Of all the girls, the highest status of them all ironically is the one with the least character development. Her presence served more as a plot tool to hint at the rise and fall of the family, and everything she did during her very brief appearance served as a hint to whatever would happen eventually. It is also a test of how well you know your Chinese cultural references and how detailed a reader you are. This is a really short post cos.. the number 2 and 1 are what we’re really waiting for right!
It’s exceptionally relevant to introduce her during this time of the year, because we’re almost reaching her birthdate–1st day of the Lunar Calendar (which is in exactly 1 week’s time!), thus her name Yuan Chun. Yuan is used like the equivalent of the Greek alphabet Alpha in the bible–to signify the beginning. Chun, meant spring (all the girls of her generation had a Spring to their name).
I’ll spare you how she’s related to everyone, because that is confusing (with the elder wife, concubine differentiation etc). But I can assure you, her birth rights, is as proper as her birth date. Because of her auspicious date of birth (bazi) and her birth rights and everything, she was then married to the emperor as one of his many wives. Not the most blissful option because she could have had a much better life being married as the eldest wife to another family of her own rank.
Her life happiness was compromised/sacrificed in exchange for greater security and riches for the family. However, she’s by no means a happy royal bride. The family built a huge courtyard and residence called Grand View Garden to prepare for her return visit (that took years, so going home to see her birth family was not something that’s easily done). When she returned, she lamented that she was all alone in that “hell of a place”, isolated from her loved ones.
She was also extremely distraught by the fact that her own family, including her dad and brother had to kowtow to her, and behave like outsiders. Eventually, she spent some quality with the family watching a few Chinese opera performances before she went back to the palace. I think this is THE saddest “homecoming” event ever!
Eventually, it was suggested that she passed away at a young age of about 30 years old, and with her gone, the family was no longer protected by anyone in power so they quickly declined too. It was likely that she was on the losing end of a political struggle in palace, and she appeared in a dream to warn her family about her dangerous predicament before she passed away.
PSA: You can still visit the replica of Grand View Garden when you visit Beijing today. It spanned over 12.5 hectares with about 8000 square metres of built-up area. It was built to film the 1987 TV series of the book, and was the result of intense discussions from academics, building architects specialising in ancient Chinese structures, Qing dynasty history specialists and landscape architects specialising in ancient Chinese gardens, to ensure that the entire built-up was as authentic as possible. The TV show in 1987 also engaged academics in their costume selection and accessories pairing to ensure that it was as authentic as they could be at that time.