When they tell you that it’s a blessing to be a commoner, they’re not lying. While your life would be uneventful, but at least you’re alive.
This rings truth for the protagonist’s family, which was one of the most influential families in Nanjing. Since we’re on the topic of Nanjing, I would like to point out that it was the capital of China for ten different dynasties/eras over the past 2,000 years, so yes, it was definitely a culturally and economically developed city.
Not much as said about Qiaojie, the 10th girl, because she was the youngest of the lot (daughter of the Matriarch-in-waiting). The main purpose, in my opinion, of her presence was to show how the those who are poor in material wealth, were the most willing to give in times of need.
Born with a silver spoon, Qiaojie enjoyed a really good life, especially when her mom was heading the household. She was the baby of the family, and everyone adored her. She was born on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar, which is also known as (one of) the Chinese Valentine’s Day (yes, there’re a couple, pun unintended, of such days). The story behind the 7th-7th Valentine’s Day is related to a goddess who fell in love with a commoner, and abandoned everything she had in heaven to become a weaver girl on earth.
Despite her family’s wealth, Qiaojie had very weak health. So her mom asked this old family friend who was a poor farmer(Granny Liu–important character!) what to name her child. It’s odd to think that someone so high and mighty would seek the advice of someone who was perceived as the lowest class of people, but the mom thought she could evoke the health and long life of the old granny by getting her to name Qiaojie, thus rubbing off the luck of longevity.
The Chinese valentine’s day is widely known as Qixi today, but it has another less common name–QiQiao. That’s where Qiaojie’s name came from. Granny Liu, although illiterate, thought she might as well give Qiaojie a name that’s simple, somewhat rugged/rough (not so refined) so Qiaojie would grow up healthily.
Amongst many of the Chinese superstitions, people believed that there’re a few ways to increase the chances of survival of the kid:
- Calling the kid by rough name
- Get an elderly to name the child
- Rich family would get a poor relative to name the child so the child wouldn’t get ‘hurt’ by the wealth of the family.
And Qiaojie’s birth date was deemed to be inauspicious possibly because:
- 7 was an inauspicious number to the ancient Chinese (very much unlike the Western culture), so double 7 was double whammy! A girl born on that date was believed to lead an unhappy life or a life full of obstacles.
- The story of the weave girl and cow boy (in the Chinese Valentine’s Day story) was a sad one because they were eventually separated by the raging parents from heaven, and could only meet once a year
- Also related to the story of the weave girl and cow boy, because all the magpies (that represents happiness in Chinese culture) went to form a bridge so the two could meet in heaven, all the happiness on earth disappeared on that day, so girls born on that day were believed to be leading a life devoid of happiness
- 7th month was also close to the hungry ghost’s festival (15th day of 7th month), so it’s deemed as having too much negative energy (yin), which was not good for a girl, apparently.
So we’ve established that she seemed to be destined to a tough life as a rich family’s child.. but then entered Granny Liu, who kind of made things better for her (symbolic act of giving her a name).
One of the iconic moment about her in the book was when she was playing with a pomelo (as a child), and she saw that the little boy (grandson of Granny Liu) playing with a rather unique type of flower. So she insisted on having that flower instead, so the adults got her to give up her pomelo in exchange for that flower with the little boy. This hinted on her future marriage to the boy from a very humble family because the exchange of the two items is akin to exchange of gifts of marriage.
So when the family fell from grace, it was said that Qiaojie was sold to the brothel by heartless uncles. And it was Granny Liu who redeemed her from the mama-san by selling away all her possessions and land to raise money to buy Qiaojie out.
Granny Liu might have even got her own grandson (who exchanged his flower for Qiaojie’s Pomelo earlier on) to marry Qiaojie eventually. And Qiaojie lead a very simple, basic, but peaceful life as a weaver girl. Pretty much like the story of her birth date.
The story of Qiaojie was exceptional in displaying the generosity of those who have little to give because Granny Liu was the laughing stock of the family when she first visited them due to her low status and rough demeanour. The Matriarch-in-waiting wasn’t particularly nice to her, but she did offer Granny Liu some money in times of need. As a result, Granny Liu took it upon herself to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the Matriarch-in-waiting’s only child. In the book, it was often those who did not benefit much from the family in times of wealth, who attempted to help them out in times of need.