The David Tod Roy Collection

A new addition to the Hesburgh Libraries, the David Tod Roy Collection consists of over 4,000 Chinese books. These are from a private library of David Tod Roy, Professor Emeritus in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, that he built and used for his translation of The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei.

Chin P’ing Mei

Throughout history, ruling classes of Chinese society banned the book, then indulged in it in secret (the Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722) and Mao Zedong (1893-1976) are examples).

Chin P’ing Mei, one of the Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel (四大奇書). Though the setting of the novel is in the last days of the Northern Song dynasty in the early twelfth century, it actually describes the life of the middle-class Ming people. According to Professor Roy, in its detailed description of the daily life, including clothing, food, tea, wine, corruption, sexual activity, etc., it is a groundbreaking work, not only in Chinese literature, but in world literature.

Known for its sexually explicit content, and thus widely reproduced in different formats and genres, the original novel of Chin P’ing Mei draws upon “the entire spectrum of Chinese literature—Taoist and Buddhist ritual texts, poetry, quotations, popular songs, oral storytelling, street slang, and argot peculiar to courtesans.” <Tableau, Fall 2013> There are many symbols and figures of speech with complex meanings that create difficulties even for educated Chinese.

David Tod Roy’s translation

“It’s not just a translation, it’s also a reference book,” said Yihong Zhang, a visiting scholar at the University of Pittsburgh who is translating some of Mr. Roy’s notes into Chinese as part of his doctoral dissertation at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “It opens a window onto Chinese literature and culture.” <New York Times, 11/18/2013>

Professor Roy’s translation, based on “金瓶梅词话 / Jin Ping Mei ci hua,” the earliest known edition of the novel, is the first full English translation with annotations. It took him thirty years (1983-2013) to complete and publish the five volumes. Scholars within the United States and abroad consider Professor Roy’s translation to be a masterpiece.

Both print and electronic editions of the five-volume set, published by Princeton University Press, are available at the Hesburgh Libraries.

The plum in the golden vase, or, Chin Pʻing Mei

The David Tod Roy Collection

The Hesburgh Libraries did not previously own the titles in the David Tod Roy Collection. The books were transferred from Professor Roy’s office, located on the University of Chicago campus, where he worked on his translation of Chin P’ing Mei. The collection includes sources in a broad range of formats, subjects, and genres—primary sources, as well as literary criticism, bibliographies, indexes, dictionaries, and encyclopedias that deal with Chinese traditional drama, fiction, poetry, etymology, history, religion, art, medicine, food, etc.

To browse titles in the ND Catalog, search “David Tod Roy private library.”

(Look inside the book and look for Professor Roy’s signature. It usually consists of his name, the place and date of acquisition, and occasionally, the name of the presenter.)

The Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies generously supported the purchase of the Roy Collection. The first shipment is expected to arrive in the Hesburgh Tower in early 2014.