Jin Ping Mei

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For other uses, see The Golden Lotus (film).
Jin Ping Mei
IMG jinping.JPG
Wanli Era Edition
Author Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling, pseudonym)
Original title 金瓶梅
Country China
Language Chinese
Media type Print

Jin Ping Mei (Chinese: 金瓶梅; pinyin: Jīn Píng Méi), translated as The Plum in the Golden Vase or The Golden Lotus, is a Chinese naturalistic novel composed in vernacular Chinese during the late Ming Dynasty. The anonymous author took the pseudonym Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (蘭陵笑笑生), "The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling,"[1] and his identity is otherwise unknown (the only clue is that he hailed from Lanling in present-day Shandong).[2] The earliest known versions of the novel exist only in handwritten scripts; the first block-printed book was released only in 1610.[3] The more complete version available today comprises one hundred chapters, amounting to over a thousand pages.[4]

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 Tod Roy see a firm moral structure which exacts retribution for the sexual libertinism of the central characters.[5]

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.[2] 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.

The book was translated into Manchu as ᡤᡳᠨ ᡦᡳᠩ ᠮᡝᡳ ᠪᡳᡨᡥᡝ Wylie: Gin p'ing mei pitghe, Möllendorff: Gin ping mei bithe.[6] The title of the Manchu translation of the book is a transcription of the original Chinese sounds by each syllable in the Manchu script, rather than a translation of the meaning.

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."[7]

A Jing Pin Mei film series was also produced in the 1990s and 2000s in Hong Kong.


Chapter 4 illustration of Jing Ping Mei.

Jin Ping Mei is framed as a spin off from Water Margin. The beginning chapter is based on an episode in which "Tiger Slayer" Wu Song avenges the murder of his older brother by brutally killing his brother's former wife and murderer, Pan Jinlian. The story, ostensibly set during the years 1111–27 (during the Northern Song Dynasty), centers 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. After secretly murdering Pan Jinlian's husband, Ximen Qing takes her as one of his wives. The story follows the domestic sexual struggles of the women within his household as they clamor for prestige and influence amidst the gradual decline of the Ximen clan. In Water Margin(水滸傳), Ximen Qing was brutally killed in broad daylight by Wu Song; in Jin Ping Mei, Ximen Qing in the end dies from an overdose of aphrodisiacs administered by Jinlian in order to keep him aroused. The intervening sections, however, differ in almost every way from Water Margin.[8] In the course of the novel, Ximen has 19 sexual partners, including his 6 wives and mistresses. There are 72 detailed sexual episodes.[9]


Ximen and Golden Lotus, illustration from 17th-century Chinese edition

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. The early Qing dynasty critic Zhang Zhupo remarked that those who regard Jin Ping Mei as pornographic "read only the pornographic passages."[10] The influential author Lu Xun, writing in the 1920s, called it "the most famous of the novels of manners" of the Ming dynasty, and reported the opinion of the Ming dynasty critic, Yuan Hongdao, that it was "a classic second only to Shui Hu Zhuan." He added that the novel is "in effect a condemnation of the whole ruling class."[11] The American scholar and literary critic Andrew Plaks ranks Jin Ping Mei as one of the "Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel" along with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, and Journey to the West, which collectively constitute a technical breakthrough and reflect new cultural values and intellectual concerns.[12]

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. David Roy, the novel's most recent translator, sees an "uncompromising moral vision," which he associates with the philosophy of Xunzi, who held that human nature is evil and can be redeemed only through moral transformation.[13]


The identity of the author has not yet been established, but the coherence of the style and the subtle symmetry of the narrative point to a single author.[14] The British orientalist Arthur Waley, writing before recent research, in his Introduction to the 1942 translation suggested that the strongest candidate as author was Xu Wei, a renowned painter and member of the "realistic" Gong'an school of letters, urging that a comparison could be made of the poems in the Jin Ping Mei to the poetic production of Xu Wei, but left this task to future scholars.[15]

The "morphing" of the author from Xu Wei to Wang Shizhen would be explained by the practice of attributing "a popular work of literature to some well-known writer of the period".[16]

English translations[edit]

A Chinese edition of the novel
An illustration of a fireworks display from a 1628-1643 edition of Jin Ping Mei from the Ming era.[17]
  • Clement Egerton. The Golden Lotus (London: Routledge, 1939). 4 vols. Reprinted: Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 2011 With an Introduction by Robert Hegel. Vol 1. ISBN 9780710073495.
Translated 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.
Republished in 2008, as part of the Library of Chinese Classics. In 5 volumes as the book is in a mirror format with the simplified Chinese next to the English translation.[18]
  • Bernard Miall, translated from the German of Franz Kuhn, 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).
  • David Tod Roy. The Plum in the Golden Vase. 5 volumes. Princeton University Press, 1993-2013.
A complete and annotated translation in five volumes, considered the best English version.[5] 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).


  1. ^ Michael Dillon, China: A Cultural and Historical Dictionary, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-7007-0439-6, pp.163-164
  2. ^ a b Lu (1923) p.408
  3. ^ Lu (1923) pp.220-221
  4. ^ Charles Horner. "The Plum in the Golden Vase, translated by David Tod Roy". Commentary Magazine. 
  5. ^ a b Horner (1994).
  6. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Rawski, Evelyn S. (Jun 1993). "A Profile of The Manchu Language in Ch'ing History". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard-Yenching Institute) 53 (1): 94. doi:10.2307/2719468. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Princeton University Press Online Catalogue
  8. ^ Paul S. Ropp, "The Distinctive Art of Chinese Fiction," in Ropp, ed., The Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization. (Berkeley; Oxford: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 324-325.
  9. ^ Ruan, Matsumura (1991) p.95
  10. ^ Wai-Yee Li, "Full-Length Vernacular Fiction," in V. Mair, (ed.), The Columbia History of Chinese Literature (NY: Columbia University Press, 2001). p. 640.
  11. ^ Lu Xun. A Brief History of Chinese Fiction (1923; Foreign Languages Press, 1959). Translated by G. Yang and Yang Xianyi. p. 232, 235.
  12. ^ Andrew H. Plaks, Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987), esp. pp. 497-98.
  13. ^ Li, "Full Length Vernacular Fiction," p. 642.
  14. ^ Li, "Full Length Vernacular Fiction," pp. 637-38.
  15. ^ Arthur Waley, "Introduction," to Shizhen Wang, translated from the German of Franz Kuhn by Bernard Miall, Chin P'ing Mei: The Adventurous History of Hsi Men and His Six Wives. (London: John Lane, 1942; rpr. New York, Putnam, 1947.
  16. ^ Liu Wu-Chi An Introduction to Chinese Literature)[page needed]
  17. ^ Needham, Joseph (1987). Science & Civilisation in China, volume 7: The Gunpowder Epic. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-521-30358-3. 
  18. ^ Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng The Golden Lotus


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