Basically Evil

Brad Leithauser

  • The Plum in the Golden Vase or Chin P’ing Mei. Vol I: The Gathering translated by David Tod Roy
    Princeton, 610 pp, £24.95, December 1993, ISBN 0 691 06932 8

From the outset, ambiguity enfolds The Plum in the Golden Vase, David Tod Roy’s translation of the first volume of the monumental 16th-century Chinese novel Chin P’ing Mei. The title, as he explains in his Introduction, is a ‘multiple pun’ composed of one ideogram each from the names of the three principal female protagonists. It translates literally as Gold Vase Plum. It also ‘puns with three near homophones that might be rendered as the Glamour of Entering the Vagina’. Racy the book certainly is. How one ought to respond to its raciness, however – specifically, to the sexual conquests of its insatiable hero, Hsi-men Ch’ing – remains, like so much else within its pages, open to question.

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