Also called "The story of the Stone (Shitouji 石頭記)", this novel written by Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹 (d. 1763) is said to be the greatest masterpiece of Chinese fiction. A wide branched scholarship does not consent about the main theme of this novel, should it be a novel of sentiment, of Daoist-Buddhist enlightenment, of social observation, of the decay of an aristocratic familiy, or even a veiled attack on Manchu rule. The frame of the novel is the contest of a Buddhist and a Daoist priest who make be born a young noble boy called Jia Baoyu 賈寶玉 and his girl cousin Lin Daiyu 林黛玉. With a loving detail describing the life of the two cousins in a huge noble mansion, between gardens and palaces, the red thread is the triangular love between Baoyu, Daiyu and a second girl cousin called Xue Baochai 薛寶釵 that is of more plumper character than the ever sick Daiyu. Switching between their life, the divine world and dreams, Baoyu becomes deranged after the disappearance of a stone (the origin of the second title) he had in his mouth when he was born. Not knowing, his love Daiyu died, he is tricked to marrying Baochai. Becoming aware of being tricked, Baoyu leaves the world of the "red dust" and becomes a monk.
With hundreds of persons and their stories, paralleling the life and feelings of servants to the life of the main persons, the story is very complex and full of symbolisms, but very interesting and convincing for its encyclopedic character, depicting the life of a noble familiy in the 18th century Qing China 清.
Source: Marney, John & Robert E. Hegel (1986). "Hung-lou meng 紅樓夢", in William H. Nienhauser, ed. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 452-456.