The second volume of the novel The Story of the Stone (or Dream of the Red Chamber) frames the tale of a sentient Stone, left behind by the goddess Nüwa when she repaired the heavens. The Stone wants to experience the joys of the mortal world and convinces a Taoist priest and a Buddhist monk to take it along with them. The Stone, along with its companion, is given the chance to understand human life and is reborn as Jia Baoyu, leading to The Story of the Stone.
The novel provides an in-depth and episodic account of the lives of the wealthy and noble Jia family, which consists of two branches, the Rongguo House and the Ningguo House, residing in large family compounds in the capital city. Although the city is not named and the dynasty remains unspecified, the Jia family is one of the most prestigious in the capital. One of the daughters of the Jia family becomes a Royal Consort, and to prepare for her arrival, the family builds the Daguanyuan, a lush garden that serves as the setting for much of the story’s action. The novel portrays the Jia family’s wealth and power in detail and traces their decline, featuring over 30 main characters and over 400 minor ones.
The novel centers around Baoyu, the carefree male heir of the Jia family, who has a special bond with his sickly cousin, Lin Daiyu, who shares his love of poetry and music. Baoyu is destined to marry another cousin, Xue Baochai, who embodies the ideal woman with her grace and intelligence, but he lacks an emotional connection with her. The novel explores the romantic rivalry and friendship among these three characters set against the backdrop of the Jia family’s declining fortunes.