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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Embroidered Couch

Lü Tiancheng

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Title: The Embroidered Couch
Author: Lü Tiancheng
Genre: Novel
Written: ca. 1610 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 141 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: The Embroidered Couch - US
The Embroidered Couch - UK
The Embroidered Couch - Canada
  • An Erotic Novel of China
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Lenny Hu

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Our Assessment:

C+ : sexual excesses and little else

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Lu Tiancheng's Ming dynasty erotic novel, The Embroidered Couch, was apparently considered "'the most licentious and inflaming book' of his age" (so Lenny Hu in his introduction). Unlike other works of the day (the massive Jin Ping Mei or The Carnal Prayer Mat, for example) it doesn't attempt to put much of a refined veneer on things: most of the book is taken up with the action -- i.e. the sex -- and the descriptions of who does what to whom and what fluids gush out where are all related in explicit language.
       There is a story here, of sorts: the "unconventional romantic gentleman" who calls himself Easterngate gets married to Jin. He was a widower for a few years and has been enjoying himself over that time with a "juvenile named Zhao Dali": "In the daytime they were brothers, while at night they made love as if they were husband and wife." Once Easterngate is married again he has it both ways -- and then convinces Dali and Jin to go at it too.
       Things get a bit out of hand, and Jin wants to get some revenge on Dali, so she and Easterngate conspire to get Dali out of town for a while while Easterngate seduces Ma -- Dali's mom. Soon enough, Dali returns to the fold and gets involved in all the fun too -- though it doesn't last, the last few pages of the novel offering a sort of moral to balance out all the excesses. Word gets to the authorities and they all have to leave the area. The women quickly die off, Jin "from sex-related exhaustion at the age of twenty-four" and Ma from hopping back into the sack too soon after giving birth. Dali doesn't survive much longer (though he only succumbs to pestilence), while Easterngate mends his ways and becomes a penitent monk.
       The elaborate ruses concocted to get various people to sleep together aren't particularly convincing, and for most of the novel all that's on offer is the sex. This comes in all variations, with a few creative combinations of who does whom, and where what is put. There's lots of thrusting (and keeping count of the number of thrusts) and a great deal of leakage and seepage. There's some fun in the variations and the sheer bluntness with which all this is presented, but there's too little backstory to sustain interest for most of the book. Even the author seems barely interested in his characters, summarily dismissing and dispatching all except Easterngate at the end. Tacked on as it is the best part of the novel -- the comeuppance at the end -- also doesn't seem particularly convincing.
       The Embroidered Couch can be enjoyed for its very graphic sex and some interesting historic detail (17th century Chinese vibrators !), but not much more. It's short, and a quick read, but not particularly titillating.

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Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Lu Tiancheng (or Lu Tian-Cheng) was born in 1580 and died before 1618.

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