September 26th, 2011

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Review: The Jade Door

The Jade Door: Erotic Stories from Ancient China. By Chaiko, Cheng Cheng, 7th Orange, Sheng Tao, and Sun Rui. Eurotica (NMB Publishing), 2011. 64 pp., $17.99.

Reviewed by Gayle C. Straun.

The Jade Door opens with young Master Li, scion of a wealthy family, who has decided to leave the comforts of home, as well as the business he’s expected to inherit, in order to join the communist insurgents fighting in the north. Late this evening, he is talking with the new servant girl, Ye Zi, who inquires rather impertinently about the books hidden on the top of his bookshelf. These are huang-shu, literally “yellow books,” or volumes of erotica, and he hands her one to read, thus setting the stage, a la Chaucer or Boccaccio, for the handful of sexy tales to follow.

The subsequent four stories, all lavishly illustrated, read like traditional fairy tales, but with a decidedly erotic twist. In “The Garden of Blooming Peach-Trees,” failed scholar Cheng Jian, while heading home in shame, happens into a mysterious land seemingly inhabited only by young, naked women who make a point of pleasuring him endlessly, so that he delays his departure again and again, until one day he happens upon a small shack and discovers the secret of this paradise. “Girl Reading in the Western Pavilion” tells the story of a young woman who loses her book (one of these huang-shu) in the garden–her dreams of lust and pleasure–and the student who comes to return said volume. Potions of love and forgetfulness, combined with the desire to enjoy the favors of a married noblewoman, lie at the heart of “The Case of the Shirt of Pearls,” while “Precious Leaves from the Jade Peak” relates how Hua An, a young servant, finally, after much pining after local girls, gains his manhood in a most unexpected way. The artwork accompanying each is lovely in all respects, with each artist capturing the essence of bliss, anger, and betrayal to their hilt.

The one wrong note in this collection is the framing device, the story of young Li and the servant girl. While at the time, one might have believed the revolution to be a complete reordering of society, one that would make men and women equal and do away with all the Puritanism of the long-reigning Manchus, the reality proved far different, for China’s communist party established a totalitarian system that punished people who prioritized the well-being of husbands, wives, and lovers above the proclaimed needs of the state. The fact that, as sinologist Alain Wang notes in his preface to this collection, the stories in The Jade Door “are, unfortunately, not publishable in the China of today,” makes this particular framing device all the more perplexing, like nostalgia for a world that never existed.

All told, however, this is a beautiful anthology, and if the large, hardcover formatting for such a thin volume gives it the feel of a children’s book—well, that’s just a reminder that fairy tales can be for grown-ups, too. Especially these.

Mirrored from Circlet Press: Welcome to Circlet 2.0.