Alternative Names (異名):
金瓶梅, Jīn Píngméi
Jin Ping Mei (Chinese: 金瓶梅; pinyin: Jīn Píngméi; literally "The Plum in the Golden Vase", also translated as 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.
Jin Ping Mei takes its name from the three central female characters — Pan Jin-lian (潘金莲, whose name means "Golden Lotus"); Li Ping-Er (李瓶兒, literally, "Little Vase"), a concubine of Ximen Qing; and Pang Chun-mei (龐春梅, "Spring plum blossoms"), a young maid who rose to power within the family.
The novel describes, in great detail, the downfall of the Ximen household during the years 1111-1127 (during the Northern Song Dynasty). The story centres around 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 clamour for prestige and influence as the Ximen clan gradually declines in power.
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, Lu Xun had ranked it as highly.
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. Many 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 (Outlaws of the Marsh)
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.
Chinese classic novels, 1610 books, 17th century books