Chinese pornography translator dies

David Tod Roy, a renowned translator of a Chinese pornographic classic, has died at the age of 89.

He was born and grew up in China, the son of missionaries, and became professor of East Asian languages and civilisation at the University of Chicago.

He and his family spent 1938-1945 in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, which was often bombed by the Japanese. The family came to the United States in 1945, but returned to China in 1948, just in time for the final stages of the communist revolution.

From 1982 to 2012 he worked on translating Chin P’ing Mei or The Plum in the Golden Vase, producing a work of more than 3,000 pages.

The anonymous novel was first published in 1618, and is considered a masterpiece of Ming-era Chinese literature.

The picaresque plot centres on Hsi-men Ch’ing, a corrupt merchant in a rural district who develops and indulges increasingly esoteric sexual tastes until he dies of over-indulgence at the age of 33.

Many expurgated editions have appeared over the years; but in 1950 Roy discovered an uncensored version of the novel in a secondhand bookstore in the Confucian Temple area of Nanjing.

He said in 2013: “The book gives by far the most detailed description of everyday life in Chinese society that had appeared before that time. But I was a teenager so I was excited by the prospect of trying to read something pornographic.”


Picture source: PericlesofAthens at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons