Xue Baochai 薛寶釵
Xue Baochai 薛寶釵, who is Daiyu's 黛玉 rival for Baoyu's 寶玉 affection, is the daughter of Aunt Xue 薛姨媽, the half-sister of Lady Wang 王夫人, Baoyu's 寶玉 mother. Baochai's 寶釵 father had died sometime before the novel began, leaving her mother a widow with two children, the virtuous Baochai 寶釵 and the scoundrel son Xue Pan 薛蟠.
The Xue 薛 family is fabulously wealthy. But in both the opera and the novel, the Xue 薛 family is aware that they are nouveaux riches, that they do not have the standing of the Jia family. In the opera, Aunt Xue 薛姨媽 sings to Baochai 寶釵, contrasting the nature of the Xue 薛 wealth and that of the Jia's 賈: "All our ancient art was purchased, but the works here have long been in this house." (Act II, scene iii). In the novel, the family is somewhat embarrassed when it becomes known that one of the sources of their wealth is pawnshops.
In both the novel and the opera, Baochai 寶釵 is portrayed as being sensible and good-hearted, sometimes irritatingly so. In the opera, she reprimands Baoyu for 寶玉 being willing to drink unheated wine, and in chapter 43 of the novel, she counsels Daiyu 黛玉 on what plays are and are not appropriate for a young woman to quote in the context of drinking games. Her arrival at the Jia 賈 household (and a contrasting of her virtues with those of Daiyu 黛玉) is described in this scene which opens chapter 5.
Baochai 寶釵 and Baoyu 寶玉 also have a connection which transcends the mundane world. Baochai 寶釵 has a gold locket given to her by a monk with an inscription that matches the inscription on Baoyu's 寶玉 jade, which suggests to many in the novel that marriage between the two of them is pre-ordained. In many, though not all, visual representations of her we see a locket around her neck, a constant reminder of her connection with Baoyu 寶玉, who is always portrayed with the jade around his neck.
In the opera, Lady Wang 王夫人 sees the Xue fortune as a way of clearing the Jia 賈 family debt, and hence is insistent that Baoyu 寶玉 marry Baochai 寶釵. In the novel, Baoyu 寶玉 is also tricked into marrying Baochai 寶釵, but the motives of his family are more complex. The matriarchs of the family regard Daiyu 黛玉 as fragile and unstable: Baochai 寶釵 is seen as a much more appropriate wife. Baoyu 寶玉 has made it clear that he will marry only Daiyu 黛玉; therefore a ruse is the only way the marriage can take place. (The Jia 賈 family placed financial considerations above all else in other marriages, Jia Yingchun 賈探春, Baoyu's 寶玉 cousin, was married to a man who was rich but had nothing else to recommend him. Thus the mercenary concerns of Lady Wang 王夫人 and Aunt Xue in the opera resonate with other decisions about marriage in the novel.)
This painting by Sun Wen 孙温 shows the wedding between Baoyu 寶玉 and Baochai 寶釵, where he believes that he is marrying Daiyu 黛玉. The wedding party is surrounded by men bearing lanterns with the sign for double happiness 喜喜, which signifies a wedding. Female musicians on either side of Baoyu are performing.
In this detail from the same painting, it is easier to see Baoyu 寶玉 and Baochai 寶釵. Baoyu 寶玉 is standing behind the table, dressed in red, wearing his signature headdress with the red ornament. Baochai 寶釵 has just descended from her sedan chair, and is being supported by two maids. She is wearing a red veil, which in this image looks like a hood. That Baochai 寶釵married Baoyu 寶玉 was a traged for Daiyu 黛玉, but it was not a happy ending for Baochai 寶釵, either. When her mother told her in chapter 97 about plans for the wedding (and that it was necessary for Baoyu 寶玉 to believe he was marrying Daiyu 黛玉) she wept.
After his marriage, Baoyu 寶玉 takes the civil service examinations, as Baochai had long wished. He passes them with flying colors, However, he does not return home, but rather wanders off with a monk. At the end of the 120-chapter version of novel, Baochai 寶釵 is left at home, pregnant with Baoyu's 寶玉 child.
The image to the right portrays Baochai 寶釵 after Baoyu 寶玉has left. She is standing in a domestic scene, but looking out at the viewer, as if in a photograph. There is a curtain, which is partially drawn. A poem is inscribed on the curtain. It reads in simplified characters:
And here it is in complex characters:
A rough translation would be:
In Red Rue Study, the dream of mandarin ducks.
By Dripping Emerald Pavilion, the scene with the butterflies.
Tricked into a month-long marriage, the long-life flowers were lacking.
And for half a lifetime, all she gained is a solitary life, behind an embroidered curtain.
"Red Rue Study"絳芸軒 refers to an episode in chapter 8; The scene with the butterflies is in chapter 27, and is reproduced in the next pages.