The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P'ing Mei: Volume Two: The Rivals available in Paperback
In this second of a planned five-volume series, David Roy provides a complete and annotated translation of the famous Chin P'ing Mei, an anonymous sixteenth-century Chinese novel that focuses on the domestic life of His-men Ch'ing, a corrupt, upwardly mobile merchant in a provincial town, who maintains a harem of six wives and concubines. This work, known primarily for its erotic realism, is also a landmark in the development of narrative art--not only from a specifically Chinese perspective but in a world-historical context.
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. Although its importance in the history of Chinese narrative has long been recognized, the technical virtuosity of the author, which is more 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.
About the Author
David Tod Roy (1933–2016) was professor emeritus of Chinese literature at the University of Chicago. His monumental five-volume translation of the Chin P'ing Mei was completed in 2013.
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Volume Two: The Rivals
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2001 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWU YÜEH-NIANG SWEEPS SNOW IN ORDER TO BREW TEA; YING PO-CHÜEH RUNS ERRANDS ON BEHALF OF FLOWERS
Troubled in her sorrowing heart, she murmurs to herself, "This good affinity has turned out to be a bad affinity." In retrospect she rails against that "willow" in the quarter; Though shamefaced to confront the "lotus" of the Jade Well. Only because his spring dalliance has been carelessly revealed, Have the phoenix mates been forced to go their separate ways. Who is able to dip up the waters of the River of Heaven, That they may wash their former sins completely away?
THE STORY GOES that by the time Hsi-men Ch'ing returned home from the quarter it was already the second watch. When the page boys had succeeded in getting someone to open the front door he dismounted and:
Trampling the scattered fragments of alabaster and jade, made his way as far as the inner gate which led into the rear compound. He found the gate standing half open though there was:
Not a human sound to be heard, from the courtyard within. From his mouth no word was uttered, but In his heart he thought to himself, "There's something strange about this."
Thereupon Hsi-men Ch'ing stealthily took up a position behind the whitewashed spirit screen just inside the gate in order to see what was up. No sooner hadhe done so than he saw Hsiao-yü come out and set up a table in the courtyard beneath the loggia that ran along one side.
It so happens that Wu Yüeh-niang, ever since the falling out with her husband that had resulted in their no longer being on speaking terms with each other, had been in the habit of fasting on the seventh, seventeenth, and twenty-seventh days of each month. On these occasions she would pay obeisance to the dipper and burn incense at night, praying to Heaven that it would protect her husband and grant him an early change of heart so that he could devote himself to the regulation of the household and the begetting of an heir in order to accomplish:
The plan of a lifetime.
Hsi-men Ch'ing was quite unaware of this. He continued to look on as Hsiao-yü finished setting out the incense table. Before long Yüeh-niang emerged from her quarters, carefully attired, and proceeded into the courtyard where she ignited a full censer of incense.
Looking up at the sky and making a deep bow she prayed, "Your humble servant, n&eeacute;e Wu, has been joined in wedlock with Hsi-men Ch'ing. However, because my husband is enamored of the 'mist and flowers'; though yet in the prime of life, he remains without an heir. Wife and concubines, there are six of us in all, but none of us has borne a child, so that we lack anyone to continue the care and worship of the ancestral graves. Day and night I worry about this lest we be left with no recourse. Therefore, without my husband's knowledge, I have sworn an oath that on the seventh, seventeenth, and twenty-seventh of each month, beneath the moon and stars, I shall offer up a prayer to the 'three luminaries,' beseeching them to protect my husband and grant him an early change of heart, that he may abandon his extravagant ways and devote himself wholeheartedly to family affairs. That one of his six consorts, no matter which, should soon bear him a son, in order to accomplish:
The plan of a lifetime, is my sincerest wish." Truly:
As she slips out of her chamber the night air is cool; Fragrant mist fills the courtyard, the moon glimmers bright. Bowing to Heaven, she spills out all her heartfelt desires; Quite unaware that anyone might be listening beyond the wall.
Nothing might have happened if Hsi-men Ch'ing had not overheard this, but having heard Yüeh-niang's prayer:
From his mouth no word was uttered, but In his heart he thought to himself,
"It turns out I've been mistaken in my resentment toward her all this time. Everything she said was inspired by concern for my welfare. She and I really are husband and wife after all."
Suiting action to words, he strode out from behind the whitewashed spirit screen and embraced Yüeh-niang. His wife, who had just finished with the incense burning and never expected him to show up on such a snowy night, was so startled that her first impulse was to flee back to her room. But Hsi-men Ch'ing prevented this by embracing her with both arms.
"Darling," he said, "I had absolutely no idea that you've really been inspired by concern for me. I've been wrong about you all this time I've been giving you the cold shoulder. By now, I'm afraid, it's rather late to repent."
"You must have lost your way in the snow," said Yüeh-niang. "I dare say these really aren't the quarters you're looking for, anyway. You're barking up the wrong tree. I'm that 'undutiful whore,' remember. Since there's nothing between us, where do you get that stuff about concern for you? What reason should you have to pay any further attention to me? If we were never to see each other again:
For a thousand years or all eternity, it would be all right with me.
Hsi-men Ch'ing took Yüeh-niang by the hand and pulled her into the room where he proceeded to look her over by lamplight. She was wearing her usual attire: a scarlet jacket of Lu-chou silk that opened down the middle, and a skirt of a soft yellow material. On her head she wore a sable toque over her chignon and, in front of her coiffure, a tiara of gold representing "Kuan-yin in her full glory," setting off to perfection:
Her silver salver face, modeled in plaster, carved of jade; The clouds over Ch'u peaks, her cicada chignon and raven tresses.
How could Hsi-men Ch'ing have been anything but captivated?
Without further ado, he made a deep bow before Yüeh-niang, saying, "I, Hsi-men Ch'ing, have been so deluded for a time that I have failed to heed your sound advice and flouted your good intentions. Truly:
Though I have eyes I have failed to identify the 'Jade of the Ch'u Mountains'; And have treated it as though it were no more than an ordinary stone. It is after the event that one recognizes a gentleman; Then and only then does the good man become known.
All I can do is hope that you'll forgive me."
"I'm not the one you've set your heart on," said Yüeh-niang. "No matter what I do, I don't seem to be able to suit your fancy. Since when did I ever offer you any sound advice? Just leave me alone in my room here to:
Fend for myself.
There's no need for you to pay any attention to me. There isn't room for you in here, anyway. You'd better get out of here before I have the maids throw you out."
A bellyful of anger,
out of the blue today," said Hsi-men Ch'ing, "and came home through the snow just to tell you about it."
"Whether you get angry or not is no concern of mine," said Yüeh-niang. "Far be it from me to try to control your conduct. Why don't you go tell it to someone who does?"
When Hsi-men Ch'ing saw that Yüeh-niang refused to give him so much as a look, he bent his knees, adopted the posture of a dwarf, and knelt down on the ground before her.
Sticking out his neck like a chicken on the chopping block,
he began to plead with her, saying, "Darling this," and, "Darling that."
Yüeh-niang could abide it no longer and said, "If you're really going to carry on that shamelessly, I'll call the maid."
As good as her word, she called out for Hsiao-yü.
When Hsi-men Ch'ing saw Hsiao-yü coming in, he promptly leapt to his feet and, casting about for an excuse to get her out of the room, said, "The snow outside must have covered the incense table by now. Why don't you go bring it inside?"
"I've already brought it in," said Hsiao-yü.
Yüeh-niang couldn't help laughing. "What a shameless character," she said. "Even the maids have to put up with your barefaced effrontery."
Hsiao-yü went out and Hsi-men Ch'ing once again got down on his knees to plead with his wife.
"If I didn't care for the opinion of the world," said Yüeh-niang, "it would serve you right if I paid you no heed for another hundred years." Only after this speech did Yüeh-niang consent to sit down with her husband and order Yü-hsiao to serve him some tea. Hsi-men Ch'ing thereupon told her the whole story, how that day, after the meeting of the club at Ch'ang Shih-chieh's place had broken up, he had allowed himself to be persuaded by Ying Po-chüeh and the others to pay a visit to the Li family establishment, and how, thus and so, they had gotten into an altercation.
"I had the page boys tear the Li place apart," he said. "If the others hadn't intervened, I would have done worse. I've sworn an oath never to cross the threshold of the quarter again."
"Whether you go there or not is no concern of mine," said Yüeh-niang. "I wouldn't presume to tell such a simpleton what to do. But as long as you're shelling out the hard cash to maintain her as your mistress, if you don't even bother to visit her, you can be sure she'll manage to take on someone else. Where people in that profession are concerned:
You can tie up their bodies, but You can't tie up their hearts.
Do you really think you can put your seal on her and make it stick?"
"What you say is true enough," said Hsi-men Ch'ing.
Thereupon, he started to undress, sent the maids out of the room, and proposed to go to bed with Yüeh-niang and seek his pleasure with her.
"If I let you into the kitchen, You'll only make a pig of yourself,"
said Yüeh-niang. "It's concession enough if I allow you into my bed tonight. If you've got anything else in mind, forget it."
Hsi-men Ch'ing responded by exposing his organ to Yüeh-niang.
"It's all your doing," he joked. "You've made him so angry he's having a dumbstruck fit."
"What do you mean 'he's having a dumbstruck fit'?" demanded Yüeh-niang.
"If he's not having a dumbstruck fit," said Hsi-men Ch'ing, "how come his eye is bulging so wide, but he can't get a word out?"
"You must be delirious," responded Yüeh-niang. "What makes you think I've got even half an eye for the likes of you?"
At this point Hsi-men Ch'ing:
Without permitting any further explanation,
lifted Yüeh-niang's two fresh white legs onto his shoulders, inserted his organ into her vagina, and gave free rein to:
The oriole's abandon and the butterfly's pursuit. Entranced by the clouds and intoxicated by the rain, They are not yet willing to call a halt.
Truly, it is a case of:
Among the crab apple boughs, orioles dart quickly to and fro; Between the halcyon hued rafters, swallows parley incessantly.
Before they knew it they arrived at that stage in which:
The transfusing touch of the magic rhinoceros horn Produces a pleasure that cannot be exceeded. Her musky tongue is partially protruded, The fragrance of her rouge pervades his lips.
When Hsi-men Ch'ing's excitement was at its height he softly besought Yüeh-niang to call him "Daddy." Yüeh-niang accordingly:
Beneath lowered curtains, on their shared pillow, Responded as voluptuously as anyone could ask, calling him "Darling" without cease.
That night the two of them indulged:
The passions evoked by clouds and rain, Joining their heads and twining their necks, within the bed curtains. Truly: When feelings converge, one is apt to forget what happens to a brocade girdle; When overcome by excitement, who cares about the dropping of a golden hairpin?
There is a poem that testifies to this:
Coiffure in disarray, hairpins askew, she is deeply stirred; Her passions in full sway, she dreads the interminable night. At evening, all alone, she stands before her dressing mirror; Not bothering to paint her eyebrows into pale spring peaks.
That evening husband and wife enjoyed themselves together. But no more of this.
To resume our story, the next day, bright and early in the morning, Meng Yü-lou paid a visit to P'an Chin-lien's quarters. Before going in she called out, "Is that slavey, Number Six, up yet?"
"Mother's just gotten up. She's doing her hair," said Ch'un-mei. "Won't you come in and sit down, Third Lady?"
Meng Yü-lou went inside and found Chin-lien sitting in front of her dressing mirror combing her fragrant clouds of hair.
"I've come to tell you about something that's happened," she said. "Do you know about it yet?" "In an out-of-the-way corner like this," said Chin-lien, "how would I ever hear about anything? Really, what's up?"
"When Father got home last night during the second watch," said Yü-lou, "he went into the master suite and made it up with Mistress Wu. He spent the night in her room."
"We tried so hard to persuade her," said Chin-lien, "and she kept repeating that she'd never make it up with him in a hundred or two hundred years. Now she's wantonly taken the initiative by foisting herself upon him without any further urging."
"I only found out about it this morning," said Yü-lou. "My senior maid, Lan-hsiang, overheard the page boys talking about it in the kitchen. It seems that yesterday Father and Ying the Second were having a drink at Li Kuei-chieh's house in the quarter when they caught the whore out at something and smashed the place to pieces. He came home through the snow in high dudgeon and when he reached the inner gate found the First Lady burning night incense. He must have overheard something that brought about a reconciliation between them.
"According to her maid, the two of them talked away the night together. She said Father got down on his knees to the First Lady, calling her 'Mother,' and that the First Lady herself put on such a show it was enough to give you the creeps. I guess if she chooses to carry on that way there's nothing more to be said about it. But if it had been anyone else, you can be sure she would have been ticked off for her wantonness."
"It's lucky for her she's a principal wife," said Chin-lien, picking up where Yü had left off. "Who knows what she's capable of?"
She's such a practiced old hand.
If you're going to burn night incense you ought to do your praying silently. Whoever heard of making a performance out of it only in order to attract your husband's attention? The very idea! Without any urging, to go and make it up with your husband on the sly. It would have been more becoming of her to tough it out with him. She's forever hypocritically protesting her own virtue."
"It's not just a case of hypocritically protesting her own virtue," said Yü-lou. "She really wanted to make it up with him, but couldn't bring herself to admit it. She may have claimed to be:
A crazy wife who will never give in,
but that was only because she was afraid that if she allowed us to intercede we might:
Engage in idle tittle-tattle,
at her expense after the fact, saying that, 'when the two of you had that altercation it was only thanks to our intervention that you were reconciled.' Instead of which, the one of them happened to come home in high dudgeon from the quarter just when the other was burning night incense. A perfect coincidence! Truly:
In seeking a match they dispensed with both go-between and witness; Secretly tying their love-knot together all by themselves.
"Right now you and I must contrive some way to prevent her from hogging all the credit. As soon as you've done with your hair, go tell Li P'ing-erh about it. If the two of us each come up with five mace of silver, we ought to be able to get Li P'ing-erh to contribute a tael, since she was the occasion of the whole to-do in the first place. Then we can throw a party today. On the one hand, it will give us a chance to offer a toast to the couple, and on the other hand, it will provide a fitting occasion for the master and mistress of the household to appreciate the snow and enjoy themselves for a day. Why not?"
"You're right," responded Chin-lien. "I wonder if Father has any prior commitments today."
"During a heavy snow like this, what commitments could he have?" said Yü-lou. "When I came over here the two of them hadn't even stirred. The door to the master suite had just been opened and Hsiao-yü was taking in the water."
Chin-lien hastily finished doing her hair and accompanied Yü-lou over to Li P'ing-erh's quarters. They found her still in bed.
"The Third Lady and the Fifth Lady have come to see you," Ying-ch'un reported.
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Table of Contents
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS xi
CAST OF CHARACTERS xv
Wu Yueh-niang Sweeps Snow in Order to Brew Tea; Ying Po-chueh Runs Errands on Behalf of Flowers 3
Hsi-men Ch'ing Secretly Seduces Lai-wang's Wife; Ch'un-mei Self-righteously Denounces Li Ming 30
Yu-hsiao Acts as Lookout by Yueh-niang's Chamber; Chin-lien Eavesdrops outside Hidden Spring Grotto 43
Ching-chi Flirts with a Beauty on the Lantern Festival; Hui-hsiang Angrily Hurls Abuse at Lai-wang's Wife 62
Hsueh-o Secretly Divulges the Love Affair; Lai-wang Drunkenly Vilifies Hsi-men Ch'ing 80
Lai-wang Is Sent under Penal Escort to Hsu-chou; Sung Hui-lien Is Shamed into Committing Suicide 100
Li P'ing-erh Communicates a Secret in the Kingfisher Pavilion; P'an Chin-lien Engages in a Drunken Orgy under the Grape Arbor 127
Ch'en Ching-chi Teases Chin-lien a out a Shoe; Hsi-men Ch'ing Angrily Beats Little Iron Rod 150
Immortal Wu Physiognomizes the Exalted and the Humble; P'an Chin-lien Enjoys a Midday Battle in the Bathtub 166
Lai-pao Escorts the Shipment of Birthday Gifts; Hsi-men Ch'ing Begets a Son and Gains an Office 194
Ch'in-t'ung Conceals a Flagon after Spying on Yu-hsiao; Hsi-men Ch'ing Holds a Feast and Drinks Celebratory Wine 214
Li Kuei-chieh Adopts a Mother and Is Accepted as a Daughter; Ying Po-chueh Cracks Jokes and Dances Attendance on Success 242
Ch'en Ching-chi Loses His Keys and Is Distrained to Sing; Han Tao-kuo Liberates His Wife to Compete for Admiration 261
Shu-t'ung Relies upon His Favor to Broker Affairs; P'ing-an Harbors Resentment and Wags His Tongue 282
Harboring Resentment Hsi-men Ch'ing Punishes P'ing-an; Playing a Female Role Shu-t'ung Entertains Hangers-on 309
Chai Ch'ien Sends a Letter Asking for a Young Girl; Hsi-men Ch'ing Patronizes Principal Graduate Ts'ai 345
Old Mother Feng Urges the Marriage of Han Ai-chieh; Hsi-men Ch'ing Espouses Wang Liu-erh as a Mistress 360
Hsi-men Ch'ing Su jects Trickster Han to the Third Degree; P'an Chin-lien on a Snowy Evening Toys with Her P'i-p'a 382
Hsi-men Ch'ing Holds Chiao Rites at the Temple of the Jade Emperor; Wu Yueh-niang Listens to Buddhist Nuns Reciting Their Sacred Texts 404
Holding Her Boy in Her Arms Li P'ing-erh Curries Favor; Dressing Up as a Maidservant Chin-lien Courts Affection 438
Translations of Supplementary Material 453
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The second volume in this work deals with Hsi-Men Ch'ing's household after he has added his two latest wives P'an Chin-lien and Li P'ing-erh. The main thread going through this part of the novel is P'an Chin-lien's maleficent influence on the household and especially her growing envy of Li P'ing-erh, who quickly becomes pregnant with Hsi-Men Ch'ings only son. Li P'ing-erh herself fades into the background somewhat in this volume, compliantly fitting in to the household. There are also all sorts of corrupt business and official dealings and more sexual hanky-panky from Hsi-me Ch'ing, who is seemingly never satisfied with his bevy of wives. There are beatings, suicides, underhand business dealings, corrupt justice, obsequious bribes and gift-giving aplenty. Hsi-Men Ch'ing is a bit like a classical Chinese Tony Soprano, a sexually voracious bully at the height of his power. One of the distinctive things about this book are the couplets, poems and quotes from popular songs (of the day) which intersperse the prose. These have been rendered well by David Tod Roy, with erudite notes. Although the sourcing is meticulous, as a non-Chinese scholar I would have preferred a bit more discussion in the notes. It is however a tiny quibble. Another very useful adjunct is an annotated glossary of characters in the book -- there are very many and the names can be unfamiliar. This book took me a while to read, though the chapters are not too long. The ending of the book is a bit inconclusive, but then it is chapters 21-40 of a hundred chapters so it is not surprising.