Jin Porn Mei: Comic Book Adaptations of the Chinese Novel

The Jin Ping Mei 金瓶梅1 is a notoriously pornographic vernacular Chinese novel believed to date from the late sixteenth century. Authored during the disastrous reign of the Wanli Emperor 萬里 who posterity has come to remember as a sort of Robert Baratheon of the Ming dynasty, later commentators such as Zhang Zhupo 張竹坡 (1670-1698) have convincingly argued that the author of the Jin Ping Mei meant for his work to be interpreted as political allegory.2

Nevertheless, biting political allegory of long dead historical figures doesn’t exactly fly off the shelves these days, and for better or worse the Jin Ping Mei has come to be known mostly for the dirty bits. As part of a guest lecture for a class on the book3 I recently delved into the murky world of comic book adaptations of the great novel. Many of these are, unsurprising, porn, plain and simple, while others are “neither meat nor vegetable” 不葷不素. 4


Jin Ping Mei: The Children’s Book

Jin Ping Mei: The Children’s Book

This seems to be the most common illustrated version of the story available online. Although the author and publisher are not identified, although one version identifies as being “for use in schools” (学校专集).  In total there are 100 images with abbreviated text to the side in an updated lianhuanhua 連環畫5 style. Also known as 小人書 or ‘children’s books,’ lianhuanhua emerged in the 1920s as a popular form of story-based comics, defined in opposition to manhua (漫畫) or European and North American style newspaper cartoon strips.

In content, the first 85 pages are spent retelling the Wu Song 武松 chapters of the original novel, with the arrival of Li Pinger, the death of Guange, the death of Ximen Qing and the death of Pan Jinlian at the hands of Wu Song compressed into the last 15 pages. Chunmei and her postscript is also largely absent from this adaptation. Not surprisingly, most of the sex and violence in the text is alluded to but not shown in the illustrations.


Jin Ping Mei: The Picture Book

Jin Ping Mei: The Picture Book

Similar to the above version, this lianhuanhua style adaptation by Cao Hanmei 曹涵美 (1902-1975)6 includes 500 images with abbreviated text underneath. Originally published in Modern Sketch《时代漫画》1934-1937, it was later collected into one volume in 1942.

Interestingly, from what I have seen of this version, it seems to tell the story from the perspective of Pan Jianlian, beginning with her birth. It is also not particularly pornographic, as it seems to focus more on telling the story of the novel rather than just the juicy bits. Nudity also tends to be incidental, as in the panel above. Although Pan Jinlian’s breasts are exposed, they are just one detail in a complex composition.

Cao’s illustrations were also used in the opening credits to Li Hanxiang’s 李翰祥 1974 film adaptation of the Jin Ping Mei, Golden Lotus 金瓶雙艷, starring a very young Jackie Chan 成龍:

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  1. In the earlier Wade-Giles transliteration still preferred by many academics it is rendered ” Chin P’ing Mei.” David Roy includes the literal translation,  “Plum in the Golden Vase,” as the subtitle to his version although the accuracy of this is disputable, given that the title is generally assumed to refer to the names of three most important female characters: Pan Jinlian 潘金蓮, Li Ping‘er 李瓶兒 and Pang Chunmei 龐春梅. []
  2. Chang, Chu-p’o. “How to Read the Chin P’ing Mei.” In How to Read the Chinese Novel, edited by David Rolston, translated by David Tod Roy, 196–201. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1990. []
  3. ASIA 441B taught by the incomparable Catherine Swatek who also happens to be David Roy’s cousin. []
  4. In other words, neither fish nor fowl. []
  5. Abbreviation of lianhuatuhua 連環圖畫 or ‘linked-picture’ books []
  6. Given name Zhang Meiyu (张美宇), middle brother of the more famous cartoonists and publishers Zhang Guangyu 张光宇 (1900-1965, née Zhang Dengying 张登瀛) and Zhang Zhengyu 张正宇 (1904-1976, née Zhang Zhenyu 張振宇). []

Heaven and Earth


很久以前,没有天和地, 只有一个很大的蛋。蛋里头睡着一个叫盘古的神。盘古在那个蛋里睡了一万八千年。

有一天,盘古睡醒了,他睁开眼睛,想看看世界是什么样子。可是蛋里很黑,什么也看不见。盘古用力一踢, 蛋破了,从里头流出来了很多东西。这些东西有的轻有的重,有的干净有的不干净。那些轻的、干净的东西慢慢地上升,变成了天。那些重的、不干净的东西,慢慢 地下沉, 变成了地。

天和地分开以后,盘古就在天和地的中间站着。天一天一天地变高;地一天一天地变厚;盘古的身体也一天一天地变高变大。又过了一万八千年, 天和地不变了,这时候盘古就死了。


A Primer for Advanced Beginners of Chinese: Volume 1, Lesson 5, Edited by Irene Liu and Hailong Wang (Columbia University Press, 2004)

Heaven and Earth

A long time ago, there was no Heaven and no Earth, there was only a very large egg. A god name Pangu was sleeping inside the egg. Pangu slept inside that egg for eighteen thousand years.

One day, Pangu woke up and opened his eyes. He wanted to see what the world looked like. However, the inside of the egg was very dark, and he couldn’t see anything at all. Pangu kicked with all of his strength and the egg broke [causing] many things to leak out from inside. Some of these things were light and some of them were heavy, some were clean and some were unclean. The light, clean things slowly floated upwards and became the heavens. The heavy, unclean things slowly floated downwards and became the earth.

After Heaven and Earth had split apart, Pangu stood up between them. Day by day the heavens grew higher, and day by day the earth grew thicker [while] Pangu’s body became taller and more robust. After another eighteen thousand years, Heaven and Earth had finished changing and it was at this time that Pangu died.

After Pangu had died, the air in his body became the wind and clouds, his voice became the sound of thunder and his eyes became the sun and the moon. His hands, feet and body became the mountains, large and small. His hair became the trees and plants and his blood became the rivers. His sweat became the rain. Pangu died, but his body was transformed into a new world.

(Translation my own)