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The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P'ing Mei: Vol. 1, The Gathering
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To briefly discuss the storyline, Chin P'ing Mei is a "spin off" from the classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh, and focuses on the trials and tribulations of the conniving seductress Pan Chin-lien and the new life she leads after murdering her husband. Some scholars of Chinese traditional literature will not like this allusion, but the story reads like a modern-day soap opera. The characters are lusty and scheming, and the general climate is electric. The general plot follows the intricate daily triumphs and frustrations of Hsi-Men Ching and his `harem" of six wives and concubines (among them Pan Chin-lien). The story is rife with inter-household competition, infidelity, corruption, domestic abuse and eroticism. Characters are well developed, and the scenery is vivid. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the merchant class in 16th century China. It is easy to see how this novel has captured audiences for 400 years - and David Tod Roy's excellent translation will no doubt help it to endure for many more years to come.
Dr. Jonathan Spence was not kidding when he said that it read like a monograph. Scrupulous in details, Dr. Roy is perhaps too finicky in annotating every derivation of every line. Though such derivations are important, he seems to forget sometimes that the Jin Ping Mei is a novel: to read a text as densely annotated as Dr. Roy's sometimes becomes, to borrow David Hawkes' phrase, "playing tennis in chains."
Despite a lack of elegance in places, Dr. Roy's contribution is immense, for with this frank translation he has communicated to the Western world one of the great works of Chinese social satire, warts and all.
Jin Ping Mei itself is a book with many layers. Often dismissed as nothing but a book of smut and bedroom acrobatics (yes, it is full of this dear readers), Roy argues that it is also a tale of Confucian morals, and the consequences of failing to heed them. The story focuses on the town of Qing He (Clear Lake), and the household of a well-to-do young merchant named Ximen Qing. The book is also a treasure trove of details regarding the clothing, festivals, traditions, etc. of late Ming dynasty China. (While the author set the book in the late Sung dynasty, I think this is but a fig leaf. It was the Ming dynasty he himself lived in that he was thinking of all the time).
Jin Ping Mei has something of a reputation in this corner of the world as an "erotic novel". Here, I would say it falls down. If you want smut, this is not the book for you.
Other than this trifling criticism, this is a "丝色女子" (very good) translation. Yes, the annotations are a bit excessive, as others have mentioned, but as they are published as endnotes rather than footnotes, they hardly interfere with the text itself at all. I have no compelling reason not to recommend this set.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
According to the sample all this book is an introduction with a list of characters. I think I will pass on it.Published 23 days ago by Kindle Customer
As one of the famous Chinese classical novels, I enjoy reading it in English.Published 1 month ago by TJ Cheng
A terrific look at 17th century China … though Roy’s recension and transliteration is heavily compromised by three features he’s laid into the work: 1. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Butter Pecan
This book was a require text for one of my courses. Having read other old Chinese literature, I was worried that this would be dry and difficult to read. This is not the case. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Lauryn Penner
Sometimes being Chinese and a writer would help reading this first book. There are so many characters that it reminds me of reading Russian literature. Read morePublished on June 5, 2014 by C. Eckdall
Roy does a masterful job translating one of the world's first novels. I read it mainly as a straight up book, not spending time delving into the copious and masterful notes. Read morePublished on May 21, 2014 by Andrew J Peterson
Translation quality is good and the comments is enlightening. Reading flows very well. I recommend this to anyone interest in ancient literature.Published on April 22, 2014 by King 55414