The Dream of the Red Chamber circulated in manuscript from 1754 until it was published in 1791. Like many works of Chinese literature and philosophy, it accumulated layers of commentary which guided the reader as she or he read the novel.
The manuscript version of the novel had an inconclusive ending; the publishers of the novel added 40 more chapters–the novel today is normally read in its 120 chapter version.
The editors of the 1791 edition no longer knew the name of the author of the novel. It was not until critical textual scholarship in the early 20th century that Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹 was identified as the author of the novel (or at least of its first 80 chapters.)
Since Cao 曹 was identified as the author, many readings of the novel have been autobiographical, connecting details in the novel to events in the life of the Cao 曹 family.
These and other questions are explored in this section of the book.