Water Margin: Chinese Robin Hood and His Bandits

Water Margin (also known as Outlaws of the Marsh or All Men Are Brothers) is a bandit roman developed from folktales about the real life rebel Song Jiang who led a peasant uprising in the early twelfth century. These Chinese bandits have much in common with the social bandits Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and cowboys and gun fighters of Western movies. Just like Hollywood and BBC keep remaking Robin Hood tales, people of Chinese cultural sphere keep retelling the adventures of Song Jiang and his 108 bandits. Games, rewrites, anime, movies and TV dramas based on Water Margin keep coming to fill the popular demand. The official China Central TV made a series under the title Tales of the Marshes (1997); the set is now the Water Margin theme park, which is right next to the Three Kingdoms theme park. 

Modern, cleaner version of such of martial adventure stories, called wu xia (武侠: means martial, and , moral principle), have been serving as a popular introduction to the Chinese cultural tradition. Modern wu xia writers, such as Jin Yong (金庸 1924-) and Liang Yusheng (梁羽生 1924-2009), are not only wildly popular but also respected as great literary figures. In a similar vein, Japanese novelist Kenzo Kitakata published his 19 volume rewriting of Water Margin (2000-2005).  This bold rewrite, which makes Song Jiang into a revolutionary in the image of Fidel Castro, has earned praises for making Water Margin more relevant to today's readers by making characters and plot more cohesive, as well as supplying psychological profiles to the story. 

In contrast to Creation of Lesser Gods and Romance of Three Kingdoms, which depicted mostly the political ruling class, Water Margin mostly depicts merchant class, middle and lower ranking officials, and common working class people. Because this novel mostly tells about tough guys getting into dire situations, the fans are, as with the case with cowboy movies, predominantly male.


This novel is called Water Margin because the bandits use the Liangshan Mountain on the margin of a huge watery marsh as their base camp.   This is the area is now a World Heritage site and Water Margin theme park.  This is also the area Sun Quan of Romance of Three Kingdoms used as his power base. 

The bandits call each other hao han(好漢). Though usually translated as hero, the word hao han literally means good guy. Hao han are expected to possess high martial skills as well as keen sense of justice, and to be ever keen to right the wrongs. They also exhibit deep appreciation of fellow hao han and are extremely loyal to each other. Their loyalty to each other often takes precedence over their attachment to their families. Hao han are defined by their behavior. As long as their behavior meets the code of hao han, both law abiding citizens and outlaws of any social rank can be called hao han. Hao han often pride themselves in aiding the fugitives whose crime were the consequence of righting the wrongs. As hao han are defined by their behavior, women can join the rank. Female hao han are also called nujie (女 heroine). The Liangshan’s 108 bandits include three women.


Hao han types were also known as ren xia since the Spring and Autumn period. Ren () means responsibility and xia () weans a moral principle. In the civil war period of Spring and Autumn period, some decided to rely on personal relationships and a moral code to navigate the dangerous world, rather than observing the existing law. Before he met Confucius, Zilu had been drawn to the ren xia world. Because of their disregard of the law, ren xia types had social respectability problem. Sima Qian, the greatest of ancient Chinese historians, collected the stories of ren xia in Shiji (Yoxia lieyun: 遊侠列伝).  He protested against the prevailing notion that ren xia were petty criminals, emphasizing their moral intentions. The founder of the Western Han dynasty, Liu Bang (d. 195 BCE), started his carrier as ren xia. He initially disliked Confucianism, but as the emperor, he discovered the value of Confucius' teaching and adopted Confucianism as the state philosophy. By calling the bandits hao han instead of ren xia, Water Margin gives them a positive spin. Romance of Three Kingdoms' heroes are called not hao han but hao jie (豪傑) or ying xiong (英雄). Hao jie and ying xiong are also used in Water Margin as the equivalent of hao han.


In Water Margin, corrupt officials cause suffering to good people and the bandits right the wrongs. Even though that was the reality as common people saw it, this depiction did not please the authority. In order to avoid official wrath, Water Margin weaves a rather convoluted justification for the glorification of bandits. The 108 bandits were reincarnated demons whom a great Daoist sage of the antiquity had trapped under a stone monument. An arrogant court official insisted that the stone monuments be opened. As the result, these demons reappeared on earth to become the bandits. (Chap. 1-2) The bandits were reincarnations of the stars of 36 Heavenly Spirits and 72 Earthly Fiends. Though demons, these bandits were actually sent to earth with a divine mission. According to Goddess Xuan-nu's explanation, Song Jiang used to be a god but was sent by Emperor of Heaven to earth as a punishment for his lingering demonic tendency. He was expected to enforce dao on earth, first by becoming the leader of bandits to ensure justice and loyalty to prevail, then by becoming the imperial subject so as to help the common people and to bring peace to the country. If he did this, he would be absolved of his demonic tendency and become good. (Chapter 42) The author of Water Margin thus explains away all the strangeness of the plot—the bandits, sometimes extremely brutal, claimed to be just and loyal to the emperor while fighting the government forces,  and once obtaining the imperial pardon, worked for the imperial throne to suppress other bandits—as the divine ordination.


Reflecting its roots as the collection of folk hero tales, Water Margin reads like a collection of short stories about individual bandits rather than a novel written with a firm plot in mind. And it is these individual bandit’s lively life stories that fascinate the readers most. Here I try to introduce some of central characters of the story.


The first hao han of greater moral quality to appear in Water Margin is Lin Chong. Lin Chong, Arms Instructor of the Imperial Guard’s eight hundred thousand soldiers, is described as young and handsome, and well respected by his colleagues for his martial skills and high morality. Though a fictional character, he is so popular that the title of the Arms Instructor belongs to Lin Chong.


Lin Chong became an outlaw as the victim of a high official’s injustice. Lin Chong’s misfortune started when his beautiful wife on her shopping errand happened to attract the eyes of Gao Yanei, the adoptive son of the arch villain of the story, Gao Qiu.


There are four villains in Water Margin; Prime Minister Gao Qiu, Imperial Tutor Cai Jing, and eunuchs Tong Guan and Yang Jiang. All were real life high court officials close to the emperor and described as the cause of the empire’s decline, not only in Water Margin but also in history books. Water Margin makes historically obscure Gao Qiu into the arch enemy and antithesis of hao han; cold and greedy, having no sense of justice or ren. Water Margin tells that Gao Qiu was a good for nothing idle youth, but had a knack for learning aristocratic arts and sports, and was exceptionally good at Chinese football. His football skill won him a favor of another idler, Prince Ji, who later became Emperor Huizong (1100-1126). Because of the emperor’s personal favor, Gao Qiu became Prime Minister. Gao Qiu of Water Margin is a persistent schemer whose wickedness drives many hao han to join the Liangshan bandits. He also acts as the most persistent persecutor of the bandits of the Liangshan. Lin Chong is the first hao han victim of Gao Qiu.


Noticing Lin Chong’s wife’s outstanding beauty, Gao Yanei rudely grabbed her. Alerted by her maid, Lin Chong promptly rescued his wife from Gao Yanei, but could not punish him for his wanton behavior, because Gao Yanei’s social status. (Arms Instructor is a minor officer, ranked below court officials.) Gao Yanei kept making many sneaky attempts to gain access to Lin Chong’s wife, but failed miserably. Frustration and disappointment made Gao Yanei fall ill. Learning the cause of his adoptive son’s illness, Gao Qiu weaved a scheme to set up Lin Chong. First, Gao Qiu made his servant, disguised as a merchant, sell a majestic sword to Lin Chong. Next day, Gao Qiu sent Lin Chong a message, asking him to show him the sword which had become the talk of town. Arriving at Gao Qiu’s mansion, Lin Chong was instructed to enter the White Tiger Hall where wearing a weapon was prohibited. Gao Liu claimed that Lin Chong had entered the hall wearing the sword because he intended to  assassinate him, and had him tried. Lin Chong was sentenced to exile. (Chapter 7-8)


Gao Qiu wanted Lin Chong not only exiled but dead. Gao Qiu therefore bribed the escorting officers, asking them to kill him on the way. Lin Chong’s hao han friend Lu Zhishen came to his rescue.


Lu Zhishen, nicknamed Flowery Monk (for the beautiful full-body tattoo) or Sagacious Lu, is one of the most popular characters of Water Margin. Lu Zhishen is a hot-blooded hao han who cheerfully swings a heavy (some 80 pounds) iron staff. Lu Zhishen became a fugitive from the law when he tried to save a young woman from a butcher who was badgering her to become his concubine. Lu Zhishen picked a fight with the butcher, hit him a little harder than he had intended, and killed him. The young woman's father arranged Lu Zhishen be accepted as an apprentice monk at a Buddhist temple, to escape the authorities. (Buddhist monks and nuns are considered to have left the regular human society. Therefore, Buddhist temples had a sanctuary status.)

The Buddhist abbot foresaw that Lu Zhishen was to attain great enlightenment in the end. So he tried to lead Lu Zhishen in the right direction, but Lu Zhishen could not stick to the strict discipline. After several weeks, he got bore, went to town, and got drunk. Upon his return, he fought his fellow monks who tried to bar him from entering the temple gate drunk. (Buddhist monks and nuns are to stick to the diet of no meat, no fish, and no alcohol.) The abbot could not excuse Lu Zhishen and had to send him to another temple. At the new temple, he was put in charge of guarding the vegetable garden against persistent thieves. Lu Zhishen effortlessly beat the thieves, who, in turn, made him their sworn elder brother in respect for his physical prowess. One night, when Lu Zhishen was showing off his skill in swinging his heavy staff, Lin Chong happened to pass by. Impressed by the skill and prowess he witnessed, Arms Instructor befriended fugitive Lu Zhishen as fellow hao han. (Chapter 3-6)


When Lu Zhishen heard that Lin Chong was sentenced to exile Cangzhou, Lu Zhishen decided to rescue him. Lu Zhishen caught up with Lin Chong when the escorting officers were about to kill Lin Chong. Outraged by their attempt on his friend’s life, Lu Zhishen threatened to kill the officers. Lin Chong stopped Lu Zhishen, explaining that he did not want to become a fugitive from the law. Lu Zhishen respected his wish and decided to escort Lin Chong to Cangzhou, to ensure his safety. During the journey, Lu Zhishen satisfied his hot-blooded nature by bossing the two officers around to make Lin Chong as comfortable as possible. (Chapters 7-9)


Lin Chong had not escaped Gao Qiu’s persecution yet. Learning that Lin Chong was still alive and well, Gao Qiu bribed the local jailors. The jailors put Lin Chong in charge of a grain and fodder storage, and later set fire to the storage. When the fire started, Lin Chong happened to be at a nearby temple and escaped getting burnt alive. However, he realized that he would be executed for the loss of grain and fodder. When the jailors came looking for his body, Lin Chong killed them and became a fugitive from the law. At first, Lin Chong sought a refuge at the house of famous local hao han Chai Jin. Water Margin claims that Chai Jin was a descendant of the last Zhou dynasty emperor and that the first Song dynasty emperor had bestowed the family estate a sanctuary status. Because of this claim of an imperial lineage, Chai Jin was also called Lord Chai. (Chapter 9) Chai Jin suggested that Lin Chong should try joining the bandit troop based on the Liangshan Mountain. Lin Chong took this recommendation and headed to the Lingshan.(Chapters 10-11)


Lin Chong is, thus, clearly a victim of injustice who was forced to become a bandit against his wishes. Lin Chong’s pretty and faithful wife and her father shared his misfortune. Before leaving for exile, Lin Chong divorced his wife and returned her to her father. His wife fiercely protested, but Lin Chong told her not to waste her life waiting for him; she should remarry and live happily. Lin Chong’s father-in-law tried to make peace by letting Lin Chong divorce her while promising his daughter that he would let her wait for Lin Chong as long as she wanted. (Chapter 8) Later, after having established himself at the Liangshan, Lin Chong sent a servant to ask after his wife, only to learn that she had hanged herself to escape a forced marriages to Gao Yanei, and that her father had passed away shortly afterwards because of grief over her death. Lin Chong shed tears for them. (Chapter 20)


As a moral and upright man, Ling Chong played a key role in transforming the Liangshan bandits from a common bandit pack to social bandits. (Please see the reference for the definition of social bandits.) When he arrived at the Liangshan, Wang Lun and his bandits controlled this strategic location. Though he was clever enough to choose the Liangshan as the base, Wang Lun was no hao han, but a jealous and narrow-minded shao ren (petty man). Lacking personal qualities, Wang Lun was not happy to welcome Lin Chong, in the fear that Lin Chong, who was clearly a better man than him, might challenge his leadership position. When famous hao han Chao Gai and his men sought a refuge at the Liangshan, Wang Lu tried to drive them away. Upset by Wang Lu’s behavior, Lin Chong grabbed Wang Lun, cursed him roundly, and stabbed him to death. (Reflecting harsher living conditions, hao han of this novel think nothing of killing those whom they deem unrighteous or unworthy.) Chao Gai asked Lin Chong to become the leader, but Lin Chong declared to the bandits:

            “I used to be at the Imperial Guards, but was exiled and ended up here. Today these great hao han gathered here. That Wang Lun, his heart being so narrow and jealous of others, tried to drive these great men away. That’s the reason I killed him, not because I wanted his position. I am not talented enough to defeat the Imperial Army and destroy the evil ministers surrounding the emperor. Fortunately Brother Chao is here now. He values justice, despises riches, is intelligent and brave, so he is admired everywhere. For the sake of moral justice, I propose that he become our leader.” (Chapter 20)


Here, Lin Chong bestowed the Liangshan bandits the social bandits quality by defining their aim as to “destroy the evil ministers surrounding the emperor.” Chao Gai became the chief among the eleven hao han leaders who commanded several hundred lesser bandits.


The founder of the Liangshan bandits, Chao Gai, is not one of the 108 bandits in the Water Margin. Chao Gai’s function in this novel is to build the bandit throne so that the protagonist Song Jiang could succeed the throne because of ren, reflecting the Confucian ideal of rule by virtue. After his untimely death (Chapter 60), Chao Gai came to be venerated as the Liangshan bandits' protector god.


Chao Gai started off as a wealthy local landowner who had taken upon himself to fight injustice and help the needy. He was very keen on befriending fellow hao han, and provided food and lodging to any hao han who came to him, regardless of their circumstances (such as being a fugitive from the law). As an exemplary hao han, he was extremely fond of weapons, spent most of his day practicing martial arts, and had little interest in women. Chao Gai became famous by making ghosts disappear from his village. When the village across the river was haunted by ghosts, a Buddhist monk built a pagoda to get rid of them, which made the ghosts to move across the river into Chao Gai’s village. Upset Chao Gai crossed the river, lifted the pagoda, and moved it to his own village. The happy villagers called him Tower-Lifting Heavenly King.(Chapter 14) Water Margin does not tell what happened to the pesky ghosts after Chao Gai moved the pagoda. Hopefully, they did not cross back the river to harass the other village but disappeared from the both villages.


Chao Gai ended up joining the Liangshan bandits because of a Robin Hood type heist he and his six co-conspirators pulled. Liu Tang, nicknamed “Red-Haired Devil” because of red birthmark on the side of his face, came to Chao Gai with the proposal that they should rob the convoy of birthday gifts to Imperial Tutor Cai Jing, one of the four villains of the story.  The gifts were worth hundred thousand strings of money. Liu Tang said that the money was unjustly taken from the people in the first place, and that the robbers of the previous year’s convoy got away. (Chapter 14)


Chao Gai agreed, and recruited strategy savvy Wu Yong, Daoist Gong Sunsheng, and three brothers of the Ruan family for this project. (Chapters 15-16) Though the heist succeeded, Chao Gai was recognized at an inn they stayed, and the officials were tipped. The arresting officer happened to stop at the mansion of Song Jiang. Learning of the arrest warrant, Son Jiang rushed to inform his dear friend Chao Gai of the impending danger. Now fugitives from the law, Chao Gai and his six co-conspirators headed to the Liangshan. (Chapters 18-19)


Song Jiang, who later became the leader of the 108 bandits, is in reminiscence of Liu Bei of Romance of Three Kingdoms.  He was the third son of a wealthy local family. He studied Confucianism since childhood and became a local official. He was very filial, keen on martial arts training, and helping people in need. He so selflessly helped others that he was nicknamed Timely Rain or Welcome Rain (Rain was and still is the hardest commodity to obtain at the desired time and in desired quantity in agricultural society.)(Chapter 21)  He was widely known by reputation as a great hao han. Just as Liu Bei of Romance of Three Kingdoms was greatly benefited by the aura of imperial lineage, his reputation often helps Song Jiang (a celebrity effect, so to speak).

Song Jiang first fell afoulof the law through a momentary lapse of reason. After Chao Gai escaped capture thanks to Song Jiang’s warning, they kept in touch by the mean of letters. At this time, Song Jiang had a concubine named Yan Poxi, not because of his desire for her, but because her mother managed to push her upon him. Song Jiang and Yan Poxi had little interest in each other, and she found another lover. One day, Yan Poxi happened to find a letter from Chao Gai and money Chao Gai trusted to Song Jiang to pass on to another party. Yan Poxi threatened to hand them over to the authority, unless he let her go free and gave her the money. Song Jiang had no problem in letting her go, but could not allow her to keep the money, because the money did not belong to him. Yan Poxi kept ragging on him. When Song Jiang’s pocket knife accidentally dropped from his clothes, she started screaming, accusing him of trying to kill her. In a fit of rage, Song Jiang killed her with the knife. (Modern wu xia novels, reflecting modern sensitivity, ascribe better self-control and discipline to their heroes.)  Though her mother demanded that he be executed, the local magistrate, knowing Song Jiang’s reputation, let him escape. (Chapters 21-22) 


Hao han of this novel regarded the murder of Yan Poxi as an untoward misfortune that fell upon Song Jiang. Killing her did not diminish Song Jiang’s reputation as a truly virtuous hao han. Song Jiang at first sought a refuge under Chai Jin whose residence had the sanctuary status. When Song Jiang ventured to visit his old friend General Hua  Rong who was the commandant of the Clear Winds Fort, Song Jiang was arrested by Hua Rong’s civilian superior. This caused Hua Rong to rebel in order to rescue Song Jiang. After having rescued Song Jiang from the prison, they headed to the Liangshan. (Chapter 33)


On their way to the Liangshan, Song Jiang received a letter from his brother that said his father had passed away. Being a filial son, Song Jiang left his hao han friends and rushed home. His father was actually still alive, but wanted Song Jiang back because he did not want Song Jiang to become a bandit and hurt the family's good name. While they were enjoying their reunion, tipped off by someone who recognized Song Jiang on the road, the arresting officers arrived. To avoid causing trouble to his father, Song Jiang surrendered. Because the emperor issued a general amnesty since the murder, and because he was well respected and his father spent a lot of money in bribing the officials, Song Jiang’s sentence was reduced to exile. On his way to exile, the Liangshan bandits captured Song Jiang and the escorting officers. When the bandits tried to kill the officers, Song Jiang protected them. Though the bandits strongly urged him to join them, Song Jiang adamantly refused, saying he could not disobey his father:

“…How can I disobey his instructions and get him into trouble? Earlier, I wanted to join you, but Heaven made me run into Shi Yong in that village inn so that I would go home. My father told me why he would rather have me face a trial. When I was sentenced into exile, he repeatedly counseled me to sacrifice my wishes if it would hurt the family and bring distress to my father in his old age. When he was so clear, how could I disregard his words? If I were to do so, I disobey Heaven’s principles and my father’s teachings. If I become unrighteous and unfilial, what is the point of my life? If you won’t let me to go down the mountain, please kill me instead!” (Chapter 36)


Liangshan bandits could not reasonably dismiss Song Jiang’s argument. They thought themselves as men of morality, and filial piety is a foundation of Confucianism. So, they let him go. This scene is written with clear intention of establishing Song Jiang as the man of high moral principle. 


In his place of exile of Jiangzhou, Song Jiang received a preferential treatment because Wu Yong, the Liangshan bandits' strategist, was on friendly terms with the chief of the jail. There, Song Jiang met Li Kui who became his loyal sidekick. Nicknamed “Black Whirlwind” (for his dark complexion and his battle style of swirling two axes) or “Iron Ox” (for his physical prowess), Li Kui was fiercely attached to Song Jiang because he beliebed Song Jiang was the greatest hao han.(Chapter 38) Though one of the 36 senior (Spirits of Heaven) bandits, Li Kui lacked learning and acted based on his emotion and impulse. So, Li Kui often required other bandits’ supervision. Li Kui is like Zhang Fei of Romance of Three Kingdoms, a medieval Chinese version of Conan the Barbarian who could solve any problem by sheer muscle power. Li Kui always got the most dangerous assignment because of his recklessness. Because of his simple-mindedness, Li Kui acted both as troublemaker and bandits' clown.  (Li Kui, who lacks moral compass, does not qualify as hero by modern wu xia novels' standard.)


One day, Song Jiang, on a whim induced by wine and fine scenery,wrote a rebellious-sounding poem on the wall of a restaurant. Because of this poem, the local governor had Song Jiang arrested. Song Jiang was tortured into making a false confession of intending to destroy the government. Song Jiang was sentenced for execution. The Liangshan bandits, with double-axe-swinging Li Kui spearheading the attack, stormed the execution site and rescued Song Jiang. Now branded as a traitor to the imperial throne, Song Jiang had no other way to live but to join the bandits. (Chapters 39-40) 

Shortly after his arrival at the Liangshan, Song Jiang received the revelation about his divine mission from the goddess Xuan-nu that he was to enforce dao on earth. Song Jiang also was given three books of celestial knowledge, to help him with war strategies. (Chapter 42)


Chao Gai ordered the bandits to fetch Song Jiang’s father and brothers to the Liangshan so that Song Jiang could take care of them. Since Song Jiang’s arrival, Chao Gai stopped leading expeditions himself and let Song Jiang take the leadership in the bandit expeditions. When the rival bandits Zeng clan challenged the Liangshan bandits, however, Chao Gai decided to lead the defense force. The Zeng clan's arms instructor Shi Wengong shot Chao Gai with a poison arrow.  Chao Gai died, leaving the word that whoever avenged his death should become the next leader. (Chapter 60)  When his death was finally avenged, it was not Song Jiang but Lu Junyi who did it.


Lu Junyi who became Song Jiang’s right hand man is a character in reminiscence of Guan Yu of Romance of Three Kingdoms. He was a man of impressive physique, described as having eyes with unusual double irises and sloped eye brows, nine spans tall, as magnificent as silver, immensely dignified, and had the air of god descended from Heaven. He was an expert in weapons, and handled his clubs like a dragon, and peerless in handling cudgels (short heavy sticks). He was from a renowned wealthy family of Beijing, but cared not for money but for justice. At a battlefield, his blazing fighting spirit alone could scare away one thousand armies. He was nicknamed Jade Unicorn. (Chapter 61)


Lu Junyi is one of those who were recruited into the Liangshan bandits by rather unrighteous methods. Knowing that Lu Junyi would be a great asset to them, Song Jiang’s advisor Wu Yong weaved a scheme to force him to join the Liangshan bandits. Pretending to be a master of divination, Wu Yong paid a visit to Lu Junyi and told him that within one hundred days he would lose his family fortune and meet a death by sword. To alarmed Lu Junyi, Wu Yong told that the only way to avoid this fate was to travel to the direction of southeast at least one thousand miles. Wu Yong also made Lu Junyi to write down a poem on the wall, saying that the poem predicted his fate.


Worried by this prognostication, Lu Junyi decided to make a trip to the Tai-an province to do a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple of Heavenly Emperor of Benevolence—which venerates former Commander of Imperial Army Huang Feifu who appeared in Creation of Lesser Gods—as well as to do some trading. His servants and wife protested, but being an arrogant man—like Guan Yu—, he outright dismissed their objections and set out on the trip. His travel route brought him near the Liangshan Marsh where the bandits waited to capture him. Asked to join the bandits, Lu Junyi flatly refused to rebel against the imperial throne. He, however, could not avoid accepting the invitation to stay as a guest of honor. In the meanwhile, Wu Yong told Lu Junyi’s servant Li Gu that his master had joined the bandits and would not return, and that the poem on the wall declared Lu Junyi’s will to rebel against the emperor.


After two months’ stay, Lu Junyi was allowed to leave. Coming back to Beijing, Lu Junyi was intercepted by his loyal servant Yan Qing on the street. Yan Qing warned him not to go home. Li Gu told the authority that Lu Junyi joined the bandits, and claimed Lu Junyi’s wife and business as his own. Yan Qing protested, only to be thrown out of the household. Lu Junyi refused to believe him. He said, “My family has lived in Beijing for five generations. Everyone knows us! How many heads has Li Gu got to spare to dare to do such a thing? You’ve probably done some mischief yourself and came to tell me the story upside down! I go home and investigate, and then I’ll settle with you!”(Chapter 62)


His wife and Li Gu were not expecting Lu Junyi to come home. They handed him over to the authority, and Lu Junyi was convicted and sentenced to exile. Li Gu bribed the escorting officers, asking them to discretely kill Lu Junyi on the way. Faithful Yan Qing followed his disgraced master and found Lu Junyi just when the bribed officers tried to kill Lu Junyi. Trying save his master, Yan Qin killed the officers. Now both fugitives from the law, they decided that it was best to join the Liangshan bandits. On their way to the Liangshan, Lu Junyi was recaptured while resting at an inn and brought back to Beijing to be executed. (Chapters 61-62)


Hearing the news of Lu Junyi’s imminent execution, the Liangshan bandits raid a siege of Beijing. Governor of Beijing wrote a letter to his father-in-law, Imperial Tutor Cai Jing, at the court in Dongjin, asking for help. Cai Jing  asked his advisors what to do. One advisor recommended  sending Guan Sheng who was a descendant of Guan Yu (of Romance of Three Kingdoms) and a hero in the same mold. Cai Jing sent an expedition army under Guan Sheng to attack the Lainshan, while the bandits were away, laying a siege on Beijing.  The Liangshan bandits went back to the Liangshan in a hurry.  The bandits tricked Guan Sheng and captured him.  Song Jiang treated Guan Sheng with utmost courtesy and persuaded him to join the Liangshan bandits. (Chapters 63-64)

The bandits resumed the siege of Beijing.  Chao Gai, the founder and protector god of the Liangshan bandits, appeared in Song Jiang's dream and ordered him to go back to the Liangshan.  It was the beginning of the winter and not good time for a siege.  Still, worried about Lu Junyi and Shi Xiu who had been captured trying to save Lu Junyi, Song Jiang could not decide to leave.  Then, Song Jiang fell ill, which forced the bandits to lift the siege of Beijing. (Chapter 64-65)  

Cai Jing did not want the emperor to know that Guan Sheng whom he picked to lead the expedition army turned bandit.  He was thinking of covering it up by sweet-talking the bandits into submitting to the emperor.  So he ordered Governor of Beijing to keep Lu Junyi and Shi Xiu alive and well.  In the spring, the bandits attacked Beijing, set the buildings on fire, and raided the governor's mansion, to rescue Lu Junyi and Shi Xiu.  Though Song Jiang's advisor Wu Yong had earlier issued a notice to the people of Beijing, assuring that that they intended no harm to the people, the civilians of Beijing were also killed and injured during the raid.  The bandits made people take care of fire, distributed the treasure they found at governor's mansion and rice from the city's storage to the people of Beijing.  The bandits took their share of treasure and rice back to the Liangshan. The bandits also captured Lu Junyi’s wife and Li Gu. Lu Junyi took a brutal vengeance upon them by ripping out their hearts and cutting up their limbs. The bandits cheered and congratulated Lu Junyi. (Chapter 67) (Reflecting the harsher life conditions, ancient and medieval stories tend to consider justice on the basis of emotional satisfaction, rather than of judicial judgment; their sense of justice are very different form our modern sensitivity.  We need to remember that this novel comes from the time  when the European literature was filled with knights busy whacking each other into gushes of blood and oblivion.)  


During the raid, Governor of Beijing fled the city. He came back after the bandits had gone and found the most of his household members killed. His wife was hiding in the garden and survived. He wrote a letter to Cai Jing, asking for justice. Cai Jing realized his sweet-talking plan was not going to happen. So, he went to the emperor and asked an official army be sent against the Liangshan bandits. Court Advisor Zhao Ding stepped out and suggested to the emperor; "The Liangshan bandits had beaten the official army several times, since they occupy such a strategic location. It might work better toi nvite the Liangshan bandits into the official army and make them defend the border." Chai Jing accused Zhao Ding of treason.  The emperor demoted Zhao Ding to a commoner. After this, no one dared to say a word against sending the expedition army, though everyone knew it was a stupid idea.

Two generals were dispatched to punish the Liangshan bandits. Guan Sheng captured them and persuaded them to join the bandits. In the meanwhile, Song Jiang and Lu Junyi were attacking the rival bandits Zeng clan stronghold. Lu Junyi captured Shi Wengong who had shot Chai Jing with the poison arrow. Shi Wengong was decapitated and his head was placed before Chao Gai's tomb as offering. Despite Chao Gai’s last words to make the one who avenged his death to be the leader, Lu Junyi flatly refused to take leadership over Song Jiang. Li Kui threatened that the bandits would leave Liangshan if Song Jing did not become the leader.  (Chapter 68) 

The Liangshan's strategist Wu Yong suggested a friendly contest between Song Jiang and Lu Junyi. The bandits were running out of rations. Song Jiang and Lu Junyi should each raid one nearby rich town for rations. Whoever succeeded first would become the leader. Song Jiang won, and finally accepted to become the leader. (Chapters 69-70)

Song Jiang counted the number of hao han, and, to his delight, the number was 108. Nearly Half of them,  like Lin Chong and Song Jiang, used to be an official. Another popular bandit character who deserves to be introduced  is Wu Song. Chapters 23-32 are Wu Song's story.  These chapters later spurned a spin-off titled The Plum in the Golden Vase, which was sonce counted as one of the Four Great Novels until later replaced by Red Chamber Dream.  Wu Song is still the most popular character in his supposed birth place of Shandong. In Hangzhou, where Wu Song is said to have died, people elected his tomb multiple times, most recently in 2004. 

Wu Songs was of impressive physic, but with a drinking problem. One day, Wu Song, being drunk, got into an argument with a policeman and punched him. The policeman passed out. Believing that he had killed the policeman, Wu Song sought a refuge at Chai Jin's mansion which had a sanctuary status. Wu Song contracted malaria. Being sick, he drank a lot and often got into trouble with other guests of the mansion. When Song Jiang came to  seek refuge after killing Yan Poxi, Song Jiang treated Wu Song kindly and respectfully, so Wu Song behaved better. Grateful for Song Jiang's handling of him, Wu Song made Song Jiang his honorary elder brother. Wu Song decided to go see his elder brother Wu Dalang. On his way, he got drunk, and, on a dare, killed a tiger by bare hands. As this tiger had killed and eaten many people, Wu Song was made an official in recognition of his service to the community. (Chapter 23)

At this time, Wu Song's brother Wu Dalang happened to live in the same town as Wu Song was an made an official. Wu Dalang had recently married a pretty young wife named Pan Jinlian. She used to work as a maid at a rich man's house. The rich man tried to make sexual advance upon her, so she told her mistress about it. The rich man got upset and made her marry ugly Wu Dalang. Pan Jinlian hated her ugly husband and was trying to catch another one. Wu Dalang made Wu Song to live with them. Pan Jinlian tried to seduce Wu Song, but in vain. While Wu Song was away on an official business, Pan Jinlan fell for a wealthy merchant named Ximen Qing. (Chapter 24) The pair, with the help from a local busybody Mrs. Wang, poisoned Wu Dalang to death. (Chapter 25)

Wu Song came home to learn that his dear brother was dead. That night, Wu Dalang's ghost appeared and cried, "Brother, I died a terrible death!" Wu Song tried to prove at the court that his brother was poisoned, but he did not have enough evidence. So he killed Pan Jinlian and Ximen Qing and placed their severed heads in front of his brother's spirit tablet as offerings. (Chapter 26) Wu Song surrendered himself. The magistrate, taking into Wu Song's service into account, sentenced Wu Song for exile. (Chapter 27)

 In Mengzhou which was his place of exile, the prison chief's son Shi En treated Wu Song extremely well. Shi En used to own a tavern/casino/hotel/currency exchange business and was making good money. The recently appointed head of the local official army, however, brought a huge guy named Jiang Zhong who beat up Shi En and stole his business. Shi En knew Wu Songs' prowess by his Tiger Killer reputation and wanted Wu Song to help him. Wu Song agreed on the condition that Shi En bought him three cups of wine at three taverns on the way. Wu Song beat up Jiang Zhong and Shi En recovered his business. (Chapter 28-29)

Wu Song's action did not please Jiang Zhong's bosses. The local governor invited Wu Song for a feast, in order to frame him up for an attempted robbery. Wu Song was arrested and held in jail. Shi En spent a large sum on bribe to make sure Wu Song would be treated leniently. After 60 days, Wu Song was sentenced to exile. Shi En came to see Wu Song and told him that Jiang Zhong had again beaten him up and stolen his business. As the escorting officers were bribed, they tried to kill him on the way. Even handcuffed, mighty Wu Song overpowered and killed the officers. He, then, went back to kill Jiang Zhong and his bosses who had set him up. In order to escape the authorities that had failed him first in avenging his bother and then in protecting from the false accusation, , Wu song donned the wandering Buddhist practitioner's outfit, and went to join his friend Flowery Monk Lu Zhishen, who had formed a bandit band. (Chapters 29-32) Their bandit band later joined the Liangshan.

With all 108 bandits now on the Liangshan, Song Jiang proposed to perform a week-long ceremony to console the souls of all those who had perished during their adventures.  At the closing of the ceremony, a ball of fire fell from the sky. The bandits dug where the ball disappeared into the earth and found a stone tablet. On one side of the tablet, it said, “Enforce Dao on Heaven’s Behalf” and “Accomplish Loyalty and Righteousness,” and the other side was the list of the name of all 108 bandits under their corresponding stars. Thus given the sign of Heaven’s approval, Song Jiang suggested a vow for the entire bandits: ”Things have changed. I have something to say. Since we, the stars of Heavenly Spirits and Earthly Fiends, have gathered, we must make a vow before Heaven to unite in life and death, sharing dangers and misfortune, to strive together in order to defend the country and preserve peace for the people”

The vow states:

“….There are now 108 of us, which is the number ordained by Heaven and pleasing to the human mind. From this day on, if any of us holds unrighteous thought and harms our goal, pray, Heaven and earth scourge him, gods destroy him, so that he would never again be reincarnated in human form and remain forever buried in the pit. We wish to keep righteousness and loyalty in our hearts together and serve the country together, and vow to enforce dao on Heaven’s behalf, defend our borders, and secure our people’s safety.”

The bandits swore their eternal unity, and reaffirmed their brotherhood oath by sipping each other’s blood. (Chapter 71) This vow shows the easy co-existence of Daoism (Heaven and gods), Confucianism (righteousness and loyalty, serve the country and people), and Buddhism (misunderstood form of reincarnation).   


The Heaven's will was that the bandits be loyal and righteous. Being loyal meant to serve the emperor. Song Jiang tried hard to communicate his wish to be pardoned and allowed to serve the emperor. Li Kui who lacked learning and  did not share Song Jiang’s loyalty to the emperor, complained about Song Jiang wanting a pardon by the emperor. Li Kui proposed, not for the first time, to install Song Jiang as the emperor, which invited a sharp rebuke from Song Jiang. (Chapter 71)


In the capital, Inspector General Qui Qing recommended the emperor to try to win the Liangshan bandits over to the emperor’s service by sending a messenger with a letter and wine. The emperor approved this proposal. However, the letter’s wording and the messenger’s attendants’ rudeness—they were the villain ministers’ men sent to deliberately offend the bandits—enraged the bandits. To make matters worse, the wine had been switched with a local brew.  Song Jiang had to work really hard to protect the messenger from the irate bandits. The messenger reported the emperor that the mission failed. (Chapter 75)


The emperor decided to send an imperial expedition army against the bandits. Villain eunuch Tong Guan who was Chancellor of Military Affairs led the army against the bandits, but twice suffered cashing defeat. (Chapters 76-77)


Though a eunuch, Tong Guan is recorded in historical texts as a man of impressive statue, with bright eyes and swallow-shaped chin with a thin beard, who moved like a leopard. He led an army against Tibetan tribes of the north and made seventy thousand of them surrender. He also won an impressive victory against the then powerful central Asian country of Xi Xia, and became famous as the eunuch general. Later in his 60s, he put down the peasant revolt of Fang La. In Water Margin, it is Song Jiang and his bandits who led the expedition against Fang La. 


After Tong Guan’s failure, the emperor ordered Gao Qiu, the arch villain of the story, to lead an expedition army against the Liangshan bandits. Gao Qiu lost three times to the bandits, and even became their captive. Song Jiang treated Gao Qiu as a guest of honor, and asked him to convey his wish to be pardoned to the emperor. Gao Qiu promised to do so, but did not keep his words. (Chapters 78-80)


According to history books, Gao Qiu nominally held the top rank of the imperial army, but was actually in charge of administration, and did not fight in person. Though made into the arch villain in Water Margin, the sparse historical records on him suggests that he was lesser evil than Tong Guan or Cai Jing.


Song Jiang finally succeeded in communicating his wish to the emperor through Lu Junyi’s loyal servant Yan Qing. Yan Qing was an exceptionally good-looking man. Because his skin was so fair and beautiful, Lu Junyi had him get full body tattoo to show it off. He also possessed many artistic and martial talents, and an expert in Chinese wrestling. Yan Qing was one of few bandits Li Kui had to fear, because he could easily beat Li Kui using his wrestling skills.


Yan Qing acquainted the emperor’s favorite courtesan. (The emperors were not supposed to hit the town to see courtesans, but this emperor had little common sense.) Yan Qing manipulated her amorous interest in him and made her accept to become his honorary sister. Now nominally his elder sister, she arranged a secret meeting of her “brother” Yan Qing and the emperor. Yan Qing presented the emperor Song Jiang’s petition to be pardoned. The emperor went ahead to issue the pardon for the bandits. Song Jiang gratefully disbanded the bandit band, distributed the wealth they had accumulated, and became a general of the imperial army with the former bandits under his command. (Chapters 81-82)


The villain ministers did not like seeing Song Jiang and his men safe and prosperous. They talked the emperor into sending Song Jiang and his men to successive expeditions (four expeditions in the 120 chapter version, and two expeditions in the 100 chapter version).(On the different versions of the novel, see the note titled “Historical Development of Water Margin” below.)

            The first expedition against the Liao Tartars was a great success, with no causalities among the 108 bandits. In the 120 chapters version, the Liangshan bandits win two other expeditions. After the successful expedition(s), Daoist Gong Sunsheng took leave from Song Jiang to go home to serve his old mother, believing that Song Jiang had accomplished what he had wanted and would not need him any longer. Just as Kongming’s death led to the fall of Shu in Romance of Three Kingdoms, Gong Sunsheng’s departure (Chapter 110; Chapter 90 in the 100 chapters version) marks the beginning of the fall of the bandits.


The last expedition against the rebel army of Fang La in the south, during which the bandits often lamented Gong Sunsheng’s absence—he could perform impressive magic on the battle fields like Kongming—, turned out to be a disaster. Up until this expedition, none of the 108 bandits died. After the last expedition, only 36 remained. Many died in battle, and others left during the expedition for various reasons, such as illness and leaving the country for further adventures. Lu Junyi’s wise servant Yan Qing survived the expedition but became a recluse. knowing that the villains would not leave the bandits in peace. Lu Zhishen, the monk bandit, attained an enlightened passing at the Liehe Pagoda in Hangzhou.  His student, former Tiger Killer Wu Song lost an arm in a battle, became a worker at the pagoda, and nursed Lin Chong who was afflicted by paralysis.  Lin Chong died six months later.  Wu Song died peacefully at the age of 80.  The surviving bandits received the official recognition from the emperor for their service and went their own ways. Some worked as civil servants, while others returned home. 


Even then, the four villains still conspired to take down Song Jiang who was now a decorated war hero and Governor of Chuzhou. They first poisoned Song Jiang’s right hand man, Lu Junyi, with mercury mixed in food at the feast held by the emperor. On his way home, Lu Junyi, because of the poison and wine, stumbled, fell into water, and drowned. Then the villains persuaded the emperor to send a vase of imperial vintage wine to Song Jiang, which they switched with poisoned wine. Song Jiang, no longer having his wise advisors at his side, unsuspectingly drank the poisoned wine. Realizing that the wine was poisoned because of stomach pain, Song Jiang thought of Li Kui who was now the commandant of Runzhou. Knowing that Li Kui would rebel if he found out that Song Jiang was poisoned, he summoned Li Kui and made him drink poisoned wine. Then, Song Jiang asked: “You might not know, but the court is going to send me poisoned wine. If I drink, I die. What should I do?” “Rebel, Big Brother!” was Li Kui’s answer. Song Jiang waited until the poison started to work on Li Kui and said:

            “Little Brother, please forgive me. The emperor sent me a messenger with poisoned wine the other day, and I drank it. I am going to die today or tomorrow. I have always strived for two principles of loyalty and righteousness, and never strayed. Now, the imperial court makes me die for no reason. The court may wrong me, but I will never wrong the court! I was afraid that if I die you would rebel and spoil the reputation of loyalty and righteousness we earned while acting on Heaven’s behalf from the Liangshan. So I asked you here and also gave you poisoned wine. By the time, you return to Runzhou you’ll surely die. After you have died, come to the outside of Chuzhou’s South Gate. It’s called Liao Er Flats and looks just like Liangshan. Let’s meet as spirits there. I will be buried there. I have already left instruction to that effect.” Song Jiang’s tears fell like rain. Li Kui also shed tears and cried, “Enough, enough, enough!. I served you in life, Big Brother, so I’ll become a little spirit brother and serve you after death!”(Chapter 100/ 120)


Water Margin ends with the death of martyrs. Song Jiang dies as the martyr to his moral principles, while Li Kui dies as a martyr to his fierce loyalty to Song Jiang. Song Jiang’s military advisor Wu Yong and General Hua Rong, who were the closest friends of Song Jiang, saw Song Jiang and Li Kui in their dreams and learned that Song Jiang died of poison wine and was buried in the Liao Er Flats. They independently decided to follow Song Jiang to the afterworld. When they run into each other at the Song Jiang’s grave, Wu Yong, who had remained single, tried to dissuade Hua Rong from dying by pointing out that Hua Rong had familial obligation to his beautiful wife and young children. Hua Rong dismissed Wu Yong’s argument, saying that they were well looked after. They hanged themselves together, following their ideal of brotherly bond that lasts beyond the boundary of death. 


Sometime after their death, Song Jiang and Li Kui appeared in the emperor’s dream. Song Jiang declared his unwavering loyalty to the emperor, made a polite complaint about the poisoning, and asked for justice. He also explained that Jade Emperor of Heaven, in recognition of his righteousness, designated him the protector god of the Liangshan. When Song Jiang tried to show the emperor around his new adobe in the world of spirits, Li Kui suddenly appeared, with his battle-axes in hand. He cried, “Emperor, Emperor! Why did you believe your four scam ministers and killed us for no reason? Now that we’ve met, vengeance is mine!” Swinging his two axes, he rushed to the emperor.


The startled emperor woke up and Li Kui and his axes vanished. Though he did try to punish the wicked four, the emperor, not being of firm nature, again let the cunning four talk their way out of their crime. Though the story repeatedly tells that the emperor was wise and merely confused by the wicked ministers, it is hard to see the emperor who lets himself repeatedly blinded by the same people as wise. In real life, Emperor Huizong was an undisciplined big spender who wrecked the imperial finance by collecting expensive art objects. His reckless spending caused exploitive taxation, which led the real histrical bandits such as Song Jiang and Fang La to uprising. He was a self-indulgent idler, far from wise.


In Water Margin, the emperor posthumously awarded Song Jiang the title of Loyal, Chivalrous and Efficacious Duke, and built a temple for Song Jiang and other bandits who died in service for the empire. The story ends by telling that Song Jiang protected the common people even after death:

Song Jiang often manifested his divine power and the people offered sacrifices on all seasons. On the Liangshan, if the people prayed for wind, they got wind, and if they prayed for rain, they got rain. Song Jiang also manifested his divine power in Liao Er Flats. There the people built a large temple with two wings. They petitioned and received grant from the emperor. They installed the statues of 36 senior members in the temple, and the statues of 72 junior members and the servants in the wings. People went to worship there earnestly, and the stream of people from near and far never ceased. Those who keep the country safe and protect the people are to receive continuous offerings, holding annual festivals and being worshipped night and day. If the people observe the customs and keep the country safe, any prayer will be answered.

These ancient sites still exist as ruins to this day. (Chapter 100/ 120)

A couple of poems follow to conclude the novel.


Song Jiang ended his life like Robin Hood, harmed by unjust betrayal but refusing to get back at the evil doer. Song Jiang's declaration, "The court may wrong me, but I will never wrong the court!" is the (possibly intentional) opposite of Romance of Three Kingdoms' villain Cao Cao's statement, “I can wrong the world, but won’t let it wrong me.” Like Robin Hood, Song Jiang and his bandits live on as popular characters in the people’s imagination.  Song Jiang and other members of of 36 Heavenly Stars stand as statues in the Loyalty temple recreated on the Liangshan as a part of the theme park and are receiving streams of tourists today.



Note: The Historical Development of Water Margin


As stated before, the Liangshan bandits’ legend grew out of a historical incident. It is recorded in the official history book that a bandit named Song Jiang and his men staged an uprising in the Shandong province and that the emperor issued an order to hunt them down in 1121. The bandit Song Jiang was captured in 1122. For the same year, the record lists the name of Song Jiang as one of the generals to lead an imperial army expedition against a larger uprising lead by warlord Fang La. The names might have belonged to two different men. However, it was commonly believed that they were one and the same, and the legend of the bandit-turned-general Song Jiang of Water Margin was born. For about two hundred years since the time of the bandit Song Jiang’s uprising, the number of his bandits in stories remained 36. Bandit stories often took biographical form, featuring the life story of individual bandits, rather than presenting the bandits as a collective.


 In the early Yuan dynasty era of the late thirteenth century, the story became very popular. China was then under the Mongolian conquest dynasty of Yuan, established by Kublai Khan (r. 1260-94). Khublai Khan retained many Chinese as their advisors, and promoted the veneration of Confucius in order to win hearts and minds of the new subjects. However, the Mongols in general held the Mongols and other nomadic non-Han ethnic groups superior to the Chinese (and the Chinese, in turn, felt superior to the nomads), and placed the Chinese who had fought the Mongols under the South Song banner in the lowest rank. This caused bitter resentment among the South Song Chinese. The story of bandits’ rebellion against the corrupt government, therefore, became emotionally very appealing. Popular and frequent retelling of the story increased the number of bandits to 108. All 108 bandits have their distinct names, but not all have distinct characteristics.


 The author of currently available Water Margin is still the subject of academic debates. The novel has been traditionally attributed to the fourteenth century literati Shi Nai-an. We do not have much information on Shi Nai-an. Because there are some apparent similarities in characters and plot between Romance of Three Kingdoms and Water Margin, some argue that Luo Guanzhong, the author of Romance of Three Kingdoms, was the real author, and others argue that Luo Guanzhong edited Shi Nai-an’s text. Water Margin also comes in different length versions. The earlier version, whose oldest example in existence is from the mid-sixteenth century, has 100 chapters. In the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century, literati named Yang Dingjian added 20 chapters worth of extra adventures and made the 120 chapter version. We know nothing about Yang Dingjian other than his name and that he added these 20 chapters.


Another early Qing Dynasty era literati named Jing Shengtan (c. 1610-61) made the 70 chapter version by deleting chapters after chapter 71 and renumbering the chapters by changing the first chapter into introduction. He claimed that the first 71 chapters were original by Shi Nai-an and of high literary value, but that the rest were worthless addition by Luo Guanzhong. This 70 chapters version became the most popular version in China, even though there is no evidence to support Jing Shengtan’s claim that the chapters after chapter 71 is of different authorship.


The first 71 chapters and the rest of chapters do have different focuses. The first 71 chapters describe how 108 bandits came to gather on the Liangshan Mountain and became the band of sworn brothers and sisters. From then on, Song Jiang tried hard to receive an imperial pardon, did obtain the pardon to become a part of the imperial army, and the Liangshan bandits fought other bandits in service of the imperial throne, until they eventually fell apart. While Jing Shengtan’s deletion of the chapters after 71 makes the story more cohesive, his rejection of the latter parts seems to have been more to do with resentment toward the non-Han Qing dynasty. The Han Chinese under the Manchurian dynasty of Qing did not want to read that Sun Jiang received a pardon from the emperor and fought on behalf of the imperial throne. At the end of the 100 and 120 chapter versions, Song Jiang fell victim to the villains' persecution and died as a martyr to his Confucian morality. This ending may be politically correct but depressing. It was much more satisfying to end the story when all 108 bandits come together on the Liangshan, thus leaving the bandits room for further adventures to avenge injustices of the world in behalf of common people. The theme of the Han struggle against the foreign Yuan and Qin dynasties are still a very popular theme in kung fu movies today.


Water Margin suffered several official bans under the Mongol Yuan and Manchu Qing dynasties. Chairman Mao Zedong also criticized Water Margin because of its anti-government sentiment. When he was a young ambitious rebel in 1917, Mao Zedong debated with his friends the best way to protect China from the threatened invasion by Japanese army. His answer then was to “imitate the heroes of the Liangshan.”  Toward the end of his life, during the Cultural Revolution in 1975, Mao turned his back on the Liangshan bandits and wrote a criticism of Water Margin, calling the bandits “capitulators.” Bandits and rebels still remain politically charged categories today, as we have recently seen in the Arab Spring and riots in the UK.  When there is a popular anger at the established authority, the manifestation of people's will can be hailed as democratic spirit or damned as rioting. Until the winner emerges, we do not know which will be the case.    




The British historian Erick Hobsbawm believes that Robin Hood type “social bandit” is remarkably uniform phenomena throughout the ages and continents and counts the Liangshan bandits among them. In his book Bandits (1969), Hobsbawm lists the characteristics of Noble Robber (social bandits) as follows:

               “First, the noble robber begins his career of outlawry not by crime, but as the victim of injustice, or through being persecuted by the  authorities for some act  

               which they, but not the custom of his people, consider as criminal.

                Second, he ‘rights wrongs.

                Third, he ‘takes from the rich to give to the poor.

                Fourth, he ‘never kills but in self-defense or just revenge.

                Fifth, if he survives, he returns to his people as an honorable citizen and member of the community. Indeed, he never actually leaves   the community.

                Sixth, he is admired, helped and supported by his people.

                Seventh, he dies invariably and only through treason, since no decent member of the community would help the authorities against him.

                Eighth, he is—at least in theory—invisible and invulnerable.

                Ninth, he is not the enemy of the king or the emperor, who is the fount of justice, but only of the local gentry, clergy, or

                other  oppressors.”    (Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits, revised ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981), p.42-43.)

Though Hobsbawm’s summary is largely based on the Western social bandits, as Hobsbawm himself points out, the general thrust of the prototype does hold true for the Liangshan bandits of better qualities.

施耐庵 水浒传

Shinj Komadai, trans, Suikoden (Water Margin), 3 vols. (Tokyo, Heibon-sha, 1972).

John Dent-Young and Alex Dent-Young, trans, Mount Liang by Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong, 5 vols. (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1994-2002).

Sidney Shapiro, trans, Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong, Outlaws of the Marsh,  4 vols.(Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1993).

Ichisada Miyazaki, Suiko-den: Kyoko no Naka no Shijitsu (Water Margin: Historical Facts in a Fiction) (Tokyo: Chuo Kodan, 1993), p. 87-134.

Cho Kyo (Zhang Jing), Koi no Chugoku Bunmei-shi (Love in Chinese History) (Tokyo: Chikuma  Shoten, 1993), p. 177.         

Stuart Schram, Mao Tse-tung (Baltimore, Md.: Pelican, 1967).

Harrison E. Salisbury, The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng (New York: Little Brown & Co., 1992).

 Wang Yong, "Suikoden no Bunnka-shi" (Cultural History of Water Margin), Japanology of China.