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The Carnal Prayer Mat by Li Yu

The Carnal Prayer Mat (original 1657; edition 1990)

by Li Yu (Author)

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368661,613 (3.17)3
In the 300 years since its initial publication, Li Yu's book has been widely read in China, where it is recognized as a benchmark of erotic literature and currently enjoys the distinction of being a banned-in-Beijing classic.
Title:The Carnal Prayer Mat
Authors:Li Yu (Author)
Info:Ballantine Books (1990), Edition: 1st, 316 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Carnal Prayer Mat by Yu Li (1657)


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Showing 4 of 4
Li Yu states this is a morality tale, and indeed ‘what comes around goes around’ when it comes to adultery in the plot of The Carnal Prayer Mat. He emphasizes the need to focus on that message, while (wink wink nudge nudge) salaciously describing acts that would get the book banned throughout the years and in present day China. As for the erotica, it’s laugh out loud funny in some places, and in others a confirmation that men’s insecurities and silly fantasies have changed very little over time. If you’re looking for either a morality story or (I suppose more likely given its reputation) a steamy novel in isolation, you may be disappointed.

On the other hand, this is a light, reasonably fun read, and I admire Li Yu for flouting convention and being so original and daring in 1657. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or Fanny Hill), written 100 years later in the West, may be more delightful for the beauty of its prose and probably more, er, arousing, but The Carnal Prayer Mat is better as mocking satire of anything and everything, from puritanical Confucianism to the peccadilloes and self-importance of his characters. You sense the author is making light of them all, and in doing so, making light of us to this day, smiling at us devilishly across time and space. ( )
1 vote gbill | Jan 23, 2015 |
[SPOILER] What a downer. Nothing like a self-mutilating castration at the end of an erotic novel to make you feel frisky! ( )
  AliceAnna | Sep 10, 2014 |
The Before Midnight Scholar spurns Buddhist enlightenment in favour of the 'prayer mat of the flesh'. He seeks and finds erotic experience. Although its descriptions of erotic activity are quite explicit, I would call this more a ribald novel (maybe like 'Tom Jones') than a pornographic or purely erotic one. Unlike a pornography, the actions of the vain scholar have consequences, including pregnancies, tragedy and death. Nevertheless the tone of most of the book is quite light and humorous, even mocking at times. The novel pokes fun at Confucianism, Buddhism, the vanity of academic scholars and the virtue of ladies. The characters are well described. There are some great supporting characters such as K'un-lun's Rival the noble bandit, Dr Iron Door the prudish Confucian scholar and the itinerant surgeon who operates on the Before Midnight Scholar's appendage.

Ultimately the tale is a moral one, with just punishments and repentance. There is an earnest afterword by the author which urges men to stick to their own wives and enjoy sex in moderation. ( )
  questbird | Mar 25, 2011 |
A well-crafted tale with moral pretensions...

I liked this book when I first read it many years back, and was even more
impressed (a rare occurrence) when I re-read it recently. Of course, at
first glance, I devoured immediately the directly erotic stories, but
gradually the plot and storyline and the unusual narrative style also got to
me. I am quite bowled over at the innovative narrative style of the novel -
indeed, I would rate this novel as the best erotica of yore, certainly far
superior to Fanny Hill and others written a few centuries afterwards. I am
actually looking to read other books by Li Yu - well, some day...

The story is set in the culturally complex background of Yuan dynasty (14th
c.) China, although it was published in 1657. The prefatory
chapter provides a motivation for the story, which reminds one of the old
marketing joke:

Ah! Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about this
excellent snake oil.

Li Yu says at the outset:

How low contemporary morals have sunk! But if you write a moral tract
exhorting people to virtue, [you] will you get no one to buy it...

So his strategy is

to captivate your readers with erotic material and then
wait for some moment of absorbing interest before suddenly dropping in an
admonitory remark or two to make them grow fearful and sigh, "Since sexual
pleasure can be so delgithful, surely we ought to reserve our
pleasure-making bodies for long-term enjoyment instead of turning into
ghosts beneath the peony blossoms [idiom for becoming victims of
amorous excess]". p.9

from a review I had written - with extensive excerpts - at http://www.cse.iitk.ac.in/~amit/books/yu-1990-carnal-prayer-mat.html ( )
1 vote mukerjee | Mar 3, 2009 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yu Liprimary authorall editionscalculated
Li Yumain authorall editionsconfirmed

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In the 300 years since its initial publication, Li Yu's book has been widely read in China, where it is recognized as a benchmark of erotic literature and currently enjoys the distinction of being a banned-in-Beijing classic.

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