The highpoint of her pushback comes (not obvious for someone not oversteeped in China’s folklore) in the badinage, her speech on behalf of her Yi cousins. Spontaneous too, since she could not have anticipated her tormentor’s loss of decorum.
But the nuances matter. The (very “country”) botanical metaphors: the “heart” (xin) of the wild fieldcabbage and mustard (spinach) are signifiers of good will and good concience (“liang XIN, same xin = heart). The usually fungus covered artichoke like outer leaves (peels) signify “talent”, a cognate to creepy academic persistence, NOT genius. Both are externally repulsive, and a woman can best judge. As her ex tempore riposte finishes, note that she bravely turns completely away from Bo Lin, and faces the obviously better mannered host. A little flirtatious, perhaps, but THIS bloke is NOT physically repulsive (his eyes are round/deep, his nose aquiline (true enough) – the opposite of course of the diminutive and flatnosed comic. Still perhaps flirtatious, she “infers” that he has the presence of a man of respect amongst his neighbors. Final blow: does this suggest that he could pass for an Yi (say, Indian brave). For sure our MC is uncomfortable with this, but maybe also vain enough to enjoy it. The crowd is hushed, and of course our girl is whisked off the stage quickly, lest she go on (she IS that kind…) It is a kind of Black Power fightback, nervy, but very apt.
We do not yet know if she has made her point or won over the crowd, but her selection of a banquet drinking song for her second Act couldn’t be better. As we have seen, formal words over “wine” are an essential part of upcounry or outback ritual, or at least a specialty, since (good) “spirits” are rarely at hand, and for only the most honored Guests. The pretence to modest shyness is just and no more than that, but, again, it is disarming: what does even the most unfriendly “guest” do but cave in, surrender to her adroitness.