The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 4

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 4

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 4

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or, Chin P'ing Mei - Vol. 4


This is the fourth and penultimate volume in David Roy's celebrated translation of one of the most famous and important novels in Chinese literature. The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P'ing Mei is an anonymous sixteenth-century work that focuses on the domestic life of Hsi-men Ch'ing, a corrupt, upwardly mobile merchant in a provincial town, who maintains a harem of six wives and concubines. The novel, known primarily for its erotic realism, is also a landmark in the development of the narrative art form--not only from a specifically Chinese perspective but 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 complete and annotated translation aims 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.


Last year on the Double Yang Festival
my sorrow knew no limit;

When the memory arises in my mind I am
ever more brokenhearted.

The autumn colors and the setting sun
are both pallid and wan;

My tear-traces and my lonely thoughts
are equally desolating.

The migrating geese fly in formation
but bear me no letter;

The yellow chrysanthemums lack feeling
but are still fragrant.

I am all too aware that recently I have
become quite emaciated;

And often gaze into the phoenix mirror
to examine my features.

The story goes that one day in the evening, when Han Tao-kuo’s job in the silk goods store was over, he went home and slept until the middle of the night, when his wife, Wang Liu-erh, opened a discussion with him.

“You and I have been patronized by him,” she said. “And, on this occasion, we have made so much money out of it. Don’t you think we should throw a party and invite him over for a visit? Not to mention the fact that he has just lost a child, and we ought to help him recover from his depression; it will hardly cost us a great deal to entertain him for half a day. Not only will it put us on a better footing with him, but our young employee, who will probably be headed south any day now, will observe that we are on more intimate terms with our employer than anyone else.”

“I’ve been thinking along the same lines,” said Han Tao-kuo. “Tomorrow is the fifth, which is an unlucky day. But on the sixth we can hire a cook to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.