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In Cao Xueqin's novel the Red Chamber Dream, Wang Xifeng is the manager of the Jia family's finances and household servants. She gets her job by dint of her marriage to Jia Lian, the eldest grandson of the clan, and by her personal relationship with Grandmother Jia, her husband's grandmother. She is also the niece of Lady Wang and Aunt Xue, two other important members of the family.

One of the problems with this novel for some readers is that so many characters are presented so quickly, and with some subtlety, that it is hard to tell who is who and what exactly the personality of each character is. For me, it was almost a thousand pages into the work before some of the characters personalities became clear.

Such it was with Wang Xifeng. While it is apparent from the beginning that she is a strong willed, intelligent woman; it takes either a very studious reader to realize just what a machivellian schemer she is. For example, upon finding that her husband has taken a concubine in secret, she goes to the concubine and says that she understands totally, and that the concubine should move in to her house, so they can all be friends. And then, in secret, Wang Xifeng slowly manipulates the girl by a number of means into suicide, seemingly without remorse.

And although she is a good taskmaster and keeps the household servants in line and somewhat honest, her money juggling and refusal to make any long term investements are part of the reason why the Jia family eventually almost goes bankrupt.

Wang Xifeng does have some excuses as to her ruthless behavior. She is an intelligent person, that because of her status as a woman, is illterate and trapped in a loveless marriage with a philandering husband. And despite her overall lack of compassion and human feeling, she does at the end of her life show some regret for her bad deeds. All in all, not a pleasent person, but hardly a one-note character.

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