Reflections on a Braised Pig’s Head Food and Vernacular Storytelling in Jin Ping Mei

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Yan Liang



The sixteenth-century Chinese vernacular novel Jin Ping Mei 金瓶梅 was a groundbreaking work for its vivid presentation of the domestic life of women in an affluent merchant household, a topic seldom touched upon by previous works in the genre. The rich descriptions of food and dining in the novel have attracted various socio-historical studies. This paper offers a different critical approach and studies the rhetorical and narrative functions of food and dining scenes in the novel with a particular focus on the female participants. Taking a dining party episode from chapter 23 of the novel as an example, the essay looks at how food and dining are used as a narratological device to reveal the female characters’ psychology and their interpersonal power dynamics. The essay argues that this use of food for revealing the female characters’ inner worlds is a narrative strategy for coping with the historical limitations of Chinese vernacular storytelling in describing female characters’ private lives and interior thoughts. Its successful implementation in Jin Ping Mei set an important precedent for a literary genre that had previously been dominated by a public and male-dominated mode of storytelling.

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