03 March 2011

The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Jinpingmei (pinyin Romanization, as opposed to the Wade-Giles system in which the text below has been translated), is a multivalent wordplay, taking parts of the names of three central female characters to form a close homonym to "The Glamor of Entering the Vagina." I have chosen a excerpt from Chapter 6 and reproduced some of the notes at the end.

Hsi-men Ch'ing too the p'i-p'a [balloon guitar] down from the wall, lifted the woman onto his lap, and watched her as she placed the instrument on her knees:
    Deftly extended her slender fingers,
    Gently manipulated the icy strings,
and played a languid accompaniment as she sang a song to the tune "Liang-t'ou nan":
    [...]
  When Hsi-men Ch'ing heard this he was so delighted he scarcely knew what to do with himself.
  Putting an arm around her powdered neck, he gave her a kiss as he praised her performance, saying, "Darling, whoever would have thought you were as smart as all that? Not one of the singing girls I've known in the streets and alleys of the licensed quarter can play or sing as well as you do."
  "After all you've done for me," laughed the woman, "I'm content, for the present, to be:
    Obedient to your every whim.
Just be sure you don't forget me in the future."
  Hsi-men Ch'ing pinched her cheeks and said, "How could I ever forget you, darling?"
  The two of them were:
    Entranced by the clouds and intoxicated by the rain,
    Laughing and joking at each other's expense.
After a while Hsi-men Ch'ing took off one of her embroidered shoes, held it in his hand while he put a little cup of wine in it, and then drank a "shoe cup" for the fun of it.
  "My feet aren't as small as all that," said the woman. "Don't make fun of me, sir."
  It wasn't long before the two of them began to feel the effects of the wine, whereupon they closed the door of the room, took off their clothes, got into bed, and began to play with each other.
  Dame Wang put the crossbar on the front door and joined Ying-erh in the kitchen, where they made short work of the leftovers.
  The two lovers in the upstairs room:
    tumbled and tossed like male and female phoenixes,
    As inseparable as fish from water,
As they gave themselves over completely to pleasure. the woman's mastery of the arts of the bedchamber was equal to that of any prostitute, and she pulled out all the stops in her endeavors to please her partner. Hsi-men Ch'ing, too, was on his mettle and eager to:
    Display his spearmanship,
to best advantage.
    A woman of beauty and a man of talent,
    Both of them were in the prime of life.
There is a poem that describes the picture they presented:

 In the seclusion of the nuptial chamber
  the pillow and mat are cool;
 The man of talent and woman of beauty
  approach the climax of their game.
 No sooner have they embarked on "dipping the
  red candle upside down";*
 Than they suddenly switch to "punting
  the boat at night."**
 Rifling its fragrance, "the butterfly nibbles at
  the calyx of the flower";***
 Sporting with the water, "the dragonfly
  darts, now high, now low."
 When pleasure reaches its height passions are
  intense, and feelings know no bounds;
 As the mouth of the "divine turtle"
  disgorges its "silvery stream."****

That day Hsi-men Ch'ing dallied in the woman's house until evening fell. As he was about to go home he left behind a few pieces of loose silver to take care of her expenses. The woman did her best to keep him a while longer, but to no avail. Hsi-men Ch'ing put on his eye shades, walked out the door and departed. After the woman had taken down the blind, closed the front door, and drunk a little more wine with Dame Wang,they went their separate ways. Truly:
    Lingering at the door she saw young Master Liu
      upon his way;
    Amid the misty waters and the peach blossoms he was soon lost to sight.

* "Dipping the candle upside down" is a metaphoric expression for vaginal intercourse with the woman on top. It is mentioned in San-pao t'ai-chien Hsi-yang chi t'ung-su yen-i, vol. 1 ch 32, p.412, 1.7; and Jou p'u-t'uan (The carnal prayer mat), by Li Yü (1610-80) pref. dated 1657, 4 chüan (Japanese ed. of 1705),
chüan, 1, ch. 3, p.22a, 1.8. See The Carnal Prayer Mat, trans. Patrick Hanan (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990) p. 42 1. 13. It recurs in the Chin P'ing Mei tz'u-hua, vol. 4, ch. 72, p. 18b, 1.2; and ch. 79, p. 16a, 11. 6-7. The last reference is particularly significant since it is one of the acts that precipitates Hsi-men Ch'ings's death from sexual exhaustion.
** "Punting the boat at night" is the name of a lyric tune as well as a metaphoric expression for intercourse with the man on top of the woman, with his weight on his knees and wrists, while the woman's legs are raised and knees flexed so that her lover's abdomen rests on the backs of her thighs. For an illustration of this posture, accompanied by a lyric to this tune, see the erotic album Hua-ying chin-chen (Variegated position of the flowery battle) (Hang-chou: Yang-hao chai, c. 1610) fac. repr. in R.H. Van Gulik, Erotic Colour Prints of the Ming Period with An Essay on Chinese Sex Life from the Han to the Ch'ing Dynasty, B.C. 206-A.D. 1644, 3 vols., 1951 (reprinted Koninklijke Brill NV: Leiden, The Netherlands, 2004), 3:2a and 2b. The picture is described and the lyric translated in ibid., 1:210.
*** The butterfly nibbles at the calyx of the flower" is probably a metaphorical reference to cunnilingus. See Van Gulik, Erotic Colour Prints of the Ming Period, 1:190-91 and plate XIV.
**** The term "divine turtle" is a standard euphemism for the penis. The expression "silvery stream," the literal meaning of which is "clear stream," in the context of this poem refers unmistakably to semen, but it also puns with another compound that means "copper cash." Taking the pun into consideration, this line could, therefore, be rendered "The eye of the urethra disgorges copper cash, or filthy lucre." This is but one of many hints scattered throughout the novel that the author perceives a symbolic interchangeability between money and semen. In this way the sexual transactions for which the novel is so notorious are symbolically equated with the economic, political, and spiritual transactions that also play such a conspicuous part in the narrative.

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