Ts'ao Hsüeh-ch'in(tsou` shyĕ`chĭn`), 1715–63, Chinese novelist. He is the author of Story of the Stone (or A Dream of Red Mansions), which is considered China's greatest novel. After his wealthy and prominent family fell victim to an imperial purge in 1728, Ts'ao's father managed to avoid enslavement and resettled them in Beijing. There Ts'ao, poverty-stricken, worked on his semiautobiographical novel, which remained unfinished at his death. Edited and completed by Kao E (1740–c.1815), it is a masterful chronicle of the decline of a distinguished family, focusing on a triangular romance among the three main characters. The witty narrative, rich in naturalistic detail, emphasizes metaphysical themes of transience and the risks of passionate desire.
See translations by D. Hawkes and J. Minford (5 vol., 1973–82); studies by L. Miller (1975) and A. H. Plaks (1976).