Red Chamber’s No. 4 It girl–The High Potential贾探春

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Remember the Helpless Introvert Yingchun? Tanchun is the antithesis to her. Both of they didn’t have the best of parental guidance as a child, but Tanchun was determined to not be a victim of her circumstances. She was born to a maid-turned-concubine, so naturally she wasn’t gifted with the natural respect as if she were to be born to the proper wife from a good family married officially into the household. It was compounded by the fact that her mom was really a good-for-nothing–greedy and myopic, and that her mom had also subsequently given birth to a son making her an easily sidelined character. Except for the fact that she didn’t allow that too happen. If Yingchun was someone who allowed herself to fade into obscurity as the invisible child, Tanchun was someone who actively fought against that. As such, I’ve decided to analyse Tanchun based on Harvard Business Review’s articles (this and this) on High Potential individuals, cos it’s so relevant!

Tanchun-1finalStrong ability to deliver results–credibly

She was a strategist, a big picture person, and she had the interests of the household at heart whenever she reacted to or acted on things. She was chosen as the “covering officer” when the matriarch-in-waiting was recovering from her miscarriage (how I wish someone could cover me the past few days of fever to finish the rest of this 12-logy), and her uncle (mom’s brother) passed away. According to precedence and Standard Operating Procedures, the household is only supposed to give 20 taels of silver (cash) to the family of the uncle for the funeral.

Tanchun-40finalHowever, the birth mother of Tanchun, being greedy and trying her luck, tried to emotionally blackmail Tanchun to give them 40 taels of silver (cash) instead. Her birth mother cited the example of the other maid/attendant in the family, whose relative’s passing was accorded with 40 taels of silver, and lamented that her own daughter Tanchun did not provide her any extra benefit or preferential treatment when she was in charge of the budget in the house. It’s with such thorough understanding of the household rules, and with strong integrity to uphold the rules that Tanchun was able to deliver strong results so credibly.

Just as a matter of interest, I was rather curious why the difference in the amount given for the funerals if both Tanchun’s birth mom and the other maid/attendants were both attendants of the family. Then I did a bit of a check and realised that in those days, there’s a difference between what kind of servant you are. If you were born into the family of servants who had been serving your master’s household for generations, then you would be considered an “internally-sourced servant or default servant”, in which the family owned your entire family for generations and you would’ve been born into servanthood. An “externally-sourced servant” was someone whose parents were peasants, so not born into servanthood, and you only joined the family as a servant or sold to the family later on in life. As such, these people would be considered as  having higher status than the “internally-sourced servants”. A bit similar to how employees who rose from internal promotions would never be considered as valuable as externally-poached employees in many organisations 😛 Of course, there are also other “benefits” beyond cash gifts that “internally-sourced staff servants” would enjoy which “externally-sourced staff servants” wouldn’t, these welfare includes complimentary provision of coffins etc. which could amount to a lot actually (never underestimate staff servant welfare and in-kind gifts!).

Anyway, when the complaining birth mom escalated the matter, the matriarch-in-waiting was willing to increase the offering and give her 40 taels of silver. But Tanchun stood by her principle and insisted on not allowing such a precedence of cronyism in the household.

Strong social skills in managing self and others

Tanchun was widely recognised by everyone in the household as having outstanding management skills. The main wife of the family, the dowager and all recognised that ability in her, and her peers looked up to her for that same reason–she managed up and down really well.

Tanchun-20finalWhen the Dowager got really mad at one of her sons wanted to get a concubine in, and she vented it on another daughter-in-law of hers. While everyone else was trembling in fear, Tanchun stepped up at the right moment and made a seemingly casual comment (all smiley face) that dissolved all the tension, “What has this got to do with Madam, dear Granny? if you see it this way, how could a sister-in-law possibly be in the know or have a say in matters related to her brother-in-law having a concubine?” (must be the way she said it… plus she’s like the dowager’s favourite girl so she could get away with a lot of things). For that, she not only gained a favour in those whom she stood up for and defended, she also earned the respect of others. She was very aware of her market value and position, and exploited it brilliantly to get the results she wanted.

Excels in a wide range of things

Tanchun-3finalThe reason why she was so well-respected by her peers and the elders in the family, was also because she excelled in everything. Her poems were widely recognised to be one of the top in the poetry club that the girls set up, and she spent a lot of time refining her calligraphy writing. She was constantly improving herself and ensuring that she attained excellence in various areas.

Tanchun-12finalShe also started the Poetry club amongst the girls, and I suspect that she was the mastermind behind them going to the matriarch-in-waiting to ask for funding support. It was a brilliantly played one, in which they requested for the matriarch-in-waiting to be on their “advisory board” despite her being illiterate. Matriarch-in-waiting was no fool either, she spotted the ploy immediately and made a joke of it. She gave seed funding to the poetry club (haha yes, such concept existed way back too, we’re really not as creative as we think we are). Although somewhat indiscreet, it did show that Tanchun was quite resourceful in her execution of things.

Ability to see the picture and take control of situations

Besides the incident where she attempted to stop cronyism in the family earlier on, she was also someone who could see the big picture of things such as internal strife and distrust and attempted to stamp that out as well.

THOU SHALT NOT PASS!! The old nanny tried to ransack and search the ladies’ rooms, and only Tanchun stood up against her. The old nanny didn’t think too highly of Tanchun, cos she was born daughter to a servant-turned-concubine mom, so she didn’t have as much status as the rest. So the nanny was trying her luck with Tanchun who retaliated with a tight slap on the nanny’s face.

She slapped one of the older nannies who was trying to ransack and search the rooms of the girls for illegal possession of items. The rest of the girls either left the house to avoid being implicated in the search, or steered clear of the misdeeds of their servants, or just kept to themselves in the room in an escapist attempt, Tanchun confronted the act and gave her a tight slap on the face before lamenting that the fall of the big households usually began with families trying to find fault/dirt on each other.

It might seem like she was overreacting–If there were indeed illegal items to be seized, then the guilty servants should be ousted, who was she trying to protect? Tanchun, besides having extreme confidence in her leadership also provided extreme protection for those under hear (great sense of security by staff is always a mark of good leader as well). The old nanny who was doing the search was known to be someone who spread fake news and spoke ill of others, poisoning the mind of the elder matriarch in the family. Her jealousy caused her to want to use the opportunity of the search to dig up more dirt from other girls in the family, so she could use those information to gain more favours for her own master/matriarch. It was a ploy that was obvious to Tanchun, and she rightfully gave it to her–not at the expense of her family, not when Tanchun was concerned.

A Rose by that of any other name…

Tanchun was referred to as a rose–beautiful, loveable looking, but thorny and you wouldn’t want to mess with her.

Tanchun-25finalShe, however, associated herself with the Banana Leaf. Banana leaf has always has a special place in the minds of literati. Well-known Tang dynasty “Renaissance” (inverted comma cos he almost a thousand years earlier than renaissance period) Man (poet, painter, musician, statesman) was known for his Banana Leaf in snow painting (this painting is an interesting one because there’s constant debate on how a plant that’s typical to tropical weather would be covered in snow… will leave that to another day~). Anyway, the Banana Leaf was also seen to represent the bold and resolute Northern temperament infused with the delicate and refined Southern one. Very much like Tanchun.



It was said that Tanchun eventually married to someone far away, and it was a tragic ending because she was separated from the family which meant so much to her, and tried so hard to keep together. But it was also precisely because she was outstanding that they married her off to a Prince from far away, because she was the only one who was worthy enough to do so (despite her humble background).

She was said to have gotten married on the date of the Qing Ming festival, a tomb-sweeping day and often associated with rainy weather. A bit of a pathetic fallacy there isn’t it.

Tanchun-35finalIn the end, I guess your high potential is only important if it gets you where you want to end up. In Tanchun’s case, unfortunately she lived in an era where she didn’t have a say in who she could marry, and certainly marrying off to a prince (however distant or background his country/state was), was still marrying up.


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