Once in a while, sex sells 😛 but not in the case of Shi Xiangyun. She was not known for her looks, but her personality and talent more than made up for it. She’s the girl whom men in the past would friend zone because, unglamorous and unlady-like, but men today would absolutely adore because, low maintenance and doesn’t need you to read her mind cos she’ll just say whatever’s on it (to her detriment at times)!
The Family of Shi was one of the BIG-4 families around, but because Shi Xiangyun was orphaned at a young age, she was sent to live with her uncle’s family. As with many Chinese stories, the guardians were never kind to the orphans, and Shi Xiangyun was no exception (ok they weren’t EVIL but they weren’t too kind either). She had to do some household chores like embroidery and other menial work (in those days, ladies from big families did not none of that, just like how the idea of a gentleman in the West was someone who didn’t need to work. And everyone would have a nanny, a female attendant and other helpers around). Growing up, she would be considered the least privileged of the lot, yet her attitude towards life was the most positive (towards the end of this series, we’ll see the female lead who’s got a similar background but a totally different attitude in life, wallowing in self-pity).
She was often referred to as the Sleeping Beauty because for some reason, her sleeping state was always a public spectacle.
She was found by the male protagonist to be asleep with her hair at the side of the pillow, blanket covered up to her chest, two arms as fair as snow all exposed. The male protagonist (clearly friend zoned her) merely muttered “not behaving herself even in sleep! Now she’s going to complain about aching shoulders and back” and went over to pull up her blankets for her.
Then, there was the time when the girls gathered to play drinking game. When everyone was about to call it a day they realised that Shi Xiangyun’s gone! So they waited around for her to return until it became apparent that it would be futile. So the entire group of tipsy girls went about searching for her. They found her sleeping soundly on a stone slab in the back garden, amidst a sea of flower petals that landed on her, half covering her body. She was still sleep talking and chanting the words of the drinking game!
Just so you know, drinking games varied from social classes and across periods. The literati would use poetry and riddles while the layman would use simple drinking games that we still play today such as the fist-number-guessing game. Such games have been around for more than 2000 years (uh-huh)!
Many readers consider this scene to be the most beautiful and harmonious scenes, as she was found half covered by fallen patels with bees and butterflies and petals of flowers flying in the air.
She also liked to crossdress as a boy, and would bite off chunks of meat LIKE A BOSS! She was such a happy and carefree character that she would even laugh so hard till food flew out of her mouth AT THE DINING TABLE!
She was someone who spoke her mind, oblivious to the rules of polite conversation (or political correctness as we know today).
Once an opera troop came to perform, and one of the performers bore an uncanny resemblance to the female lead (the easily-angered and petty one). So Wang Xifeng the matriarch-to-be was being her cheeky self, and asked “Look at that actress~ Guess who does she look like!~”. Everyone went quiet, because they knew who she was referring to, and they knew that whoever answered it would be condemned for life by the female lead.
Well, everyone except silly Xiangyun who enthusiastically called out “I KNOW!! SHE LOOKS LIKE SIS LIN (female lead)!” Daiyu was FUMING MAD at her for saying that, because actresses/opera performers were deemed to be from a lower if not the lowest strata of society, very much unlike the celebrities of today. So equating a lady to a performer would be a huge insult.
Xiangyun couldn’t understand why, and she in turn also got angry!
Xiangyun was the least hierarchical of the lot too. She treated servants and people from lower class as equals, and would stand up for them when they got bullied. She spoke with a bit of a lisp but that didn’t get in her way of coming up with brilliant poems and in fact made her look even more endearing and loveable.
She went on to marrying an outstanding husband who’s blessed with good looks and intellect, but he died soon after leaving her behind as a lonely widow.
Plot twists: Many academics have guessed that Shi Xiangyun eventually ended up as life partner (platonic possibly) of the male protagonist in real life as both have experienced love and lost, rise and fall of the family, and they act as soulmates to support each other for the rest of their lives. There are also speculations that the famous critique who wrote comments on the original manuscript by the author, was in fact Shi Xiangyun who accompanied the author till the end.