Rouge Inkstone or Red Inkstone (脂硯齋/脂砚斋; pinyin; Zhī Yànzhāi, literally: "Rouge Inkstone Studio") is the pseudonym of an early, mysterious commentator of the 18th-century Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber. This person (a man or a woman) was a contemporary of the author Cao Xueqin, who knew the author intimately enough to be regarded as the chief commentator of his work, while it was still unpublished. Most early handcopied manuscripts of the novel contain red-inked commentaries by a number of unknown commentators, which were nonetheless considered still authoritative enough to be transcribed by scribes. Rouge Inkstone is the most prominent of these commentators. Early copies of Dream are known as 脂硯齋重評石頭記 ("Rouge Inkstone Comments Again on The Story of the Stone"). These versions were known as 脂本, or "Rouge Versions", in Chinese. They are the manuscripts with the highest textual integrity.
Rouge Inkstone clearly had finished reading Cao's finished draft to reveal details which would otherwise be lost to later generations. For example, it is his/her comments which led scholars to learn about the original ending. Rouge Inkstone also conclusively identified the work as Cao Xueqin's. Orthodox Redologists rely extensively on Rouge Inkstone's notes for research and scholarly speculation, although the identity of Rouge Inkstone remains a mystery.
Redology scholar Zhou Ruchang speculated that Rouge Inkstone was a woman, the second wife and cousin of Cao Xueqin and the person on whom the character Shi Xiangyun was based. This hypothesis has not been universally accepted and Rouge Inkstone's identity continues to be shrouded in mystery. Wu Shichang dismissed Zhou's theory and the possibility of Rouge Inkstone's being a woman based on internal evidence in the commentary and argued that he was a younger brother of Cao's father; British Sinologist David Hawkes speculated Rouge Inkstone was Cao's "kinsman-collaborator". Maram Epstein hypothesizes the name "Rouge Inkstone" may be merely a "compilation of voices".
Famous comments by Rouge Inkstone
- "If, according to this, Xueqin is merely the work's editor, who then wrote the preface thus far? You see now how extremely cunning the author could be." (若云雪芹披阅增删，然则开卷至此这一篇楔子又系谁撰？足见作者之笔狡猾之甚。)
- The single comment (transcribed in the Jiaxu manuscript) which established Cao as the book's author by modern Redologists.
- Odd Tablet - another Red Chamber commentator who was related to Cao and Rouge Inkstone.
- See also Zhou Ruchang(2009). Between Noble and Humble: Cao Xueqin and the Dream of the Red Chamber, ed. by Ronald R Gray and Mark S Ferrara, trans. by Liangmei Bao and Kyongsok Park, Peter Lang Publishing Inc., New York.
- Wu, Shih-Ch'ang (1961). On the Red Chamber Dream: a Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the XVIIIth Century. Clarendon Press, pp. 56—59.
- Wu, Shih-Ch'ang (1961). On the Red Chamber Dream: a Critical Study of Two Annotated Manuscripts of the XVIIIth Century. Clarendon Press, ch. VIII
- Hawkes, David (1986). The Story of the Stone: The Club Flower Club (Volume 2). "Introduction", Penguin Classics, p 14.
- Epstein, Maram (2001). Competing discourses: orthodoxy, authenticity, and engendered meanings in Late Imperial Chinese Fiction. Harvard University Asia Center, p 185.