In the late 19th century, Hong Lou Meng's influence was so pervasive that the reformer Liang Qichao attacked it along with another classic novel Water Margin as "incitement to robbery and lust," and for smothering the introduction of Western style novels, which he regarded as more socially responsible. The eminent scholar Wang Guowei, however, achieved a new method of literary interpretation in an innovative and path-breaking 1904 essay which invoked the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Wang called the novel "the tragedy of tragedies," in contrast to the happy and prosperous endings in most earlier drama and fiction.
In the early 20th century, although the New Culture Movement took a critical view of the Confucian classics, the scholar Hu Shih used the tools of textual criticism to put the novel in an entirely different light, as a foundation for national culture. Hu and his students, Gu Jiegang and Yu Pingbo, first established that Cao Xueqin was the work's author. Taking the question of authorship seriously reflected a new respect for fiction, since the lesser forms of literature had not been traditionally ascribed to particular individuals. Hu next built on Cai Yuanpei's investigations of the printing history of the early editions to prepare reliable reading texts. The final, and in some respects most important task, was to study the vocabulary and usage of Cao's Beijing dialect as a basis for Modern Mandarin.
In the 1920s, scholars and devoted readers developed Hongxue, or Redology into both a scholarly field and a popular avocation. Among the avid readers was the young Mao Zedong, who later claimed to have read the novel five times and praised it as one of China's greatest works of literature. The influence of the novel's themes and style are evident in such works as Ba Jin's novel, Family (1931), and Moment in Peking (1939) by Lin Yutang. The early 1950s was a rich period for Redology with publication of major studies by Yu Pingbo. Zhou Ruchang, who as a young scholar had come to the attention of Hu Shih in the late 1940s, published his first study in 1953, which became a best seller. But in 1954 Mao personally criticized Yu Pingbo for his "bourgeois idealism" in failing to emphasize that the novel exposed the decadence of "feudal" society and the theme of class struggle. In the Hundred Flowers Campaign, Yu came under heavy criticism but the attacks were so extensive and full of quotations from his work that they spread Yu's ideas to many people who would not otherwise have known of their existence.
During the Cultural Revolution, the novel initially came under fire, though it quickly regained its prestige in the following years. Zhou Ruchang resumed his lifework, eventually publishing more than sixty biographical and critical studies. In 2006, Zhou, who had long distrusted Gao E's editions, and the novelist Liu Xinwu, author of popular studies of the novel, joined to announce a new 80 chapter version which Zhou had edited to eliminate Gao E's emendations and restore Cao's original text.