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Dream of the Red Chamber is a remembrance. The novel, written by Cao Xueqin (fl.1716 –1763), reminisces about the bygone days of a prominent noble family gilded with opulence and prestige during the High Qing era. Emanating throughout this novel are the author’s retrospection and fixation with the past, as well as his laments over a family on the decline after reaching its prime. With Dream of the Red Chamber as the overarching theme, this exhibition unfolds through the collections of the National Palace Museum, National Central Library and National Taiwan University Library. The objects and materials will take us into this fictional world, through that bygone era, and through the unparalleled beauty and sorrow of Dream of the Red Chamber.

The Splendor of Dream of the Red Chamber consists of three sections. The first section, The Stately Elegance, presents the captivating side of the novel. That is the sophisticated material culture of the noblesse, which is based upon the upbringing of Cao, having been born into generational wealth of the family running the Jiangning Weaving Bureau. The second, The Exotic Novelty, features the foreign objects depicted in the novel, alluding to Cao’s placing imported novelties to highlight the chic style of the Jia family. It also suggests the trend of imitating the imperial preference of foreign goods during Cao’s time. The third is A Fancy Dream, which illustrates that through the portrayal and association of objects and materials, Cao developed different characters and metaphorical meanings. He also brought to existence the short but spectacular lives of women, lives that evoke sympathy and commiseration.

One cannot explore Dream of the Red Chamber without the subject of “love,” be it family or romantic love; be it the love between friends or between the noblesse and their staff. Such love is interlaced within interactions among the “people,” while the portrayal of these people is given emotional depth through “objects and materials,” creating vivid imageries that materialize Dream of the Red Chamber.