Weapons! Violence! Manly men! Bad guys!

Written by

Shi Nai’an during the Yuan Dynasty

Continuing in my quest to read the great four classical Chinese novels, I’ve decided that Water Margin, also known as Outlaws of the Marsh is next up. This book is the eldest of the four, being written during the first period of Mongol rule in China during the 13th century, and set in the Song Dynasty, which fell just prior to the life of the author, Shi Nai’an. This book is based on the folk legends of Song Jiang and his 36 outlaw companions who eventually surrendered to the authorities of the Song empire.

The book begins with a chapter about how 108 fierce spirits are released by the arrogant Marshal Hong. Eventually, these 108 spirits end up embodied in 108 men, gradually introduced into the story, becoming the outlaws of the Mount Liang marsh. The first quarter of the book basically sets up the identities of the outlaws themselves, from various backgrounds, as well as the main antagonist, Gao Qiu, a greedy incompetent man who also manages to rise to the position of Marshal in the Imperial Army.

The first third of the book deals with the story of the major outlaws, and how they banded together to build a cohesive fighting force. Their stories are linked, sometimes quite tenuously, and through many instances of amazing coincidence. Never mind, it’s a fiction book, and coincidence is used to great effect in having the characters meet each other and become members of the “gallant fraternity” out in the wilderness.

The book is both hilarious in its blunt use of crude language and shocking in its violent imagery. In one scene, you’re likely to watch as a guy gets kicked in the groin, before having his head cut off and his entrails removed. It’s that kind of book. However, it is extremely fun to read, because, thankfully, it doesn’t try to invoke some sort of mystic atmosphere like A Dream of Red Mansions. Even better, none of the characters are the spoilt cry baby wusses in Mansions, and prefer to settle their issues with martial arts and gory violence.

Water Margin is an extremely fun book to read, despite its length of 100 chapters. There are various versions of the book, one that is only 70 chapters long and another that is 120, though the 100 chapter version is the most popular one. No matter what version you read, you’ll have a hell of a time, because it’s quite funny. It feels a bit like a Jacky Chan film.


This book is definitely R-rated. But hilariously R-rated, just like a warm apple pie.

Should I read this?

Definitely, it’s quite an enjoyable read. I’ve even managed to get through quite a lot of the book surprisingly quickly.


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