Jin Ping Mei (Translated the Plum in the Golden Vase) is a Chinese novel classified as a naturalistic artifact. Naturalism denotes a movement in various cultural dimensions enlisting film, theatre as well as literature that were propagated to function as a form of art replicating a close link of art between the profound realities of day-to-day life. The naturalism movement was in direct contrast to movements like Romanticism and Surrealism, which were in art matters put together and embellished with highly symbolic and impractical artistic presentations. Jin Ping Mei was penned by Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (pseudonym). Renowned Qing critic Zhang Zhupo has called the text “the most exceptional book that still exists under the heavens.”
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The thrust of the paper is focused on taking a multidimensional exploration of the importance of the theme of sexuality threaded in the composition of the novel by Sheng. Satyendra Indira (1993) notes, “Coming after the other great classical; works of literature, the novel by Sheng can be said to be the first full-scale artwork in the stable of Chinese fictional work to portray sexuality in a graphically overt manner.” The scholar likened the novel to other English novels such as Fanny Hill or Lady Chatterley’s Lover in English owing to its sexuality thematic thrust described by the scholar as giving the text notoriety in China akin to some English works like the ones mentioned above.
The novel by Sheng is awash with sexual interludes, which effectively strike a note on the danger of the women’s sexuality as well as on the crucial aspect of excessive and ungoverned sexual activity. (Durham 2003) notes that the novel by Sheng has resonated extensively in the Chinese psyche for centuries citing that its essential critiques are legion. (Durham 2003). The novel has played into the intellectual masculinity of the male readers and commentators in past years, making the issue of whether the text can be categorized as classic or pornographic depend on the sex of the reader.
The forms of obscenity in the novel and generations of readings have more to do with misogynist probity that is communal in varying and different measures in the novel and readers similarly.” (Durham 2003) further notes that neither authorial objective nor textual essence conveys its obscenity to the text. Somewhat; the latter is the combined creation of complicit textual and reading processes’. The scholar claims that the thematic thrust hinged on misogyny is the thread responsible for keeping readers and the novel together over the past years.
The pervading and unrelenting theme of misogyny right through the text has an acute presentation of men’s relations and interactions with their women counterparts as well as with animals characterized by craving, striking cruelty, hatred, and the ruthless application of power which all accumulate to an effective building of the world of Jin Ping Mei. The artistic manipulations and portrayals of women’s sexualities in the next play to the mainstream archetypical motifs of extensive presentations of undying patriarchal social paradigm. Ding Naifei (2003) notes, “The literary and political relations of the hero-villain as well as the licentious woman, the character Yinfu in the text of Ming, Qing, and modern Chin are conscientiously unpacked.”
The motifs accumulated and articulated in Sheng’s novel are relatable to other canonical texts. For instance, the narratives of ‘violence and seduction presented as twin motifs link Jin Ping Mei to The Water Margin, which is an extract from a novel of later times.
One notable episode of the novel is the one that details the seduction of the adulterous Pan Jinlian. The scene is closely tied to a similar episode from the novel Water Margin. Ximen Qing does the hatchet job and murders the husband of Pan, whom he later marries and enjoins her to the legion of his wives. The intertwined plot that borders on various interlaced sexuality themes is literary microcosms of the broad and extensive social issues entrenched in the unraveling Chinese society.
Ding (2006) notes that the plot is aligned to the domestic sexual struggles of the women that live within the Ximen’s clan. This happens as these women jostle for glory and prestige as well as influence in the middle of a plodding diminishing of the Ximen clan. Ding (2006) observes, “There are pervading thematic concerns of suffusing sexuality dealings with the larger social issues entailing matters like the role of women in ancient Chinese society, sexual politics as they also function concurrently as a text of manners and an allegory of corruption in the human family.”
The homosexual intercourse in the novel Jin Ping Mei plays into interpretations of the portrayal of sexual relations used by the author to elucidate the hierarchies of gender, power as well as social status. The narration of the entirety of sexual acts flows with the narration of the plot as a whole.
Carlitz, Katherine (1981) has noted that the relationship between the main character Ximen Qing and his contact Shutong highlights the insignificance of contemporary notions of sexual inclination to the text’s phallocentric rationale. “The two figures are male, yet the offensive and extremely mannish character of the influential libertine contrasts so sharply with the dominated as well as the feminized personality of the object of his evident possessive desire” (Carlitz Katherine 1981). On this note, related comparisons with other novels such as Rouputuan will determine similar thematic presentations.
One other notable part of the text entails the diminishing of the libertine Chen Jingji on the corresponding hierarchies of the desired social status, gender, and the aspect of sexual role. Intertwined in of the thematic concerns of the text enlisting the theme of karmic retribution, Chen loses both his wife and property at the end and eventually gets killed by one of the men he has cuckolded before. Carlitz, Katherine (1981) states, “On the course of the way, he falls from the role of a powerful intruder of other people’s wives to the state of being invaded upon by mere beggars and clergy who he faces and must oblige to in the quest for survival.” The scholar cited above notes that in the foregoing dispensation, Chen Jingji is feminized through the proliferating stresses of the youthful physical aspects with which he can be held as an object of desire against in comparison to other men who are more powerful than he is.
The lucid significance of the thematic sexuality in the composition in the plot of Sheng’s novel depicts that Chen’s loss of grip in the aspects of power and wealth is emphasized by a corresponding and multidimensional loss of his masculinity. “In essence, the text utilizes male homosexuality to frame individuals on the hierarchies of status gender as well as power in a manner clearly independent of sex itself.” The scholar asserts that what is notable in the novel is the pattern that similar hierarchies, as well as the phallocentric logic which arrays them, are notable in the text’s heterosexual interrelations as well, yet in essence, they come out to be in the stark same-sex precincts.
One salient thematic thread intertwined with the pervading thrust on sexuality in Sheng’s novel is the theme of polygamy. It is important to note that the textual and thematic significance of what is presented in the way man treat their wives and vice versa have a significant slot in the complexity of the plot. The author portrays Ximen’s death under the body of the licentious Pan Jinlian as resulting from his failure to heed people’s warnings. Ximen fails to heed the words of warning from the ars erotica who told him that the dominance of women over men I similar to the ability of water to douse the fire. Even the sorcerer informs Ximen that he must avoid excess yin- water. The narrator of the plot steps out in chapter 14 to address the readers. The narrator points out that in the context of ancient eons, the man dominates the outer realms whilst the woman dominates the inner realms; the narrator points out that the reason why women can be capable of destroying a man’s life is due to the protracted ignorance on the part of the man to the feasible and appropriate ways of keeping women under control.
The term ‘control’ in the text and particularly in the extract in the foregoing passages is used both in the ars erotica and fiction conceptualization to denote the meaning of “having intercourse with” whilst McMahon et al. (2003) state that the root denotation of ‘yu’ is to ‘drive’ a chariot and thus to control. Right through Sheng’s Jinping Mei, the illicit and polygamist Ximen is rather ‘ridden’ by the concubine pan Jinlian who is presented as sitting astride over his body as he succumbs to the fatal intake of aphrodisiacs that Pan has accidentally given to him. “to ride’ is the terminology employed in this particular scene yet it has also been used in preceding scenes in the presentation of Pan positioned astride on her former Husband Wu Da when she had poisoned him. What the author has accomplished in the foregoing is the presentation of the Ximen’s failure to understand and employ the art of ‘driving’ presents the man’s failure to be in control of women as individuals in sexual intercourse and both as a grouping. The antics of Ximen are presented in their extremity as the failure to treat women equally in a polygamous setting account for favoritism and thus bigotry.
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Ximen is carved as a handsome yet ill-cultured man who marries women in series not to improve their well beings in any pure sense of the institution of marriage but to selfishly build his own cherished empire within which he can dominate and indulge his ungoverned desires as far as he can go. Mcmahon (Opcit) notes, “As he grew as an orphan, Ximen falls without the borders of a filial structure, he is in effect responsible to no one and as such in a moralistic perspective he is all the more likely to commit any transgressions.” This presents an expanded significance and functionality of the thread of sexuality employed in Sheng’s text compositions.
The abuse of women by Ximen can not be classified as the worst in Chinese fiction as he only goes as far as relating to them will ill-temper. McMahon (Opcit) notes that “Despite the fact that Ximen abuses his women, he does go further to the extremes of kidnapping nor raping them or even brutally injuring them during intercourse.” The scholar notes that Ximen Qing takes good care of his women as long as they do not offend him by sleeping with other men and making laying too many burdens upon him. (McMahon et al., 2003). The foregoing does not necessarily overthrow the significance of his antics in the entirety of the thematic thrust articulated by Sheng in the sexuality thread through his composition in Jin Ping Mei.
In contrast to the main characters carved in the ars erotica, those who are only appearing in the sexuality precincts, Ximen Qing is presented clearly as incapable of depending on his penis. On the part of Ximen Qing, the aspects of wealth and material comfort are presented as what the man uses to marshal power and administer control over women. On the part of the woman, they see a fulfillment of their materialistic ambitions and thus fall into relationships with him. The extreme of this case is illustrated by the case when one a woman would induce a husband to be a willing cuckold.” In the mentality of Ximen Qing, money can purchase moral recompense, as he shows when bragging that he could afford to buy forgiveness from heaven for whatever sins and crimes he commits.”
The classical genre in Chinese literature has been largely hailed for playing into illustrating the death of the imperial system. “The great Chinese pose and dramatic narratives are arguable commentaries on the crippling imperial subterfuge. Historical accounts deal directly with matters of the state while all things fall into either of the two categories illustrating that either extended families which function as symbols for the state or demonstrating in detail specifically the manner in which family matters fitly dovetail along with events of imperial significance. All must thus place either the family unit versus the state or vice versa. In line with the foregoing, Sheng’s novel notably occupies an essential slot in the literary canon of Chinese society. There deciphering of the novel will tap some cues from other text-exterior elements such as the place and time settings of the ensuing plot. The novel is set in an importantly chaotic eon of the Sing Dynasty down in the Qinghe Shandong Province. An application of thematic articulations of the text will argue that the Ximen household with the six housewives headed by degenerate patriarch plays like a microcosm of the entirety of the rotten and corrupt court of the deceased Ming Emperor Jiajijng.
By the end of the narrative, though, symbolism seems to have given way to the calls and demands of history. The end of the plot is notably characterized by the fall of the family led by a sexually impotent man. But the significance of the fall ramifies beyond the scope of the plot of the Jin Ping Mei, and on a macro-scale, the fall signifies the fall of the Northern Song dynasty. Carlitz Katherine (1986) notes that the fall of both the family and the state have emanated from the dissipation of the male headship in a severely diminished set of social factors and circumstances. A closer examination of the thematic thrust heightened by the familial of the fall will show with the presented family, and state declines are causally linked through a complex chain of a cobweb of events in a way, the familial saga and the imperial history of the Chinese society are closely intertwined in the text.
Authors employ various literary objects, concepts, and phenomena, among things, to build and carve their thematic thrusts and arrive at meaningful authorial persuasions. The writer use imagery and symbols with which they launch their attacks or celebration of particulate aspects of society. It can not be argued that the pervading use of sex and the sexuality element if the Ping Jing-Mei was born of the author’s intent to celebrate sexual pleasure through his artistry art. The import of the text by Sheng must be evaluated and regarded as a canonical contribution of much more worth than just a mere presentation and celebration of the pleasure of sex.
Naifei Ding (2002) concurs, “I can not believe that it can be true that it was part of the author’s desire to glorify the pleasure of sex as well as that the sexual acts that are blatantly described by the author which have gotten the novel to remarkable recognition in Chinese and of course world art; are intended.” The scholar enunciates that in a metaphorical drive, the writer has manipulated the sex imagery and acts to attack the object of the ungoverned sexual practices. The author, through a presentation of sexuality thrust, articulates his unmistakable contempt for those who indulge in illicit sexual practice. This sends ramifications to the entirety of the Chinese society dogged with socio-political and economic malaise. The author has manipulated the sexual themes to present how denigrated the society is as he also leverages on this to caricature the paradigm of patriarchy which has marginalized and trivialized women resultantly regarding them as those of second fiddle to their masculine counterparts.
Naifei Ding (2002) notes that “The realms of sexual, economic and political aggrandizement are metaphorically juxtaposed and correlated in the text in such a way that the measured shock worth of the sexual descriptions protrude into spheres and elements of reader’s reaction and relation to them. ” Sex and sexuality have thus been used in text to present an expanded metaphor to achieve an authorial degrading of the human nature and the human nature’s disposition to sex and sexuality. The copious detailing of grotesque sexual conduct corresponds that with the writer’s disdain for the ills and malaise plaguing society from the political, social, and economic paradigms.
“In the perspective of the salient role of the sex symbol in the novel an as well as the immediate cause of Ximen Qing’s demise and his ultimate death, it is decipherable that the narrative thrust on its own must be elaborately suggestive of the recurrence of tumescence as well as ‘detumescence’” (Naifei Ding 2002) The caricaturing of the male’s stimulated phallus described as swelling depicts the author’s artistic acumen and thematic intent.
The author presents and correlation between the concept and of economic and sexual ‘profligacy”. The illicit and transactional sexual practices committed in the attitude of ‘getting and spending’ play much to the negative characterization of both men and women. These, in turn, become symbolic representations of the decadence of the entire society. The concept of overspending is presented in the existent or surmised correlation between money on the economic front and seamen on the sexual front. Women are represented as the enervating element of society, reinforcing the propagation that a feasible way around tapping the merits of sexual life is to nourish oneself with sex and not indulge. This runs parallel to the theme of economic profligacy awash in the course of the plot of the novel.
The text is coherently knit with deliberate associations between sex and imagery. The text is also awash with puns that allude to sex in the past and in the future whilst also enlisting the consequences of sex. The use of songs to allude to sex in the past or future and also its consequences are used to reinforce the building of thematic concerns intended by the author.
There is a pervading use of the figurative use of the body that is intertwined with a consistent correlation between sexual imagery and politics. The denigrated state of the society presented through the portrayal of extreme sexual indulgencies archives the literary effect through a persistent correlation between the sexual imagery to the economy.
The bodily blockages are used as a metaphor to represent the accumulation of wealth in the capital, causing destruction, whilst the depletion of human body resources is analogous to the emperor’s needless spending of the country’s resources. The pervading societal decadence is presented as a significant form of implicating heavenly punishment as a result of overindulgence in sex. The novel is marked at the end by the inevitable demise and ultimate deaths of significant characters.
What is also significant to note on the aspect of the death of the key character is the manner in which they die or rather the causes of their deaths. Pan Jinlian’s maid’s died due to sexual exhaustion despite her rise to wealth. This presents the authorial connotational implication that the pursuit and accomplishment of anything are worthless if its achievement undermines the values of human life. Ximen’s Qing’s mistress Wang Liu’er’s also dies. Ximen Qing’s first son dies in a scenario linked to Ximen’s own death. The author has gone to great lengths to reinforce the theme of ultimate societal and social demise culminating from the relegation of human values which have been sacrificed on the altar of indulgence in political, economic spheres as symbolized by pervading sexual ‘profligacy’ and carnality on the text.
The recurrent themes that charge the novel’s conclusion with somber and profound ambiances of pessimism and nihilism coalesce from the pervading crumbling of the family and societal structures. What comes out more prominently is the authorial employ of the loss of posterity as the signal of ultimate retribution. The author juxtaposes the similarities between Guange and Xiaoge suggests Xiaoge’s departure as loss of posterity as retribution rather than religious redemption. The death of Qing’s son may be deciphered to represent the death of the society, which is losing the active members of its populace, symbolizing its lack of posterity and social sustenance as another signal of retribution and ultimate demise by extension. The fact that Dai’an cannot be considered as a vessel that continues the family line comes as a reinforcement of the foregoing. This is further illumined by Ming’s attitudes toward adoption and the Confucian stress on filial piety.
Naifei Ding (2002) presents how the thematic concerns of the novel, with particular emphasis on the themes of patriarchy (which implies women marginalization), relate to aspects of modern society, which in the scholar’s perception is still structured in line with the relics of the male-dominance framework of human relations. Earlier explorations of the composition and thematic fabric of the text by Sheng have been particularly traditional and monistic. Literary analyses by Dign (2002) present a fresh and dynamic thrust at exposing preconception and of the misconception of earlier interpretations and evaluations of the text.
Ding illuminates the principal misogyny innate in Jing Ping Mei and illustrates how conventional prejudices, specifically the way masculine preconceptions, have been perpetuated in influencing the conceptual models of modern and contemporary criticisms and sexuality politics. Ding’s textual land literary evaluations have gone beyond the textual conceptual confines of the import of Sheng’s authorial intent. Ding has looked at multiple approaches to the interpretation of the story by also critiquing existing criticisms and evaluations by other twentieth-century scholars. Any attempts to evaluate the sexuality thrust manipulation and employ in Jing Ping Mei will receive significant light from the works of Ding (2002). The critic has confronted the gender politics of the canonical novel shaking precincts of the pre-modern and contemporary textual interpretations by drawing from the remnant and emergent Chinese social (gender) and societal hierarchic philosophies and ideology paradigms.
Beyond providing valuable nuances upon which to leverage feminism, Jing Ping Mei will always be celebrated in Chinese, Asian and global literary canons of its thrust on the politics and sexuality and the politics of sexuality as well as social structure studies.
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Carlitz, Katherine. “Codes and Correspondences in Jin Ping Mei.” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 8.1/2 (1986): 7-18.
Gu, Ming Dong. Chinese Theories of Fiction: A Non-Western Narrative System. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.
Satyendra, Indira. “Metaphors of the Body: The Sexual Economy of the Chin P’ing Mei ts’u- hua.” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 15 (1993): pp. 85-97.
Naifei Ding, “Obscene Things: The sexual Politics In Jin Ping Mei”, Duke University Press, (2002), NYK, pp 39-43.
Durham F, “Jing Ping Mei and Patriarch Relic”, Oak Books , New York, pp, 42-62.