Summary and Analysis
As Lady Dowager's loyal maid, Yuan-yang faints from too much weeping over the old lady's death. After thinking about the hopelessness of her position and her future in the Chin family, she decides to die rather than become a concubine or be married off to a servant. She commits suicide by hanging herself, and her death is clearly a defiance of feudal persecution and oppression — a slave's rebellion against that system. Ironically, however, the Chin family members look upon her death as filial piety to the old lady. They praise her deed highly, seeing it as in keeping with traditional ethics and an honor for the family.
While Chin Cheng, Lady Wang, Lady Hsing, and others escort the coffins of both Lady Dowager and Yuan-yang to Iron Threshold Temple, Hsi-fengand Hsi-chun are left in charge of house affairs. Chou Jui's godson Ho San seizes this chance to join with outside gamesters and break into the mansion that night to steal Lady Dowager's silver and gold. Taking the valuables, the brigands see pretty Miao-yu, who is visiting Hsi-chun, and they later kidnap her from the Nunnery. Hsi-chun, anxious and depressed, decides to break with the evil world and become a nun.
Chin Cheng, when informed of the robbery, realizes they will have a difficult time making a list of all the stolen goods, since only Yuan-yang knew what property the old lady had, but they put a list together as best they can and notify the police.
Meanwhile, Concubine Chao, mourning at the Temple, falls to the ground, foaming at the mouth. She is believed to be bewitched as she babbles about the evil deeds that she has committed during her lifetime.
In Chapter 113, raving insanely, weeping, and begging for mercy, Concubine Chao dies. Some think that she has been tortured to death by the King of Hell because she plotted murder. It is predicted that Wang Hsi-feng must be fated for the same destiny, as well. In fact, Hsi-feng is confined to bed in a critical condition. When Granny Liu arrives, Hsi-feng asks to see her and treats her kindly, even entrusting her daughter Chiao-chieh to Granny Liu's guidance. Wang Hsi-feng 's arrogance and conceit during Granny Liu's earlier visits stands in sharp contrast with her humbleness now, a result of the Chin family's loss of power and prestige.
Thinking of Miao-yu's being kidnapped, Pao-yu recalls Chuang Tzu's saying about the illusory nature of life: Men are born to drift with the wind and scatter like clouds.
This pessimistic attitude towards life makes him sad about his separation from his close friends, especially from Tai-yu. His dark thoughts lead him to decide to go to speak with Tzu-chunn, who has served in his apartment since Tai-yu's death and who has been cold to him. He goes to her room and begs her to let him in, but is rejected. Finally his sincerity and his concern touch Tzu-chuan, and she regrets that Tai-yu did not have the good fortune to marry him. However, at heart, she feels that everyone's fate is predestined.
In Chapter 114, Hsi-feng is reported to be dying, calling for a boat and a sedan-chair so that she can hurry back to Chinling to fill in a register. When Pao-yu and Pao-chai hurry to Hsi-feng 's quarters, Hsi-feng is dead and is laid out for her funeral. However, it cannot be arranged as handsomely as Chin Ko-ching's or the old lady's were because Chin Lien has little money now. Ping-erh offers her savings for the funeral expenses, to Chin Lien's consolation, but Hsi-feng 's brother, Wang Jen, is dissatisfied because he cannot get any money from Hsi-feng now that she is dead.
Hsueh Ku and Hsiu-yen have been married quietly, and they now live in harmony and peace with each other and the rest of the family.
As Cheng Jih-hsing, Chia Cheng's secretary, counsels his master on keeping a close watch on the household, a visit from Chen Ying-chia is announced. He tells Chia Cheng that the Emperor has restored Ying-chia's hereditary title (a foreshadowing of the revival of the Chia family's prosperity) and that "the Sovereign's kindness surpasses heaven." Here, Kao Ngo portrays the Emperor as benevolent and sagacious, a treatment that suggests that the author is very scrupulous for fear that he himself might be charged with defiance against the Emperor. Chen Ying-chia also has a son named Pao-yu, who looks exactly like Chia Pao-yu, though he is one year younger.
In Chapter 115, Hsi-chun is adamant about becoming a nun, and the disregard of Madame Yu only makes her resolve stronger.
Lady Chen and Chen Pao-yu arrive. At the sight of one another, both Chen Pao-yu and Chia Pao-yu feel as if they were old acquaintances. Both are impressed by the fact that they have not only the same name, but also identical features. However, after they talk together, Chin Pao-yu is disappointed in Chen Pao-yu's interests — loyalty, filial piety, winning fame, and learning in order to live up to the expectations of the sagacious Emperor, father, and tutors.
When Pao-chai asks her husband's opinion about Chen Pao-yu, Chin Pao-yu asserts that Chen Pao-yu is a "place-seeker of the lowest sort," and thus they are as "incompatible as ice and charcoal." Chia Pao-yu even wishes he could change his looks so as to distinguish himself from Chen Pao-yu. Strangely enough, his dejection makes his old illness flare up again, and once more he seems deranged.
While everyone worries about Pao-yu's sudden illness, a monk arrives, bringing Pao-yu's lost jade and asking for a reward of ten thousand taels. The jade seems to revive Chia Pao-yu, but Chia Lien has no money to pay the monk, and thus they sit, stalemated, at the front of the house. Meanwhile, Sheh-yueh makes an injudicious comment that reminds Pao-yu of a quarrel he had with Tai-yu, and he suddenly pales and topples over backward.
In this chapter, Chia Pao-yu's disgust with fame and officialdom is obvious and is consistent with the treatment of the first 80 chapters. However, this handling is inconsistent with Chapters 85, 89, and 119. In the last 40 chapters, therefore, Chia Pao-yu is given two conflicting personalities, a flaw which further reflects the author's limitations and his feudal orientation.
In Chapter 116, when Chia Cheng looks for the monk to once again help Pao-yu, the monk has disappeared; moreover, Pao-yu's spirit has taken flight and is now led by the monk. Pao-yu enters the illusory realm, where he sees Yuan-yang, who says Cousin Lin wants to see him, and he reads the album that he dreamed of before: the First Register of the Twelve Beauties of Chinling. He realizes the predictions written there have come true, and, shortly thereafter, he sees Third Sister Yu, Ching-wen, and Chin Ko-ching. Amazed at the beauty of the fairy plant of Vermilion Pearl, Pao-yu is informed by a fairy maid of the history of the plant, which is revived by being watered every day with sweet dew by the attendant Shen Ying (apparently, Pao-yu after death).
The fairy's mistress, the Queen of Bamboo, appears to Pao-yu to be Talyu. He also sees Ching-wen, Hsifeng , Chin Ko-ching, and Ying-chun. Then, suddenly, the monk summons Pao-yu, gives him a violent shove, and forces him to return to the real world. Pao-yu awakens, recovered.
This description of the after-life world is realistic and vivid, somewhat different from Tsao Hsueh-chin's description of the dreamy Other World.
Chin Cheng decides to take Chin Jung along to escort Lady Dowager's coffin and those of Chin Ko-ching, Lin Tai-yu, and Wang Hsi-feng back to the south for burial in the ancestral courtyard, and he asks Chin Lien and Lady Wang to take care of household affairs. He also asks Pao-yu to study hard and to take the triennial examination, along with Lan. Pao-yu is now a changed man. Not only is he averse to rank and official career, but he has lest all interest in women.
In Chapter 117, we see that the monk who returned Pao-yu's jade has returned, asking for silver, and Pao-yu, enlightened by his experiences in the Illusory Land of the Great Void, tells the monk that he will give the jade back to him. Hsi-jen, Tzu-chuan, Pao-chai, and Lady Wang try their utmost to stop Pao-yu from doing this, and he finally agrees. The monk asks Pao-yu to pay him occasional visits, then he disappears suddenly.
Chin Lien announces that he must set off on a journey to see his father, who is seriously ill, leaving Chin Chiang and Chin Yun in charge of household matters because, as he says, "Though they aren't much good, at least they are men," a statement based on the strong feudal prejudice against women.
After Hsi-feng 's death and Tan-chun's marriage far away, there is no female who is trusted to be in charge. During the day, Chiang and Yun play around with the servants, assemble friends for feasts, and even hold gambling and drinking parties. Chin Huan joins their group and goes so far as to frequent brothels and gambling dens. Thus, the once-glorious Jung Mansion is turned upside-down, and the thorough degeneration of the new, young authorities in the Chia family is vividly obvious.
Hsi-chun quarrels again with Madame Yu, which makes Hsi-chun all the more determined to sever all worldly ties; Chin Yu-tsun is taken to court for trial for extorting money from his subordinates and abusing his power by oppressing good citizens; and it is reported that a brigand was executed on the spot when he was caught robbing a house and killing a girl he had kidnapped and who had resisted him. There is some conjecture that this girl may have been Miao-yu.
In Chapter 118, it is agreed that Hsi-chun will devote her life to Buddhism and that Tzu-chuan will join her.
In order to make money and vent his spite on Chiao-chieh, Chin Huan joins forces with Chia Yun and Wang Jen in a plot to sell Chiao-chieh to a prince who lives in a border province and wants to buy a concubine. Fabricating a story that Chiao-chieh will marry the prince, Wang Jen and Chin Yun talk to Lady Wang and Lady Hsing. Lady Wang is skeptical, but Lady Hsing, fooled by Uncle Hsing and Wang Jen, gives her consent — although Ping-erh insists on waiting for Chia Lien's return. Shortly thereafter, two ladies are sent by the prince to take a look at Chiao-chieh and report back to the prince.
A wedding is arranged between Chen Pao-yu and Li Wan's cousin Li Chi. Chin Cheng writes a letter home asking Pao-yu and Chin Lan to study hard, as the examination is near at hand. Pao-yu studies Chuang Tzu and takes the talk about "leaving the world of men" seriously. Pao-chai and Hsi-jen try their best to convince him to study hard so that he can pass the examination in order to pay back his debt of gratitude for his sovereign's favor and his ancestors' virtue, to which Pao-yu says nothing. However, he promises to write compositions to keep in practice, and he animatedly discusses essay writing and the examination with Chin Lan, which makes Pao-chai and Hsi-jen very happy. Pao-yu's behavior here seems very much out of character in that it suggests that he is still somewhat interested in fame and an official career, another example of the author's inconsistency.
In Chapter 119, before going to take the examination, Pao-yu and Chin Lan bid farewell to Lady Wang, Li Wan, and others. Lady Wang's deep concern for Pao-yu moves him so much that he promises to try his best to get a degree to repay his mother and obtain a good chu-jen degree to make her happy. Pao-yu also comforts Li Wan by assuring her that both he and Chia Lan will pass the examination and that one day she will wear clothes befitting a high-ranking lady. Then, after saying a final good-bye to Pao-chai, Hsijen, Hsi-chun, and Tzu-chuan, Pao-yu laughs, saying that he is leaving without further ado.
The results of the examination are good. Pao-yu is seventh of the successful candidates, and Chin Lan's name is the hundred-and-thirtieth on the list — to the delight of all the Chin family members. However, after the examination, Pao-yu vanishes in the crowd. Again, there is an inconsistency in dealing with Pao-yu; he vacillates between being a rebel and a feudal conformist.
Tan-chun goes back to the capital with her husband. Meanwhile, with Lady Wang's and Granny Liu's help, Ping-erh and Chiao-chieh hide in Granny Liu's house in the country in order to avoid Chiao-chieh's being sold to the prince. As it turns out, the prince discovers that Chino-chieh is from an old and noble family, so he announces that anyone who tries to pass off a daughter of the Chin family as a common citizen will be arrested and tried, frightening Wang Jen and Chia Yun and ruining their plans.
According to the Emperor's amnesty, Chin Sheh has been pardoned, and Chin Chen not only has been pardoned but also is due to inherit the Ning Mansion's noble title. Chin Cheng will keep the title of Duke of Jungkuo, and after a period of mourning, will be named vice-minister of the Ministry of Works. All the confiscated property will be returned.
All these decisions make the Chin family just as prosperous as before. The Chin family's happiness cannot be expressed in words, a view that contradicts the Chin family's once-tottering situation of financial and political decline, symbolic of the decline of the entire feudal society — the key theme begun
by Tsao Hsueh-chin. Here, however, the author of the last forty chapters describes the revival of the Chin family and its success in regaining the Emperor's favor, a total distortion of Tsao Hsueh-chin's narrative evolution for the Chin family.
In Chapter 120, one day on his way home, after escorting Lady Dowager's coffin, Chin Cheng comes across a figure with a shaved head and bare feet, draped in a red felt cape. It is none other than Pao-yu, but before the young man can say anything to Chia Cheng, a monk and a Taoist priest come over and urge him to hurry away without delay. Then, suddenly, they vanish without a trace.
On the surface, Pao-yu's becoming a monk seems to be in accord with Tsao Hsueh-chin's original creative intent; however, Pao-yu's becoming a monk displays a lack of logical, as well as realistic, imagination because Pao-yu is married to Pao-chai. They seem to be a fairly happy couple and have made some compromises with the future goals of fame and an official career. Besides, Pao-yu has already gained his chu-jen degree, and his family is once again regaining its former prosperity. Thus, it would seem that there would be no need for Pao-yu to become a monk. In addition, Pao-yu has been accorded the title of "The Immortal of Literary Genius," a goal which Chia Ching longed for but failed to attain. Yet Pao-yu attained it easily. Being an immortal after death is something that the feudal aristocrats are eager to achieve. But all of this is in blatant contrast to Tsao Hsueh-chin's original intent — that is, that Pao-yu would decide to become a monk in order to make a thorough break with dark, doomed feudal reality. The Board of Punishment (after receiving a sufficient sum of money) issues an order to release Hsueh Pan, who decides to turn over a new leaf in his life, and, in addition, he agrees to marry his concubine, Hsiang-ling. Meanwhile, Pao-chai is terribly grieved that Pao-yu has become a monk and that she has been left behind, pregnant.
Chin Lan has gained his chu-jen degree, and next year, he will become an official court scholar. More changes occur: Hsi-chun will have Green Lattice Nunnery in the Garden for her devotions to Buddhism. Chiao-chieh will probably marry Mr. Chou, a wealthy country gentleman, and Hsi-jen is engaged to marry Chiang Yu-han, a man from a wealthy southern family — a man who, it turns out, was once extremely fond of Pao-yu (so fond, in fact, that they once exchanged scarves). Thus, it seems as though his marriage to Pao-yu's maid is predestined.
Chin Yu-tsun is also pardoned under the general amnesty, but he is ordered back to his native place and is reduced to the status of a common citizen. On his way back, he meets his benefactor, a Taoist priest, Chen Shibyin, according to whom, wealth and poverty, as well as success and failure, are all predestined. While they talk about Chin Pao-yu and Lin Tai-yu and all of the family members, Chen Shih-yin reveals all the details about the Illusory Land of the Great Void's being the Blessed Land of Truth. There, the good people are favored by fortune, while the dissolute people meet with calamity.
On the whole, the last forty chapters are basically in accord with Tsao Hsueh-chin's original purpose. He wanted to create tragic endings for some of the main characters in the novel, especially the central figures in the love tragedy — Chia Pao-yu and Lin Tai-yu — so as to make the novel one of the great literary works in Chinese literary history. Here, we must give credit to Kao Ngo's contributions to the novel. In part, he succeeded with Tsao Hsuehchin's original purpose, but it is a great pity that he was reluctant to reflect truthfully the feudal decline of his time and his class. On the contrary, he emphasized at the end of the novel, the revival of the feudal Chin family — thus dramatically distorting the theme of the original novel and weakening the courageous, rebellious spirit that breathes life and vitality into the first two volumes of this classic work of literature.