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Water Margin 水浒传 – Top 100 Books in China

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The model of heroic romances in ancient China


Chinese Name: 水浒传

English Name: Water Margin

Other Name: Outlaws of the Marsh, All Men are Brothers

AuthorShi Nai’an 施耐庵

Originally Published: AD?~1398 (Late Yuan and early Ming 元末明初)

Genre: Chapter novels

Brief Introduction of Water Margin

Water Margin 水浒传 is a model of Chinese ancient heroic and legendary novels, written by Shi Nai’an 施耐庵, a novelist in the late Yuan and early Ming 元末明初. It is also one of the Four Classic Novels 四大名著.

It mainly describes the story of 108 heroes led by Song Jiang 宋江 in Mount Liang 梁山, Shandong province 山东省, in the late Northern Song Dynasty 北宋. The book describes the heroic heroes in Mount Liang who resist oppression, grow their ranks and are recruited by the Song Dynasty. After being recruited, they fight for the Song Dynasty and finally die out. It artistically reflects the whole process of the Song Jiang Uprising from occurrence, development to failure in Chinese history. It deeply reveals the social root of the uprising, enthusiastically eulogizes the rebellion struggle of the heroes and their social ideals, and concretely reveals the internal historical reasons for the failure of the uprising.

Because Shi Jin 史进 offended the government, he was forced to go abroad. Then he met Ru Da 鲁达, an officer, and the two were chatting in the tavern. Ru Da learned that the restaurant singing father and daughter by the local bully Zheng Tu 郑屠 bullying. The righteous Ru Da helped them and killed Zheng Tu with three blows. Afterwards abandoned his post to flee, transferred to Mount Wutai 五台山 monk, known as Zhishen. Lu Zhishen got acquainted with eight hundred thousand forbidden army instructor Lin Chong 林冲. Lin Chong was framed to escape and Lu Zhishen all the way to protect him. Lin Chong went to Mount Liang.

Chao Gai 晁盖 learned that Liang Zhongshu 梁中书 had sent Yang Zhi 杨志 to escort “Shengchen Gang 生辰纲” to the capital, so he gathered seven other heroes to rob Shengchen Gang and fled to Mount Liang. Unable to return to the mission, Yang Zhi joined Lu Zhishen and occupied Mount Erlong 二龙山.

Water Margin 水浒传(晁盖、吴用智取生辰纲)
Wu Yong and Chao Gai put Meng Han medicine in the wine to rob Shengchen Gang 吴用和晁盖在酒里下蒙汗药劫走生辰纲

Song Jiang killed Yan Poxi 阎婆惜 and met Wu Song 武松. After separating from Song Jiang, Wu Song killed the tiger on Jingyang Hill 景阳冈 and became a hero. Wu Song became a military attache and met his brother Wu Da 武大. Wu Da was poisoned by his wife and Ximen Qing 西门庆. Wu Song found out and killed them. Later, he was sent to Mengzhou 孟州, where he became acquainted with Shi En 施恩, beat the Jiang Menshen 蒋门神. Later they went to Mount Erlong.

Water Margin 水浒传(武松打虎)
Wu Song passed Jingyang Hill and met a big tiger with hanging eyes and white forehead 武松途经景阳冈遇上吊睛白额大虎

Song Jiang was sentenced to death because of things, brothers of Mount Liang rescued from the law field. Song Jiang was determined to go home to explore the father, repeatedly by danger, eventually went to Mount Liang.

Later Mount Taohua 桃花山, Mount Erlong merged to Mount Liang. More and more people joined Mount Liang. At last, Mount Liang recruited 108 heroes. The Mount Liang team was recruited by the Song Dynasty, fought for the Song Dynasty, and eventually died out.

Water Margin 水浒传(鲁智深拳打镇关西)
Lu Zhishen knocked down butcher Zheng to the ground 鲁智深将郑屠户打倒在地


Author of Water Margin

Shi Nai’an (1296-1370) was a writer of late Yuan and early Ming dynasties. A native of Xinghua 兴化, Jiangsu province 江苏省, whose ancestral home is Suzhou 苏州, he is the author of Water Margin. The book is the first full-length Chinese novel praising the peasant uprising in Vernacular Chinese, which is of great significance in the history of Chinese literature and world literature. Therefore, Shi Nai’an is praised as “the father of Chinese full-length novels” 中国长篇小说之父.

Shi Naian 施耐庵
Shi Naian 施耐庵

There are different opinions about his life due to the lack of historical materials. According to some sources, When he was young, Shi Nai’an took part in the imperial examination and achieved a good ranking. He once served as an official in Hangzhou 杭州. However, because he was dissatisfied with the darkness of official life and did not want to ingratiate himself with dignitaries, he abandoned his official position and returned to his hometown.

At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty 明初, Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 recommended Shi Nai’an as his advisor. However, he refused to apply for the position after repeated requests. In order to avoid the recruitment of the Ming dynasty rulers, he lived in seclusion in Huai ‘an 淮安 and wrote Water Margin.

Excerpts From Water Margin


It is difficult to penetrate the appearance into the essence,or the unpredictability of the human heart.


If we are destined to meet, we will meet even thousands of miles apart. If the two sides are not, even if close, will not meet.


The generals helped the monarch calm the troubled times; But when the country was pacified, the generals with power became unstable and were no longer used, or even eliminated.

Evaluation of Water Margin

The Water Margin, is very clear: because they do not oppose the emperor, they will be summoned to fight other bandits for the country – bandits who do not ‘do justice for heaven’ to go, and finally become slaves.

Lu Xun 鲁迅

Compared with “Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义”, “Water Margin” developed the art of Chinese fiction in at least two main respects. First, it draws heavily on the vernacular style preferred by modern readers. Second, it can build characters and tell stories without being constrained by historical facts.

C. T. Hsia 夏志清

Water Margin is a great social document of Chinese life.

Pearl S. Buck 赛珍珠

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