Jinpingmei 金瓶梅 "Plums in a Golden Vase"
The title of this novel, first published in 1617, is taken from the surnames and names of three characters. It is an anonymous and very complex and sophisticated account of the life of a political parvenu named Ximen Qing 西门庆 at the end of the Northern Song Dynasty 北宋. The whole work is written by one single author, although there could be some parts of other provenience, and was said to be a work of pornography, Buddhist morality, naturalism or a novel of manners. Ximen Qing has enjoyed a rapid rise in socio-economic status and engages in the pursuit of his sexual, economic and political needs. The badness of human nature leads automatically to self-destruction according to the thinking of the philosopher Xunzi 荀子. Ximen Qing, acquiring an aphrodisiac, sets destruction upon himself, seeing his son and his favorite concubine dying. After his own death, his household disintegrates, paralleling the defeat of the Song armies by the intruding troops of the Liao empire 辽. Scholarship saw in this novel a harsh critic of the circumstances of the late Ming period 明. The technical virtuosity of the author, his using of a wide range of material, like classical quotations, songs, theatre, can not be fully enjoyed in modern editions because the descibing of a few sexual scenes lead to radical shortenings of the book.