Weapons! Violence! Manly men! Bad guys!

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Shi Nai’an during the Yuan Dynasty

And so, we come to the conclusion of the epic tale about Song Jiang and his 107 heroes of Liangshan Marsh. As the story draws to a close, there is, as usual, relentless action, intrigue and a general sense that the emperor is incompetent. There’s just no other way to describe it. Apart from, perhaps, that he’s far too forgiving and it’s surprising that he’s not been killed himself.

As Song Jiang and his band of merry men receive their amnesty from the Emperor Huizhong of the Song Dynasty, they abandon their fortress in Liangshan Marsh and march to the imperial capital, which in those days, was modern day Kaifeng. There, the emperor wants to convey gifts and titles upon our 108 heroes, but are advised against such an action by the corrupt Marshal Gao and Minister Tong Guan.

When it is found out that those same ministers have been withholding important information about a northern invasion by the Liao, the emperor decides to forgive his useless advisors. Personally, if my empire was under threat and those responsible didn’t tell me, they wouldn’t be forgiven. It’s a wonder this guy managed to stay emperor. Showing forgiveness is one of his virtues, but sadly, intelligence is not.

Anyway, back to the story. This final part of the book tells of the final adventures and campaigns of Song Jiang’s army. Initially, they are sent to stop the Liao invasion from the north, and does so successfully, with minimal losses to his numbers. After their triumphant expedition, Song Jiang is once again spurned by the useless officials (who really should have either been fired, or killed by now), and embarks on another long campaign, this time against the rebel leader Fang La who has taken over much of the lands in the south.

Without spoiling the end, apart from saying that it’s bittersweet, Water Margin is definitely a classic, entertaining legend. Sure, the legend is based on people who I’m sure were far worse than their fictional counterparts, and I’m sure that the real story of Song Jiang’s bandits were not nearly so spectacular. But in the heady days of imperial China, and even in modern times, the need for heroes exist, even if they weren’t exactly as the stories described. The book may be long (or longer, if you really wanted!), but it’s so easy to read, it’s almost as if it was written for everyone to pick up and enjoy. At the end of the day, that’s good entertainment.

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