An Ho: Wang Xifeng

WangXifengWang Xifeng
An Ho
1993
Watercolor on silk mounted on rice paper using traditional Chinese technique
54″ x 88″

A paternal niece of Baoyu’s mother Lady Wang, Wang Xifeng is universally recognized, not only as the most capable of all the women in the Jia household, but by some as even more so than her husband. By winning the approval and favor of the most powerful woman in the clan, namely the Matriarch Grandmother Jia and by demonstrating for all to see her formidable managerial skills, Xifeng secures her dominance over all but a handful of characters in the novel. The fact that she comes from one of the most influential families at the time and marries into another makes it possible for her to extend at will her power and influence beyond the immediate confines of the Jia compound. There is actually something feminist about the way Xifeng goes about striving for economic independence. But in her search for recognition and sexual equality, she often inflicts irreparable harm on other victims of patriarchal culture. And all her cunning and native intelligence notwithstanding, in the final analysis, her inability to produce a son seals her fate. The need for a male heir to continue the family line gives her husband free rein to take as many concubines as he desires. The best Xifeng can do is to trap one of them and induce her to commit suicide. In the sequel, she dies in shame after mismanaging the Matriarch’s funeral.

WangXifeng-CutawayARTIST’S COMMENTARY

Aggressive, talented and manipulative. She is an authority figure sitting comfortably in her chair of power. Her gown is heavily embroidered in peony and butterfly motif, which represents wealth and longevity. She is wearing a gown typical of a wealthy, powerful and traditional woman.