Skip to content
Site Tools
Increase font size Decrease font size Default font size default color blue color green color
Home
Water Margin 水浒传

Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh or All Men Are Brothers or The Marshes of Mount Liang (水浒传 Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn) is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Attributed to Shi Naian, whom some believe to be Luo Guanzhong, the novel details the trials and tribulations of 108 outlaws during the mid Song Dynasty.

Historical context and development
An illustration of the novel Water Margin is vaguely based upon the historical bandit Song Jiang and his 36 companions. The group was active in the Huai River region and eventually surrendered to government troops in 1121. They are recorded in the Song Shi (宋史 - "History of the Song Dynasty) (1345), the name of Song Jiang appearing in the chapter of Emperor Huizong, the activities of the gang in the chapter for Zhang Shuye (张叔夜). Folk stories about Song Jiang circulated during the Southern Song. The first text to name Song Jiang's thirty-six companions was the 13th century Guixin Zashi (癸辛杂识 - "Miscellaneous Observations from the Year Guixin") by Zhou Mi (周密) (1232 - 1298). Among the thirty-six are Lu Junyi, Guan Sheng, Ruan Xiaoer, Ruan Xiaowu, Ruan Xiaoqi, Liu Tang, Hua Rong and Wu Yong. Some of the characters to later become 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 Da Song Xuanhe Yishi (Chinese: 大宋宣和遗事 - "Old incidents in Xuanhe period of the great Song Dynasty"), which appeared around the mid-13th century. The text was basically a written version of storytellers' tales, based loosely on 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 (张叔夜). Some of the more well-known stories and characters of the Water Margin are clearly visible, including "Yang Zhi selling his sword", "Stealing the birthday present", "Song Jiang kills his slave girl", "Fighting Fang La" etc. It places Song Jiang and his bandits in the Taihang Mountains, and his band ran the gamut from fishermen to ex imperial drill instructors to inn-keepers etc.

Stories about the bandits of Mount Liang became popular as subject for Yuan Dynasty drama. During this time the material on which the Water Margin was based evolved into what it is today. Song Jiang's bandits were expanded to number one hundred and eight, and though they came from different backgrounds, all eventually come to occupy Mount Liang. There is a theory that Water Margin became popular during the Yuan Dynasty due to resentment toward the Mongol rulers. Song Jiang's rebellion was safe to promote because it criticized the Song Dynasty on the surface, but it was also a call to oppose all corrupt governments.

Authorship and early editions
There is considerable disagreement as to the author of Water Margin. Most consider the first seventy chapters to have been written by Shi Nai'an, while the last thirty chapters were written by Luo Guanzhong, also the author of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Luo may have been the disciple of Shi Nai'an. It has also been suggested that Shi Nai'an did not exist but was merely a pseudonym for Luo Guanzhong himself. Clues from the text itself strongly suggest that the author was a native of Zhejiang province (as both Luo and Shi were) who had little knowledge of northern China. At a 2006 conference, the leading scholars of the work agreed that Shi and Luo were probably the same person, because the name Shi Nai'an written backwards spells "an nai shi", meaning "It is I again."[citation needed]

It is not clear how close the Luo's edition was to those that are known today. The earliest extant edition of Water Margin is a 100-chapter printed text dating from the mid-16th century. Another edition, with 120 chapters by Yang Dingjian (杨定见), has been preserved from the Wanli era (1573–1620). Yet other editions were published since this era to the early Qing Dynasty, including a 70-chapter edition by Jin Shengtan (1608-1661).

Water Margin in Japan (Suikoden)
Kinhyōshi yōrin (Yang Lin), hero of the Suikoden. From Utagawa Kuniyoshi's series of woodblock prints illustrating the 108 Suikoden.Japanese translations of the Water Margin date at least to 1757, when the first volume of an early Suikoden (Water Margin rendered in Japanese) was printed. Other early translations include Takebe Ayakari's 1773 Japanese Water Margin (Honcho suikoden), the 1783 Women's Water Margin (Onna suikoden),[and Santō Kyōden's 1801 Chushingura Water Margin (Chushingura suikoden).

In 1805, Takizawa Bakin released a Japanese translation of the Water Margin illustrated by Hokusai Katsushika.The book, called the New Illustrated Edition of the Suikoden (Shinpen Suikogaden), was a huge success in urban Edo and spurred a Japanese Suikoden craze. In 1827, publisher Kagaya Kichibei commissioned Utagawa Kuniyoshi to produce a series of woodblock prints illustrating the 108 Suikoden. The 1827-1830 series, called 108 Heroes of the Suikoden or Tsuzoku Suikoden goketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori, catapulted Kuniyoshi to fame. It also brought about a craze for multicolored pictoral 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 Suikoden 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.

Translations
Water Margin has been translated into many languages. One of the first English translations was made by Pearl Buck. 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 many errors and inaccuracies, including many mispronunciations. An often cited example in this edition was her mistranslation of Lu Zhishen's nickname "Flowery Monk" into "Priest Hwa".

Of the later editions, Chinese-naturalized Jewish-American scholar Sidney Shapiro's Outlaws of the Marsh (1980) is considered one of the best. However, due to its being published during the Cultural Revolution, this edition received little attention at the time. Shapiro's translation is currently published by the Beijing Foreign Language Press, as a four-volume set.
 

Sponsor Ads