Handlingen i Drömmar om röda gemak

Det hela utspelas i en stad berömd bl a för sina trädgårdar.

I Jia-familjen finns två hertigar, Ning-guo och Rong-guo. Jia Fu, ett äldre barnbarn till hertig Ning-guo dör ung, så det andra sonliga barnbarnet Jia Ching, är det tänkt skall ärva titeln efter faderns död. Faderns namn är Jia Dai-Hua. Jia Chings hjärta ligger emellertid mer åt det religiösa, så han låter titeln gå vidare till sin son Jia Zheng (Jia Chen), och ägnar sin tid och energi åt religiösa studier, i förhoppningen att få evigt liv efter döden. Tvärsemot sin far är Jia Zheng en libertin som föredrar en lättings och rumlares liv. Så t ex inleder han en otillåten affär med sin sons hustru Chin Ko-ching. Hertig Rong-guos son Jia Dai-shan gifter sig med dottern till markis Shih av Chinling (Hertiginnan Jia född Shih, Lady Dowager). De har två söner]

DEM DET HANDLAR OM - Jia Bao yu och Perspektivträdgården
Jia Zheng gifter sig med lady Wang och de får två söner, Jia Chu och Jia Baoyu och en dotter, Tan-chun (med konkubinen Lady Caho). Jia Chu dör ung och lämnar efter sig sin hustru Li Wan och sin son Jia Lan. 
Jia Bao-yu föds med en bit värdefull jade i sin mun - Jaden för andlig förståelse.

Primarily in the Jia family. There are 2 dukes in the family — Duke Ning-guo and Duke Rong-guo. Jia Fu, the elder grandson of Duke Ning-guo, dies young so the 2nd grandson, Jia Ching, succeeds to the title after the death of his father, Jia Dai-hua. However, since his heart is set on a religious life, he relinquishes his title to his son, Jia Chen, and devotes his time and energy to religious study, hoping to become an immortal after death. Unlike his father, Jia Chen is a libertine, indulging himself in a lecherous lifestyle. For example, he has an illicit affair with his son's wife, Chin Ko-ching. Duke Rong-guo's son Jia Dai-shan marries the daughter of Marquis Shih of Chinling (Duchess Jia née Shih, Lady Dowager). They have two sons, Jia Sheh and Jia Cheng, and a daughter, Jia Min. Jia Sheh has a son, Jia Lien, whose wife is Wang Hsi-feng, and their daughter is Jiao-chieh. Jia Sheh has a daughter, Ying-chun, by a concubine.

 Jia Cheng marries Lady Wang, and they have two sons, Jia Chu and Jia Bao-yu, and a daughter, Tan-chun (by concubine Lady Chao). Jia Chu dies young, leaving his wife, Li Wan, and his son, Jia Lan, behind. Jia Bao-yu is born with a piece of precious jade in his mouth — the Jade of Spiritual Understanding.

 Jia Min is married to Lin Ju-hai, but dies young, leaving a daughter, Lin Dai-yu, with her father, Lin Juhai. Upon her grandmother Lady Dowager's invitation, Dai-yu comes to live with the Jia family. Lady Dowager dotes on both Bao-yu and Dai-yu. As the Jia family is a wealthy and powerful, aristocratic family and the household is a vast one, Aunt Hsueh and her daughter, Hsueh Bao-chai, come to join the household. Bao-yu, in his innocent and naive fashion, loves both girls equally, although his strongest attachment is to Dai-yu. When Bao-yu's sister Yuan-chun is chosen as an Imperial concubine (Imperial Consort), the Jia family grows even more affluent and influential. They build Grand View Garden (Ta-kuan Garden) to honour and entertain Yuan-chun when she comes back for a visit; it is a vast, beautiful setting where the whole family can dine together in great happiness. Bao-yu clearly has a preference for feminine company and spends most of his time with his girl cousins and young maid-servants, such as Hsi-jen, Chin-wen, Tzu-chuan, and Hsueh-yen. Not surprisingly, his father, Jia Cheng, is very strict with him and often criticizes him for spending so much time with the girls instead of studying the classic works that he will be tested on during the all-important official examination. Bao-yu, however, is a rebellious character. Contrary to feudal ethics, he isn't interested in an official career. What he cares for most is playing freely with innocent girls and writing poems while yearning for the freedom to love and marry whomever he chooses. Because of the concept of feudal fatalism, the Jia authorities — represented by Lady Dowager, Jia Cheng, Lady Wang, and Wang Hsi-feng — decide to choose Bao-chai as Bao-yu's bride — instead of the lovely, but sickly (and rebellious) Dai-yu. In their opinion, Bao-yu and Bao-chai are a perfect couple. Their marriage will be a symbolic union between a "precious jade" and a golden locket." Therefore, when they become aware of the fact that Bao-yu deeply loves Dai-yu, they decide to play a cruel trick on him. They tell him that he will be married to Lin Dai-yu; secretly, though, they plan to have him marry the heavily veiled Bao-chai. Unfortunately, the secret is leaked to Dai-yu, and she falls unconscious and begins spitting blood. On Bao-yu's wedding day, Lin Dai-yu is left alone — sick in bed, accompanied only by Tzu-chuan. She breathes her last in loneliness, grief, and hatred, while Bao-yu goes merrily to the wedding ceremony, assuming that his bride will be Lin Dai-yu. When he finds himself married to Hsueh Bao-chai, he goes out of his mind. Meanwhile, the Imperial concubine dies and Jia Sheh is deprived of his rank for conspiring with provincial officials to take advantage of the weak. His properties are confiscated, and the house of Jia Cheng is involved. The grandmother dies, the nun Miao-yu is kidnapped, and Wang Hsi-feng loses authority and dies in regret and with a guilty conscience. Bao-yu's illness grows worse until he is on the point of death — when suddenly a monk appears with Bao-yu's lost jade. Momentarily, Bao-yu seems to be himself again, but suddenly he faints away again at the sight of the monk and regains consciousness only after a terrible nightmare. Bao-yu then changes his ways and determines to restore the reputation of his house. The following day, he takes the official examination, placing seventh on the list. Bao-yu's wife, Bao-chai, is pregnant, but nonetheless, he suddenly decides to leave her and disappears after the examination. Chin Cheng, on his way back to Peking after attending his mother's funeral in Nanking, stays at Piling Station one snowy night, and there he sees a man with a shaved head, bare feet, and wearing a red woollen cape. The man bows to him and, on close inspection, he recognizes Bao-yu. Before Jia Cheng can speak to him, though, a Buddhist monk and a Taoist take Bao-yu away. Jia Cheng runs after them, but they have vanished, and all he can see is a stretch of snowy waste. That is the main thread of the story. The narrative itself is based on the prediction in Bao-yu's dream, years ago, when Bao-yu found himself in a fairyland, where he met a goddess and was shown the register of the Twelve Beauties of Jinling. He saw pictures and poems that he could not understand. The Goddess ordered her maids to sing twelve songs, the last of which runs as follows: The high official's fortunes will decline; the rich man's gold and silver will melt away; the kind of heart will escape death; the heartless will receive their just deserts; he who takes life will pay with his own life; he who causes tears will weep till his eyes are dry; one who sees through this world will enter holy orders; one enslaved by love will die a fruitless death; when all food is gone, birds will fly to the woods, leaving nothing but bare, naked earth behind. The story line of the novel roughly parallels these predictions. The outward magnificence of the Jia family cannot disguise its decline and deterioration forever. The Jia family members are accustomed to living in luxury, and certain parasitic landowners (such as Chin Sheh and Chin Chen) are nothing but dissolute and dissipated people. In order to enjoy a life of extravagance, they put increasing pressure on the peasants and extract heavy taxes from their tenants. Relying on their wealth and political influence, they bully innocent citizens and maids (such as Hsueh Pan and Wang Hsi-feng ) by contemptible and cruel methods. Therefore, tragedy begins to overshadow the family's splendour. There are many conflicts undermining the network of this enormous household — conflicts between masters and servants, between wives and concubines, between lineal descendants and sons and daughters by concubines. All these internal struggles lead to plotting against each other and several suicides. Chin Ko-ching hangs herself; Bao-yu's good friend Chin Chung dies young; the maid Chin-chuan drowns herself in a well; Second Sister Yu commits suicide by swallowing gold; Bao-yu's favourite maid, Chin-wen, dies soon after being dismissed because of Lady Wang's prejudice against her. Even Bao-yu himself comes under an evil influence and is the target of an assassination plot by Lady Chao and her son, Chin Huan. Granny Liu's visits to the Chin family bear convincing witness to the hypocrisy of the property owner class and their extravagance. Her simple and poor lifestyle stands in sharp contrast to their luxurious way of life. The Jia family's arbitrariness towards ordinary people and servants leads to Ho San's collusion with brigands to rob Lady Dowager of her gold and silver so that the Jia family's decline is accelerated. Jia Sheh's treachery and Jia Chen's lechery result in the confiscation of the family property. Finally, however, the Emperor's general amnesty pardons Jia Sheh and Jia Chen, Jia Cheng is allowed to return to his original position, and the confiscated property is restored.

In the novel's frame story, a sentient Stone, abandoned by the goddess Nüwa when she mended the heavens aeons ago, begs a Taoist priest and a Buddhist monk to bring it with them to see the world. The Stone, along with a companion (in Cheng-Gao versions they are merged into the same character), is then given a chance to learn from the human existence, and enters the mortal realm.

The main character of the novel is the carefree adolescent male heir of the family, Jia Baoyu. He was born with a magical piece of "jade" in his mouth. In this life he has a special bond with his sickly cousin Lin Daiyu, who shares his love of music and poetry. Baoyu, however, is predestined to marry another cousin, Xue Baochai, whose grace and intelligence exemplify an ideal woman, but with whom he lacks an emotional connection. The romantic rivalry and friendship among the three characters against the backdrop of the family's declining fortunes form the main story.