Jin Ping Mei: The Fifth Great Classic or Just A Twisted Story?
Jin Ping Mei is a Chinese naturalistic novel composed in the Ming Dynasty. It is the first Chinese vernacular novel, laying a foundation for later creations.
The pseudonym of the novel is Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng ("The Scoffing Gentleman of Lanling"). Lanling is somewhere within present-day Zaozhuang City of Shandong Province. Presumably, the author was from Shandong.
Jin Ping Mei takes its name from the three central female characters - Pan Jinlian (whose name means "Golden Lotus"); Li Ping'er (literally, "Little Vase"), and Peng Chunmei (spring plum blossoms). Set in the late years of the Northern Song Dynasty, the novel depicts a ghost-like world made up of power-monopolizing Grand Mentors in the imperial court, bureaucrats and tyrants in local areas as well as ruffians and hooligans.
Based on the story of “Wu Song killing his sister-in-law“ in Outlaws of the Marsh, the novel portrays the sinful life of Ximen Qing and his family. Ximen Qing is a representative figure of sordid forces in three capacities: bureaucrat, tyrant and wealthy merchant. It exposes the darkness and corruption of the mid-Northern Song Dynasty society. Actually, through describing the situation in the Song Dynasty, the novel reflects the real life of the mid-Ming Dynasty, when power-wielding officials and local despotic gentry colluded with each other to oppress and exploit the people and to obtain illegal gains.
Jin Ping Mei is the first ever independently-created novel in the history of Chinese literature. Since the birth of work, the composition of novels by literati has become a mainstream. Novels before Jin Ping Mei drew materials from historical stories, myth or legends. Jin Ping Mei has broken the tradition by focusing on characters in real life as well as daily domestic life, increasingly boosting the maturity of Chinese realistic literature creation and serving as a necessary exploration and preparation for the later composition of A Dream of Red Mansions.
Jin Ping Mei is called one of “the top four incredible books“ of ancient China along with The Romance of Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh and Journey to the West. The work holds an important status in the history of Chinese literature. Meanwhile, it’s been acclaimed as a work of “great literature value“ by international scholars, who also regard it as a “literature to society“.