Hsiang-yun among the flowers, by Yao Youxin, 1978
The company of beauties
One should always enjoy flowers in the company of beauties, get drunk under the moon in the company of charming friends and enjoy the light of snow in the company of high-minded scholars.
– Epigrams of Chang Chao,
translated by Lin Yutang, in The Importance of Living (1937)
Hsiang-yun among the flowers, was painted by Shanghai artist Yao Youxin 姚有信 in 1978. I bought it that year at an exhibition for S$900 (more than my monthly salary of $700 as a fresh newspaper reporter then).
The gallery owner told me that the painting won first prize in an all-China competition. About 10 years later, Yao Youxin visited Singapore at the invitation of then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew to do an oil portrait of Mr Lee. I had the opportunity to interview the artist. A few years later, I heard from another reporter colleague that Mr Yao was killed in a freak car accident while living and working in America as an art professor!
The scene is from the Hung-lou Meng 紅樓夢
“They went out to look, and sure enough found Hsiang-yun lying on a stone bench in a quiet spot behind an artificial mountain. She was sound asleep and covered with peony petals, which had floated over from all sides to scatter, red and fragrant, over her face and clothes. Her fan, dropped to the ground, was half-buried in fallen blossoms, too, while bees and butterflies were buzzing and flirting around her.
“And she had wrapped up some peony petals in her handkerchief to serve as a pillow. They all thought she looked both sweet and comical.”
– Hung-lou Meng, A Dream of Red Mansions, by Tsao Hseuh-chin, chapter 63
translated by Yang Hsien Yi and Gladys Yang (1978), Vol II, p364.