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Bao-chai – Heartless but Charming

Popularity 1Viewed 2782 times 2014-6-25 03:13 |Personal category:Reading Notes|System category:Life| Bao-chai, Dai-yu

As two lines of the verse described,“One was a pattern of female virtue, one a wit who made other wits seem low”. If Dai-yu was a genius literary girl whose life was full of books and poems, then Bao-chai was a typical well-bred and decorous girl of that era.


She was cultivated and educated to be selected for the glorious promotion to the Imperial Palace since she was a little girl. When she grew up to a young lady, she became a perfect example with traditional chinese merits. After her father died and her brother proved incapable of offering their mother any comfort, she laid aside her books and devoted herself to needlework and housewifely duties. In her eyes,“A stupid woman is a virtuous one”; and “a girl’s first concern is to be virtuous, her second is to be industrious. ... The last thing girls of good family need is a literary reputation.” Thus we can know that how deep she was influenced by the feudal ethics.


She was so skilled at dealing with others that she won the approval of all members in the Jia household. Kinds of people, including the ones from the upper class like Grandmother Jia to the little maids from the lower classes, were all fond of her very much. Ever since her first arrival, the old lady had been pleasurably impressed by her placid and dependable disposition. And she said one time, “If we are going to start comparing, … really and truly I do think that of all the girls in this family, Bao-chai is the one that I like the best.” Even the little maids in the household also liked to get close to her more often than to other mistresses.


By reading the novel, it is not difficult for us to find that she always flattered and catered to the central figures of the household, which she probably wasn’t aware of, while it was undoubtedly her certain way of world strategy. For instance, when she was about to spend her first ‘big’ birthday (fifteen years old) in the Jia household, Grandmother Jia wanted to make it a memorable one for her. When the old lady asked her what sort of plays she liked best and what her favorite dishes were. Awaring that her grandmother enjoyed the livelier, more rackety sort of plays and liked sweet and pappy things to eat, Bao-chai framed her answers entirely in terms of these preferences. This certainly pleased the old lady. Another case shocked me was related to her attitude on Golden’s death. After Golden’s drowning herself in a well, Lady Wang was very uneasy. When Bao-chai hurried to her aunt’s apartment to offer her sympathy, she tried to comfort her by saying ...Golden would never have drowned herself in anger. It’s mcuch more likely that she was playing about beside the well and slipped in accidentally; ...if she did, all I can say is that she was a stupid person and not worth feeling sorry for!”. Then she further suggested her aunt thatyou simply give her family a little extra fort he funeral”, thusyou will more than fulfil any moral obligation you may have towards her as a mistress”.


In the meanwhile, from what narrated in the novel, we can see how indifferent and ruthless she was as a mistress in the household when dealing with those maids and servants of lower classes. In fact, she was so rational and sophisticated that one could feel the coldness buried deep in her mind when reading between the lines. From her birthday party we know that one of the plays she liked most was ‘Zhi-shen at the Monastery Gate’, which was about the story of the hero Zhi-shen on his seeking for spiritual liberation when he fell in predicament and was frustrated. When we followed Grannie Liu and Grandmother Jia into her Allspice Court, we were so suprised to see that her room was stark and bare, and the only decoration inside was a vase on the table with a few chrysanthemums in it. The decoration of her room also reflected her inner world. In addition, by reading the poem on the subject of Willow Floss, I was deeply impressed by the two verses she composed,“The filaments whence we are formed remain unchanging, No matter what separates or unifies”. The lines expressed her special cold attitude to the earthly affairs, and all these details described were echoing with each other. Therefore, the author Cao Xue-qin judged her with a line from a poem by the Tang poet Luo Yin: Yourself lack passion, yet can others move’.


However, I believe that these cases were not aimed to convey to us readers what a calculating and selfish girl she was, and we couldn’t simply group her into this awful kind of people. In fact, after reading the novel, I could understand her words and behavior -- they were perfectly performed according to the feudal ethics and rites by her, naturally. Moreover, by this way, she eliminated the misunderstanding existed between Dai-yu and her eventually.


As was demonstrated in Chapter 45, Sisterly understanding finds expression in words of sisterly frankness’, Dai-yu admitted that she had all along been wrong about Bao-chai right from the start. She said to Bao-chai when Bao-chai visited her in her illness, You’re such a kind person, but I’ve got such a suspicious nature that in the past I always suspected that your kindness was a cloak for something and rejected it. It wasn’t until the other day, when you told me off for reading forbidden books and offered me all that good advice, that I ever felt really grateful to you.” This was because days ago, when they were alone together, Bao-chai advised her to confine her reading choices to good, improving books and to avoid reading the forbidden books like The Western Chamber. Thus Dai-yu knew from that Bao-chai must really cared for her, and was grateful to her kindness. The author described the establishment and development of the friendship between the two girls, which also indicated that Bao-chai was not the culprit interfering with the love of Dai-yu and Bao-yu. In fact, as was written in the novel, The jade belt in the greenwood hangs, the gold pin is buried beneath the snow, Bao-chai, as poor as Dai-yu, became a victim of that social system.


Therefore it can be seen that the character ‘Bao-chai’ created by the author was indeed a complex one. We’d like to praise her wisdom and kindness, to regret for her foolish loyalty to the unhumane feudal ethics, and yet to sigh for her tragic fate. She married Bao-yu according to the arrangement of their families, but Bao-yu didn’t love her. He finally faded back into Buddhism after Dai-yu’s death, leaving Bao-chai alone and lonely in the earthly world. One cannot help shedding tears to her tragedy also.


















蜂团蝶阵乱纷纷。 几曾随逝水,岂必委芳尘。


韶华休笑本无根, 好风凭借力,送我上青云!
















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