This paper seeks to interpret The Story of the Stone with reference to the visual culture of the Manchu court. It argues that the Yongzheng reign (1723–1735) inaugurated a new era of visual culture when jia (the unreal or fiction) became itself a productive concept and an indispensable visual device in the illusionistic paintings and interior decoration of the Manchu palaces and gardens. In addressing the intricate interplay and intersections of zhen (the real or true) and jia, The Story of the Stone does more than rehash an inherited literary theme or rhetorical device. Drawing heavily on the contemporary paintings and decorative art of the imperial court, it gives both a gripping expression to and a sophisticated spin on the visual penchant and sensibility of the Manchu royal house and aristocracy.

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