Jin Shengtan

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Jin Shengtan (simplified Chinese: 金圣叹; traditional Chinese: 金聖歎; Wade–Giles: Chin Shêng-t'an) (1610?-7 August 1661), former name Jin Renrui (金人瑞), also known as Jin Kui (金喟), was a Chinese editor, writer and critic, who has been called the champion of Vernacular Chinese literature.


  • It seems that in writing a composition, one must first have in mind a reason for writing. If there is a reason behind it, no matter what one writes about, it will turn out to be excellent writing. If there is no reason behind it, there is no way to write. Even if one can produce something, it will be as dry and unpleasant as chewing wax.
    • "How to Read the Shui-hu chuan", § 26; in How to Read the Chinese Novel (1990), ed. David L. Rolston, p. 137
  • Eat pickled turnips with yellow beans. It gives the taste of walnut.
    • Last words of Jin Shengtan, "contained in a sealed letter to his family as he went to his execution, as a joke upon the magistrate", as quoted and reported by Lin Yutang in The Importance of Understanding (1960), p. 468

"Thirty-three Happy Moments"

From Lin Yutang's ‎The Importance of Living (1937), pp. 130–136:
"Chin Shengt'an, that great impressionistic critic of the seventeenth century, has given us, between his commentaries on the play Western Chamber, an enumeration of the happy moments which he once counted together with his friend, when they were shut up in a temple for ten days on account of rainy weather. These then are what he considers the truly happy moments of human life, moments in which the spirit is inextricably tied up with the senses:"
To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not happiness?
  • I wake up in the morning and seem to hear some one in the house sighing and saying that last night some one died. I immediately ask to find out who it is, and learn that it is the sharpest, most calculating fellow in town. Ah, is this not happiness?
  • It has been raining for a whole month and I lie in bed in the morning like one drunk or ill, refusing to get up. Suddenly I hear a chorus of birds announcing a clear day. Quickly I pull aside the curtain, push open the window and see the beautiful sun shining and glistening and the forest looks like having a bath. Ah, is this not happiness?
  • To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not happiness?
  • To find accidently a handwritten letter of some old friend in a trunk. Ah, is this not happiness?
  • A traveller returns home after a long journey, and he sees the old city gate and hears the women and children on both banks of the river talking his own dialect. Ah, is this not happiness?
  • To open the window and let a wasp out of the room. Ah, is this not happiness?
  • To have just finished repaying all one's debts. Ah, is this not happiness?

"What Can I Do About It?"

Preface I and II to The Western Chamber, as translated by Lin Yutang in The Importance of Understanding (1960), pp. 75–82, unless otherwise noted.
  • As I write, a bee flies into my window and an ant crawls along the balcony. The ant and the bee are enjoying their present temporary life even as I am enjoying my temporary existence. When I become an "ancient one," so too will the ant and the bee become an "ancient bee" and an "ancient ant." What mystery and what joy that I should be living today at this hour by this place before this window with pen, inkstone, and paper spread before me, while my mind thinks and my hand writes in the company of the present bee and the present ant!
    • "Lamentation over the Ancients"
    • Variant translation:
      • A bee has speedily flown in through the window, and an ant is slowly creeping on the threshold. I cannot know the bee and the ant, and the bee and the ant cannot know me either. I exist momentarily today, and so do the bee and the ant. Instantly I will become an ancient man, and the bee and the ant will also become an ancient bee and an ancient ant. Today the sky is blue and the sun shining; the window is bright and the desk clean; the writing brush is fine and the ink stone in good shape. As I conceive in mind and write with hand, I am fortunate to have the bee and the ant in my company. This is a fortuitous encounter and a rare moment of happiness.
  • Wasting one's time is one way of occupying it, not wasting time is also another way of occupying it, and not to mind going on wasting time even knowing that it is a waste of time is also another way of occupying it. ... I have well understood life, and therefore I can do what I naturally want to do. To do what I naturally want to do is also a way of occupying time.
    • "Lamentation over the Ancients"
  • In making these comments, my motive is really not to go to all the trouble for the sake of the ancient author, but because I feel I have an obligation to the future readers and wish to do something about it.
    • "A Gift to Posterity"

Quotes about Jin

  • Chin Shengt'an regards reading a banned book behind closed doors on a snowy night as one of the greatest pleasures of life.
    • Lin Yutang, ‎The Importance of Living (1937), Ch. 12: 'The Enjoyment of Culture', III. 'The Art of Reading', p. 383
  • In Chin Sheng-t'an's commentaries his personality looms large and at times commands more attention than the text itself. To some extent, his commentaries are dialogues with the reader in which the literary work is but a pretext.
    • David L. Rolston (ed.), How to Read the Chinese Novel (1990), Ch. 2: 'Chin Sheng-t'an on How to Read the Shui-hu chuan (The Water Margin)', Introduction, p. 126

See also

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