Jin Ping Mei

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Jin Ping Mei
The Plum in the Golden Vase
IMG jinping.JPG
Wanli era edition
AuthorLanling Xiaoxiao Sheng ("The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling", pseudonym)
Original title金瓶梅
CountryChina (Ming dynasty)
LanguageWritten vernacular Chinese
GenreHistorical fiction, erotic fiction
Set inChina, 1111–1127
Publication date
c. 1610
Media typePrint
LC ClassPL2698.H73 C4713
Original text
金瓶梅 at Chinese Wikisource
Jin Ping Mei
The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling
Traditional Chinese蘭陵笑笑生
Simplified Chinese兰陵笑笑生
Literal meaningLanling laughing student

Jin Ping Mei (Chinese: 金瓶梅)—translated into English as The Plum in the Golden Vase or The Golden Lotus—is a Chinese novel of manners composed in vernacular Chinese during the latter half of the sixteenth century during the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644). It was published under the pseudonym Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (蘭陵笑笑生), "The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling,"[1] but the only clue to the actual identity is that the author hailed from Lanling County in present-day Shandong.[2] The novel circulated in manuscript as early as 1596, and may have undergone revision up to its first printed edition in 1610. The most widely read recension, edited and published with commentaries by Zhang Zhupo in 1695, deleted or rewrote passages important in understanding the author's intentions.[3]

The explicit depiction of sexuality garnered the novel a notoriety akin to Fanny Hill and Lolita 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.[4]

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, literally "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] Chinese critics see each of the three Chinese characters in the title as symbolizing an aspect of human nature, such as mei (), plum blossoms, being metaphoric for sexuality.

David Tod Roy 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."[5]Jin Ping Mei is considered one of the six classics of Chinese novels.


Chapter 4 illustration of Jin 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 1111–1127 (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 six wives and concubines.

After Pan Jinlian secretly murders her 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, Ximen Qing is 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.[6] In the course of the novel, Ximen has 19 sexual partners, including his six wives and mistresses, and a male servant.[7] There are 72 detailed sexual episodes.[8]


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."[9] 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."[10]

The American scholar and literary critic Andrew H. 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.[11] It has been described as a "milestone" in Chinese fiction for its character development, particularly its complex treatment of female figures.[12] Phillip S. Y. Sun argued that although in craftsmanship it is a lesser work than Dream of the Red Chamber, it surpasses the latter in "depth and vigour".[13]

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 number of bawdy jokes and oblique but 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 Tod Roy (whose translation of the novel was published 1993–2013) 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.[9]


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] Other proposed candidates include Li Kaixian and Tang Xianzu. In 2011, Zhejiang University scholar Xu Yongming argued that Bai Yue was possibly the author.[17]

The novel contains extensive quotations and appropriations of the writings of other authors. According to The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Jin Ping Mei's sources include vernacular stories, pornography, histories, dramas, popular songs, jokes, and prosimetric narratives, as well as texts far outside of the parameters of the literary, such as official gazettes, contracts, and menus."[18]



1610 version[edit]

  • Roy, David Tod (1993–2013). The Plum in the Golden Vase. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691125341.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date format (link) 5 volumes. 1993–2013. A complete and annotated translation of the 1610 edition presumed to be closest to the author's intention.[19]

1695 version[edit]

  1. Clement Egerton. The Golden Lotus (London: Routledge, 1939).ISBN 9780710073495. 4 vols. Internet Archive, HERE. Various reprints.
Egerton worked with the celebrated Chinese novelist Lao She, who because of the nature of the novel refused to claim credit for its English version. It was an "expurgated", though complete, translation of the 1695 edition, with the more explicit parts rendered in Latin. Later editions translate the 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 facing the English translation. Reprinted with the Wade-Giles transliterations replaced with pinyin and the Latin passages translated, as The Golden Lotus: Jin Ping Mei (Tuttle Classics) Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 2011 ISBN 9780804841702.), with a General Introduction by Robert E. Hegel.
  1. 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). (Note: The Putnam edition was first published in two volumes in 1940, thus the 1942 and 1947 dates are incorrect. The 1947 printing was in one volume and is considered to be inferior to the 1940 two-volume edition. Oddly, however, the Waley introduction in the 1940 edition does not mention either translators, Kuhn or Miall, as the sources of the English version.)

Other Languages[edit]

  • The book was translated into Manchu as ᡤᡳᠨ
    Wylie: Gin p'ing mei pitghe, (Möllendorff: Gin ping mei bithe) and published in a bilingual edition as early as 1708.[20] The title is a phonetic transcription of each syllable in the Manchu script, rather than a translation of the meaning. It has been digitized by the Documentation and Information Center for Chinese Studies of Kyoto University and is available online here.
  • La merveilleuse histoire de Hsi Men avec ses six femmes. (Paris: Le Club Français du Livre, 1949 – 1952, reprinted, 1967). 2 volumes.
  • Djin Ping Meh: Schlehenblüten in Goldener Vase : ein Sittenroman aus der Ming-Zeit translated by Otto and Artur Kibat. 6 volumes. (Hamburg: Die Waage, 1967-1983). Uses the 1695 recension.
  • Fleur en fiole d'or, Jin Ping Mei Cihua. Translated and annotated by André Lévy. La Pléiade Gallimard 1985. Folio Gallimard 2004. 2 volumes ISBN 2-07-031490-1. The first translation into a Western language to use the 1610 edition, but follows the 1695 edition in omitting many of the longer song suites and other borrowed material.[21]
  • Jin Ping Mei en verso y en prosa. Complete Spanish translation. Translated and annotated by Alicia Relinque Eleta. Atalanta. 2 volumes (2010, 2011).
  • Complete Russian translation, 5 volumes, 1994—2016: Цзинь, Пин, Мэй, или Цветы сливы в золотой вазе. Т. 1—3. Иркутск: Улисс, 1994. 448+512+544 с. ISBN 5-86149-004-X. Т. 4, кн. 1—2. М.: ИВ РАН, 2016. 640+616 с. ISBN 978-5-89282-698-3, ISBN 978-5-89282-697-6

Catalan remake[edit]

The Catalan writer Josep Maria Sonntag (1944-2003) won in 1970, at the age of 25, the coveted Sant Jordi Prize for novels with the book Nifades, which was set in a fictional country that the author had already used in a previous work (Sicònia). The work was later said to be a plagiarism of the Jin Ping Mei. Critics said that Sonntag had created the novel based on a German translation (or Spanish from Mexico, according to some sources). "It's a good translation," the president of the jury said after the polemics started. Despite this, the writer and professor of Chinese History and Culture Manel Ollé, in his book Plagia millor! (Plagiarize better!, 2022), disagrees with this interpretation.[23]

According to Ollé, in a conversation with Jordi Nopca published in the newspaper Ara,[24] when Sonntag received the Sant Jordi award for Nifades "He encountered two obstacles: first, his youth, which was suspicious after the emergence, a few years earlier, of Terenci Moix. The other is the paradigm of originality, which still prevailed." Manel Ollé has compared the two books and has found similarities: "But Josep Maria Sonntag rethought the original work. He did what we would now call a remake." Sonntag, discredited by the critics of the time, never published another book.


  • Golden Lotus (musical; premiered in Hong Kong in 2014)
  • The Concubines (Japan, 1968)
  • The Golden Lotus (Hong Kong, 1974) This is the first appearance in a film by Jackie Chan.
  • Ban Geum-ryeon (South Korea, 1982)
  • The Forbidden Legend Sex & Chopsticks (Hong Kong, 2008)
  • 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).
  • The Japanese manga by Mizukami Shin 金瓶梅・奇伝 炎のくちづけ (Kinpeibai Kinden Honoo no Kuchizuke) is loosely based on Jin Ping Mei. (2004)

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Roy (2006), p. xx–xxi.
  4. ^ Charles Horner (October 1994). "The Plum in the Golden Vase, translated by David Tod Roy". Commentary Magazine.
  5. ^ Roy (2006), p. xvii-xviii.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Hinsch, Bret (1992). Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China. University of California Press. p. 135. ISBN 9780520078697.
  8. ^ Ruan, Matsumura (1991) p. 95
  9. ^ a b Wai-Yee Li, "Full-Length Vernacular Fiction," in V. Mair, (ed.), The Columbia History of Chinese Literature (NY: Columbia University Press, 2001). p. 640-642.
  10. ^ Lu Xun. A Brief History of Chinese Fiction (1923; Foreign Languages Press, 1959). Translated by G. Yang and Yang Xianyi. p. 232, 235.
  11. ^ Andrew H. Plaks, Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987), esp. pp. 497–98.
  12. ^ Doan, Kim Thoa (1981-01-01). "The True-False Pattern in the Jin Ping Mei". Ming Studies. 1981 (1): 35–54. doi:10.1179/014703781788764793. ISSN 0147-037X.
  13. ^ Sun, Phillip S. Y. (Autumn 1985). "The Structure and Achievements of Jin Ping Mei" (PDF). Renditions: 102–108.
  14. ^ Li (2001), p. 637-638.
  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. ^ Yongming, XU; 徐永明 (2011). "A New Candidate for Authorship of the Jin Ping Mei: Bai Yue 白悦(1499–1551)". Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR). 33: 55–74. ISSN 0161-9705. JSTOR 41412920.
  18. ^ Lu, Tina (2010). "The Literary Culture of the Late Ming (1573-1644)". The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521855587.:107
  19. ^ Horner (1994).
  20. ^ 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. JSTOR 2719468.
  21. ^ Roy (2006), p. xxi.
  22. ^ Needham, Joseph (1987). Science & Civilisation in China, volume 7: The Gunpowder Epic. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-521-30358-3.
  23. ^ Ollé, Manel (2022). Plagia millor!. Barcelona: EDICIONS DEL PERISCOPI / ESCOLA BLOOM. ISBN 978-8417339968.
  24. ^ Nopca, Jordi (18 June 2022). "Com plagiar i no acabar als tribunals". Diari ARA. pp. 40–41.

References and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Jin Ping Mei at Project Gutenberg (Chinese)