The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P'ing Mei in the original (also translated as Plum Blossoms in a Golden Vase), is a sixteenth-century Chinese anonymous novel.
There is a confusing and largely undeterminable backstory behind its creation. Allegedly, a certain nobleman had a certain painter killed, and his son decided to avenge his father. Once, when he was pretending to be writing something, the nobleman asked what it was. The son looked at a vase on the shelf and said, "Plum Blossoms in a Golden Vase." In reality, the novel is attributed to an 'anonymous trickster', who can be traced to a certain bureaucrat during the Ming dynasty. It takes place several centuries earlier, but it is plain the author is satirizing contemporary events.
The novel focuses on the romantic adventures and misadventures of a merchant-turned-bureaucrat named Hsi'men Ch'ing. Despite the fact that he is very obviously a negative character, he still breathes with life and has many redeeming qualities. Throughout the book, he settles six women to live in his house, and the plot (rather nonlinear in structure) focuses on the relationships among them and with him. The matter of whose bedroom Ch'ing will sleep in tonight becomes a crucial one.
The book features a huge number and variety of graphic sexual scenes. (It was sort of strange to see things so reminiscent of Henry Miller in a novel four hundred-plus years old.) The end is a rather surrealistic one, with a cameo by a major deity. It describes the comeuppance of the 'bad' characters, and the 'reward' of the virtuous ones. It's a fascinating read, if only for the rich cultural flavor that accompanies it--there are specific descriptions of religious ceremonies, details of meals and feasts, and the all-time favorite pastime of writers of this period...making fun of monks.
(all romanizations taken from D.T.Roy's translation; this was not, however, the version I read)