The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 3

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 3

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 3

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 3


In this third volume of a planned five-volume series, David Roy provides a complete and annotated translation of the famous Chin P'ing Mei, an anonymous sixteenth-century Chinese novel that focuses on the domestic life of His-men Ch'ing, a corrupt, upwardly mobile merchant who maintains a harem of six wives and concubines. This work, known primarily for its erotic realism, is also a landmark in the development of narrative art--not only from a specifically Chinese perspective but also in a world-historical context.

Written during the second half of the sixteenth century and first published in 1618, The Plum in the Golden Vase is noted for its surprisingly modern technique. With the possible exception of The Tale of Genji (ca. 1010) and Don Quixote (1605, 1615), there is no earlier work of prose fiction of equal sophistication in world literature. Although its importance in the history of Chinese narrative has long been recognized, the technical virtuosity of the author, which is more reminiscent of the Dickens of Bleak House, the Joyce of Ulysses, or the Nabokov of Lolita than anything in earlier Chinese fiction, has not yet received adequate recognition. This is partly because all of the existing European translations are either abridged or based on an inferior recension of the text. This translation and its annotation aim to faithfully represent and elucidate all the rhetorical features of the original in its most authentic form and thereby enable the Western reader to appreciate this Chinese masterpiece at its true worth.

Replete with convincing portrayals of the darker side of human nature, it should appeal to anyone interested in a compelling story, compellingly told.


Equally endowed with wealth and distinction,
his inheritance is ample;

Streams of officials, in crimson and purple,
congregate at his door.

His office is high and his position important,
like those of Wang Tao;

His family is prominent and his estate affluent,
like those of Shih Ch’ung.

Amid painted candles and brocade curtains,
he whiles away the moonlit night;

Surrounded by silk clothing, rouge, and powder,
he is drunk in the spring breeze.

As indulgence in pleasure, by day and by night,
continues year after year;

How can he ever make the effort to remain
constant from beginning to end?

THE STORY GOES that the clothes for his womenfolk that Hsi-men Ch’ing had engaged the tailor to come to his home to make were all finished before two days were over.

On the twelfth, the Ch’iao family sent someone to remind them of the invitation to their lantern viewing party. That morning Hsi-men Ch’ing had already sent appropriate presents over to their place. That day Wu Yüeh-niang and her sister-wives, along with her sister-in-law, the wife of her eldest brother Wu K’ai, set out together in six sedan chairs, leaving Sun Hsüeh-o behind to look after the house. They were accompanied in two smaller sedan chairs by the wet nurse, Ju-i, carrying the infant Kuan-ko, and Lai-hsing’s wife, Huihsiu, whose job it was to wait on them and fold their clothes.

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