Jin Ping Mei

Jin Ping Mei (Chinese: 金瓶梅; pinyin: Jīn Píng Méi; Wade–Giles: Chin1 Pʻing2 Mei2)—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[1][2] during the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The author took the pseudonym Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (蘭陵笑笑生), "The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling,"[3] and his identity is otherwise unknown (the only clue being that he hailed from Lanling County in present-day Shandong).[4] 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.[5]

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)
Publication date
c. 1610
Media typePrint

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.[6]

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.[4] 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.

Princeton University Press, in describing the Roy translation, 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."[1] Jin Ping Mei is considered one of the six classics of Chinese literature.


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.[7] In the course of the novel, Ximen has 19 sexual partners, including his six wives and mistresses, and a male servant.[8] There are 72 detailed sexual episodes.[9]


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."[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] 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”.[14]

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.[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.[15] 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.[16]

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

In addition to the identity of the author himself or herself, this novel contains extensive quotations of the writings of other authors. According to The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Jin Ping Mei's sources include "“vernacular stories, works for pornography, histories, dramas, popular songs, jokes, and prosimetric narratives, and even texts far outside of the parameters of the literary, such as official gazettes, contracts, and menus.”[19]



  1. Clement Egerton. The Golden Lotus (London: Routledge, 1939). 4 vols. Reprinted: Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 2011 With an Introduction by Robert E. Hegel. Vol 1. ISBN 9780710073495. :Translated with the assistance of the celebrated Chinese novelist Lao She, who because of the nature of the novel refused to claim any credit for its English version. It was an "expurgated", though complete, translation of the 1695 edition, as the more explicit parts were rendered in 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 next to the English translation.[20]
  2. 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.)
  3. Roy, David Tod (1993). The Plum in the Golden Vase. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691125341. 5 volumes. 1993–2013. A complete and annotated translation of the 1610 edition presumed to be closest to the author's intention. Considered the best English version.[21]

Other LanguagesEdit

  • 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.[22] 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.
  • 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.
  • 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


  • 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.
  • 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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Princeton University Press Online Catalogue
  2. ^ "Jin Ping Mei English Translations Texts, Paratexts and Contexts". Routledge.com.
  3. ^ Michael Dillon, China: A Cultural and Historical Dictionary, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-7007-0439-6, pp.163–164
  4. ^ a b Lu (1923) p.408
  5. ^ Roy (2006), p. xx–xxi.
  6. ^ Charles Horner (October 1994). "The Plum in the Golden Vase, translated by David Tod Roy". Commentary Magazine.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Hinsch, Bret (1992). Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China. University of California Press. p. 135. ISBN 9780520078697.
  9. ^ Ruan, Matsumura (1991) p. 95
  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. ^ Sun, Phillip S. Y. (Autumn 1985). "The Structure and Achievements of Jin Ping Mei" (PDF). Renditions: 102–108.
  15. ^ Li (2001), p. 637-638.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Liu Wu-Chi. An Introduction to Chinese Literature.[page needed]
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature. Cambridge University Press. 2010. ISBN 9780521855587.
  20. ^ Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng The Golden Lotus
  21. ^ Horner (1994).
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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 readingEdit

External linksEdit

  • Jin Ping Mei at Project Gutenberg (Chinese)