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The Age of SilverThe Rise of the Novel East and West$
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Ning Ma

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190606565

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190606565.001.0001

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Along the Grand Canal

Along the Grand Canal

The Lord of Silver in The Plum in the Golden Vase

(p.51) 2 Along the Grand Canal
The Age of Silver

Ning Ma

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on the anonymous sixteenth-century Chinese novel The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin Ping Mei). It situates the novel within the late Ming Chinese society’s material contacts with the outside world and internal developments of economic, cultural, and political modernities. It theorizes Plum as the “first modern novel” in order to open up a transcultural lineage of narrative realism. Specifically, the chapter analyzes Plum’s reflection of the collapse of Confucian “cardinal relations” due to the rule of money, and the novel’s fusion of the themes of political and kinship decays. The novel’s foregrounding of the characters’ sexual excess and family conflicts embodies national representation and critique, while its narrative expresses a subversive political consciousness and changing visions about human nature and individuality. Overall, these findings reposition Plum not just as a distinctively “Chinese” text, but as an important example of transcultural literary early modernities.

Keywords:   The Plum in the Golden Vase, late Ming China, Confucian “cardinal relations”, narrative realism, Chinese texts

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