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Jin Ping Mei (The Golden Lotus)

Jin Ping Mei is the first novel composed entirely by a scholar It isthought to have been completed during Wan Li's reign of the MingDynasty. The author's name was given as Lanling-xiao-xiao-sheng (alaughing scholar from Lanling). Lanling is today's Feng County inShandong Province. The novel adopted a great deal of colloquial termsof Shangdong, therefore the author should be a native of that province,but his real name remains unknown.

In the late Ming Dynasty, the ruling class grew more and moredecadent and moribund, and social morality declined. A number of worksreflecting the decay of society appeared at that time, including Jin PingMei. The novel draws its subject matter from a story in Outlaws of theMarsh, which tells about how Wu Song kills his wicked sister-in-law toavenge his brother. By describing the rise to wealth and power and theSudden death of a local despot Ximen Qing, the novel portrays an evilworld dominated by the decadent ruling class and the urban scum, andexposes these people's hideous natures. Ximen Qing lives a rotten life:although he has already a wife and two concubines. he stilldevelops immoral relationships with Meng Yulou, Pan Jinlian and LiPing'er, later taking them all as concubines. Moreover, he seduces andhas an illicit affair with his slave girl, Chunmei. The novel also describeshow Ximen Qing colludes with Prime Minister Cai Jing and other officialsin cruelly oppressing and exploiting the common people. By describingXimen Qing's evil deeds, the author exposes quite comprehensively thesordid reality of the late Ming Dynasty and the dissipated lives of theruling class. The many major characters are vividly and deftly portrayed:the shameless Ximen Qing, the coquettish Pan Jinlian and the subservientYing Bojue are all remarkably true to life. The novel is exquisitelystructured with the complex plot strictly ordered and organized. Thedetailed descriptions of folk customs and practices in the novel are ofgreat value for folklore studies. The original artistic feature of Jin PingMei exerted a strong influence on the fiction of later time-for example,A Dream of Red Mansions was influenced greatly by it in subject matterand descriptive details. But the excessive pornographic descriptions inJin Ping Mei seriously compromise its aesthetic value and set a badprecedent for the creation of pornographic novels in later periods.

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