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Characterization in “Jin Ping Mei” Novel by Sheng

David Tod Roy translated the Plum in the Golden Vase, a Chinese novel which was originally composed in the vernacular Chinese during the reign of the latter part of the Ming Dynasty in 1368 by unknown author who signed the literary work as Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng. Initially, the famous Chinese classical novel was known as Jin Ping Mei and was first translated in English as the Golden Lotus in 1938 and later The Plum in the Golden Vase in 1993.

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In this volume, Roy provides a complete and annotated translation of the classical novel, Chin Ping Mei, which focuses mainly on the domestic life of the chief protagonist, His-men Ching, is portrayed in the novel as a corrupt merchant hailing in a provincial town and is married to six wives, and many concubines. This piece of Roy’s work is famous primarily for its rhetoric realism. In addition, many people observe The Plum in the Golden Vase as a landmark in the development of narrative art both in the Chinese perspective and the global scenario (Lu, 2000).

The original versions of the novel only exist in handwritten texts. According historical perspectives, the first block printed version of the novel came into existence in the early 16th century. Currently, the novel comprises of many chapters which sums up to over a thousand pages. Plum in the Golden Vase ranks in the top ten classical novels. Its depiction of sexuality has made the book to be considered as a pornographic material.

Characters and characterization

In all stories and literary works, character and characterization forms an important component of a story. Characters are used to identify and describe the personality of an individual in a story, particularly those who are influential in the development of the literary work (Griffith, 2006). Therefore, in Plum in the Golden Vase, the characters play a vital role in every aspect of the story ranging from the start to the end.

In most literary works, the author imagines a person whose characteristics revolves and inhabits the central focus of the story. Characterization is a technique used by artists to perform themselves in the story. In addition, a character is defined as literary genre. They are individuals participate in a literary work, such as, a novel, while performing themselves through actions or through dialogue (Lu, 2000). On the other hand, characterization refers to the totality in the appearance of the characteristics of a character in piece of literary work, such as, drama or in novels. I support the view that characterization refers to the appearance characteristics of the character in the story.

Therefore, the best definition and illustration of a character is observed on an individual’s moral disposition qualities which are expressed in what they say, such as, in dialogues and their actions which are demonstrated in what they do. Thus, a character is a person who performs in a literary work and performs themselves through actions. On the other hand characterization can be described as the totality appearance of the characteristics of a character in a story. Characterization is the manner which the author describes the characters which are presented in a story through means of dialogue, as well as, action.

In the novel, the author uses characterization to convince the audience about the character (Griffith, 2006). Thus, characterization must be observed in the following principles. The first principle which the author uses is that a character must be consistent in his behavior or the way of the character which must remain stable throughout the plot of the story. Second, the characters used in the story must be clearly motivated in their actions particularly when there are changes in their actions or behaviors. Third, the characters must be individuals who are plausible and realistic.

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Plum in the Golden Vase, originally regarded as Jin Ping Mei derived its name from three main characters. The main characters in the classical novel, in addition to the chief protagonists, His-men Ching, include Pan Jinlian, meaning Golden Lotus, Li Pin’ger, meaning Little vase, two concubines from Ximen Qing and Pang Chunmei, and a young maid who later arose to power within the family. Most critics argue that the three main characters in the title of the novel are a symbol of the human nature (Roy, 1939).

The story revolves around the downfall a wealthy household which was headed by a corrupt merchant, Ximen Qing, the chief protagonist. The author describes the life of the chief protagonist through a daily interaction with his household comprising of his wives and the concubines, the household maids and the servants. In addition, the author describes the chief protagonist as a man who liked to spare time to interact with a wide network of relatives, as well as, members of the ruling class, such as, the government officials and business associates. Since the setting of the classical novel is based in the 12th century, the literary work captures the realm of urban life, which took place in the beginning of the 17th century China.

The author depicts the author as an individual who indulges in the worldly pleasures, as well as, immorality. The style employed by the author has made the novel to achieve fame for most of naturalistic descriptions of a hero’s sexual relations with many wives and concubines surrounding him. Consequently, the novel also sets a stage whereby a complex network of social change is performed (Egerton, 1971). In this analysis of social change, the novel lends itself to be utilized in the theory of social change which arose to the union of the theoretical and empirical experiences which arose from social anthropology, as well as, sociology.

In the novel The Plum in the Golden Vase, the author described in detail the life of the apothecary Ximen Qing, with the setting taken from his household in the provincial town in Shandong, China. The classical novel was supposedly set during the Song Dynasty way back in the 12th century. However, the social setting as portrayed in the novel portrays the Ming Dynasty which occurred during the 16th century.

The author introduces the audience to the economic and political life of the Ximen Qing and the relationship which he had with his six wives, the mutual relationship of the wives, the chief protagonists’ family and sexual affairs, as, well as, his corrupt and the shadow dealings. The author introduces the chief protagonist’s ethical misconduct which contributes to his early terrific demise, which leads to the entire family’s break up.

In addition, the author introduces the subsequent life experienced by other characters, notably his wives, in keeping and maintaining their initial behavior. At this stage, the readers are made to understand the earlier good life and the evil meet with the subsequent life which constitutes later reward as well as punishment. Thus, the author tries to make the readers understand the prominent theme which works towards retribution with a single life time.

The chief protagonist as a boss in his household, since his parents were all dead (Roy, 1939). In addition, Ximen Qing is said to have inherited herbal medicine which was kept by his father. He obtained his riches very quickly and became one of the wealthiest people in his home town of Shadong. On the other hand, the author makes the readers to understand that the chief protagonist had very many assets, including a big house and various types of shops.

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Later, the chief protagonist climbed the ladder and became the god son of an influential official, which later made him to be accorded and official position in the government. In addition, the author described the chief protagonist as a person who was obsessed with sex and had sexual intimacy with his maids, servants, wives, as well as, concubines. According to the author, the chief protagonist was very influential to an extent that the women listened to him for various reasons.

These include the power which he had, riches, in terms of material wealth, money, as well as, sexual ability. On the other hand, the other states that Ximen Qing was very calculative and was very clever enough when using his money to obtain sex from his maids, servants, as well as, concubines. Later, he met his death when he was at his early thirties, since he was addicted to sexual medication, which he overdosed.

On the other hand, he is described as a good business person since he believed in a theory that money is an asset which enjoys mobility. In addition, his wives brought to him a lot of wealthy, since his third and six wives were very rich. On the other hand, he is depicted as very authoritative since he ordered his employees to purchase material directly from his shops. The chief protagonist is also described as generous since, when a trader was in need, he could lower the price of his cloths. However, he was corrupt since most of his money was obtained from corrupt deals.

The other important character to be analyzed in this essay is the chief protagonist’s second wife who was described as a prostitute, and was the only wife, out of the six women, who was fat. However, Ximen rarely stayed in her room. She was a responsible woman since she was selected as the family’s financial controller. However, due to negligence, her maid made away with a gold bracelet; hence making her to resign from the post. In the latter years, after the death of her husband, she turned to be a prostitute and later became another wealthy man’s concubine.

In conclusion, the analysis of the characters indicated that the character are used by the author to develop the story and their actions are very important in developing the plot.


Griffith, K. (2006). Writing essays about literature: A guide and style sheet. New York: Cengage Learning.

Lu, H. (2000). A brief history of Chinese fiction. New York: The Minerva Group, Inc.

Roy, T., D. (1939).The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei: Volume One: The Climax. New York: Princeton University Press.

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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Characterization in “Jin Ping Mei” Novel by Sheng'. 20 December.

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