…At The Grindstones

{August 1, 2010}   Chin P’ing Mei- The Plum in the Golden Vase

Last night when the internet died, I sat down and finally read the last of the 3 volumes of Chin P’ing Mei that I’ve been reading .. for.. longer than I should have been. They were rather difficult to lug around but I did, back and forth on the subway and out and about.

I really learned a lot from these, I was thrown into that time really, the sights, sounds scents all described, and a LOT of intense emotion: violence, war, war with nature, corporal punishment, BDSM, polygamy, foods, fruits, festivals, life, death, sex and SO MUCH POETRY and song in every chapter. It was very rich and I’m sure if I read it again in the future when I know more about China I will take more away from it.

Where to start, I really don’t know how to review this. Honestly I know a lot must be lost in translation and lost on me. But some of the poetry and imagery and finery within it was so beautiful and so passionate and overwhelming that I’d nee a break. I am fully aware of the fact that there are technically two more volumes en route or out there somewhere that I haven’t read.

Here are what I was lugging around though:

It’s essentially the tracing of the life of a man, a man who lives his life.. in excess you might say. Something like a rock star now but in that time, an official or governor who was born into some wealth and gained some titles as well. Hsi-men Ch’ing is his name, he inherits a pharmaceutical business actually. He has three principal wives from which the title is taken.. which I guess has a play on the words which is quite sexual.. It also translates as The Plum in the Golden Vase. Here’s the wiki article:


Which also states that only recently has the book been looked at as literature as opposed to pornography as there are scenes of graphic and BDSM related sex in the books. The book traces the stages of the main characters life and the sections are titled:

The Gathering, The Rivals, The Aphrodisiac (The one’s I read)

.. and all that has been published up to 2006. It’s quite a lot to translate, and I am not sure what the titles of the future 2 volumes will be, but to the point where I am now, Ximen Qing (another way of writing his name) has accumulated his main wives, and a powerful sexual drug which contributes to his downfall. I guess he ends up dying at the age of 33 of sexual excess.

Because of the amount of characters in this it can be quite difficult to follow. In the versions I read the translator uses the word “fuck” quite a bit and I can see that throwing people off as it did me at first.  It works in the scenes where it is present, because so many of the emotions and the drama and the scenery and the language is to the extreme in this. There are so many characters whose lives you follow completely, or who duck in an out, that the author will go out of their way to catch you up on, or describe, and the dialogues are fantastic, the wisdom, the cattiness between wives, the gratefulness, the rage, in looking back on the three volumes now, even though parts were dry, a few parts had me teary eyed, a few parts had me extremely excited and inspired, and there are many funeral scenes which, with Kubler-Ross’ work fresh in mind I could look at from the best perspectives and the most human angles and… well, I could go on.

The problem now is, I have to wait for the next two volumes to really tackle it as a “work”, though I have come a long way through it and as I said before, learned so much in this path of learning and depositing myself into the human mind of ancient China so-to-speak, as I did with the Egyptians, two of the earliest groups to invent writing, documentation and history. I really love these kinds of pieces, which aren’t solely for royalty, because you get so many mind sets, opinions and angles that a decree may not have, plainly stating and yet celebrating the strengths and weaknesses, downfalls and rewards that only we have even if some of it is a little nutty.  I can say that to my knowledge, there is no reality TV that can hold a candle to this work.

I’ll be posting more poetry from these first few volumes throughout the fall, and will soon be discussing some of the funeral scenes and comparing those to some Egyptian scenes as they were of particular interest to me. I wish I could get into more detail right now but if I start I won’t be able to stop and will be unable to break it own into manageable bites. I’m sure some of  you know that I have problems with that sometimes, especially when I get excited…



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