Jin Ping Mei
The Plum in the Golden Vase
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 16th century during the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Consisting of 100 chapters, 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 to help understand the author's intentions.[3]

The explicit depiction of sexuality garnered the novel a notoriety akin to Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lolita in the West, 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 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 in Jin Ping Mei.[8] However, considering the novel has over one million words (and over 3,600 pages in complete English translation), the graphic sexual scenes accounts for less than 3 percent of its total content.[9]


Ximen and Golden Lotus, illustration from 17th-century Chinese edition
Another illustration of a scene

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 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.[12] It has been described as a "milestone" in Chinese fiction for its character development, particularly its complex treatment of female figures.[13] James Robert Hightower wrote in 1953 that along with The Dream of the Red Chamber, it ranks with "the greatest novels" for "scope, subtle delineation of character, and elaborate plot."[14] Phillip S. Y. Sun argued that although in craftsmanship it is a lesser work than The Dream of the Red Chamber, it surpasses the latter in "depth and vigour".[15]

The novel 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.[10]


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.[16] 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.[17]

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".[18] Other proposed candidates include Li Kaixian and Tang Xianzu. In 2011, Zhejiang University scholar Xu Yongming argued that Bai Yue was possibly the author.[19]

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."[20]



1610 version

1695 version

  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).[22]

Other Languages


See also


  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. ^ Ruan, F; Matsumura, M (1991). Sex in China: Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture. New York: Plenum Press. p. 101.
  10. ^ 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.
  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. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Hightower, James Robert (1953). "Chinese Literature in the Context of World Literature". Comparative Literature. 5 (2). Duke University Press: 117–124. doi:10.2307/1769184. JSTOR 1769184.
  15. ^ Sun, Phillip S. Y. (Autumn 1985). "The Structure and Achievements of Jin Ping Mei" (PDF). Renditions: 102–108.
  16. ^ Li (2001), p. 637-638.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Liu Wu-Chi. An Introduction to Chinese Literature.[page needed]
  19. ^ 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. 33: 55–74. ISSN 0161-9705. JSTOR 41412920.
  20. ^ Lu, Tina (2010). "The Literary Culture of the Late Ming (1573-1644)". The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521855587.:107
  21. ^ Horner (1994).
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Rawski, Evelyn S. (Jun 1993). "A Profile of The Manchu Language in Ch'ing History". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 53 (1). Harvard-Yenching Institute: 94. doi:10.2307/2719468. JSTOR 2719468.
  24. ^ Roy (2006), p. xxi.
  25. ^ Needham, Joseph (1987). Science & Civilisation in China, volume 7: The Gunpowder Epic. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-521-30358-3.

References and further reading