Feed on

Thereupon, the maidservants were instructed to reset the table and an elaborate spread of meat and vegetable dishes, along with other dainties of every kind, which had been prepared in anticipation of Hsi-men Ch’ing’s return, was laid before them. Sister-in-law Wu, sensing that the time had come to take flight, asserted that she did not wish to have any more wine and withdrew to Li Chiao-erh’s quarters to get out of the way.

Thereupon, Li P’ing-erh was seated in the place of honor, Hsi-men Ch’ing drew up a chair across from her and assumed the role of host, Wu Yueh-niang sat on the k’ang with her feet on the frame of the brazier, and Meng Yü-lou and P’an Chin-lien sat down at the other two sides of the table. As soon as the five of them had taken their places they started to decant the wine. They didn’t use small cups either, but called for large goblets of chased silver.

It was a case of:

First a cup for you,
Then a cup for me.

As the saying goes:

Romantic affairs are consummated over tea, and
Wine is the go-between of lust.

As the cups passed back and forth, the woman continued to drink until:

Her painted eyebrows dropped low, and
Amorous glances escaped the corners of her eyes.


A pair of peach blossoms bloomed upon her cheeks.
Her brows and eyes proclaiming her a wanton wench.

When Yüeh-niang saw that the two of them were:

As stuck on one another as sugar candy,

and that:

The conversation was becoming rather risque,

she found it so offensive that she withdrew to her own room and sent for her sister-in-law to keep her company, leaving the other three to entertain their guest.

They continued drinking until the third watch. By that time Li P’ing-erh’s:

Starry eyes were all a blur.

Hardly able to stand on her own legs, she asked Chin-lien to accompany he to the bathroom in the rear of the compound.
Hsi-men Ch’ing, too, was:

Swaying to the east and tumbling to the west…

—from The Plum In The Golden Vase or, Chin P’Ing Mei, Volume One: The Gathering, translated by David Tod Roy (Princeton University Press, 1993)


Kenny Wisdom adds: I’ve not been able to reproduce the orthography exactly as it appers in the late Professor Roy’s rendering but rest assured, his work— both the translation itself and ample, fascinating notes— is beyond astounding. Any and all Chin P’ing Mei enthusiasts are encouraged to “get in touch” as it were— and as it will be.

Also, the great Irish emigre writer, Meredith Brosnan, author of Mr. Dynamite and subject of Brian Berger’s now legendary Meredith Brosnan: Man & Pookah sent along a link to the UK Guardian obituary for David Hawkes, the beloved Sinologist and translator of Cao Xuquen’s Dream Of The Red Chamber (or The Story of the Stone). The original Indiana University hardcovers of Hawkes’ work are maddeningly rare but there are Penguin paperbacks available too, thankfully. How does Meredith know about David Hawkes and why didn’t Berger ask him about this before? Perhaps, as Grannie Liu cackled, “Important people have short memories”?

Photograph, “Caz Dolowicz Says Hoot Important?!” by Amber Tides, courtesy of the artist.

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