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It is deplorable, but man s heart isMore venomous than a snake Who is aware that the eye of heaven rolls asRelentlessly as a wheel A deceptive book, apparently a titillating soap opera about a dissolute 12th century merchant and his love affairs, but really a complex structure of criticisms of the author s 16th century world, a corrupt state heading for eventual defeat by the Manchus The author is so accomplished that it reads beautifully either way You can enjoy the trickery, eroticism, succu It is deplorable, but man s heart isMore venomous than a snake Who is aware that the eye of heaven rolls asRelentlessly as a wheel A deceptive book, apparently a titillating soap opera about a dissolute 12th century merchant and his love affairs, but really a complex structure of criticisms of the author s 16th century world, a corrupt state heading for eventual defeat by the Manchus The author is so accomplished that it reads beautifully either way You can enjoy the trickery, eroticism, succulent meals, exotic clothes, poetic descriptions and pervasive humor, or you can appreciate the multilayered portrayal of decaying Ming China in the late 1500s.I read the whole first volume before I looked at the translator s introduction, so I didn t have his theory about the conservative Confucian criticism of the anonymous author Still, it s clear about two thirds of the way in that trouble is brewing The main character is suddenly threatened with collateral damage from the military defeats and subsequent dishonor of his daughter s father in law He side steps the consequences with some well placed bribes, but suddenly the corrupt behavior that permeates the book takes on a darker tone.By chance I read Wang Yang Ming s Instructions for Practical Living while I was ambling through Chin P ing Mei, so I could contrast Wang s type of Neo Confucian instruction with the everyday life portrayed here Wang asserts that Confucian principles, such as reverence for parents, are inherent in the mind, if we can return to our pure, natural state by subduing our passions Not so, translator Roy proposes He argues that even though Wang was a near contemporary of the author of Chin P ing Mei , the novelist agreed with a strict early Confucian, Hsun tzu man s original nature is evil and requires constant instruction and effort to overcome There are some low level spoilers from now on, and some information from the introduction you may want to defer if you plan to read Chin P ing Mei Well, pharmaceuticals merchant Hsi men Ch ing and his women suggest Hsun tzu was closer to the truth The core of the story is taken from The Outlaws of the Marsh, a novel earlier in this productive century that I haven t read yet Suffice it to say that adultery, poison, bribery, and general skullduggery start things off Hsi men Ch ing is corrupt and shows no compunction at corrupting others He has no control over his passions in fact the last scene in the book leaves him rampaging through a house in the pleasure quarter, ordering it torn apart in his rage More often we see him indulging his lust by the close of volume one he has installed six wives concubines in his house But, they and the servants are adept at pulling the wool over his eyes, at least temporarily Match maker crones take advantage of his lust His new infatuations manipulate him into costly and potentially dishonorable steps Six women in the house with only one man among them is asking for trouble subtle back stabbing is the order of the day Hsi men Ch ing almost never attends to business he leaves it to his employees There is only pleasure eating, drinking and sex and for all the varieties of love making indulged in, it s remarkable that there are no children in this book His toadies Sponger Ying, Tagalong Hsieh, Heartless Wu, and Blabbermouth Sun use jocular persuasion to lead him into lost days and nights at his expense of course in the pleasure quarter Roy argues that His men Ch ing is meant to be the dissolute emperor Wan li ruled 1572 1620 , and these toadies his self serving ministers It s convincing, but I would read the first volume as I did, before reading the detail in the introduction, so you first meet the characters on their own terms They are vibrant individuals and don t need a shadow role to fully inhabit their world Further, the introduction outlines the plot of all five volumes, so getting a start without viewing the characters in anticipation of their future actions is better.Finally a word about the writing itself There are patterns of prose and poetry, recurring phrases, and Roy says patterns in the overall structure of 100 chapters, that may show Daoist influences, or just be masterful writing I loved the frequent interspersed short poems that quoted traditional songs related to the action Occasional longer poems, as excerpted below, can be quite lovely or telling The humor is everywhere, and of every form ironic, scatological, double entendred, slap stick, situational read it and laugh The language likewise ranges from rustic and crude This single conversation had such an effect on the old lady that she was ready to fart ferociously and pee in her pants, in her excitementre an aunt arranging to essentially sell her widowed niece to His men Ch ing to incredibly lovely, at the Lantern Festival There are camel lanternsAnd green lion lanterns,Bearing priceless rarities, snorting and roaring As well as gibbon lanternsAnd white elephant lanterns,Proffering treasures fit to ransom cities,Gamboling and playing.All arms and legs,Crab lanterns,Cavort in the clear waves With gaping mouths and long beards,Catfish lanterns,Gulp down green algaeSilver mouths vie with one another in brilliance,Snowy willows compete with each other in beauty Pair by pair, the follow in the wake of brocade sashesAnd dangling pomanders,Branch by branch, they brush against decorated pennants and turquoise carriage curtains The makers of artificial plum blossoms, Attach them ubiquitously to dead branches.Paper cutouts of spring moths, Stuck rakishly in the hair over the temples,Quiver in the east wind Gold flecked gimcrack hairpins,Twinkle atop chignons with a glitter that rivals the sun s Roy says that you have to read this book over and over to fully understand how intricately the author interlaced his patterns, images, language, and themes, and I believe it I look forward to the rest of it Roy devoted his working life to the book, and we can be grateful.A note I listened to the book in the recording by George Backman, who is a genius He catches the spirit of the book perfectly lively, licentious, sly, boisterous, two timing and perfect Chinese for the names and places [[ Read ]] ↝ The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P'ing Mei: Vol. One: The Gathering ⇧ The first volume of a celebrated translation of the classic Chinese novelThis is the first 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 contextWith the possible exception of The Tale of Genjiand Don Quixote, 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 reminiscent of the Dickens of Bleak House, the Joyce of Ulysses, or the Nabokov of Lolita than anything in the earlier Chinese fiction tradition, 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 Chin P ing Mei, or The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Gold Vase Plum, or Plum Blossoms in a Golden Vase, or The Glamour of Entering the Vagina, orWelcome to China, N.R i.e., s about damn time.And so here we go, volume one of a five volume novel 100 chapters , one novel of six classic, Chinese , most of which are about as gargantuan I get sucked into this thing by a marketing ploy performed by the ian overladies buy volume one for a mere ten bucks add enough other stuff to get the FR Chin P ing Mei, or The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Gold Vase Plum, or Plum Blossoms in a Golden Vase, or The Glamour of Entering the Vagina, orWelcome to China, N.R i.e., s about damn time.And so here we go, volume one of a five volume novel 100 chapters , one novel of six classic, Chinese , most of which are about as gargantuan I get sucked into this thing by a marketing ploy performed by the ian overladies buy volume one for a mere ten bucks add enough other stuff to get the FREE shipping , then prepare to shell out as much as forty bucks per for the remaining four volumes and you see that you re looking at The Potentially Most Expensive Novel In My Library TP MEN IML , nearlymoney than what one might spend on that there Schmidt Traum So you see my conundrum and you won t make too lite of me if I pause for a period before carrying on with this wayward novel.So, but we began this novel with a remark by translator annotator David Tod Roy where s his Nobel characterizing our quintuple decker as difficult.demanding.Joyce.Nabokov As you may expect, this characterization is both true and false It s so terribly false in regard to the surface of the novel The surface of the novel is a breeze The only thing difficult demanding about it is the massive cast 56 pages for the Cast of Characters of characters There s some nice Joyce Nabokov esque word games and play things such as the risqu possibility hidden up there in the title , but not really enough, and they are annotated by Roy, and Roy does a pretty bang up job of making something similar work in English as he quotes his translator mentor, My one abiding principle has been to translate everything even puns But of course, once the pun gets translated it has to be annotated, and there s quite a bit of fun to be had seeing how puns get built in Chinese but only a handful so far in this here volume the first The difficult demanding characterization is true in so far as we d like to talk about depth I suspect that there are fathoms and fathoms of depth in this novel quotations, allusions, intertextuality, dialogism that s Bakhtin to us, as Roy duly points out kind of like trying to read Moby Dick without knowledge of ta Biblia or Shakespeare or really anything at all, I mean I don t know anything about Chinese literature or history or anything , but Roy seems to know everything Which is where the annotations come in everything is identified as to its source, 106 pages of it 106 pages of The proximate source of this quotation is.The first four lines of this passage of parallel prose.The proximate source of this sentence.The probable source of these two lines is.The probable source of this couplet is.Kao Ch iu d 1126 is a historical figure For his biography.For the story of how the.This line, with slight textual variation, recurs three times in Chin P ing Mei ch an chuan..You get the picture Totally mostly useless to a reader like me with zero knowledge of any of these sources mostly identified via their Chinese title, which is fine, and there is a Bibliography here too and rarely are there any interpretative comments in these annotations which would be helpful to a reader like me But, you know how fantastic it is to find another Elliot allusion in that Gaddis novel you are reading In other words, it can render itself difficult demanding, but it need not do so.So, not difficult to read a bit outside of most of our reading habits, especially if those reading habits are mostly of the postmodern, modern, or 19th century variety it gets less outside our reading habits if those reading habits include a healthy dose of pre 1800 noveling It s kind of a pleasant experience to open up something like this and feel one s way forward strange and other ish, yet easy enough with which to become acquainted I d say though too that there is something a little less than satisfying in the prose department and I ll include the stuff that looks like poetry because whether it is poetry or parallel prose in the Chinese, in the English it all reads like translator prose But it also reads a little like 17th or 18th century English prose because for us reading in the year 2014 we are always looking through a glass darkened by a certain attending to prose sculpture perpetrated by our modernist forebears yesyes, those baroque guys, I know Days were when prose just didn t matter much one had poetry when it mattered Some of that goes down here And too, the 714 pages of this first volume contains a mere 427 pages of novel 60% the rest is introduction, cast of characters, annotations, bibliography, index so unless you are a compulsive reader of everything including copyright pages , it s not as gargantuan as you may be led to believe until, I guess, it is multiplied by five.And yes, there is sex in here And yes, it s a bitfrank than anyone but your grandmother It s just that it s not salaciously presentified this is, after all, realism, not fantasy.But yeah I m going to break down likely sooner than later and carry on with this wayward novel Note While I am posting this under the first volume, this review really is about the whole of the novelThe Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P ing Mei is another of the Six Classic Chinese novels It was written in the 16th century, that is about two hundred years beforeThe Scholarsand is considerably longer the English translation spans five volumes of about 800 1,000 pages each, and while there is a lot of editorial material in each volume, I d estimate it comes to at least 3,000 pagNote While I am posting this under the first volume, this review really is about the whole of the novelThe Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P ing Mei is another of the Six Classic Chinese novels It was written in the 16th century, that is about two hundred years beforeThe Scholarsand is considerably longer the English translation spans five volumes of about 800 1,000 pages each, and while there is a lot of editorial material in each volume, I d estimate it comes to at least 3,000 pages total Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng apparently means The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling and is an obvious pseudonym the author remains unknown to this day, although the editor of my edition on which laterhas a theory about who may have written the novel I even have a theory of my own, as it happens on whichlater.The novel takes place over several years and centers around the fate of merchant Hsi men Ch ing and his extensive household a wife, several concubines the number varies throughout the narrative and a host of servants , his rise, his glory days and eventual downfall and dissolution of his estate It is probably most famous or possibly notorious, depending on your preferences for its explicit eroticism, to the point where it even has been called pornographic So let s get that out of the way first everyone who is going to read Chin P ing Mei for its titillation factor is going to be severely disappointed Yes, sex does play a very important part here and is openly thematized throughout, and yes, there are some really, really detailed sex scenes but those are few and far between I could probably count them on the fingers of my hand, and stretched out over 3,000 pages that is not much at all I did, however, learnthan I ever thought I would about the variety of sex toys in ancient China The Plum in the Golden Vase also has some of the loveliest euphemisms for the sexual act that I ve come across the one occurring most frequently is game of cloud and rain but probably my favourite is game of breeze and moonlight Of course, I have no way of knowing whether those images are original to this novel or whether they were commonly used clich s in 16th century China when the novel was written And that turns this novel into quite the challenge for a non scholar.Because a 21st century reader who has never moved much beyond European culture is utterly unable to put anything here into any kind of context, there is nothing I could relate this novel to which made reading it an often very frustrating experience This was not so much an issue with The Scholars that novel is faraccessible and can be enjoyed in a fairly straightforward manner even if one is mostly clueless about China The Plum in the Golden Vase, on the other hand, is significantlyerudite and sophisticated and it just needs to be placed into a context to be fully appreciated Thankfully, my edition came richly annotated, and I would strongly advise against trying to tackle this in an edition without explanatory notes.In fact, just getting into this book was somewhat exasperating first there is a lengthy preface by the editor, followed by an even lengthier cast of characters As the novel starts, it doesn t, but we get a preface, followed by another preface, a set of poems and yet another set of poems Once past all this, the obviously rather na ve reader thinks that the novel is finally going to start and it again does not really, but instead presents yet another poem and a lengthy exegesis of it Then, at last, we finally get to the novel proper except, that is isn t really this novel, i.e The Plum in the Golden Vase, that we re reading its basic plot is spun out of an episode from another of the Classic Chinese Novels, Outlaws of the Marshes, and the beginning of the later novel was apparently lifted to a large part pretty much verbatim from the earlier one.Eventually however, things get going and we get to meet Hsi men Ch ing, the novel s protagonist He, we very soon find out, is a man utterly without scruples and with no recognisable conscience he places his own pleasure above everything, cheating on his wives and concubines, then lying to cover it up, cheating his business partners every time he can get away with it, bribing officials for his own advantage and letting himself be bribed after he has become an official himself Pretty much the only good thing to be said about him is that he is generous towards his friends and allies but even then, one is never quite sure whether he is not doing it to make them favourably inclined towards him, with an eye towards possible later profit friends and allies who are just as unprincipled and dissolute as he is In fact, almost every single character showing up in The Plum in the Golden Vase is thoroughly corrupt they lie, steal, cheat and some even resort to murder if it serves to further their interest or increase their pleasure.This also puts the rampant, even brutal misogyny of the novel into perspective if almost every woman is painted as scheming and devious, they are not different from the men And if they have to be evenruthless than men to achieve their aims, it is because their starting position is by far worse while, for example, male servants enter and leave service freely, female ones are bought and sold on a whim, as are wives and concubines in the world of Chin P ing Mei, once any female, whatever her original social status, moves in a with a man, she effectively becomes his property and turns into littleor, in the case of servants, notthan a slave The novel s misogyny then, originates with the society described rather than with the author describing it And even as it shows its female characters in such a bad light, The Plum in the Golden Vase also gives a lot and I do mean a lot at least half the novel seems to take place exclusively among women, and it would easily pass the Bechdel test a hundred times over of space to the sphere of women and the female experience,than in any novel of the period I have read so much in fact, that I m strongly suspecting that the author must have been female herself Of course, I never read a Chinese novel of that period before, so I may be imposing Western cultural standards here, but I think it is unlikely Even so, of course, this is pure speculation on my part and untainted by any form of competence or actual knowledge, therefore it is most likely nothing but a fiction But as it is a fiction I like and as it fits my reading experience of The Plum in the Golden Vase, I m still going to stick with it, but please do take it with a pound of salt.And talking about reading experience the Chin P ing Mei offers something quite unique in that regard, a layering of its narrative and an interweaving of those layers into a very complex dynamics which I don t think I have ever encountered before in another book On the ground level, so to speak, there is the narration of the basic plot, recounting the story of Hsi men Ch ing, his friends and business relations, his concubines and love affairs but also of the many, many intrigues inside of his household, the concubines vying for his attention or plotting against a rival, and the way all of this is mirrored among the servants While The Scholars presented readers with a big picture on which was painted a broad canvas of Chinese society, the author of The Plum in the Golden Vase goes the opposite way she focuses her narrative on a single household, but uses that to represent society at large Editor and translator David Roy Tod argues that Hsi men Ch ing is meant to represent the Emperor and his household the court and the general decay of morals, which seems very convincing to me What is most striking about this base narrative, however, is its utterly deadpan delivery No matter how crass the corruption or how excessive the debauchery, the tone of the novel on this level remains detached and serene as if the unhindered pursuit of greed and lust, the cheating and the backstabbing were the most normal things in the world.But there is a second level to the novel, and this is where things start to get really interesting Because on top of that first level the author has placed a second one, one that was not written by herself but only compiled and which consists of references to and quotations from other sources proverbs, poetry, stories, lyrics of popular songs, in short a whole plethora of different texts are woven into the fabric of the novel All of which are not only meticulously identified by David Tod Roy, but he also had the brilliant idea to make those parts immediately identifiable even for ignorant Western readers by indenting them for prose or giving them a smaller font size for poetry and song lyrics This makes the layered structure of Chin P ing Mei visible at a glance and to some degree substitutes for the easy recognition of the sources quoted which educated readers in 16th century China must have had And this dense network of references and allusions keeps up a running commentary on events throughout and gives the novel its moral foundation The relationship of this commentary to the events it comments on are not always simple either, but comes basically in three variants first, we get the direct pronouncement of how the novel s characters and their actions fall short of moral standards second, we get irony and sarcasm, the quote praising some ideal or positive trait which the characters blatantly did not follow i.e., Hsi men Ch ing cheats a business partner, which is followed by a proverb lauding honesty And thirdly, we get the cases where something like a song lyrics is quoted apparently in extenso, but with one small bit left out and when the omitted bit is restored it regularly turns out that the quoted passage means quite the contrary of what it appeared to say, usually condemning what it first seemed to praise This latter textual strategy in particular is very, very clever, and subtly handled by the author and of course goes completely over the head of every reader who is not deeply familiar with ancient Chinese literature and proverbs, and song lyrics, and religious text, and quite a lot.And this is where I need to say a few words about the translator and editor of this English version of Chin P ing Mei, David Tod Roy I do not think it exaggerated to say that Roy who sadly passed away earlier this year dedicated his life to this novel he spent twenty years teaching it, and then another thirty years translating and editing it Thirty years may seem a lot, even for a novel of several thousand pages, but what I have written above maybe has given you a small impression of the huge task Roy was facing with this A very small impression, because you really need to experience it yourself to get a feeling for just how much work must have gone into this Roy identifies almost every single reference or allusion in this massive work there are a few instances where he was not able to trace something, but they are even rarer than the pornographic scenes , in the vast majority citing a multitude of instances where they are likely derived from There are explanatory notes, too maybe not as much as I wanted, or only pointing the reader to whereinformation is available, but then this is emphatically a scholarly edition of the novel, which means that it is not designed for reading comfort There also is an index at the end of each volume again, something which will most likely beuseful to scholars and an index of characters at their beginning which I scoffed at it in the first volume, was grateful for in the second and found utterly indispensable in the remaining volumes To call the work Roy has done here impressive would be a gross understatement, it is a monument to what dedicated scholarship is capable of.David Tod Roy s insanely detailed footnotes do their best to close the gap between the average Western reader s ignorance and the vast amount of erudition required to fully understand what is happening both on and underneath the surface narrative of The Plum in the Golden Vase It is pretty much a losing battle of course, at least in the case of non scholarly readers like me, but it remains an awe inducing effort And without Roy s work, Chin P ing Mei would be if not unreadable then completely inaccessible for most contemporary Western readers Literally so, in fact it is probably just possible to get through the whole novel without ever referring to the notes but whatever you will have read then, it won t have been Chin P ing Mei In addition, this also produces the unexpected and almost certainly unintended side effect of putting another layer of meta narrative on top of the two I mentioned before as inherent in the Chinese text, this one telling of one man s enthusiasm for, even obsession with the novel David Tod Roy, in editing Chin P ing Mei has become co author of The Plum in the Golden Vase It makes one think of Pale Fire with Roy as something like an inverted Kinbote, whose commentary, even as it proliferates beyond measure, always remains in the service of the text rather than overwriting with its own story , and in the light of this Roy s repeated name dropping of Nabokov in his introduction to the novel takes on an entirely new significance.In conclusion, then This is by no means an easy to read novel, it is not even necessarily an enjoyable one Not will Western readers have to struggle with comprehending the cultural background it is set in, it also can be very repetitive and in parts even tedious the middle part of volume four in particular seemed to me to drag on interminably, with party following feast following party where nothing happens but people eating, drinking and having songs sung to them At the same time, however, The Plum in the Golden Vase is one of the most fascinating novels I have ever read, particularly in the utterly unique way it treats and incorporates pre existent texts and uses them to illuminate its own story Not something I d recommend for everyone, but without doubt worthwhile for readers with an adventurous spirit The Chinese classic work, The Plum in the Golden Vase, takes the well known story of Wu Song, his brother and his brother s wife to spin a novel that details the downfall of a family as a result of the debauchery of its members Wu Song s story is as well known to the Chinese as the story of Romeo and Juliet is to Anglo europeans Wu Song is a hero, a martial arts exponent that, in The Water Margin, goes around fighting injustice He gets his start when he goes to live with his brother, Wu Dalan The Chinese classic work, The Plum in the Golden Vase, takes the well known story of Wu Song, his brother and his brother s wife to spin a novel that details the downfall of a family as a result of the debauchery of its members Wu Song s story is as well known to the Chinese as the story of Romeo and Juliet is to Anglo europeans Wu Song is a hero, a martial arts exponent that, in The Water Margin, goes around fighting injustice He gets his start when he goes to live with his brother, Wu Dalang Unlike the stalwart handsome hero, however, Wu Dalang is a dwarf Yes, yes, the difference is akin to Tyrion and Jamie of GoT fame save that Wu Dalang is, tragically, nowhere near as smart as Tyrion Poor, ugly and stupid Wu Dalang has the misfortune to be married to a great beauty, Pan Chin Lien She was forced into marriage with him by her former master Her beauty attracts the attentions of wealthy, handsome man about town, Hsi Men Ching, and she starts an affair with him The two eventually decide to clear the way to Pan Chin Lien becoming Hsi Men Ching s fifth wife by poisoning Wu Dalang When Wu Song discovers the murder, he decides to exact a brutal revenge on the pair This is where The Plum in the Golden Vase departs from the traditional tale and heads off into fan fiction territory instead of succeeding, Wu Song is caught before he can kill the couple and he is sentenced to hard labour Pan Chin Lien and Hsi men Ching shippers get full satisfaction from the rest of the novel, which describes their relationship in intimate and pornographic detail This is not for the faint hearted Centuries before Lady Chatterley s Lover, Lolita and Maurice shocked Anglo european s, there was a literary work that described sex not in euphemistic terms but in hard core detail While there are many genteel references to the game of clouds and rain and poetic verses eulogising a warrior wielding his spear to attack a lady s defences, there are also exceedingly graphic and frank descriptions of both straight and gay sex referred to euphemistically as enjoying the southern breezes While the novel is notorious for its pornographic content, it is farthan mere smut and contains a veritable treasure trove of the details of life as lived by the extremely corrupt and debauched 1% their clothes, food, forays to the red light district or licensed quarter as it is called in the novel , poetry and song, bribery and corruption, medicine It is also an enjoyable tale in its own right as Pan Chin Lien plots against the various wives to ensure that she continues to retain Hsi men Ching s favour Cue ominous music when Hsi men Ching takes on wife number six David Roy s foreward explains how the novel is a scathing critique of, not simply the Ming dynasty 1%, but also the emperor himself and is well worth reading for that My only peeve with the work is the list of characters that is provided given the huge cast of characters, it is an absolute necessity for keeping track of who s who, but beware the spoilers as the character descriptions provide a pithy summary of their entire story in the novel Note This translation was reviewed and recommended by NYRB The Jin Ping Mei is possibly the best thing I have ever read in my entire life I wish I had studiedclassical Chinese lit at UM. Crazy Rich Asians, the Ming Dynasty Edition Considering this book was written 500 years ago, and is set in China circa 1100AD, it s pretty darn readable No mistake, it is a challenging read, though not the most difficult book I ve read that distinction goes to Mason and Dixon, which I had to put down after I couldn t remember why I wanted to read it in the first place.The society, as depicted by the author, was so darn corrupt There was only one redeeming character in the whole narrativ Crazy Rich Asians, the Ming Dynasty Edition Considering this book was written 500 years ago, and is set in China circa 1100AD, it s pretty darn readable No mistake, it is a challenging read, though not the most difficult book I ve read that distinction goes to Mason and Dixon, which I had to put down after I couldn t remember why I wanted to read it in the first place.The society, as depicted by the author, was so darn corrupt There was only one redeeming character in the whole narrative, and he was banished to a foreign land early on in the story If you appreciate layer upon layer of conniving characters, this story will appeal to you The jokes aren t bad either.There is a lot of wicked behavior in this story, but amazing and mind bending detail about life in ancient China Get ready for a cast of hundreds of characters While there are no iPhones or even indoor plumbing for that matter, people don t seem to have changed much in 1,000 years.At first I was put off by the poetry and songs, but I came to eventually enjoy them The illustrations are pretty good also Though they look like generic Chinese art, you realize they help tell the story Of course, translator Dr Roy tries to give some context with the footnotes, but it s really impossible to appreciate all the nuances as he does.The story was a little repetitive, in that the main character, whom I thought of as Simon Ching, lusts after ladies in the town He manages to marry two wives in the span of 200 pages, including his next door neighbor, and a hero s sister in law Oh, my We have numerous scenes of banquets, drinking, carousing, carrying on, backstabbing, scheming, plotting, bribery, payoffs, outright stealing, threats, and intimidation.Though the book is written as a cautionary tale to explain to the reader why this bad behavior is so reprehensible, there are few consequences to the wicked, at least in this first volume.The story behind the story is fascinating Dr David Tod Roy discovered the text when he was a teenager, 70 years ago He has spent basically his entire life studying this book That he was able to even complete the translation, with thousands of notes, is an amazing accomplishment I would agree that this book has enough rich cultural relevance to make it a worthwhile lifetime project.If you were at all intrigued by the write up in the LA Review of Books, go for it The first 25 chapters of the least well known and, at the same time, most notorious of the four masterworks of Ming dynasty vernacular fiction David Roy s translation project is the stuff of legends after teaching the novel for 20 years he took another 30 years to complete an unabridged translation Suffice it to say, this is a very dense novel, with many layers of meaning Roy has done his utmost to translate and annotate every pun, allusion, song, and poem At the same time there is The first 25 chapters of the least well known and, at the same time, most notorious of the four masterworks of Ming dynasty vernacular fiction David Roy s translation project is the stuff of legends after teaching the novel for 20 years he took another 30 years to complete an unabridged translation Suffice it to say, this is a very dense novel, with many layers of meaning Roy has done his utmost to translate and annotate every pun, allusion, song, and poem At the same time there is a incredible level of detail regarding the material culture of Ming dynasty China with a particular focus on food and clothing The graphic sexual content of the novel frustrates the above reading somewhat Despite Roy s very convincing arguments as to the moralizing purpose of the author in preface, and those of Andrew Plaks laid out in his monograph, The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel, both of which rely heavily on the classical commentator Zhang Zhupo I would highly recommend reading Ding Naifei s Obscene Things Sexual Politics in Jin Ping Mei as a companion text which, without discounting the moral argument introduce a much needed critical analysis of the violent misogyny with which the moral message is conveyed So far this is the one of the best novels I ve read in a long time Extremely skillfully constructed, great pacing, and an irresistible combination of high poetry and vulgar vernacular No idea if the translation is accurate, but the translator s got a fantastic ear Really enjoying this. It s a long term goal of mine to read the 6 Chinese classic novels in translation I considered starting with Romance of the Three Kingdoms until I saw Jin Ping Mei JPM described as Jane Austen meets hardcore pornography and a study of the simple mechanics of corruption in a 2013 LA Review of Books by Stephen Marche As a fan of Jane Austen and a sometime fan of pornography, obviously I had to see for myself.For context JPM, also known as The Pl It s a long term goal of mine to read the 6 Chinese classic novels in translation I considered starting with Romance of the Three Kingdoms until I saw Jin Ping Mei JPM described as Jane Austen meets hardcore pornography and a study of the simple mechanics of corruption in a 2013 LA Review of Books by Stephen Marche As a fan of Jane Austen and a sometime fan of pornography, obviously I had to see for myself.For context JPM, also known as The Plum in the Golden Vase, is a 100 chapter classic novel of manners, set during the end of the Song dynasty and written during the late Ming dynasty 1600s , or so Wikipedia tells me This review is for all 5 volumes of the David Tod Roy English translation Chinese is not my first language but I am ABC and might havecontext or tolerance for getting through this than your average reader My thoughts JPM is alternately beautiful, disgusting, funny, boring, and educational with respect to day to day life of the time period This is a tough read due to the length and the character list alone Early on, there were also some major plot points and motivations I didn t quite pick up on Hsimen Ching needed to bribe someone to change a name so he wouldn t be executed because sometimes the book is narrated in a he did X, she did Y sort of way that expects you to follow along and understand why these actions are being taken I think I missed these or forgot because there were so many people to keep track of, though there is a very detailed cast list in each volume There also were probably portions of the book where I was just reading but not following along too closely just due to the sheer length of this book Overall, it took me about 2.5 years, on and off, to finish all 5 volumes Sept 2016 April 2019.JPM is funny and surprisingly readable for a translated 16th century book Thankfully, pompous, obtuse faux orientalist formality that you see in some older translations of Chinese works is kept to a minimum and the language is pretty straightfoward It seems that early translations of many classic Chinese novels were done by early missionaries who felt the need to censor all the dirty and violent parts i.e., the good stuff or over localize for an English speaking audience J H Jackson s Go tell that to the marines in his translation of Outlaws of the Marsh DTR prefers to give us some of the flavor of the original by translating things like insults bothliterally e.g., oily mouth, short life and explicitly Chapter 27 He continued to thrust until her vaginal secretions flowed uninterruptedly, making a sound like a school of loaches plunging through the mud The translation maintains a lot of Chinese idioms as well, with the overall effect of language that is colorful, creative, and sometimes kind of disgusting Knowing that JPM was pornographic did not prepare me for how graphic something written in the early 1600s could be JPM will show you three ways and piss play and then immediately follow it up with a beautiful but filthy poem full of historical allusions carefully footnoted and hilariously gross metaphors You will learn something about Chinese classical or historical references and also learn Chinese slang terms or creative metaphors for anal sex plucking the flower in the rear courtyard , penises jade chowrie handle and ejaculation turtles vomiting money Oh and the poem will be moralizing about how all that graphic sex represents the downfall of empires or corruption of bureaucrats or something JPM will also teach you all sorts of creative and obscene insults for every type of person and situation, many of them involving cunts what are you pissing those tears out of your cunt for.As for other, non sex related topics, JPM is an immersive look at upper class Chinese life in a certain time period though I m not sure how much of it pertains to the Song when it s set vs the Ming when it was written I learned that JPM is the subject of a lot of academic work and apparently also a good resource for things like how much things cost, appropriate social behavior, what people ate or wore, etc Curious about matchmaking, Chinese medicine, funeral customs, weddings, licensed prostitutes, the status of legal wives vs concubines, or the legal system Or appropriate clothing for men and women of every class in every social situation It s all here As Stephen Marche says in his review, How do you buy off a salt official A very precise description is provided For example, it costs 10 taels of silver to buy a local militia job for yourself, but 1000 taels if you ve committed a murderer and need to pay off 2 magistrates to get off scott free A great show of deference and polite refusal of gifts before accepting the bribe is also required Some light Googling and seeing the range of academic work out there on JPM also gave me a better appreciation for how detailed and multilayered this work is, and also helped understand the context for some of the events For example, Sexuality, Politics, and Sorrow Reading the Rear Courtyard in Jin Ping Mei by Dr Qing Ye explains that the rear courtyard where the concubines live is a metaphor for buttsecks and corruption Entertaining, but enlightening.At the end of the day, this is really a story about massive corruption at every level of bureaucracy, with the rise and fall of Hsimen Ching s house analagous to the fall of a dynasty If you know what JPM is you are probably already thinking about reading the Chinese classics and already know what this will entail This is a long ass book It s not always enjoyable There are way too many characters, with names that are difficult to keep track of for an English speaker It is packed full of poetry, footnotes, and boring details However, the world it describes, the people, and its customs still shine through 400 years later in multiple recensions and in translation Even now, it can still be funny and engaging If you re already interested in the classic Chinese novels and ready to tackle them, JPM seems like a good place to start