Xi Feng, or Phoenix, is among the most compelling characters in the Hong Lou Meng. Whenever she steps into a room she dominates the scene, and even when she absent, her influence is felt throughout the two households. One reason for her dominance in the family hierarchy is her quick wit and golden tongue, which she uses with expert precision: she can tear a strip off an underling, negotiate her way to financial advantage, or have a room in stitches. Having not grown up with a classical education, Xi Feng lacks the literary allusions and clever jokes of other young ladies of the household, as Dai Yu snobbily remarks. Yet this does not hold her back in the slightest.
Her verbal dexterity is in plain view when her husband returns from a trip and Xi Feng, who has been tasked with overseeing funeral arrangements for Rong’s wife, complains about the difficulties she has encountered. The scene is full of dramatic irony: we as readers have already been treated to several chapters making it clear that Xi Feng has had absolutely no problems taking the mantle of authority, and […]