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The Fountainhead of Chinese Erotica

The Fountainhead of Chinese Erotica: The Lord of Perfect Satisfaction (Ruyijun zhuan), with a Translation and Critical Edition

with a translation and critical edition Charles R. Stone
Copyright Date: 2003
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  • Book Info
    The Fountainhead of Chinese Erotica
    Book Description:

    The Lord of Perfect Satisfaction (Ruyijun zhuan), a short work of fiction from the early sixteenth century, tells the story of the Tang dynasty's notorious Wu Zetian, the only woman to rule as emperor of China. It is famous not for the history it relates, but for its graphic sexual descriptions--the first ever in a Chinese novel--purportedly given from a woman's point of view. Despite its renown and unmistakable influence on later writing, the origins and significance of the Ruyijun zhuan have never been explored, in any language, and until now it has never been translated. Its date of composition is unknown, its author unidentified. One of its earliest appraisals, written by a contemporary scholar known for his conservatism, maintains that the Ruyijun zhuan is a moral work notwithstanding its sexual content. Combining a complete translation with a detailed and far-ranging study of the text, The Fountainhead of Chinese Erotica places this important cultural document into historical context and offers possibilities on its meaning.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6258-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    TheRuyijun zhuan(Lord of perfect satisfaction) is a short work of fiction written in classical Chinese by an unidentified author at a time uncertain.¹ It purports to tell the story of Empress Wu Zetian’s (r. 690–705) controversial rise to power during the late seventh century and her irregular conduct and administration thereafter.²

    At the beginning of theRuyijun zhuanthe beauty of fourteen-year-old Wu Zetian catches the eye of Emperor Tang Taizong (r. 626–649).³ She is transported to the imperial palace and appointed lady of talents (cairen), one of the emperor’s numerous minor consorts.⁴ Her activities as...

  5. Part One: Context and Analysis

    • 1 Pornography and the West
      (pp. 13-24)

      TheRuyijun zhuancontains explicit descriptions of sexual activity that are unprecedented in Chinese fiction. This much is not in dispute. What these descriptions may ultimately signify, if anything, and whether their meaning is transformed by the brief, ironic references to the historical record that often accompany them, however, are questions that may occasion some debate. This is particularly the case when one considers that few readers could be expected to identify many of the recondite references found in this work, much less comprehend their significance. After examining a single poem that reveals the sophistication of these historical references, I...

    • 2 Precursors
      (pp. 25-38)

      The peculiar combination of love, politics, history, and moral remonstration found in theRuyijun zhuanis not unique to this work or to the fiction of the late Ming dynasty. This combination is found, as well, in early Chinese poetry like theShi jing(Book of poetry).

      It is perhaps more accurate to say that many of the poems found in theShi jingare about love and that later commentators find, or add, the politics, history, and morals. In the Mao commentary to theShi jing, the earliest extant systematic interpretation of that text, even simple love poems contained...

    • 3 Desire in the Ming Dynasty
      (pp. 39-56)

      Is theRuyijun zhuana precursor of radical philosophies that appeared during the latter part of the sixteenth century? Writers like Li Zhi (1527–1602), the most famous exponent of the iconoclastic style associated with the Taizhou school of Neo-Confucianism, argue that spontaneous, individual experience is more important than the pronouncements of sages or the study of books.¹ Traditional conceptions of the self are too rational, conservative, and constrained. Human desires, even sexual satisfaction, no longer impede the pursuit of enlightenment: the exploration of human sexuality now happily assists in that pursuit. While the graphic descriptions found in theRuyijun...

    • 4 Authorship
      (pp. 57-73)

      The earliest known appraisal of theRuyijun zhuan, the “DuRuyijun zhuan,” was written by Huang Xun, a scholar who held several government positions during the Jiajing reign period (1522–1567). The original text, three pages long, is found in hisDushu yide(Tries gleaned from reading books), a collection of miscellaneous observations he wrote about a wide variety of texts over the course of several years.¹ Much of this work was written during the 1530s, not long after he had passed thejinshiexamination and embarked on his official career. TheDushu yideis not only the earliest work...

    • 5 Speculations About Contemporary Events
      (pp. 74-84)

      Even if the reader should acquire a taste for the manner in which Huang Xun incorporates obscure allusions, he is still unlikely to find the collected works appetizing. The type of mourning vestments a son should wear at his mother’s funeral—to recall one memorable example from the early twelfth century he discusses at length—could become a point of controversy if the mother had previously put the son up for adoption. In such a case it might be more proper for the son to wear the vestments that would normally be worn during the funeral of an aunt, although...

    • 6 Sources
      (pp. 85-100)

      Wu Zetian is the only woman to have become emperor of China. Most historians depict her ascent to such heights as an anomaly and criticize her personal conduct with particular asperity. She was an opportunist. She committed adultery. She committed incest. She cast a spell upon two emperors that no remonstration could break. Then she usurped the title of emperor and persecuted the heirs of the Tang to the brink of extinction. Although most historians place the blame squarely upon Wu Zetian for wielding her preternatural charms with such devastating effect, a disinterested observer of the Tang imperial family might...

    • 7 Preface, Postscript, and Colophon
      (pp. 101-114)

      The preface to theRuyijun zhuanwas written by a man whose pen name was Huayang Sanren. Scholars have concluded that it was written between 1514 and 1754 by a contemporary of the author, by a precocious hermit of the seventeenth century, by an anonymous Japanese author of the eighteenth century, or even, perhaps, by the author himself.¹ While there is no shortage of candidate authors and dates of composition, the preface itself has attracted little attention. Scarcely a word has been written about its contents, its style, or its relation to the work it purports to introduce.² And yet...

    • 8 Later Works
      (pp. 115-125)

      Contemporaries recognized that theRuyijun zhuanwas, if nothing else, a novel creation for Chinese literature: a unique combination of history and fiction that described sexual relations in weird and unprecedented detail. Quite a few authors paid it the dubious compliment of copying its most licentious passages straight into their own works. And until theJin Ping Meiwas published approximately ninety years later, easily eclipsing it in terms of size, sophistication, and importance, theRuyijun zhuanwas the most influential work of its kind. There can be little doubt that it left a permanent mark—some might say an...

    • 9 The Moral
      (pp. 126-130)

      The last person who claimed to have perceived a moral in theRuyijun zhuan—and had the temerity to put this opinion in writing—was Huayang Sanren. His preface of 1634 argues that this work illustrates, in an offensive fashion, a moral that is nevertheless worthy of consideration. His observations have not, however, gained many adherents over the past three and a half centuries. Indeed, they are ignored when they are not greeted with sneers of derision. How could a work that describes sexual promiscuity with such queer genius have anything to do with morality? TheRuyijun zhuanhas instead...

  6. Part Two: Translation and Original Text

    • Annotated Translation
      (pp. 133-160)

      What is theRuyijun zhuan? It is the story of Empress Wu Zetian’s inner chamber.⁴ Although it is told in an offensive manner, is it not still adequate to serve as an admonitory example? In the past, the fact that the four whitebeards assisted the crown prince and the fortunes of the Han were thereby made secure was really due to the efforts of the marquis of Liu.⁵ As for the marquis of Liu, it can be said that he was faithful to the state. Empress Wu Zetian was violent beyond regulation and became more lecherous with each passing day....

    • Critical Edition
      (pp. 161-172)

      武則天宮后者、荊州都督士彠女也、幼名媚娘。年十四、文皇聞其 美麗、納之后宮、拜爲才人。久之、文皇不豫。高宗以太子入奉湯藥。 媚娘侍側。高宗見而悅、⁹ 欲私之、未得便。會、高宗起如廁。媚娘 奉金盆水跪進。高宗戲以水洒10之、且吟曰:



  7. Notes
    (pp. 173-230)
  8. Glossary
    (pp. 231-236)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-258)
  10. Index
    (pp. 259-271)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 272-272)