Jin Ping Mei
|Jin Ping Mei|
Wanli Era Edition
|Author(s)||Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling, pseudonym)|
Jin Ping Mei, or The Plum in the Golden Vase (Chinese: 金瓶梅; pinyin: Jīn Píng Méi, also translated as The Golden Lotus), is a Chinese naturalistic novel composed in vernacular Chinese during the late Ming Dynasty. The author was Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (蘭陵笑笑生), "The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling", a clear pseudonym, and his identity is otherwise unknown (the only clue is that he hailed from Lanling, or present-day Shandong). The earliest known versions of the novel exist only in handwritten scripts; the first block-printed book was released only in 1610. The more complete version available today comprises one hundred chapters, amounting to over a thousand pages.
Its graphically explicit depiction of sexuality has garnered the novel a level of notoriety in China akin to Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley's Lover in English literature, but critics such as the translator David Roy see a firm moral structure which exacts retribution for the sexual libertinism of the central characters.
Jin Ping Mei takes its name from the three central female characters — Pan Jinlian (潘金蓮, whose given name means "Golden Lotus"); Li Ping'er (李瓶兒, given name literally means, "Little Vase"), a concubine of Ximen Qing; and Pang Chunmei (龐春梅, "Spring plum blossoms"), a young maid who rose to power within the family. According to some Chinese critics, each of the three Chinese characters in its title symbolizes an aspect about human nature, such as mei (梅), plum blossoms, is metaphoric for sexuality.
Princeton University Press in describing the Roy translation calls the novel "a landmark in the development of the narrative art form – not only from a specifically Chinese perspective but in a world-historical context...noted for its surprisingly modern technique" and "with the possible exception of The Tale of Genji (c. 1010) and Don Quixote (1605, 1615), there is no earlier work of prose fiction of equal sophistication in world literature."
Jin Ping Mei is sometimes considered to be the fifth classical novel after the Four Great Classical Novels.
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 six 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 clamour for prestige and influence amidst the gradual decline of the Ximen clan.
In the course of the novel, Ximen has 19 sexual partners, including his 6 wives and mistresses. There are 72 detailed sexual episodes.
For centuries identified as pornographic and officially banned most of the time, the book has nevertheless been read surreptitiously 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, and sexual politics—while functioning concurrently as a novel of manners and an allegory of human corruption.
Author Li Yu called it along with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, and Journey to the West one of the Four Marvelous Masterpieces (四大奇書). 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 objects 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, and have exerted what has been termed a "liberating" influence on other Chinese novels that deal with sexuality, most notably the Dream of the Red Chamber.
The British orientalist Arthur Waley, in his Introduction to the 1942 translation advances his strong personal opinion that the author was Xu Wei, a renowned painter and member of the "realistic" Gongan school of writers, and objects to the traditional attribution to Wang Shizheng because of his totally different and more traditional artistic point of view. Waley also suggests a comparison of the several poems present in the Jin Ping Mei to the poetic production of Xu Wei, and draws attention to the fact that the circulation of the work from Soochow in the 18th century began from the only known complete copy of a manuscript in the possession of the Xu family, attributed to a scholar of the Jiajing period; which would, Waley observe, perfectly fit Xu Wei himself.
The "morphing" of the author from Xu Wei to Wang Shizhen would be explained by the practice (quoted by Liu Wu-Chi in his An Introduction to Chinese Literature) of attributing "a popular work of literature to some well-known writer of the period".
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. It was an expurgated, though complete, version. Some of the more explicit parts were rendered into Latin.
- Chin P'ing Mei: The Adventurous History of Hsi Men and His Six Wives. Translated from the German of Franz Kuhn by Bernard Miall, with an Introduction by Arthur Waley.(London: John Lane, 1942; rpr. New York, Putnam, 1947.
- Clement Egerton trans., The Golden Lotus, London, 1938, 4 vols.
- In 2008, as part of the Library of Chinese Classics, the Clement Egerton version was republished. In this version there are 5 volumes as the book is in a mirror format with the simplified Chinese next to the English translation.
- David Tod Roy's complete and annotated translation, published by Princeton University Press in a projected five volumes, is considered the best English version. Roy is Professor Emeritus in Chinese Literature, East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
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).
- Michael Dillon, China : a cultural and historical dictionary, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-7007-0439-6, pp.163-164
- Lu (1923) p.408
- Lu (1923) pp.220-221
- Charles Horner. "The Plum in the Golden Vase, translated by David Tod Roy". Commentary Magazine.
- Horner (1994).
- Princeton University Press Online Catalogue
- Ruan, Matsumura (1991) p.95
- Shizhen Wang, translated from the German of Franz Kuhn by Bernard Miall, with an Introduction by Arthur Waley. Chin P'ing Mei: The Adventurous History of Hsi Men and His Six Wives. (London: John Lane, 1942; rpr. New York, Putnam, 1947.
- Needham, Joseph (1987). Science & Civilisation in China, volume 7: The Gunpowder Epic. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-521-30358-3.
- Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng The Golden Lotus
- Publications by Zi-Yun Wei, listed on Chinese Culture University
- C.T. Hsia, Ch V "Chin Ping Mei," in The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction. (1968; rpr. Ithaca, N.Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University, Cornell East Asia Series, 1996). ISBN 1885445741.
- Li Wai-yi, "Full Length Vernacular Fiction," in Victor H. Mair, The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001 ISBN 0231109849), esp. pp. 639-633.
- Lu, Hsun (1923). A Brief History of Chinese Fiction. Translated, Gladys Yang, Yang Xianyi, Foreign Languages Press, 1959; reprinted: University Press of the Pacific, 2000. ISBN 0-89875-154-3.
- Andrew H. Plaks. The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel: Ssu Ta Ch'i-Shu. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987). ISBN 0691067082.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Jinpingmei|
|Chinese Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- The Golden Lotus with manhua
- Sample of a chapter from David Tod Roy's translation
- Research articles (Chinese)