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Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (April 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824817982
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824817985
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #618,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Chinese

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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By bryan12603 on September 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a review of The Carnal Prayer Mat by the seventeenth-century Chinese author Li Yu, in the translation by Patrick Hanan. (In Chinese, family names are written first, so the author's surname is "Li.")

This book is a classic that is sexy, witty, fast-paced and fun to read even if you don't like "classics." It also has interesting philosophical aspects that raise it above the level of simply an entertaining read. Some of these philosophical points are raised in the "Critique" sections that come at the end of every chapter (probably written by a friend of Li Yu's). You should be warned that this IS an erotic novel. It is not any more graphic than lots of popular novels today, but if you are offended by explicit sexual discussions, you should not read it.

The novel's main character is Vesperus, an extremely talented scholar who has two ambitions in life: "to be the most brilliant poet in the world" and "to marry the most beautiful girl in the world" (p. 24). Vesperus is warned by the Buddhist monk Lone Peak that this second quest will lead him to numerous wicked acts. Because he wants only the most beautiful woman, he will never be satisfied with any woman he marries, and will even commit adultery with other married women if they seem more beautiful to him. And because of the law of karmic retribution, Vesperus will be punished, either in this life or the next, for his evil deeds. Vesperus scoffs at this admonition, so Lone Peak advises, "gain your enlightenment on the carnal prayer mat; then you'll discover the truth" (p. 30).

What makes this novel so philosophically interesting is that we're never sure quite what perspective the novel takes on all this. At a surface level, the novel is a straightforward moral tale.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By George Schaefer on July 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a bona fide world classic in literature. It stands as a classic both in erotica and pure (if such a thing exists) literature. This fable follows the sexual exploits of Scholar Vesperus who learns to find wisdom on the Carnal Prayer Mat so to speak. He refuses to learn spiritual wisdom through earnest prayer and hence learns his lessons the hard way. (pun not intended) He has his many affairs and shamelessly cheats on his wife. He even becomes a bigamist with a second wife in another town. The trickery involved is hysterical. It is reminiscent of The DeCameron of Boccaccio in the sneakiness of the characters. The humor is also a fabulous trait. Honest Quan gaining revenge is the moralistic turn. The Golden Rule was never so funny. Vesperus steals Honest Quans wife so Honest Quan debauches Vesperus wife. Li Yu strikes a moralistic posture in telling this tale but one can not help but feel that he had a smashing good time writing this book. Each chapter ends with a moral to the action. It merely adds to the humor. One can not help but feel that Li Yu is yanking the readers chain. The names for sexual positions and the numerous jokes on penis size are exquisite. He is having too much fun with the story. The reader also is having too much fun to be preoccuppied with the morals of each chapter. Of course, Vesperus does ultimately come to wisdom in the end. We should be grateful that he did learn the hard way. It was a lot more entertaining for us. This book will really dispell a lot of Western prejudices that hold the Chinese to be demure and asexual. (Well, there are over a billion people in China so they must know something about sex, but I wont go there.) I suggest this book to anyone interested in erotica and to anyone smallminded enough to doubt the wonderful sensuality and sexuality of classic Chinese literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gromer on May 1, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These old Ming classics are only as good as the English translators that work on them. I discovered the translator Patrick Hanan when researching this book. The Chinese version would have been impossible to decode, it is written in such a anachronistic style. Hanan has made Weiyang Sheng come alive. Scholar Vesperus? Carnal Prayer Mat? Have you ever seen a more elegant rendition of otherwise impossible Chinese names? You are in for a good time.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Please note that the Ingram description shown above is for a different book. The Carnal Prayer Mat is about a lecherous Chinese scholar, not the memoirs of some Viennese schoolteacher.
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