Lin Daiyu (also spelled Lin Tai-yu, Chinese: 林黛玉; pinyin: Lín Dàiyù) is one of the principal characters of Cao Xueqin’s classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber. She is portrayed as a well-educated, intelligent, witty and beautiful young woman of physical frailness who is somewhat prone to occasional melancholy. The romance between Daiyu and Jia Baoyu forms one of the main threads of the book.
Born to a Suzhou scholar-official, Lin Ruhai, and Lady Jia Min of the Rongguo house, Daiyu was raised by her parents in her family’s mansion in nearby Yangzhou, where she received an excellent education. She has a natural affinity for literature and learns exceptionally well. Her childhood tutor is Jia Yucun (贾雨村).
During her childhood, a Buddhist monk once proposed to take her away to save her from a tragic fate. This was of course, rejected. Having a naturally weak constitution she has been taking medicine and tonic from a very young age, and this resulted in her somewhat willowy build and ethereal beauty.
At the age of six Daiyu lost her mother; shortly after she is summoned to the capital to be with her maternal grandmother, the powerful Jia Clan matriarch, Grandmother Jia. She immediately bonds with Jia Baoyu, her maternal cousin and her grandmother’s favorite, and with the many girl cousins in the house. Daiyu’s father dies a few years after her entry into the Rongguo House, leaving her a complete orphan. She is one of Grandmother Jia’s most doted-on grandchildren.
Daiyu is an emotional girl, prone to extreme mood swings and melancholic spells. She is described as having been sickly since childhood; indeed, when she is first introduced, a couplet describes her “with a heart like Bi Gan’s, yet even more intelligent; and with an illness like Xi Zi, yet even more beautiful”. Her disposition to frowning leads Baoyu to give her the courtesy name of Pin’pin (颦颦) or Frowner, when they first meet.
Contrast with Xue Baochai
The character of Lin Daiyu contrasts with that of Baoyu’s other cousin, Xue Baochai. The two principal female characters are probably conceived as foils to each other. Both are intimately linked with Jia Baoyu, one as his true love and the other as his future wife, and each shares a single character in their given name with Baoyu. Even their physical attributes are opposites: Daiyu is slender and willowy while Baochai is likened to Yang Guifei for her fuller build. Both Daiyu and Baochai take tonics although Daiyu is noticeably weaker, presumably because she has a consumptive nature.
It has been suggested that the two women are complements of one another – each has exactly the attributes of Cao Xueqin’s ideal woman which the other lacks. Daiyu is melancholic, hyper-sensitive and is an instinctive poet who feels strongly about people, events and nature. She is sensitive to malicious gossips and often feels insecure and lonely despite her high standing in the Rongguo household. Daiyu can be roused easily to jealousy and make spiteful, sarcastic remarks, which are interpreted as “tantrums” by her maids. In contrast, Xue Baochai is a darling to the maids and the ladies in the house. Her tactful, prudent nature gets her into much less trouble than Daiyu. Nonetheless, Baochai lacks an emotional bond with Baoyu and is reflected in the book as much more of a model feudal mistress.
Baoyu’s maid Qingwen (晴雯) is often considered to be Daiyu’s “double”, in that they have similar temperaments and a similar “ethereal” beauty.
One of the enduring images of Daiyu, often portrayed in Chinese art and re-enacted in Chinese operas, is that of Daiyu burying the flowers (黛玉葬花, Chapters 27–8). One day, overcome by a spell of melancholy after a misunderstanding with Baoyu, Daiyu goes to bury some fallen petals at a hillside and falls in deep weeping at the demise of the flowers. She composed a long, elegiac memorial poem for the dead petals, which triggers off a similar grieving response in the eavesdropping Baoyu.
Daiyu’s emotional tirades make sense in the context of the supernatural. It is strongly suggested that Daiyu is a reincarnated Crimson Pearl Flower that through good care by a Divine Attendant-in-Waiting in the heavens (the reincarnation of which is strongly suggested to be Baoyu) was imbued with sentient life. In exchange for this gift, the flower vowed to be reincarnated as a human, and pay back her caregiver in the form of as many tears as a person may weep in a lifetime.
Edited by staff