Sexuality in adaptation: “The Adventurous History of Hsi Men and His Six Wives”

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Translation is widely considered as a means by which readers in the target context can gain insights into the source culture. In reality, it may reveal to readers as much, if not more, about the target context as about the Source. This is certainly true of the sexual descriptions in Jin Ping Mei. As a literary masterpiece, Jin Ping Mei provides an encyclopedic depiction of nearly all aspects of social life in 16th century China, but nothing in the novel seems to have attracted as much attention as the erotic component in its English translations. The first English translation, which was privately published in 1927, was singled out by literary censors due to the images of naked women in its illustrations. The first complete English translation, published in London in 1939, rendered the most sexually explicit sections into Latin, following the age-old tradition of using Latin for texts that might corrupt the susceptible. The most influential English version, however, was relay-translated from Franz Kuhn’s German adaptation. Entitled The Adventurous History of Hsi Men and His Six Wives, the translation has been adapted multiple times in the Anglophone world. Among its adaptations were popular versions that selectively presented, in Fanny-Hill style, the erotic stories from Jin Ping Mei. Produced mainly in the height of the Sexual Revolution, these adaptations were good examples to illustrate that translations, which were born into the target context, could provide the readers with more insights into the target culture than the source culture. There are translations and translations, so it is crucial that the right type of translated texts is selected if the purpose of reading is to acquire improved, and in-depth understanding of the authentic source culture.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022
EventJin Ping Mei: The Oral, the Written and the Pictorial in Late Imperial Chinese Fiction : An international symposium in Copenhagen - University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 26 Oct 202228 Oct 2022


ConferenceJin Ping Mei: The Oral, the Written and the Pictorial in Late Imperial Chinese Fiction
Abbreviated titleInternational Symposium on Jin Ping Mei
Internet address

Cite this