An Ho: Xue Baochai

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

Daughter of Dream of the Red Chamber hero Baoyu’s maternal aunt and Daiyu’s arch rival for Baoyu’s affection, she claims kinship to two of the four most prominent families in the novel and is thus from a socio-economic point of view a much more desirable match than Lin Daiyu for Baoyu. The fact that the gold locket she wears bears inscriptions similar to those on Baoyu’s jade pendant lends weight to the promise of an alliance of gold and jade as opposed to a pledge of wood and stone that grounds Daiyu’s and Baoyu’s love. In disposition and worldview the very opposite of Daiyu, she is well liked by masters and servants alike in the Jia household. Every bit as talented a poet as Daiyu, she advocates needlework as a more fitting activity for women than the writing of poetry and seizes every opportunity to urge Baoyu to prepare for a government career by studying for the civil service examinations. In contrast to the element of wood implicit in Daiyu’s surname-Lin means “forest,” Xue sounds the same as the character xue for “snow,” and hints at something cold and pure about Baochai’s character and personality. The Cold Fragrance Pills she takes to suppress a “febrile humor,” on the other hand, suggests otherwise- even the scent her body emits turns out to be artificial.

XueBaochai-CutawayARTIST’S COMMENTARY

Stable, well-rounded and likable outside; scheming for a socially advantageous marriage inside. Clothing simplicity shows that beneath the warm exterior there is a calculating coldness. The peony motif represents wealth and high position, but it is muted to bring out the steadiness and calm of her personality.