese: 林黛玉; pinyin: Lín Dàiyù; Wade–Giles: Lin Tai-yu; Meaning: Blue-black Jade) Jia Baoyu's younger first cousin and his primary love interest. She is the daughter of Lin Ruhai (林如海), a Yangzhou scholar-official, and Lady Jia Min (賈敏), Baoyu's paternal aunt. She is sickly, but beautiful in a way that is unconventional. She also suffers from a respiratory ailment. The novel proper starts in Chapter 3 with Daiyu's arrival at the Rongguo House shortly after the death of her mother. Fragile emotionally, prone to fits of jealousy, Daiyu is nevertheless an extremely accomplished poet and musician. The novel designates her one of the Twelve Beauties of Jinling, and describes her as a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure. Daiyu is the reincarnation of a flower from the frame story, and the purpose of her mortal birth is to repay Baoyu with tears for watering her in her previous incarnation.
  • Xue Baochai (simplified Chinese: 薛宝钗; traditional Chinese: 薛寶釵; pinyin: Xuē Bǎochāi; Wade–Giles: Hsueh Pao-chai; Meaning: Jeweled Hair Pin or Precious Virtue) Jia Baoyu's other first cousin. The only daughter of Aunt Xue (薛姨媽), sister to Baoyu's mother, Baochai is a foil to Daiyu. Where Daiyu is unconventional and hypersensitive, Baochai is sensible and tactful: a model Chinese feudal maiden. The novel describes her as beautiful and intelligent, but also reserved and following the rules of decorum. Although reluctant to show the extent of her knowledge, Baochai seems to be quite learned about everything, from Buddhist teachings to how not to make a paint plate crack. She is not keen on elaborately decorating her room and herself. The novel describes her room as being completely free of decoration, apart from a small vase of chrysanthemums. Baochai has a round face, fair skin, large eyes, and, some would say, a more voluptuous figure in contrast to Daiyu's willowy daintiness. Baochai carries a golden locket with her which contains words given to her in childhood by a Buddhist monk. Baochai's golden locket and Baoyu's jade contain inscriptions that appear to complement one another perfectly. Her marriage to Baoyu is seen in the book as predestined.
  • Jia Yuanchun (simplified Chinese: 贾元春; traditional Chinese: 賈元春; pinyin: Jiǎ Yuánchūn; Wade–Giles: Chia Yuan-chun; Meaning: First Spring) Baoyu's elder sister by about a decade. Originally one of the ladies-in-waiting in the imperial palace, Yuanchun later becomes an Imperial Consort, having impressed the Emperor with her virtue and learning. Her illustrious position as a favorite of the Emperor marks the height of the Jia family's powers. Despite her prestigious position, Yuanchun feels imprisoned within the four walls of the imperial palace.
  • Jia Tanchun (simplified Chinese: 贾探春; traditional Chinese: 賈探春; pinyin: Jiǎ Tànchūn; Wade–Giles: Chia Tan-chun; Meaning: Seeking Spring) Baoyu's younger half-sister by Concubine Zhao. Brash and extremely outspoken, she is almost as capable as Wang Xifeng. Wang Xifeng herself compliments her privately, but laments that she was "born in the wrong womb," since concubine children are not respected as much as those by first wives. She is also a very talented poet. Tanchun is nicknamed "Rose" for her beauty and her prickly personality.
  • Shi Xiangyun (simplified Chinese: 史湘云; traditional Chinese: 史湘雲; pinyin: Shǐ Xiāngyún; Wade–Giles: Shih Hsiang-yun; Meaning: Xiang River Clouds) Jia Baoyu's younger second cousin. Grandmother Jia's grandniece. Orphaned in infancy, she grows up under her wealthy maternal uncle and aunt who treats her unkindly. In spite of this Xiangyun is openhearted and cheerful. A comparatively androgynous beauty, Xiangyun looks good in men's clothes (once she put on Baoyu's clothes and Grandmother Jia thought she was a he), and loves to drink. She is forthright and without tact, but her forgiving nature takes the sting from her casually truthful remarks. She is well educated and as talented a poet as Daiyu or Baochai.
  • Miaoyu (Chinese: 妙玉; pinyin: Miàoyù; Wade–Giles: Miao-yu; Hawkes/Minford translation: Adamantina; Meaning: Wonderful/Clever Jade) A young nun from Buddhist cloisters of the Rong-guo house. Extremely beautiful and learned, while also extremely aloof, haughty and unsociable. She also has an obsession with cleanliness. The novel says she was compelled by her illness to become a nun, and shelters herself under the nunnery to dodge political affairs.
  • Jia Yingchun (simplified Chinese: 贾迎春; traditional Chinese: 賈迎春; pinyin: Jiǎ Yíngchūn; Wade–Giles: Chia Ying-chun; Meaning: Welcoming Spring) Second female family member of the generation of the Jia household after Yuanchun, Yingchun is the daughter of Jia She, Baoyu's uncle and therefore his elder first cousin. A kind-hearted, weak-willed person, Yingchun is said to have a "wooden" personality and seems rather apathetic toward all worldly affairs. Although very pretty and well-read, she does not compare in intelligence and wit to any of her cousins. Yingchun's most famous trait, it seems, is her unwillingness to meddle in the affairs of her family. Eventually Yingchun marries an official of the imperial court, her marriage being merely one of her father's desperate attempts to raise the declining fortunes of the Jia family. The newly married Yingchun becomes a victim of domestic abuse and constant violence at the hands of her cruel, abusive husband.
  • Jia Xichun (simplified Chinese: 贾惜春; traditional Chinese: 賈惜春; pinyin: Jiǎ Xīchūn; Wade–Giles: Chia Hsi-chun; Meaning: Treasuring Spring) Baoyu's younger cousin from the Ningguo House, but brought up in the Rongguo House. A gifted painter, she is also a devout Buddhist. She is the young sister of Jia Zhen, head of the Ningguo House. At the end of the novel, after the fall of the house of Jia, she gives up her worldly concerns and becomes a Buddhist nun. She is the second youngest of Jinling's Twelve Beauties, described as a pre-teen in most parts of the novel.
  • Wang Xifeng (simplified Chinese: 王熙凤; traditional Chinese: 王熙鳳; pinyin: Wáng Xīfèng; Wade–Giles: Wang Hsi-feng; Meaning: Splendid Phoenix), alias Sister Feng. Baoyu's elder cousin-in-law, young wife to Jia Lian (who is Baoyu's paternal first cousin), niece to Lady Wang. Xifeng is hence related to Baoyu both by blood and marriage. An extremely handsome woman, Xifeng is capable, clever, humorous, conversable and, at times, vicious and cruel. Undeniably the most worldly woman in the novel, Xifeng is in charge of the daily running of the Rongguo household and wields remarkable economy as well as political power within the family. Being a favorite of Grandmother Jia, Xifeng keeps both Lady Wang and Grandmother Jia entertained with her constant jokes and amusing chatter, playing the role of the perfect filial daughter-in-law, and by pleasing Grandmother Jia, ruling the entire household with an iron fist. One of the most remarkable multi-faceted personalities in the novel, Xifeng can be kind-hearted toward the poor and helpless. On the other hand, Xifeng can be cruel enough to kill. Her feisty personality, her loud laugh, and her great beauty contrast with many of the frail, weak-willed beauties of the literature of 18th-century China.
  • Jia Qiaojie (simplified Chinese: 贾巧姐; traditional Chinese: 賈巧姐; pinyin: Jiǎ Qiǎojiě; Wade–Giles: Chia Chiao-chieh) Wang Xifeng's and Jia Lian's daughter. She is a child through much of the novel. After the fall of the house of Jia, in the version of Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan, she marries the son of a wealthy rural family introduced by Granny Liu and goes on to lead a happy, uneventful life in the countryside.
  • Li Wan (simplified Chinese: 李纨; traditional Chinese: 李紈; pinyin: Lǐ Wán; Wade–Giles: Li Wan; Meaning: White Silk) Baoyu's elder sister-in-law, widow of Baoyu's deceased elder brother, Jia Zhu (賈珠). Her primary task is to bring up her son Lan and watch over her female cousins. The novel portrays Li Wan, a young widow in her late twenties, as a mild-mannered woman with no wants or desires, the perfect Confucian ideal of a proper mourning widow. She eventually attains high social status due to the success of her son at the Imperial Exams, but the novel sees her as a tragic figure because she wasted her youth upholding the strict standards of behavior.
  • Qin Keqing (Chinese: 秦可卿; pinyin: Qín Kěqīng; Wade–Giles: Ch'in Ko-ching) Daughter-in-law to Jia Zhen. Of all the characters in the novel, the circumstances of her life and early death are amongst the most mysterious. Apparently a very beautiful and flirtatious woman, she carried on an affair with her father-in-law and dies before the second quarter of the novel. Her bedroom is bedecked with priceless artifacts belonging to extremely sensual women, both historical and mythological. In her bed, Bao Yu first travels to the Land of Illusion where he has a sexual encounter with Two-In-One, who represents Xue Baochai and Lin Daiyu. Two-in-One's name is also Keqing, making Qin Keqing also a significant character in Bao Yu's sexual experience. The original twelve songs hint that Qin Keqing hanged herself.

Other main characters

  • Grandmother Jia (simplified Chinese: 贾母; traditional Chinese: 賈母; pinyin: Jiǎmǔ), née Shi. Also called the Matriarch or the Dowager, the daughter of Marquis Shi of Jinling. Grandmother to both Baoyu and Daiyu, she is the highest living authority in the Rongguo house and the oldest and most respected of the entire clan, yet also a doting person. She has two sons, Jia She and Jia Zheng, and a daughter, Min, Daiyu's mother. Daiyu is brought to the house of the Jias at the insistence of Grandmother Jia, and she helps Daiyu and Baoyu bond as childhood playmates and, later, kindred spirits.
  • Jia She (simplified Chinese: 贾赦; traditional Chinese: 賈赦; pinyin: Jiǎ Shè; Wade–Giles: Chia Sheh) The elder son of the Dowager. He is the father of Jia Lian and Jia Yingchun. He is a treacherous and greedy man, and a womanizer.
  • Jia Zheng (simplified Chinese: 贾政; traditional Chinese: 賈政; pinyin: Jiǎ Zhèng; Wade–Giles: Chia Cheng) Baoyu's father, the younger son of the Dowager. He is a disciplinarian and Confucian scholar. Afraid his one surviving heir will turn bad, he imposes strict rules on his son, and uses occasional corporal punishment. He has a wife, Lady Wang, and two concubines: Zhao and Zhou.
  • Jia Lian (simplified Chinese: 贾琏; traditional Chinese: 賈璉; pinyin: Jiǎ Liǎn; Wade–Giles: Chia Lien) Xifeng's husband and Baoyu's paternal elder cousin, a notorious womanizer whose numerous affairs cause much trouble with his jealous wife, including affairs with men that are not known by his wife. His pregnant concubine (Second Sister You) eventually dies by his wife's engineering. He and his wife are in charge of most hiring and monetary allocation decisions, and often fight over this power.
  • Xiangling (香菱; Hawkes/Minford translation: Caltrop; Meaning: Fragrant Water caltrop) — the Xues' maid, born Zhen Yinglian (甄英蓮, a homophone with "deserving pity"), the kidnapped and lost daughter to Zhen Shiyin (甄士隱), the country gentleman in Chapter 1. Her name is changed to Qiuling (秋菱) by Xue Pan's spoiled wife, Xia Jingui (夏金桂).
  • Ping'er (平兒; Hawkes/Minford translation: Patience; Meaning: Peace) Xifeng's chief maid and personal confidante; also concubine to Xifeng's husband, Jia Lian. The consensus among the novel's characters seem to be that Pinger is beautiful enough to rival the mistresses in the house. Originally Xifeng's maid in the Wang household, she follows Xifeng as part of her "dowry" when Xifeng marries into the Jia household. She handles her troubles with grace, assists Xifeng capably and appears to have the respect of most of the household servants. She is also one of the very few people who can get close to Xifeng. She wields considerable power in the house as Xifeng's most trusted assistant, but uses her power sparingly and justly.
  • Xue Pan (Chinese: 薛蟠; pinyin: Xuē Pán; Wade–Giles: Hsueh Pan; Meaning: To Coil (as a dragon)) Baochai's older brother, a dissolute, idle rake who was a local bully in Jinling. He was known for his amorous exploits with both men and women. Not particularly well educated, he once killed a man over a servant-girl (Xiangling) and had the manslaughter case hushed up with money.
  • Granny Liu (simplified Chinese: 刘姥姥; traditional Chinese: 劉姥姥; pinyin: Liú Lǎolao) A country rustic and distant relation to the Wang family, who provides a comic contrast to the ladies of the Rongguo House during two visits. She eventually rescues Qiaojie from her maternal uncle, who wanted to sell her.
  • Lady Wang (Chinese: 王夫人; pinyin: Wáng Fūren) A Buddhist, primary wife of Jia Zheng. Because of her purported ill-health, she hands over the running of the household to her niece, Xifeng, as soon as the latter marries into the Jia household, although she retains overall control over Xifeng's affairs so that the latter always has to report to her. Although Lady Wang appears to be a kind mistress and a doting mother, she can in fact be cruel and ruthless when her authority is challenged. She pays a great deal of attention to Baoyu's maids to make sure that Baoyu does not develop romantic relationships with them.
  • Aunt Xue (simplified Chinese: 薛姨妈; traditional Chinese: 薛姨媽; pinyin: Xuē Yímā), née Wang Baoyu's maternal aunt, mother to Pan and Baochai, sister to Lady Wang. She is kindly and affable for the most part, but finds it hard to control her unruly son.
  • Hua Xiren (simplified Chinese: 花袭人; traditional Chinese: 花襲人; pinyin: Huā Xírén; Hawkes/Minford translation: Aroma; Meaning: Flower Assails Men) Baoyu's principal maid and his unofficial concubine. While she still has standing as the Dowager's maid, the Dowager gave her to Baoyu so, in practice, Xiren is his maid. Considerate and forever worried about Baoyu, she is the partner of his first adolescent sexual encounter in the real world in Chapter 5.
  • Qingwen (Chinese: 晴雯; pinyin: Qíngwén; Hawkes/Minford translation: Skybright, Meaning: Sunny Multicolored Clouds) Baoyu's personal maid. Brash, haughty and the most beautiful maid in the household, Qingwen is said to resemble Daiyu very strongly. Of all of Baoyu's maids, she is the only one who dares to argue with Baoyu when reprimanded, but is also extremely devoted to him. She is disdainful of Xiren's attempt to use her sexual relation with Baoyu to raise her status in the family. Lady Wang later suspected her of having an affair with Baoyu and publicly dismisses her on that account; angry at the unfair treatment and of the indignities and slanders that attended her as a result, Qingwen dies of an illness shortly after leaving the Jia household.
  • Yuanyang (simplified Chinese: 鸳鸯; traditional Chinese: 鴛鴦; pinyin: Yuānyang; Hawkes/Minford translation: Faithful; Meaning: "Pair of Mandarin Ducks") The Dowager's chief maid. She rejected a marriage proposal (as concubine) to the lecherous Jia She, Grandmother Jia's eldest son.
  • Mingyan (simplified Chinese: 茗烟; traditional Chinese: 茗煙; pinyin: Míngyān; Hawkes/Minford translation: Tealeaf, Meaning: Tea Vapor) Baoyu's page boy. Knows his master like the back of his hand.
  • Zijuan (simplified Chinese: 紫鹃; traditional Chinese: 紫鵑; pinyin: Zǐjuān; Wade–Giles: Tzu-chuan; Hawkes/Minford translation: Nightingale; Meaning: "Purple Rhododendron or Cuckoo") Daiyu's faithful maid, ceded by the Dowager to her granddaughter.
  • Xueyan (Chinese: 雪雁; pinyin: Xuěyàn; Hawkes/Minford translation: Snowgoose) Daiyu's other maid. She came with Daiyu from Yangzhou, and comes across as a young, sweet girl.
  • Concubine Zhao (simplified Chinese: 赵姨娘; traditional Chinese: 趙姨娘; pinyin: Zhào Yíniáng) A concubine of Jia Zheng. She is the mother of Jia Tanchun and Jia Huan, Baoyu's half-siblings. She longs to be the mother of the head of the household, which she does not achieve. She plots to murder Baoyu and Xifeng with black magic, and it is believed that her plot cost her own life.

Notable minor characters

  • Qin Zhong (秦鐘) — His elder sister is Qin Keqing, Baoyu's nephew's wife, and so he is technically a generation younger than Baoyu. Both he and Qin Keqing are the adopted children of Qin Ye (秦業). The two boys enroll in the Jia clan's school together and he becomes Baoyu's best friend. The novel leaves open the possibility that things might have gone beyond innocent friendship. Qin Zhong and the novice Zhineng (智能, "Intelligent"; "Sapientia" in the Hawkes translation) fall in love with tragic consequences, for Qin Zhong dies soon after from a combination of a severe beating administered by his father, sexual exhaustion, grief and remorse.[14]
  • Jia Lan (賈蘭) — Son of Baoyu's deceased older brother Jia Zhu and his virtuous wife Li Wan. Jia Lan is an appealing child throughout the book and at the end succeeds in the imperial examinations to the credit of the family.
  • Jia Zhen (賈珍) — Head of the Ningguo House, the elder branch of the Jia family. He has a wife, Lady You, a younger sister, Jia Xichun, and many concubines. He is extremely greedy and the unofficial head of the clan, since his father has retired. He has an adulterous affair with his daughter-in-law, Qin Keqing.
  • Lady You (尤氏) — Wife of Jia Zhen. She is the sole mistress of the Ningguo House.
  • Jia Rong (賈蓉) — Jia Zhen's son. He is the husband of Qin Keqing. An exact copy of his father, he is the Cavalier of the Imperial Guards.
  • Second Sister You (尤二姐) — Jia Lian takes her in secret as his lover. Though a loose woman before she was married, after her wedding she becomes a faithful and doting wife. Because of Wang Xifeng's intrigue, she finally kills herself by swallowing a large piece of gold.
  • Lady Xing (邢夫人) — Jia She's wife. She is Jia Lian's stepmother.
  • Jia Huan (賈環) — Son of Concubine Zhao. He and his mother are both reviled by the family, and he carries himself like a kicked dog. He shows his malign nature by spilling candle wax, intending to blind Bao Yu.
  • Sheyue (麝月; Hawkes/Minford translation: Musk) — Baoyu's main maid after Xiren and Qingwen. She is beautiful and caring, a perfect complement to Xiren.
  • Qiutong (秋桐) — Jia Lian's other concubine. Originally a maid of Jia She, she is given to Jia Lian as a concubine. She is a very proud and arrogant woman.
  • Sister Sha (傻大姐) — A maid who does rough work for the Dowager. She is guileless but amusing and caring. In the Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan version, she unintentionally informs Daiyu of Baoyu's secret marriage plans.

This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.