Jin Ping Mei  

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"According to this [tradition about Jin Ping Mei], Wang sent [Yen] the manuscript as a gift, after rubbing grains of poison into the corner of each page so that Yen would slowly ingest them when he wet his finger in his mouth to turn the pages. Yen is said to have read voraciously to the end -- and then dropped dead." [1]

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jin Ping Mei or The Plum in the Golden Vase (also The Golden Lotus) is a Chinese naturalistic novel composed in the vernacular (baihua) during the late Ming Dynasty. The author was Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng, a clear pseudonym. Earliest versions of the novel exist only in handwritten scripts; the first block-printed book was released only in 1610. The more complete version today comprises one hundred chapters.

Jin Ping Mei is sometimes considered to be the fifth classical novel after the Four Great Classical Novels. It is the first full-length Chinese fictional work to depict sexuality in a graphically explicit manner, and as such has a notoriety in China akin to Fanny Hill or Lady Chatterley's Lover in English.

Contents

Plot

The novel describes, in great detail, the downfall of the Ximen household during the years 1111–27 (during the Northern Song Dynasty). The story centres on Ximen Qing 西門慶, a corrupt social climber and lustful merchant who is wealthy enough to marry a consort of wives and concubines.

A key episode of the novel, the seduction of the adulterous Pan Jinlian, occurs early in the book and is taken from an episode from Water Margin. After secretly murdering the husband of Pan, Ximen Qing marries her as one of his wives. The story follows the domestic sexual struggles of the women within his clan as they clamor for prestige and influence amidst the gradual decline of the Ximen clan.

Evaluation

Known for centuries as pornographic material and banned officially most of the time, the book is nevertheless surreptitiously read by many of the educated class. Only since the Qing Dynasty has it been re-evaluated as literature. Structurally taut, full of classical Chinese poetry and surprisingly mature even as early fiction, it also deals with larger sociological issues, such as the role of women in ancient Chinese society, sexual politics, while functioning concurrently as a novel of manners and an allegory of human corruption.

Acclaimed Qing critic Zhang Zhupo described it as 'the most incredible book existing under the heavens' (第一奇書), and in the 20th century, influential author Lu Xun also held it in great esteem.

The story contains a surprising number of descriptions of sexual toys and coital techniques that would be considered fetish today, as well as a large amount of bawdy jokes and oblique but still titillating sexual euphemisms. Some critics have argued that the highly sexual descriptions are essential, while others have noted its liberating influence on other Chinese novels on matters of sexuality, most notably in the Dream of the Red Chamber.

Little is known about the author except for some conjectures that he may have been a Taoist priest, who wrote to disclose the disintegrating morality and corruption of the late Ming Dynasty.

Connection to Water Margin

  • The beginning chapter is based on an episode from "Tiger Slayer" Wu Song from Water Margin. The story is about Wu Song avenging the murder of his older brother Wu Da Lang.
  • In Water Margin, Ximen Qing was punished at the end by being brutally killed in broad daylight by Wu Song. In Jin Ping Mei, however, Ximen Qing dies a horrible death due to an accidental overdose of aphrodisiac pills.

English translations

The Golden Lotus (1939), translated by Clement Egerton with the assistance of the celebrated Chinese novelist Lao She, who because of the nature of the novel, refused to claim any credit for its English version. The translation is a classic of its time and is very readable today. It was an expurgated, though complete, version. Some of the more explicit parts were rendered into Latin.

  • Clement Egerton trans., The Golden Lotus, London, 1938, 4 vols.

David Tod Roy's translation, published by Princeton University Press, is considered the best English version. However to date it remains incomplete: only three of a projected five volumes have been published.

  • The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P'ing Mei: Volume One: The Gathering (1993)
  • The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P'ing Mei: Volume Two: The Rivals (2001)
  • The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P'ing Mei: Volume Three: The Aphrodisiac (2006)

The graphic novelist Magnus created a truncated graphic novel loosely based on the Jin Ping Mei, entitled the 110 Sexpills which focused on the sexual exploits and eventual downfall of Ximen Qing (albeit with the Ximen surname being taken as the character's given name and vice versa).

Zi-Yun Wei is a noted scholar best known for his study of the Jin Ping Mei.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jin Ping Mei" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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