How dull to have a gun and not shoot. Guns should be fired.

Fu Yuli / Nicky Harman

Plum in the Golden Vase: More Topical than Ever?

When the first volume of The Plum in the Golden Vase [金瓶梅] came out in 1994 the Roy translation was received with rapturous applause. Over the following 19 years, the novel has become more topical by the year. In that time, erotic fiction has come to inhabit a position of near-total dominance in the publishing industry, basically paying for all the rest of fiction, and the rise of China has made everybody who reads the newspapers familiar with figures of corruption in Imperial — excuse me, Communist Party — circles.

I’ve been reading about Hsi-Men Ch’ing for years. His name has been Zhang Shugang and Jiang Jiemin and Bo Xilai. Just today it was revealed that one of the major causes of the condo boom in Beijing is the need to house so many mistresses — a fact that could have come straight from the Chin Ping Mei. The book is 400 years old, but its moment is right now.


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