Madam Zou is the FL's eldest sister-in-law. She is married to ML's oldest brother. Her backstory presents her as an honest, hard-working woman who is up to her eyeballs in stress. After ten years of marriage, she has been unable to give birth to a male heir, she already has two daughters. Because of that, her husband is being pressured to take on a concubine. Both of them don't want that, but the husband is willing to get one to appease his mother, the Matriarch of the entire family. Madam Zou also has to manage a large estate that pretty much has no funding and is quickly falling even deeper into the red in budgeting. She inherited this position from the Matriarch, which the problem was already present during the Matriarch's youth. As such, she is even spending her own dowry money on trying to keep the estate floating, but is steadily losing money still. Keep in mind that she never knew how to do these things, she had to learn on the go from someone who had already failed at doing it. One of the biggest drains on the estate's budget is the illness that the mother-in-law has, her medicine basically costing an arm and a leg.
In comes a new girl, who immediately gains the favor of the Matriarch, who would then make unreasonable demands for Madam Zou to present many luxuries to the new girl. That's right, the new girl is the FL, Chu Lian. While not directly affecting Madam Zou, just about every action the FL makes in the proximity of her will negatively impact Madam Zou without fail. The only action the FL did that could be considered "neutral" would be when she prevented Madam Zou from walking into an explosion. Even then she simply stalled Zou long enough for the explosion to go off. Some comments would later be left exclaiming how ungrateful Zou was for FL saving her life. Zou never knew her life was in danger, so why should she feel grateful forever? For example, you were about to cross the street, but your friend stops you to chat. About two seconds later a car whizzes by, running a red light. Would you feel grateful for your friend stopping you? No, you wouldn't even notice how close you were to dying.
Other comments also see how the author wrote Zou and immediately start bashing on her, calling her a greedy, conniving b***h, which is completely unwarranted and clearly is the result of the author deliberately sabotaging her character. Let me give you an example:
Madam Zou is put in charge of bringing her House's desserts to a competition during a party hosted by the Empress Dowager. One of the FL's enemies is an Imperial Princess, who colluded with another contestant to drug the servant carrying the desserts and then steal them. Madam Zou is then punished for failing to KNOW THAT THE IMPERIAL PRINCESS WAS TRYING TO RUIN THE FL BY TARGETING HER FAMILY. Keep in mind that FL frequently leaves the household to do MC things while Madam Zou always stays inside the estate to look after it. She had no way of knowing the beef between FL and the Princess. Then, when the FL had "oh-so-conveniently" brought her own snacks and offers to use those to solve this dilemma, Madam Zou is depicted as being jealous of the FL (It has never been mentioned before that the FL frequently leaves the estate with food on her person until the 2 or so chapters leading up to this one, frequently enough for her servants to pack food as if it was a common thing only to so conveniently provide a solution later on. I guarantee you, the author never mentions the FL keeping food on her whenever she goes out again in the later chapters). And then, later on in the same arc (the very next chapter iirc) when a confrontation between the Matriarch and other House's Matriarch occurs, Madam Zou is depicted cowering behind her while the FL stands side-by-side to the Matriarch, even though Madam Zou has 10+ years of experience in dealing with high society and should have been able to keep her cool. Throughout this entire arc, the author also frequently mentions how "petty" and "cowardly" Madam Zou is in comparison to the FL, often in almost snide little remarks.
But picture this:
You have worked at a small company for ten years, dedicating your entire life to it and working ceaselessly, day in day out and eventually get promoted to being the general manager. The company is steadily losing money due huge costs, but you work yourself to the bone just to keep the company afloat, you even forgo a paycheck. While you have your hands full trying to keep the company together, a person was recently hired simply based on familial reputation. This person has graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the country while you never went to college. This person then brings up a few new ideas and projects that appeal to the Founder and your boss. Because of that, they are immediately promoted to being just under you in the hierarchy, all within a few months of being hired. Not only that, you are forced to give the person a hefty raise, well exceeding your own (if you even had a salary, which you don't). Your boss, your long time friend and support, suddenly abandons you to gush about the newbie, ignoring your desperate pleas for help and somebody simply to confide in. Now, your position is being threatened by someone who is not even ready for it, meanwhile all of your toils for the last ten years, all the successes you brought to the company in the past are being ignored and you are constantly reprimanded for things outside your control, often due to the consequences of the newbie's actions. Imagine that was you in this scenario, wouldn't you too feel unjustly overlooked?
That is basically Madam Zou in this story. So, instead of having her go through her own trials and tribulations in order to come out a better person, the author constantly writes her into taking unfavorable actions, forcing her to be a villain. Instead of getting the readers to root for her as well as the FL, the author purposefully writes her in a way that makes all of her legit fears and difficulties into simply "oh, she is a greedy conniving woman who can't deal with being inferior to the FL." Honestly, it's infuriating how the author ruined a character who had so much potential and simply made her a cookie-cutter villain. This would have been fine if the author, from the start, wrote her as a shallow character existing solely to act as a foil to the FL. But they didn't. They made her a deep and complex character but then forced her to act in ways more like a shallow character and do dumb, stupid things all for the sake of the plot. I mean, she truly could have been the MC for an entirely separate novel that focused on bringing back the prestige of the clan she married into using her smarts or sheer determination, that's how good her backstory was.
And this is why I gave up on this novel. I stopped before I could get to a part where she truly confronts the FL like the dumb shallow villain the author clearly wants her to be.