When someone thinks of Princeton University Press, “sexy” probably isn’t one of the first adjectives that come to mind. And yet, one of our most recently published books is the fifth and final volume of a series translated from an ancient Chinese novel that has a certain, ahem, erotic nature.
Translated by David Tod Roy, The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei focuses on the domestic life of Hsi-men Ch’ing, a corrupt, upwardly mobile merchant in a provincial town, who maintains a harem of six wives and concubines. This work, known primarily for its erotic realism, is also a landmark in the development of the narrative art form–not only from a specifically Chinese perspective but in a world-historical context.
In a recent New York Times review, Jennifer Schuessler called it “the first long Chinese narrative to focus not on mythical heroes or military adventures, but on ordinary people and everyday life, chronicled down to the minutest details of food, clothing, household customs, medicine, games and funeral rites, with exact prices given for just about everything, including the favor of bribe-hungry officials up and down the hierarchy.”
This might not be quite the same as the raunchy love between Anastasia and Christian in 50 Shades of Grey, but I’ve heard some pretty risque things about Chapter 27, so watch out!