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Jin Ping Mei

By Edited Jun 16, 2016 0 2

Jin Ping Mei (金瓶梅) is a Chinese novel which is normally translated into English as Plum in the Golden Vase. This novel was written in the late 16th century by the Laughing Scholar of Lanling. Although it has a large number of sexual scenes, modern scholars consider it a strong example of Chinese literature, and according to the translator David Tod Roy, "With the possible exception of The Tale of Genji (1010) and Don Quixote (1615), there is no earlier work of prose fiction of equal sophistication in world literature." The name of the novel comes from the names of three central female characters, which also represent the three things that all men desire: wealth, respect, and sex. Jin Ping Mei is considered to be the fifth of the great classical novels, the other four being Journey to the West, Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Dream of the Red Chambers.


The story of Jin Ping Mei focuses on focuses on Ximen Qing and his family during the Northern Song dynasty. Ximen Qing is the heir to the Ximen household, and his lust and corruption eventualy leads to the downfall of his family and his own death. As a youth, Ximen Qing learns powerful sexual techniques and Daoism from his father. Once Ximen becomes an adult, he takes on his own wives and concubines, having a total of 19 sexual partners over the course of the novel. Ximen Qing uses his material wealth and social status to serve his enormous sexual appetite, including harming friends and strangers in order to achieve his desires. A large part of the novel is devoted to the domestic struggles of his many wives and concubines as the compete for his affections and for influence within the household.

Social Status

Jin Ping Mei is sometimes considered pornographic due to it’s sexual content, and it was banned at various times since it's publication. Only in the Qing dynasty was the novel reevaluated as literature. The novel is filled with poems and songs, showing that the author was well-educated and intended Jin Ping Mei to be more than merely a pornographic story. 

Aside from the sexual competition which is present in the Ximen household, the role of women in society is also shown and analyzed. Women had no social status at that time, and one of the primary female characters in the novel uses sex as a powerful tool and as a means of survival. Jin Ping Mei also exposes some of the corruption that was common among bureaucrat and merchants of the era, acting as an indictment against the upper classes of society. It is similar to Dream of Red Chambers in the sense that it allows a glimpse into the life of an aristocratic family of the era. Numerous Chinese writers and critics held the Jin Ping Mei in high esteem, including Lu Xun.


Jin Ping Mei was first translated into English in 1939, and has since been translated into German, French, and Spanish. In 1994 Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts Limited created a 20 episode version of Jin Ping Mei, which began broadcasting on September 26th, and in 2008 The Forbidden Legend of Sex and Chopsticks, a film adaptation of Jin Ping Mei, released by My Way Film Company in Hong Kong in 2008.



Dec 9, 2012 6:58pm
Nice review of a work that I doubt many people in the West have read; some may know it better as "The Golden Lotus". Great to see an introduction to a different culture.
As an aside, I thought that it was pre-dated by both "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and "Water Margin".
Dec 10, 2012 12:17am
Oh! Good point. After checking the dates you are right. Although there are multiple claims to the publication dates of each, Water Margin beats Jin Ping Mei for earliest publication in all of them. I must have mis-remembered a quote from David Roy (a translator). I'll edit the article to reflect this.
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