Orphaned since infancy, she grew up under the watchful eyes of her wealthy maternal aunt and uncle who lives in Jinling. They use her unkindly to do embroidery and needlework for the family late into the night. Despite her misfortune, she is always cheerful and ready to play a small joke. Her cheer and open-heartedness make her pranks forgiven by most. She is also excellent in embroidery and is forthright without tact. She wears a golden qilin by her neck.
Xiangyun is portrayed as a tomboy-ish girl who does not cultivate the over-refined nature of most feudal ladies. She looks fine in men's clothes and loves to drink and eat meat. Apparently an androgynous beauty, her cousins always beg the Dowager to send for her so she can visit them, for Xiangyun is a big-hearted girl, and a wonderful visitor and company.
Daiyu initially feels a little jealousy owing to Xiangyun's and Baoyu's good relationship but eventually warms to the cheerful girl. Xiangyun becomes one of Daiyu's closest companions.
One of the more memorable scenes in the book (in Chapter 62) has Shi Xiangyun going tipsy and falling asleep amongst the flowers on a stone bench in the Prospect Garden, surrounded by butterflies, with her fan half-buried in scattered petals. This scene is depicted in many artworks featuring the novel's characters.
In the continuation by Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan, Xiangyun marries but is soon widowed.