Water Margin (known in Chinese as Shuihu Zhuan, sometimes abbreviated to Shuihu), also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, All Men Are Brothers, Men of the Marshes, or The Marshes of Mount Liang, is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.
Attributed to Shi Nai'an and written in vernacular Chinese, the story, set in the Song Dynasty, tells of how a group of 108 outlaws gathered at Mount Liang (or Liangshan Marsh) to form a sizable army before they are eventually granted amnesty by the government and sent on campaigns to resist foreign invaders and suppress rebel forces. The novel was originally titled in Chinese Jianghu Haoke Zhuan ( ), and the title was sometimes extended to Zhongyi Shuihu Zhuan ( ).
Historical context and development
Water Margin is a novel based on the outlaw Song Jiang and his 36 companions. The group was active in the Huainan region and surrendered to the Song Dynasty government in 1121. They were recorded in the historical text History of Song. The name of "Song Jiang" appeared in the biography of Emperor Huizong of Song, which stated:
The outlaw Song Jiang of Huainan and others attacked the army at Huaiyang, (the Emperor) sent generals to attack and arrest them. (The outlaws) infringed on east of the capital (Kaifeng), Hebei, and entered the boundaries of Chu (referring to present-day Hubei and Hunan) and Haizhou (covering parts of present-day Jiangsu). The prefect Zhang Shuye was ordered to pacify them.
Zhang Shuye's biography further described Song Jiang and the outlaws' activities, and how they were eventually defeated by Zhang.
Folk stories of Song Jiang circulated during the Southern Song Dynasty. The first text to name Song Jiang's 36 companions was Miscellaneous observations from the year of Guixin ( ) by Zhou Mi, written in the 13th century. Among the 36 were Lu Junyi, Guan Sheng, Ruan Xiaoer, Ruan Xiaowu, Ruan Xiaoqi, Liu Tang, Hua Rong and Wu Yong. Some of the characters who later became associated with Song Jiang also appeared around this time. They include Sun Li, Yang Zhi, Lin Chong, Lu Zhishen and Wu Song.
A direct precursor of Water Margin was the Old incidents in the Xuanhe period of the great Song Dynasty ( ), which appeared around the mid 13th century. The text is a written version of storytellers' tales, based on supposed historical events. It is divided into ten chapters, roughly covering the history of the Song Dynasty from the early 11th century to the establishment of the Southern Song regime in 1127. The fourth chapter covers the adventures of Song Jiang and his 36 companions, and their eventual defeat by Zhang Shuye. Some of the more well known stories and characters in Water Margin are clearly visible, including "Yang Zhi sells his precious saber", "Robbing the convoy of birthday gifts", "Song Jiang kills Yan Poxi", "Fighting Fang La", among others. Song Jiang and his outlaws were said to operate in the Taihang Mountains.
Stories about the outlaws became a popular subject for Yuan Dynasty drama. During this time, the material on which Water Margin was based evolved into what it is in the present. The number of outlaws increased to 108. Even though they came from different backgrounds (including scholars, fishermen, imperial drill instructors etc.), all of them eventually came to occupy Mount Liang (or Liangshan Marsh). There is a theory that Water Margin became popular during the Yuan era as the common people (predominantly Han Chinese) resented the Mongol rulers. The outlaws' rebellion was deemed "safe" to promote as it was supposedly a negative reflection of the fallen Song Dynasty. Concurrently, the rebellion was also a call for the common people to rise up against corruption in the government. The Chongzhen Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, acting on the advice of his ministers, banned the book as a means of preventing revolts.
The novel, praised as one of the earliest "masterpieces" of vernacular fiction, is renowned for the "mastery and control" of its mood and tone. The work is however also known for its use of vivid, humorous and especially racy languages. It has been denounced as "obscene" by various critics from the Ming Dynasty on.
The opening episode in the novel is the release of the 108 spirits, imprisoned under an ancient stele-bearing tortoise. The next chapter describes the rise of Gao Qiu, one of the primary antagonists of the story. Gao Qiu abuses his status as a grand marshal by bullying Wang Jin, whose father taught Gao a painful lesson when the latter was still a street roaming ruffian. Wang Jin flees from the capital with his mother and by chance he meets Shi Jin, who becomes his student. The next few chapters tell the story of Shi Jin's friend Lu Zhishen, followed by the story of Lu's sworn brother Lin Chong. Lin Chong is framed by Gao Qiu for attempted assassination and almost dies in a fire at a supply depot set by Gao's lackeys. He slays his foes and abandons the depot, eventually making his way to Liangshan Marsh, where he becomes an outlaw. Meanwhile, the "Original Seven", led by Chao Gai, rob a convoy of birthday gifts intended for the minister Cai Jing, another primary antagonist of the story. They flee to Liangshan Marsh after defeating a group of soldiers sent by the authorities to arrest them, and settle down there as outlaws as well, with Chao Gai as chief of the outlaw band. As the story progresses, more people come to join the outlaw band, among whom include army generals and civil servants who grew tired of serving the corrupt government, as well as men with special skills and talents. Stories of the outlaws are told in separate sections in the following chapters. Connections between characters are vague, but the individual stories are eventually pieced together by chapter 40 after Song Jiang succeeds Chao Gai as the leader of the outlaw band, after the latter dies in battle against the Zeng Family Fortress.
The plot further develops by illustrating the conflicts between the outlaws and the Song government after the Grand Assembly. Song Jiang strongly advocates making peace with the government and seeking redress for the outlaws. After defeating the imperial armies, the outlaws are eventually granted amnesty by the Emperor Huizong. The emperor recruits them to form a military contingent and allows them to embark on campaigns against invaders from the Liao Dynasty and suppress the rebel forces of Tian Hu, Wang Qing and Fang La within the Song Dynasty's domain.
Outline of chapters
19th century mural depicting Lu Zhishen pulling a tree, a scene from the novel. The following outline of chapters is based on a 100 chapters edition. Yang Dingjian's 120 chapters edition includes other campaigns of the outlaws on behalf of Song Dynasty, while Jin Shengtan's 70 chapters edition omits the chapters on the outlaws' acceptance of amnesty and subsequent campaigns.
||Marshal Hong releases the 108 spirits
||The rise of Gao Qiu
||The story of Shi Jin
||The story of Lu Zhishen
||The story of Lin Chong
||The story of Yang Zhi
||The robbing of the birthday gifts by the "Original Seven"
||The story of Song Jiang
||The story of Wu Song
||The story of Hua Rong
||Song Jiang's encounters in Jiangzhou
||The story of Shi Xiu and Yang Xiong
||The three assaults on the Zhu Family Village
||The story of Lei Heng and Zhu Tong
||The outlaws attack Gaotangzhou; the search for Gongsun Sheng
||The first imperial assault on Liangshan Marsh (led by Huyan Zhuo)
||The outlaws attack Qingzhou; Huyan Zhuo defects to Liangshan
||The outlaws led by Gongsun Sheng attack Mount Mangdang
||The first assault by the outlaws on the Zeng Family Village; the death of Chao Gai
||The story of Lu Junyi; the outlaws attack Daming Prefecture; the second imperial assault on Liangshan Marsh (led by Guan Sheng)
||Guan Sheng defects to Liangshan; The third imperial assault on Liangshan Marsh (led by Shan Tinggui and Wei Dingguo)
||The second assault by the outlaws on the Zeng Family Fortress;
||The outlaws attack Dongping and Dongchang prefectures
||The Grand Assembly; the funny and lethal antics of Li Kui
||The emperor offers amnesty for the first time; the fourth imperial assault on Liangshan Marsh (led by Tong Guan)
||The fifth imperial assault on Liangshan Marsh (led by Gao Qiu)
||The outlaws are granted amnesty
||The Liangshan heroes attack the Liao invaders
||The Liangshan heroes attack Fang La
||The tragic dissolution of the Liangshan heroes
The extended version includes the Liangshan heroes' expeditions against other notable rebel leaders, Tian Hu in Hebei and Wang Qing in Sichuan, prior to the campaign against Fang La.
Other stories tells such as the heroes fighting the Jurchen-ruled Jin Dynasty or moving to Siam.
There is considerable debate on the authorship of Water Margin. While most attribute the novel to Shi Nai'an, there were some who believe that the novel, or portions of it, was written by others, such as Luo Guanzhong (the author of Romance of the Three Kingdoms), Shi Hui ( ) and Guo Xun ( ).
Illustration of a game of cuju
from Water Margin
, from a 15th century woodcut edition
Many scholars believe that the first 70 chapters were written by Shi Nai'an, while the final 30 chapters were written by Luo Guanzhong. Luo may have been a student of Shi. Another theory, which first appeared in Gao Ru's Baichuan Shuzhi ( ) during the Ming Dynasty, suggests that the whole novel was written and compiled by Shi Nai'an, and then edited by Luo Guanzhong later.
Another thesis states that the novel was created based on information accumulated over time. Stories of the Liangshan outlaws first appeared in Old incidents in the Xuanhe period of the great Song Dynasty ( ) and have been circulating since the Southern Song Dynasty, while folk tales and opera related to Water Margin have already existed long before the novel itself came into existence. This theory suggests that Shi Nai'an gathered and compiled these pieces of information to write Water Margin.
Some believe that Water Margin was written entirely by Luo Guanzhong. Wang Daokun ( ), who lived during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the Ming Dynasty, first mentioned in Classification of Water Margin ( ) that: "someone with the family name Luo, who was a native of Yue (a reference to the southern China region covering Zhejiang), wrote the 100-chapter novel." Several scholars from the late Ming and Qing dynasties after Wang Daokun's time also pointed out that Luo Guanzhong was the author of Water Margin. During the early Republican era, Lu Xun and Yu Pingbo suggested that the simplified edition of Water Margin was written by Luo Guanzhong, while the traditional version was by Shi Nai'an.
However, Huikang Yesou ( ) in Shi Yu ( ) disagree with Wang Daokun's view on the grounds that there were significant differences between Water Margin and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, therefore these two novels could not have been written by the same person.
Hu Shih felt that the draft of Water Margin was done by Luo Guanzhong, and could have contained the chapters on the outlaws' campaigns against Tian Hu, Wang Qing and Fang La, but not invaders from the Liao Dynasty.
Another theory states that Luo Guanzhong was from the Southern Song period and not the Ming Dynasty. Cheng Muheng ( ) suggested in Notes on Water Margin ( ) that Luo lived in the late Southern Song Dynasty and early Yuan era. Huang Lingen ( ) pointed out that the name of one of the compilers of Anecdotes of Jingkang ( ) was Nai'an, and suggested that this "Nai'an", who lived during the Southern Song Dynasty, was Shi Nai'an. He also felt that Shi Nai'an wrote a simplified version of Water Margin, which is not the current edition.
Water Margin was also said by some to be authored by Shi Hui ( ), a nanxi (southern opera) playwright who lived during the late Yuan Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty.
Xu Fuzuo ( ) of the Ming Dynasty mentioned in Sanjia Cunlao Weitan ( ) that Junmei ( ; Shi Hui's style name)'s intention in writing Water Margin was to entertain people, and not to convey any messages.
During the Qing Dynasty many people started linking Shi Hui and Shi Nai'an together, suggesting that they are actually the same person. An unnamed writer wrote in Chuanqi Huikao Biaomu ( ) that Shi Nai'an's given name was actually Hui, style name Juncheng ( ), and he was a native of Hangzhou. Sun Kaidi ( ) also wrote in Bibliography of Chinese Popular Fiction that "Nai'an" was Shi Hui's pseudonym. Later studies revealed that Water Margin contained lines in the Jiangsu and Zhejiang dialect, and that You Gui Ji ( ), a work of Shi Hui, bore some resemblance to Water Margin, hence the theory that Water Margin was authored by Shi Hui.
Another theory attributes the authorship of Water Margin to Guo Xun ( ), a politician who lived during the Ming Dynasty. Shen Defu ( ) mentioned in Wanli Yehuo Bian ( ) that Guo Xun wrote Water Margin. Shen Guoyuan ( ) added in Huangming Congxin Lu ( ) that Guo Xun mimicked the writing styles of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin to write Guochao Yinglie Ji ( ). Qian Xiyan ( ) also stated in Xi Gu ( ) that Guo Xun edited Water Margin before.
Hu Shih countered this theory in his Research on Water Margin ( ) that Guo Xun's name was used as a disguise for the real author of Water Margin. Dai Bufan ( ) had a differing view, as he suspected that Guo Xun wrote Water Margin, and then used "Shi Nai'an" to conceal his identity as the author of the novel.
The earliest editions of the Water Margin (in manuscript copies) were from the late 14th century. The earliest extant complete edition of Water Margin is a 100-chapter printed book dating from the mid-16th century. Another edition, with 120 chapters by Yang Dingjian ( ), has been preserved from the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1573 1620) in the Ming Dynasty. Yet other editions were published since this era to the early Qing Dynasty, including a 70-chapter edition by Jin Shengtan.
A printed copy of the Water Margin, dating from the Jiajing Emperor's reign in the Ming Dynasty, titled Jingben Zhongyi Zhuan ( ), is currently preserved in the Shanghai Library. The various editions of Water Margin can roughly be classified into two groups - simplified and traditional.
The simplified editions include stories on the outlaws being granted amnesty, followed by their campaigns against the Liao Dynasty, Tian Hu, Wang Qing and Fang La, all the way until Song Jiang's death. At one point, the later chapters were compiled into a separate novel, titled Sequel to Water Margin ( ), which is attributed to Luo Guanzhong.
Known simplified editions of Water Margin include:
- A 115 chapters edition, Masterpieces of the Han and Song dynasties ( )
- A 110 chapters edition, Chronicles of Heroes ( )
- A 164 chapters edition, combined with Sequel to Water Margin
The traditional editions are more descriptive and circulated more widely than their simplified counterparts. The three main versions of the traditional editions are a 100 chapters, a 120 chapters and a 70 chapters edition. The most commonly modified parts of the traditional edition are the stories on what happened after the outlaws are granted amnesty.
- 100 chapters edition: Includes the outlaws' campaigns against the Liao Dynasty and Fang La after they have been granted amnesty.
- 120 chapters edition: An extended version of the 100 chapters edition, includes the outlaws' campaigns against Tian Hu and Wang Qing.
- 70 chapters edition: Edited by Jin Shengtan in the late Ming Dynasty, this edition uses chapter 1 as a prologue and ends at chapter 71 of the original version, and does not include the stories about the outlaws being granted amnesty and their campaigns.
The Water Margin has been translated into many languages. Japanese translations date back to at least 1757, when the first volume of an early Suikoden (Water Margin rendered in Japanese) was printed. Other early adaptations include Takebe Ayakari's 1773 Japanese Water Margin (Honcho suikoden), the 1783 Women's Water Margin (Onna suikoden), and Sant Ky den's 1801 Chushingura Water Margin (Chushingura suikoden).
In 1805, Kyokutei Bakin released a Japanese translation of the Water Margin illustrated by Hokusai. The book, called the New Illustrated Edition of the Suikoden (Shinpen Suikogaden), was a success during the Edo period and spurred a Japanese "Suikoden" craze.
In 1827, publisher Kagaya Kichibei commissioned Utagawa Kuniyoshi to produce a series of woodblock prints illustrating the 108 heroes of the Water Margin. The 1827-1830 series, called 108 Heroes of the Water Margin or Tsuzoku Suikoden goketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori, catapulted Kuniyoshi to fame. It also brought about a craze for multicolored pictorial tattoos that covered the entire body from neck to mid-thigh.
Following the great commercial success of the Kuniyoshi series, other ukiyo-e artists were commissioned to produce prints of the Water Margin heroes, which began to be shown as Japanese heroes rather than the original Chinese personages.
Among these later series was Yoshitoshi's 1866-1867 series of 50 designs in Chuban size, which are darker than Kuniyoshi's and feature strange ghosts and monsters.
Pearl S. Buck was one of the first English translators of the 70-chapter version. Titled All Men are Brothers and published in 1933, the book was well-received by the American public. However, it was also heavily criticized for its errors and inaccuracies; an often cited example from this edition is Buck's mistranslation of Lu Zhishen's nickname "Flowery Monk" as "Priest Hua".
Of the later translations, Chinese-naturalized scholar Sidney Shapiro's Outlaws of the Marsh (1980) is considered to be one of the best. However, as it was published during the Cultural Revolution, this edition received little attention then. It is a translation of a combination of both the 70-chapter and 100-chapter versions. The most recent translation, titled The Marshes Of Mount Liang, by Alex and John Dent-Young, is a five-volume translation of the 120-chapter version.
Influences and adaptations
Illustration from a 15th century woodcut edition
Jin Ping Mei (1610) is an erotic novel written by Lanling Xiaoxiaosheng ( ) during the late Ming Dynasty. The novel is based on the story of Wu Song avenging his older brother in Water Margin, but the focus is on Ximen Qing's sexual relations with other women, including Pan Jinlian. In Water Margin, Ximen Qing is killed by Wu Song for murdering the latter's older brother, while in Jin Ping Mei he dies a horrible death due to an accidental overdose of aphrodisiac pills.
Shuihu Houzhuan ( ; roughly translates to The Later Story of Water Margin) is a novel written by Chen Chen ( ) during the Qing Dynasty. The story is set after the end of the original Water Margin, with Li Jun as the protagonist. It tells of how the surviving Liangshan heroes are forced to become outlaws again due to corruption in the government. When the armies of the Jurchen-ruled Jin Dynasty invade the Song Dynasty, the heroes rise up to defend their nation from the invaders. The heroes eventually decide to leave China for good and sail to distant lands. Apart from the surviving Liangshan heroes from the original novel, Shuihu Houzhuan also introduces new characters such as Hua Rong's son Hua Fengchun ( ), Xu Ning's son Xu Sheng ( ) and Huyan Zhuo's son Huyan Yu ( ).
Dang Kou Zhi ( ; roughly translates to The Tale of Eliminating Bandits) is a novel written by Yu Wanchun ( ) during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor in the Qing Dynasty. Yu disagreed that the Liangshan outlaws are loyal and righteous heroes, and was determined to portray them as ruthless mass murderers and destroyers, hence he wrote Dang Kou Zhi. The novel starts at the Grand Assembly of the 108 outlaws at Liangshan Marsh, and tells of how the outlaws plundered and pillaged cities before they are eventually eliminated by government forces under Zhang Shuye's command.
- Qing Dynasty writer Qian Cai intertwined the life stories of Yue Fei and the outlaws Lin Chong and Lu Junyi in The Story of Yue Fei (1684). He stated that the latter were former students of the general's martial arts tutor, Zhou Tong. However, literary critic C. T. Hsia commented that the connection was a fictional one created by the author. The Republican era folktale Swordplay Under the Moon, by Wang Shaotang, further intertwines Yue Fei's history with the outlaws by adding Wu Song to the list of Zhou's former students. The tale is set in the background of Wu Song's mission to Kaifeng, prior to the murder of his brother. Zhou tutors Wu in the "rolling dragon" style of swordplay during his one month stay in the capital city. It also said that Zhou is a sworn brother of Lu Zhishen and shares the same nickname with the executioner-turned-outlaw Cai Fu.
Eiji Yoshikawa wrote Shin Suikoden ( ), which roughly translates to "New Tales from the Water Margin".
The Water Margin is referred to in numerous Japanese manga, such as Tetsuo Hara and Buronson's Fist of the North Star, and Masami Kurumada's F ma no Kojir , Otokozaka and Saint Seiya. In both works of fiction, characters bearing the same stars of the Water Margin characters as personal emblems of destiny are featured prominently. Recently, a Japanese manga called Akaboshi: Ibun Suikoden, based on the story of Water Margin, has been serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump.
Between 1978 and 1988, Italian artist Magnus published four acts of his work, I Briganti, which places the Water Margin story in a science fiction setting. Before his death in 1996, the four completed "acts" were published in volume by Granata Press; two following "acts" were planned but never completed.
The Delightful Forest (1972), produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio and directed by Chang Cheh. It tells the story of Wu Song, who is played by Ti Lung.
Pursuit (1972), produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio and directed by Kang Cheng. It tells the story of Lin Chong, who is played by Elliot Ngok.
Tiger Killer (1982), produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio and directed by Li Han-hsiang, with Ti Lung reprising his role as Wu Song.
All Men Are Brothers: Blood of the Leopard, also titled Water Margin: True Colors of Heroes (1992), starring Tony Leung Ka-fai. It centered on the stories of Lin Chong, Lu Zhishen and Gao Qiu.
Troublesome Night 16 (2002), a Hong Kong horror comedy film. Two men travel back in time to the Song Dynasty and they encounter Wu Song, Song Jiang, Yan Qing and Lu Zhishen. The film parodies the story of Wu Song avenging his brother, and the two men play important roles in affecting how the story unfolds.
The Water Margin (1973) is a Japanese television series produced by Nippon Television and filmed in mainland China in 1973. It starred Atsuo Nakamura and Kei Sato in the lead roles. It was broadcast on television in other countries.
Shui Hu Zhuan (1983) is a Chinese television series first broadcast on Shandong TV in 1983. The series was one of the earliest television dramas with an ancient China setting to be produced in mainland China. The series also won a Golden Eagle Award.
Giant Robo: The Animation (1992) is an anime series based on Mitsuteru Yokoyama's manga series. Some locations and characters from Water Margin appeared in the manga. Yokoyama had previously published a manga adaptation of the novel.
Outlaw Star (1998) is an anime series that has several references to the novel. The series' title itself is a reference to the novel. "Gene Starwind", who starts out as a small time bounty hunter/repairman and quickly works his way up to a spaceship captain, is similar to the character "Gao Qiu" from the novel. The series also features similar themes, such as a number of individuals that are seemingly bound by fate and toward the end become a group of people with the same goals. In addition, the Kei Pirate group that is seen in the show is known as the 108 Stars. (Though the roles are reversed in a way, because the 108 Stars are the antagonists of the series, while Gene is the protagonist).
All Men Are Brothers (2011) is a Chinese television series directed by Kuk Kwok-leung and featuring cast members from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
- The novel inspired the Japanese console RPG series Suikoden by Konami.
Data East released a fighting game that was known under three different titles. Suiko Enbu in Japan, Outlaws Of The Lost Dynasty in the United States, and Dark Legend on the American Sega Saturn. The game's characters are inspired by Water Margin.
- The MMORPG 9Dragons has characters based on those in Water Margin.
Water Marginised ( ) (2007) is a folk reggae narrative by Chan Xuan. It tells the story of a present-day jailbird who travels to Liangshan Marsh in hope of joining the outlaw band, only to find that Song Jiang and his men have all taken bureaucratic jobs in the ruling party.
- Haruo Shirane and James Brandon. Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900. Columbia University Press (2002). ISBN 0-231-10990-3.
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