Read along: The Water Margin - Outlaws of the Marsh

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Read along: The Water Margin - Outlaws of the Marsh

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jan 11, 2015, 2:00 pm

Welcome to the third read-along of the four Chinese classics. We will base it on the Foreign Language Press English translation of Outlaws of the Marsh by Sidney Shapiro available as an inexpensive 4 volume paperback edition. The stories have been adapted into multiple formats such as the Japanese 1977 TV series (the German trailer to the overpriced DVD edition). A nice present would be the French comic booklet edition "A bord de l'eau" 978-2359660842 ( video preview).

The popular topic of social-minded bandits and rebels such as Rob Roy, Robin Hood is covered by the late Eric Hobsbawn's classic Bandits. The myth, however, is much stronger than the truth. In reality, bandits cared much more about wealth accumulation than social justice (even though the later makes good public relations). Bandits were bandits first. Their good deeds often were added later in ballads about their life and fate.

The Chinese classic The Water Margin is a collection of stories about 108 outlaws seeking refuge in Shandong province at Mount Liang which, at 200 m above sea level, corresponds more to the Dutch or English idea of a mountain and would better be called a hill within a then marshland.

The stories take place during the Song dynasty at the beginning of the 12th century in the turmoil just before the establishment/retrenchment of the Southern Song dynasty. The capital is still at Kaifeng, illustrated in the famous Along the River During the Qingming Festival scroll painting. Wikipedia says that Kaifeng was then the largest city in the world from 1013 to 1127. Kaifeng was later captured first by the Jurchen, then by the Mongols.

Like the Story of the Stone, the Water Margin begins in chapter 1 with a wrapper origin story of releasing the 108 spirits from their Pandora's box in the form of a nosy monastery tourist called marshal Hong after he had fulfilled his diplomatic mission. While the breaking of the exterior locks is a clear breach and intrusion, the inner instruction on the tablet "open when Hong comes" absolves the monks and marshal Hong of guilt - in contrast to Pandora. Having released the spirits by design and predilection, Hong does not suffer any consequences for his action. The Emperor though failed to produce a son, a sign of calamity.

Wikipedia claims that the spirits were emprisoned under a tortoise-mounted stele which would increase the transgression - similar to unburdening Atlas. The text comments about the reader's complicity in wanting to see the world burn and the action unravel.

Having thus set the scene in chapter 1, we are thus ready for the heroes to enter. Wikipedia provides us with all kinds of helpful classifications of the 108 Stars of Destiny who also have individual character pages. The Japanese 19th century artist Kuniyoshi produced marvelous woodblock prints of the 108 heroes.

"Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?" Onwards to the discussion and later chapter 2!

jan 16, 2015, 7:28 pm

I have the three volume red paperback of the Shapiro translation, same publisher. I believe it's the same content. Same number of chapters.

(Just to let you know someone is reading along.)

jan 16, 2015, 8:33 pm

>1 jcbrunner:

Late already! :)

Thanks, J-C, looking forward to it very much.

Redigerat: jan 16, 2015, 8:40 pm

Speaking of movie versions, I've only seen one so far, All Men are Brothers, the 1975 Shaw Brothers production with Ti Lung (a special favourite, ahem--that's him on the right; David Chiang, another big wuxia star, is on the left):

jan 17, 2015, 11:13 am

Hello, glad to hear I am not only writing this for the archives of the NSA. I have taken a quick look at All Men are Brothers on YouTube. Its heavy emphasis on fight ballet scenes makes it barely watchable for me, especially as I find it weird to hear the speakers talk in Received Pronunciation (RP) in the few non-figh rt scenes.

Anoplophora, as you seem to be reading Chinese, I'd be interested how modern the novel reads as a vernacular text. Is it similar to reading Chaucer or 18th century English texts today?

jan 17, 2015, 11:34 am

I'm sorry, I'm really have no idea. My ability to read Chinese is confined to young adult literature and scientific articles about longhorned beetles.

I would love to know as well. I'll ask some Chinese people online and see what they say.

jan 18, 2015, 11:38 am

Thanks, I am more a Beatles than beetles fan though I do have some fossilized arthropods gracing my book shelves.

Chapter 2 - Gao Qiu, Wang Jin and Shi Jin

We meet Gao Qiu, an excellent Chinese football player, probably Cuju. Despite this tradition, the current Chinese national football team still has a lot of catchup to do. Wikipedia states: "The Chinese professional league is marred by match-fixing, illegal betting, and violence on and off the pitch." so not much change from the declining Song era.

Gao Qiu is a bit of a bad hot potato that is handed on from one relation to the next until he became a retainer for a prince. While delivering some gifts, Gao shows off his football skills and finds himself a new master who soon became the Emperor. Gao Qiu uses his new rank to settle old scores with arms instructor Wang Jin (instead of "looking forward not backward").

Wang Jin and his mother flee towards Yanan province but rest at a squire's place where Wang trains a nine dragons tattooed lad Shi Jin with the staff who happens to be the squire's son. While Wang Jin travels on to the border, Shi Jin continues hs training regime and later inherits his father's position.

To defend the village against the 600-700 bandits on the mountain, Shi Jin organizes the local farmers. The bandits attack Shi family village in a dramatic duel in stylish armor. Shi Jin captures one warrior. The two other bandit leaders surrender to Shi who grows to like them and releases them. The new alliance between Shi and the bandits is revealed to the authorities. Soon the sheriff appears with force surrounding Shi and the bandits.

Shi has two options: Become a bandit himself or deliver his bandit-friends to the authorities. Which bond does he value higher: hospitality/friendship or authority?

jan 18, 2015, 12:34 pm

The answers I got were that most Chinese people can read Water Margin and that there isn't that much antiquated vocabulary. A Journey to the West is easier, but The Analects is impossible without footnotes. I'm not sure how to phrase a question that will get me the difficulty level compared to European classics. Sorry.

The first part of Water Margin will be a reread for me because I've read the first two volumes of the Dent-Young translation. So now that we've gotten to chapter 2 I want to point out some great examples of my favorite things about Water Margin.

It's so unpredictable. A typical plot would be for Shi Jin to defeat the bandits and defend his countryside, showing off his military prowess and valor. This is what I expect to happen as soon as I read about the bandits. And yet he befriends them instead.

I also love the 'pass the baton' approach with the characters. First we follow Gao Qiu, then Wang Jin, then Shi Jin. It makes it difficult to remember who everyone is, but I feel like I am being drawn deeper and deeper into the story. I can't think of any other book I've read that does this.

jan 18, 2015, 5:15 pm

I guess that learning all the characters for the different weapons in Chinese might be a challenge. When I started to read Alatriste in Spanish, I had to first brush up my vocabulary on all things pointy.

Hobsbawn actually pointed out that accommodation with powerful bandits (which they certainly are with 600 men on a single mountain) is the rule as the local rulers lacked the resources necessary for a decisive defeat. A full war status was more expensive than a steady bleeding at the margin.

A rotating cast is quite common in my opinion, at least in world building epic stories from the Illiad and other myths onwards. Also in film and TV: Lord of the Rings, The Sting, Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, The Wire, Band of Brothers, Game of Thrones ... The rotation in the Water Margin happens a bit too fast for my taste, like in the X-Men movies where new heroes are introduced and discarded by the minute.

jan 23, 2015, 5:56 pm

>5 jcbrunner:

heavy emphasis on fight ballet scenes makes it barely watchable for me,

That's a pity, the carefully choreographed fight scenes are the heart of these movies. The "balletic" features are taken directly from the template legends--as I'm becoming increasingly aware as I read the Outlaws. Incredible speed, "flying", jumps, strength, resilience etc.--all of these were the expected crowning achievements of martial arts training.

I'm REALLY enjoying the resonances between the text (unsurprisingly, as it's THE source for the genre) and the dozens of movies I've seen. The specific skills being a trademark of specific characters is a very common characterising device (sometimes the only one), the detail given to the arms, the boisterous brawls--it's all there!

I had to look up "jingal", though. Guns are rare in the period wuxia I prefer.

The rotation in the Water Margin happens a bit too fast for my taste,

Yes, this is going to be all about action, not character. VERY different from, say, "The dream of Red Mansions".

jan 26, 2015, 6:32 pm

I am a fan of the Indiana Jones solution to fighters. The original Star Wars movies showed the Jedi as outdated. Kinetic fighting mano a mano had gone out of style. Even though the storm troopers seemed unable to hit any target. The need for kinetic violence is also the weakness of most superhero films. A somewhat intelligent villain would never engage in fruitless duels and a responsible superhero would not wreck city centers just to defeat a single enemy.

Chapter 3 - Shi Jin, Lu Da
After the commercial break, we find Shi Jin still in a pickle. First he executes the unreliable messenger Wang the Fourth. Next he prepares his forces for a sortie. They charge out and crush the militia commanders and retreat to the bandit's mountain. Instead of joining the bandits, he sets out to the border region in a special superhero costume. Near the border he meets another Falstaff-like warrior in a superhero costume, Lu Da, a major.

By coincidence, they meet Shi Jin's old arms instructor who now peddles medicine. Impulsive Lu Da invites the two to a round of drinking. There Lu Da learns about an opportunity to do some Robin Hood stuff, protect a weak father and daughter from an exploitative butcher. Having given them some travel money, he asks them to be prepared for tomorrow.

The next day, Lu Da first hits the butcher's attendant and sends the father and girl off out of the city. Shi Jin departs as well. Then it is the butcher's turn. First he has the butcher waste meat by personally completing Lu Da's fake orders. The meat ends up in the butcher's face. Insulted, the butcher and Lu Da duel in the street. Lu Da quickly overwhelms and disarms the butcher. His impulsiveness then gets the better of him and he murders the butcher.

Realizing that he has made a big mistake, he flees too. In the town, the police actually performs very capable in taking charge of the case and seeking Lu Da's arrest. Lu Da arrives in Yanmen where he reads his own "wanted" notice. Before others can recognize him, he is led away by a stranger.

These circumstances turn honest men into criminals faster than GTA. As a major, he should have realized that he could not commit murder in cold blood. As he had already sent the father and girl away, he could simply have made the butcher give up his fake claims.

jan 27, 2015, 7:19 pm

I was struck by the obvious delight taken in describing gore--the butcher's beaten face, the eye etc. That too is very "filmic". No wonder this is so beloved.

jan 28, 2015, 2:25 pm

More Tarantino than Hitchcock with a tint of Italo Western, as the violence breaks out in short bursts after plenty of peacocking in stylish battle dresses.

Incidentally, the story takes place just before footbinding became en vogue (The article's author, Amanda Foreman, will present a conservative history of feminism (if this is possible): The World Made by Women: A History of Women from the Age of Cleopatra to the Era of Thatcher).

feb 5, 2015, 5:16 pm

Returning to schedule after the Super Bowl's Seahawks making an even worse call than declaring George W. Bush a honorary Seahawk.

Chapter 4 - Sagacious Lu Da

It is a small world after all and Lu Da is rescued from discovery by the old man he has helped. The daughter has become a squire's mistress living in a rented house with a number of staff (It is funny how the invisible "downstairs" staff makes its appearance from time to time.). Lu Da stays at a guest at their home. Quickly, the house is surrounding by the squire's men who naturally aren't happy about a male stranger in their master's rented house.

The squire thanks Lu Da for rescuing the girl and sends him off to a nearby monastery. He even sponsors Lu Da as a new monk. Both the squire and the abbot don't seem to realize that Lu Da is not especially suited for such a lifestyle. The nickname the abbot chose for Lu could hardly be less suitable: Sagacious Lu.

Sagacious - having or showing an ability to understand difficult ideas and situations and to make good decisions
1 obsolete : keen in sense perception
2 a : of keen and farsighted penetration and judgment : discerning
b : caused by or indicating acute discernment

Five commandments the new monk should respect: Don't kill, steal, fornicate, drink or lie. The killing has already happened and was the driver behind his monastical career move. First, Lu undertakes to disrespect non-listed commandments: idleness and cleanliness. Then he gets drunk and turns on his Beast mode, knocking the poor monks and servants around. Having repented, he soon thereafter drinks again as well as eats dog. Probably well aware that he will not grow old in this monastery, he has a heavy staff and knife manufactured. Lu Da is more a follower of Guan Yu than Buddha!

Having caused so much mischief, un-Sagacious Lu is happily seen off by both the abbot and the squire. In a new dress, with new arms, he is ready for new adventures.

feb 5, 2015, 5:25 pm

Truly a guest from hell. Very funny episode.

feb 12, 2015, 2:27 pm

Chapter 5 - Sagacious Lu
What makes a monk? Sagacious Lu dresses the part. His comportment, however, is in stark contrast to the job description, eating meat and especially drinking without moderation. No impulse control in that one. The abbot, at least, has limited the damage (is compensated by the squire) by sending off Lu back into the world. At the village, Lu picks up his new arms and then ventures out.

Arriving late at a village, his martial skills are deemed helpful in getting out of a forced marriage arrangement. Hulk smash! Setting up naked Lu in the bridal chamber is a rather lunatic setup that is played for laughs but only has a positive outcome by the deus ex machina coincidence of the bandit's friend being Lu's acquaintance Li Zhong.

Instead of joining the bandits, Lu robs them, taking off with their gold and silver down a steep mountain slope. Now rich and armed, Lu continues on his path of destruction of lives and property as the chapter ending announces his arrival at a Taoist monastery.

A very Eastern Western (or lone wolf thriller à la No country for old men). Lu's problem solutions for some (the old men and their daughters) cause much greater destruction than necessary. Compare Sagacious Lu to Musashi or David Carradine''s Kung Fu.

feb 15, 2015, 11:40 am

"Sagacious", a "tough-looking monk", applying "Laws of Buddhist Logic" with his fists! Love it. I think the exaggerations are the point, though, this is very much a comic yarn (well, so far at least). You can almost see the BANG! POW! KERPLUNK!s popping off the page in Lu's wake.

Interesting tidbit about the brother-less girl needing to bring in a husband to continue her paternal line. I don't think we've come across this custom before.

feb 15, 2015, 5:08 pm

"Husband" in the original meaning of the word as a hūsbōndi, the owner of a house(hold) (like Shakespeare's grandfather on his mother's side as the BBC documentary last week explained). One interesting aspect of the novel is how it reveals the social status differences among the commoners. The peasant isn't just a simple peasant but already at the lower rungs of respectability with property to pass on to the next generation.

Chapter 6 Sagacious Lu & Shi Jin

At the monastery, Lu stumbles into another strange situation, an unfriendly take-over battle with the remaining original monks keeping up their claim by squatting in the monastery while the new big guys, a tag team of a Taoist and a fat monk, enjoy their conquest. Lu's primary goal, as always, is food, an urge so strong that he forgoes all forms of civilization and eats the gruel right off the table.

Then it's time for his second urge, fighting. Not-so-sagacious Lu has overestimated his own strength and is vanquished by the Taoist and monk tag team. He flees into a wood - without his gold and silver-filled rucksack. What next?

Enter Shi Jin. After some fighting and bragging due to not recognizing each other, the two join forces. In the now fairer tag team match, the Taoist and the monk are soundly defeated, killed and bound (?). No luck, however, for the poor monks who had already committed suicide after Lu's first defeat. Lu and Shi pick up the few valuables they find in the monastery and then torch the place, for reasons unknown. The two split again with Shi Jin going on towards the bandit mountain.

Lu continuous to the Eastern Capital's Great Xiangguo monastery. Informed by the abbot's letter, the monastery's abbot has the right mission for Lu, keeper of the vegetable garden that was suffering from thieving rascals. Lu isn't happy at first and wanted a higher ranking position. Informed in an interesting excursus about the different career paths in the monastery, he is presented with a new career path. First, some weeding in the garden.

The rascals quickly learn about the new appointment as well. They want to teach the new guy a lesson by giving him a good beating. Physical violence, however, is Lu's specialty. Will he manage to defeat the lot?

Sending a wanted murderer into the Eastern Capital is a strange choice. Shouldn't the policemen make an appearance or have him stopped at the city gate?

feb 23, 2015, 6:30 pm

Chapter 7 Sagacious Lu & Lin Chong

So Lu uproots a tree like the Hulk and becomes the king of the louts with telling names such as Rat crossing the Street Zhang III and Snake in the Grass Li IV. Eating meat and drinking copiously are not monkish qualities. Is there no procedure to kick Lu out of the "profession"? He even shows off his martial skills - noticed by guard officer Lin Chong in passing. Lin Chong and Lu become sword brothers.

Lin has an unfortunate tendency to lose track of his wife during his excursions. She attracts the attention of evil Young Master Gao, a match for Saddam Hussein's sons. He covets to rape Lin's wife so much that he enacts a plan together with Lin's not so best friend to lure Lin away from his wife and trap her in place with Young Gao. Only a smart maid prevents the fruition of the mean plan.

The thwarted plan sends Young Gao into a severe depression. Daddy Gao steps in with a second plan, this time by removing Lin himself. First they plant a sword on him and then send him into Gao's sanctum sanctorum where nobody is allowed to enter armed. Entrapped and surrounded by thirty soldiers. Lin is captured and escorted away. Will he survive? Tune in next week, when Flash Gordon battles Ming the Merciless!

The Eastern Capital is a true Sodom and Gomorrah, with precious few good souls. Truly only an outlaw can be a good guy.

feb 24, 2015, 11:13 am

Lu is an unbelievable pest but at least his instinct is to help the weak.

mar 5, 2015, 6:45 pm

Chapter 8 Lin Chong

Lin Chong at least escapes with his life from the trap by being sent off to the border. Gao jun. does not succeed in getting Lin's wife as she will be divorced/given her liberty by Lin Chong who knows that few will return from the border area. While her father promises to not remarry and lock her in, this commitment will be unlikely to last for years.

The story of the transfer to the border offers a good description into the life and job of these policemen/guards who can make their prisoner's life hell or lessen their burden for a fee. Unfortunately for Lin Chong, the two guards have been tasked with disappearing him on the way. In a woods, the two are preparing their dirty deed when a commotion occurs that might save the hero's life.

mar 9, 2015, 6:11 pm

Chapter 9 Lin Chong

As expected, it was Sagacious Lu who had shadowed the prisoner transfer and now came to the rescue. The two soldiers naturally have no chance to overcome the monk. Lin Chong keeps his cool and keeps Lu from killing the two. A poor tree has to endure Lu's blow with his staff instead. The strange group then travels on to deliver Lin to his exile station

The border region is starved for people and talent. The leaders there are keen on getting first pick of any new arrivals. Lord Chai has a good reputation for dealing fairly with what are actually criminals from the capital region. Lord Chai tests Lin Chong first on his manners and his respect, then on his fighting skills with the staff. Lin Chong is clearly superior in both dimension to the boorish instructor Hong. Still, Lin Chong has to first be delivered to the endpoint of his journey. The guards hand him over and return to the capital with the receipt (but without having succeeded in killing him as ordered).

With bribes and letters of introduction by Lord Chai, Lin Chong's entry into prison is not as bad as it could have been. He manages to evade the customary 100 blows upon arrival into a prison. Lin Chong is assigned the easy job of guarding the prison temple. Soon Lin Chong is at liberty to come and go outside the prison. One day he encounters a stranger who shouts out his name ...

mar 15, 2015, 9:54 am

It's taking quite a while to assemble the gang. Not like when Robin Hood put together his merry band... Once people get exiled to remote places, it doesn't even pay to incarcerate them.

mar 16, 2015, 6:31 pm

Based on my hazy recollection of the Japanese TV series, I too did not expect this long introduction - almost Peter Jacksonesque.

Prison (and hospitals, kindergarten etc.) are extremely expensive. One of the easiest way to lower health care cost is to shift towards greater extra mural care. Many ancient societies were too poor to sustain idle prisoners. The Chinese method of setting up border prison colonies is probably one of the most efficient use of the resources (as long as the prisoners basically comply.

What I find amazing is how much the stratified Chinese social structure is upheld in the prison border zone. Their criminal status does not make them social equals (and Lin Chong seems to have quite a lot of access to money to sweeten his stay).

Chapter 10 Lin Chong's rage

Lucky Lin Chong meets one of his retainers and thus solves the problem of who is going to wash his dirty clothes. Lin Chong is promoted to be in charge of an outlying army fodder depot (to be an easier assassination target). Lucky again, Lin Chong decides to sleep in an abandoned temple and thus evades the assassination attempt of setting fire to the depot by his former friend Lu Qian. Lin Chong quickly kills the three villains (including Lu Qian whose heart and liver Lin Chong tears out for good measure) with his spear. He then cuts off the three heads and places them within the temple.

Having resolved this issue, Lin Chong commits a stupid act of taking away the wine of some poor guards and chasing them out of their own house. Drunk, Lin Chong collapses in the snow-filled road. The reinforced guards have no trouble in arresting him. How will he explain the burned depot and his robbery of the wine?

mar 24, 2015, 7:10 pm

Chapter 11 Lin Chong's application

Lin Chong is fortunate to have been captured in a manor of local bigwig Chai Jin who protects him from justice and sends him on to Liangshan Marsh. A letter of introduction is necessary even for joining bandits. The chiefs are Wang Lu the white clad scholar (i.e. Gandalf?), Skyscraper Du Qian and Song Wan, Guardian of the Clouds, who command 700 to 800 men. Chai Jin smuggles Lin Chong out of the gates. Lin Chong journeys on for 10 days until he arrives at a tavern where he meets the "dry land crocodile", a lookout for the bandits who will provide a boat to ferry Lin Chong to the mountain.

There he meets the three chiefs and makes his application to join them. They demand him to supply them with a head as a membership certificate within three days both as a commitment and skill proof. Unfortunately, the number of potential victims in the vicinity is small. First, Lin Chong bags some loot, then at the last minute he finds a suitable opponent.

mar 29, 2015, 1:12 pm

Lin Chong's a dope, travelling incognito and then writing his name around on walls. I wouldn't want him in my killer gang either. "A scholar turned bandit"--hmm, unusually attractive career flip.

mar 29, 2015, 5:31 pm

Excellent point. These guys act like big, armed children with behavioral and impulse control issues similar to their Greek colleagues in the Iliad or most comic superheroes. Despite the futility of kinetic problem solving (a.k.a. violence), it has much popular appeal.

Chapter 12 Lin Chong & Yang Zhi

Lin Chong's exquisitely clad opponent is Yang Zhi, another warrior down on his luck whom Lin Chong and the bandits have just stolen the means to restore some of his reputation in the capital. After the two have fought some rounds and established their mutual fighting skills, the bandits stop the fight for some drinking and recruiting talks. Given the extreme status anxiety of that society, seating order is extremely important and Lin Chong manages to place himself one bar higher on the pecking order. At least, Lin Chong seems to have found his place on the mountain.

Time for the next story of Yang Zhi who chooses to mettle with the "hairless tiger" - a curiously miserable nick-name. Naked cats look pathetic. What must a shorn tiger look like? Anyway, Yang Zhi kills him after a botched sword sale. While self-defense is ok, killing the already defeated opponent was a mistake. He receives a mild punishment and is sent into exile in the Northern Capital Daming.

The governor there sees Yang Zhi's potential but has to organize a tournament to establish the pecking order among the local prima donna champions among them the King of the Skies and the Mighty Sword. Yang Zhi's opponent Zhou Jin is not happy having to fight with lances for his own job with a marked criminal.

apr 2, 2015, 2:43 pm

Naked cats look pathetic.

"Sssssssst! Thissss gold I collected off the dead cold bodiesss of those who inssulted me!"

I'm curious about the Blue-Faced Beast. One of the X-Men is called the Beast and is blue. This has now resulted in an unfortunate crossover in my head.

apr 2, 2015, 4:04 pm

I had the same association, though Hank McCoy originally wasn't blue at all. Like his evil counterparts Toad and Sabretooth, as well as the Avengers Hawkeye and Black Widow, the Beast suffers from a limited set of powers. Nightcrawler and Colossus are equal to the Beast in terms of agility and strength respectively and offer extras as well as great origin stories.

Re unfortunate associations, the strutting heroes in chapter 13 reminded me of Zoolander vs Hansel.

By the way, next week starts an interesting MOOC about Chinese History From Warring States to the Tang Dynasty on edX.

Chapter 13 Yang Zhi's Pflicht und Kür

Duel and show time! Yang Zhi and Zhou Jin duel first with their looks, then with painted sticks/lances and finally with bow and arrows. Yang Zhi is the clear winner and can claim Zhou Jin's job. Not so fast, however as Zhou Jin's boss steps in to restore his school's reputation. Suo Chao and Yang Zhi duel but are evenly matched and no winner is declared. Instead both are promoted to major (which in turn preserves Zhou Jin's job as well). Yang Zhi has made a big entrance.

There is a disrupting mission coming: A hugely valuable gift transport has to be transported from the Northern to the Eastern Capital to honor the father-in-law's birthday.

Meanwhile, a magistrate called Shi Wenbin orders the Beautiful Beard Zhu Tong and the Winged Tiger Lei Heng to catch some robbers. With 40 soldiers each, they hardly have sufficient forces for the task, so they divert the mission and check an opened temple where they find a sleeping naked fat man. They capture and escort him back. Mission accomplished?

apr 12, 2015, 4:13 pm

Chapter 14 Liu Tang

Chao Gai is an active recruiter in China's war for bandit talents. His latest catch is the red-haired demon Liu Tang. Feigning to be his uncle, Chao saves him from being sent to prison. Unfortunately, Liu Tang is another impulsive fellow who wants to punish his captors. Chao has to step in once more to save Liu from doing something stupid for no benefit at all. Chao wants his strength for a bigger task for which he needs to recruit additional men.

Chapter 15 The Ruan brothers

These potential recruits are the three Ruan brothers, fishermen down on their luck. Teacher Wu Yong is sent out to approach them in an indirect manner even though he has been their teacher. He wins their heart by feasting with them. The three brothers, however, are quite powerless faced with the bandits on the mountain who deny them the best fishing spots. Everything is connected. If policing worked, the bandits would be unable to prevent the brothers from fishing there and thus would not need to go robbing the gift transport. As it stands, the brothers are eager to join in on the robbery. As the official transport time table seems to be common knowledge, the robbers have plenty of time to plan and coordinate their action.

Another recruit joins Chao, the taoist priest Gongsun Sheng who can't apparently wait to become part of the team which seems to displease teacher Wu Yong.

apr 20, 2015, 5:50 pm

Chapter 16 Yang Zhi vs. Wu Yong

Everybody and his dog seem to be aware about the upcoming gift transport. Furthermore the transport was stolen the year before. The transport protection scheme of governor Liang seems to be hare-brained. He could have made the column twice as mobile by increasing the number of carriers (carrying empty vessels for decoy). This would have distributed the load onto more shoulders and offered more protection against robbers.

The men tasked with the execution of the transport are divided in loyalties. It would have been much more sensible to appoint the old steward as leader of the group and have Yang Zhi act only as its muscle man. Yang Zhi is not suited to command the men whom he pushes too hard even before they enter hard terrain.

The heist/trick robbery is, however, elegantly and elaborately deployed. Even Yang Zhi is fooled by the test drinker. Having to watch the robbery take place in front of them while being entirely powerless to prevent it must have been especially painful. Yang Zhi is in a tough situation now. Too lose one mission may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness ...

apr 21, 2015, 12:08 pm

Agreed on the lack of planning, a bit too convenient. You'd think padding security with cheap bodies would be easy enough.

I love the fancy airs these bandits give themselves--"chivalrous" this and that.

I wonder about the economy of the lifestyle. How can 600-700 men live on highway robbery, especially concentrated in one locale? I expect preying on villagers would contribute more to their long-term survival.

apr 22, 2015, 5:50 pm

Their location on the connection between the Northern and Eastern capital allows them to choke the regular traffic without causing undue attention. There seems to be not much love lost between the rulers of the two capitals. The Northern governor seems almost happy that the presents end up elsewhere than with his in-laws. He might even have switched some of the presents in expectation of their imminent capture. Why hand the task to Yang Zhi who has previously failed in the exact same task?

The battalion-sized bandit force is ideal. It is small enough not to require major infrastructure investment to sustain it and large enough to dominate the surrounding areas. A gang of 30 men is able to control a village (in the Wild West or in current Syria/Iraq) but not a region. A company-sized force might be defeated by a combination of locals and police. In the next chapter, the local police is said to be 300 men strong and thus is unable to pose an effective opponent without army reinforcements.

Chapter 17 Yang Zhi & Sagacious Lu

Yang Zhi does not kill himself but decides to seek his fortune in banditry, starting with petty bilking of a poor tavern owner when he just happens to meet somebody already familiar with Yang Zhi. What a transformation! One moment, a petty thief, the next a honored guest of the house. The next day, Yang Zhi meets Sagacious Lu, the wandering monk. After the customary clash of arms, they join forces to capture Two Dragon Mountain.

Falsely tied Sagacious Lu is to be presented as a prisoner to gain entry to the much fortified camp (think Return of the Jedi Jabba plot). The decapitation (or more precisely skull splitting) plot succeeds and Sagacious Lu and Yang Zhi become the new commanders of Two Dragon Mountain.

Meanwhile, the local police has been tasked with arresting the robbers. The local chief has even been tattooed with a threat of exile to encourage him to getting the robbers. Unfortunately, his cops are not very good at their job. His gambling good-for-nothing brother might have a good tip for him ...

maj 3, 2015, 5:31 pm

Chapter 18 Ho Tao and Chao Gai

Thanks to the Chinese police state introduced by Shang Yang, all tavern guests have to be noted in a list (a duty now performed by cell phones, foursquare and other self-reporting tools). Our robbers must have been aware of this and thus should have prepared for their discovery much earlier.

Having bagged and interrogated Bai Sheng, Ho Tao organizes a big police and military operation to get the thieves. Unfortunately, the secret operation is uncovered when Ho Tao reveals it to the clerk Song Jiang who had good relations with ward chief Chao. He stalls Ho Tao and goes to warn Chao Gai.

Chao Gai and the Ruan brothers plan to flee to Liangshan Marsh. More than a hundred men are sent to capture them. Chao's manor is attacked from the front and rear - by commanders friendly to him. They let him and his men escape through their lines. The first target thus escaped with a little help from his friends in the administration. The Ruan brothers are the next target.

Chapter 19 Ho Tao and Chao Gai

The task force is further strengthened to 500 soldiers who have to enter the unfamiliar water terrain. The Ruan brothers have a home advantage there. Chao sends one group to lead their families to safety, a second towards Liangshan Marsh, while the Ruans protect the rear.

Ho Tao leaves his horses at the village and pursues the thieves in 100 boats. The Ruans send the soldiers into a futile goose chase. While the soldiers rest in one place, Ho Tao presses ahead with an elite force. He doesn't seem to be the smartest and is tricked and quickly captured by the two Ruan brothers. Having decapitated the task force, the Ruans finish off the rest of the soldiers by sending a fireship against their boats. The only escape for the soldiers is to jump into the water - where they become helpless against the attacks of Chao and Ruan brothers who slaughter them all. They cut off Ho's ears and send him back to report the total loss of his force.

Next, Chao and company go to Liangshan Marsh to ask the bandits for refuge. Their boss, Wang Lun, is not pleased in seeing them arrive. He tries to persuade them to seek their fortunes elsewhere and does not give them the honorable reception they expect from a bandit chief. Lin Chong who had been likewise snubbed is not pleased by this reception of his friends. The next day after the meeting, he goes to Chao and company and asks them to conspire with him against Wang Lun.

The group goes again to the mountain, this time carrying concealed weapons. In the meeting, Lin Chong confronts Wang Lun and accuses him of bad behavior. Chao and the Ruans take the clue and quickly secure the room. Wang Lun's friends are unable to help him. Lin Chong kills him by piercing his heart. The Liangshan Marsh bandits have just seen their leadership decapitated. Lin Chong cuts off Wang Lun's head and shows it to the other bandits who quickly accept the new leadership. The next chapter will present the new leadership structure.

maj 9, 2015, 1:15 pm

Guests having to sign a ledger is interesting; I don't recall any earlier--or contemporary--examples of that in Europe. I always wonder about how did the Chinese manage homonyms and mistaken identity in the past. Considering the size of the population and the all-encompassing bureaucracy, it seems a miracle the administration didn't end up spontaneously combusting every week.

maj 10, 2015, 6:45 pm

The Assyrians were famous control freaks. I wouldn't be surprised to find cuneiform attendance lists ... You need widespread literacy and a bureaucratic state. I always wondered why the Normans did not repeat the Doomsday book project in later years as it offered excellent tax assessment means and state control. Chinese dynasties usually broke down once their tax accounting did no longer match population and wealth - and usually the state gently asked the starving poor to make good the tax cheating of the rich.

Last week I saw an interesting exhibition about the teenage girlfriend/muse of Egon Schiele, Valerie "Wally" Neuzil (whose portrait had been held hostage for a decade in New York for being stolen Nazi art even though it just was one of the few in the collection that actually wasn't). Anyway, the exhibition displayed a nice guest book entry of the two on the Traunsee. Hotel registries and guest books are modern successors (or pre-modern if "checking-in" via App or silently via phone tracking are counted). I always feel a bit uneasy having to hand over my passport to the concierge. Fortunately, copying techniques have improved greatly since the fall of the Iron Curtain. So much waiting time was spent for them to copy and check your credentials.

The Water Margin actually shows how most surveillance systems are used ex post to retrace the steps of a known subject. The Chinese system used a double system of top down (travel permission) and bottom up (inn registry). As long as both functioned more or less, glitches in one system could be recovered by the other (and a bit of torture to trigger the memory).

Next weekend, German/French Arte TV will show a documentary about the "naked" (as in formerly silk-clothed) terracotta army of the 4th or 6th Han emperor (depending whether you go by the German or English Wikipedia). While I have already seen wonderful jade burial suits/exo-skeletons, I was unaware about this smaller second terracotta army.

Chapter 20 Chao Gai and Lin Chong

This chapter completes the bandit leadership coup and the new seating/pecking order. Chao Gai as boss, then two brainiacs Wu Yong and Gongsung, then the muscle Lin Chong, Liu Tang, the 3 Ruans and finally Du Wian and Song Wan, finally the spy Zhu "Dry Land Alligator" Gui for the incomplete dozen (keeping one spot open for our crazy monk or Song Jiang?). At first, I thought the Ruans were assigned too high positions but they fully proved themselves during the next fight as force multipliers.

Lin Chong has to learn the unfortunate news that his ex-wife preferred to commit suicide instead of giving in to improper advances. This frees him of one obligation to his past and will further make him more vengeful against Marshal Gao.

The new team is given a big Asterix against the Romans showcase battle. They smash the poor government soldiers and defeat and capture their commander Huang An. A new prefect arrives to take another stab against the bandits.

Now, the story shifts into full Tennessee Williams mode. Everybody's favorite small bureaucrat Song Jiang acquires a concubine in a weird, uninvolved way. Song Jiang shows such a disinterest in his new concubine that I wonder why he did acquire her at all. Marriage is not a necessary condition for charity. Did he think that acquiring a "beard" would be helpful for his career? Shouldn't he then have chosen a socially respectable woman?

When Song Jiang grows tired of sex and her company, the aptly named Poxi selects her own sidekick lover. Song Jiang seems quite happy to see her occupied. A disaffected couple in lightning time after an unnecessary shotgun wedding. Song quickly turns again to business and keeping good relations with the bandits. They are thankful for his tip about the approaching soldiers and offer him gold and a promise in writing. Song is still a honest soul and does not want the large amount of incriminating gold at his home, so asks the bandits to store it for him.

Chapter 21 Poxi and Song Jiang

As the proverbial gun in the first act, the writing and gold proves fatal for Song as nosy Poxi finds both after Song Jiang had stupidly left his sash in her apartment (without having had any sexy time with her). Poxi wants money and a divorce - both of which is also in the interest of Song Jiang as he does not care about either much. The incriminating writing, however, is a gun pointed at his head as it proves his collusion with the bandits. Now, if Poxi had any brains, she would have realized that Song Jiang is a honest fool for whom she does not need to hang on to the writing to get her divorce and the money. Had she surrendered it, everything could have been resolved to everyone's benefit.

The tragedy, however, has to happen. Song Jiang murders Poxi but fails to commit the necessary follow-up murder of her mother (as the US war crime commission in Iraq said: no surviving witnesses, no war crime and no conviction). The next mistake is going out into the street with the mother who quite understandably starts to accuse Song of murder. The officials are in a bind. While they do not want to hurt Song Jiang, they can not not act. An unfortunate bystander, Tang the ox, offers a way out: The officials pick him as a scapegoat and arrest him. Given that Tang is fully innocent, this will only delay the eventual prosecution of Song Jiang.

Will Song Jiang stay honest and face the consequences of his crime? Or will he evade the law in the name of a greater justice and become a bandit?

maj 10, 2015, 8:18 pm

I have been reading the five-volume, paperback Dent-Young translation. I have completed the third volume (thru Chapter 62). I needed to take a break and have not picked up again yet. While I find the story interesting, the repetition of the names and positions as the 108 bandits are introduced and jockey for control can be somewhat daunting after awhile. I like your straightforward statement of the larger plot line of each chapter.

Redigerat: maj 12, 2015, 3:32 pm

vy0123 --you have comments on your profile turned off, so I'm replying here--I bought my set new from a seller on Amazon Canada for about 40 CAD and it looks as if similar are still available--I hope this link works:

Hope that helps!

maj 17, 2015, 6:04 pm

Is there an overall story or is it a collection of individual tales strung together? When does a character grow out of a red shirt? I hope that with the assembly of the dirty dozen we achieve some stability and have them act as a band of brothers.

Interestingly, the documentary broadcast yesterday on German Arte TV about the "naked" terracotta army of Han emperor Jing Di revealed that they had female soldiers in the ranks, and especially among the cavalry, which makes sense as bantam size was typical for many cavalrymen in history. Big men like Heros von Borcke were restricted to heavy cavalry.

Chapter 22 Song Jiang

For all the turmoil in the country, the basic bureaucracy of the murder investigation and the interplay of different services still is working very well. I doesn't take a genius to note, though, that the death was caused by a slashed throat. Poor Tang the Ox has to endure torture while the magistrates deliberate how to tackle the issue of the escaped Song Jiang.

Probably for just such an event, Song Jiang had already equipped his family with a formal disinheritance certificate, so that they might be spared torture and group punishment. The bureaucrats can't resist the magic of the certificate and bring back a copy of it to examine.

A thorough but futile search of the Song family compound takes place by forty soldiers under Lei Heng and Zhu Tong. Zhu actually knows that Song Jiang is hiding under the family altar and has chat with him and discuss flight options. After the soldiers and commanders had some food and some baksheesh, they return without the culprit. The old hag is paid off by Zhu Tong, poor Tang the Ox is branded and sent into exile. A "Wanted" poster is made for the capture of Song Jiang.

Song Jiang and his brother Song Qing depart from the family compound to seek refuge, always staying clear of infected bowls in inns and beds in which men have died. The brothers find sanctuary at Lord Chai's who entertains them with drink until Song Jiang is 80% drunk. On the way to the toilet, he stumbles over another visitor and the two start to brawl. Song China is a small world and the fellow was just looking for Song Jiang without knowing him personally.

Chapter 23 Song Jiang and Wu Song
Wu Song's search for Song Jiang was not a pressing matter as he had been staying at Lord Chai's for more than a year. Song Jiang and Wu Song become best friend at Lord Chai's. Still, Wu Song wants to return home to check in on his brother. Song Jiang accompanies him part of the way to a tavern. Lord Chai arrives to escort Song Jiang back while Wu Song travels home.

Wu Song arrives at a tavern famous for its knock-out wine. At first, he seems immune to the k.o. wine. Instead of 3, he drank 18 without collapsing. He is also not afraid of the tiger awaiting him on the ridge. The government is really diligent in informing travelers about the tiger risk. Wu Song, however, is not of the thinking kind and travels on, tiger be damned.

Just then, the effects of the wine started to set in and Wu Song wanted to bed down on a rock when he stands face to face with the tiger. Spring, swipe and slash! but the tiger fails to its amazement. Wu Song too splits a tree with his staff instead of the tiger. Next, Wu Song goes mano a mano with the tiger and bashes it sixty or seventy times into the head. The near dead tiger is killed off by Wu Song using the rest of his broken staff.

By chance, Wu Song meets the local hunters and their peasant followers who acclaim him as a hero. Having given a feast in his honor, he is escorted to the county magistrate who is eager to appoint such a valiant fighter as a constable. A few days later, he is recognized by a stranger.

maj 25, 2015, 6:02 pm

Chapter 24 Wu Song and the desperate housewife

The stranger happens to be Wu Song's ugly elder brother aka three inches of mulberry bark. I will call him Groot. Now, Groot had not listened to the advice of never marrying a pretty girl. His wife, Golden Lotus, has an independent streak and a full libido. Her marriage to an ugly if lawful loser is at a dead end. She is looking to trade up.

Her first candidate is his younger brother Wu Song who is clearly not interested. Given his prospects, she would be a bad match even if family relations did not pose an issue. Wu Song first moves in at his brother's place but soon departs again due to the inappropriate advances of his sister-in-law. Wu Song unfortunately is assigned to safely escort a transport, so he can only advise his brother to go on lock-down and keep his wife indoor while Wu Song is completing his mission.

Naturally, Tennessee Williams and the Desperate Housewives make their entrance. Golden Lotus literally hits on her next suitor Ximen. Guided by her next-door neighbor and bawd, an affair between Golden Lotus and Ximen develops based on elaborate battle plans developed by the bawd and Ximen. Golden Lotus is quite bad at being a gold-digger as she gives in to Ximen's advances without receiving much of either present or future compensation or promise. Wu the Elder remains quite oblivious of his wife's activities. It takes a greedy rascal to force the issue into the light.

Chapter 25 The desperate housewife II

The greedy rascal informs Groot who makes a plan to uncover the affair inflagranti. He succeeds in a tragicomic way to confront the lovers. He is no fighter, though. Ximen strikes him and knocks him out. The poor man is ill in bed for five days, while Ximen, the bawd and Golden Lotus plot his murder. Wu the Elder, one night, is served with a medicinal drink spiked with arsenic and dutifully dies in pain and bleeding all over the place.

While Golden Lotus and the bawd clean up the body and the place, Ximen buys the coffin and tries to buy off the local coroner who is quite suspicious about Ximen. Face to face with Wu the Elder's body, the coroner shows a strange reaction: He too spurts blood and collapses. Thus ends the chapter. Will the three co-conspirators succeed despite having one dead man and a half-dead man in the house? Stay tuned for Volume II.

So after reading a quarter of the book, I find the title "Outlaws of the Marsh" not yet apt. Only a few scenes took actually place in the bandit stronghold. Most of the 530 pages were loosely collected novellas about various protagonists without a clear nucleus (many of the X-men movies suffer from an overabundance of cast too but at least have a core team around the inevitable Wolverine).

What I like best is the rich presentation of life in the Song dynasty. The book shows a big panorama of how the low and the great live and act, their desires and follies.

maj 31, 2015, 5:09 pm

Chapter 26 Wu Song's revenge

Coroner Ho was more shocked seeing the obvious signs of murder than struck by disease. He makes a quick calculation what is likely to hurt him more: Ximen or Wu Song. He collects some evidence and then keeps his head down until Wu Song returns. Wu Song quickly learns about his unfaithful sister-in-law and tries to open a court case against her and Ximen. He does not succeed however and has to choose the Hulk smash option of self-justice. He gathers the neighbors and has written down their testimony, then slaughters his sister-in-law and her lover. With the testimony and their heads, he surrenders to the law.

Chapter 27 Wu Song's trial and exile

Now, the court has to take the case. Mistress Wang is condemned to be sliced (!). Gallant if murderous Wu Song is tattooed and exiled. On the way to the exile, Wu Song and his escorts are nearly murdered by a tavern witch serving human meat. Bovine Wu Song is not as easy to kill though. He overwhelms the witch but then discovers her and her husband to be nice killers who normally spare monks, prostitutes and condemned men (though the witch seems to keep making mistakes). As Wu's guards are still knocked out, they offer Wu to help him escape. Will he take the offer?

jun 9, 2015, 6:09 pm

Chapter 28 Wu Song partying

No, Wu Song is a honorable man, sparing the guards' lives. They party on at the inn, then deliver Wu Song to his destination. His good luck continues and he is treated nicely at the prison - in contrast to the experiences of the other prisoners. The man seeking to become Wu's friend is Shi En, the Golden-eyed Tiger Cub. Wu Song demonstrates his strength by lifting and tossing a giant stone.

Chapter 29 Wu Song partying and brawling

Finally, Shi En reveals what or better who troubles him: Jiang the Gate Guard Giant who had previously beaten him up. Shi En's father also shows up to meet their hope to restore their local protection racket/toll extraction. Father and son are worried that Wu Song is drinking too much so the confrontation is postponed until he is sober and elegantly dressed. These good efforts come to naught by Wu Song's condition of drinking three cups at every tavern they pass on the 15 li way to meet the giant. A cheaper solution is found by setting up drinking relay stations served by Shi En's own people. The good plan is destroyed by Wu Song creates a brawl at a shady tavern.

While it would have been quite in character for Wu Song, the brawl was a stratagem to lure the unsuspecting Giant into a fight. Not very gentleman-like, Wu Song kicks the giant in the groin and then hits his head. Wu Song poses three conditions for the giant's surrender. What will they be?

jun 16, 2015, 6:03 pm

Chapter 30 Wu Song triumphs and falls

So the conditions are pretty reasonable and allow Shi En to resume his business. The Giant naturally is not pleased with this outcome but that does not concern Wu Song who can bask in the glory of another completed mission by gluttony. General Zhang hears about the valiant warrior and invites him to join his team.

Unfortunately for Wu, General Zhang turns out to be really devious. He lures Wu into a trap, accuses him of thievery and locks him up. While not all are corrupt, the administration still is to such a degree to condemn Wu to prison. On the way there, at "Flying Cloud Ponds", Wu Song overpowers and kills his four guards. It is very interesting that Wu Song as well as the guards are all able to read the sign. In Europe at that time, few would be able to do such a feat, especially not lowly guards. Unfortunately, their reading skill come to naught as Wu Song eliminates all witnesses having learned that General Zhang had planned for them to kill him there. Wu Song is burning for revenge.

Chapter 31 Wu Song in blood lust

A "Kill Bill" moment for Wu Song who methodically takes out and kills the inhabitants of the Zhang family compound. He sneaks in, kills the servants then Zhang and friends, tops it off with some more servants and the women and kids. Leaving the scene of carnage, he escapes over the city wall. (Outstanding if brutal action sequence!)

Next, exhausted Wu Song seeks a place to rest. He finds a temple which nearly costs him his life as four bandits overwhelm him and take him to an inn - which just happens to be the one of Zhang Qing and Sun the Witch. After prodigious feasting (possibly involving tasting some human flesh), they disguise Wu Song as a traveling monk (just killed by Sun the Witch despite her rules to the contrary!). Wu Song wants to go to that other wayward monk, Sagacious Lu on Two-Dragon-Mountain.

During his journey, Wu Song can not stay sneaky for long. He discovers a cemetery temple with naughty Taoists - which sends him into another bloody rampage chopping off heads left and right until he meets their boss in combat.

jun 28, 2015, 6:18 pm

Chapter 32 Wu Song and Song Jiang

The destruction of the temple tempts Wu Song into another drinking and eating frenzy - if he could. The innkeeper reserves the best stuff for other guests. As usual for Wu Song, he beats up the innkeeper and his guys for this affront, but after having eaten and drunk, he collapses in the street.

Fortunately for Wu Song, he is recognized and rescued by Song Jiang. After a bound of drinking and feasting, Wu Song and Song Jiang part ways. Wu Song is going to Two Dragon Mountain while Song Jiang went eastwards toward Clear Winds Mountain. Alone in the evening, he is captured by a group of robbers. The three robber chiefs discuss what to do with Song Jiang when they learn his name and quickly free him due to his excellent reputation.

He is in bad company, however. He just manages to rescue the wife of the Clear Winds Mountain civil commandant from being raped. Liberated and frigthened, the wife is carried back to Clear Winds Mountain at top speed. Her husband receives her and does not learn the truth about her rescue.

Chapter 33 Song Jiang

Never goes a good deed unpunished. Song Jiang arrives safely at Clear Winds Mountain and meets his friend Hua Rong. Unfortunately for Song Jiang, he is recognized by the wife and accused of being a member of the robber gang. He is taken into custody and tortured. Hua Rong tries to get Song Jiang freed by bureaucratic means but fails. He then frees Song Jiang by force. Freeing a prisoner is not what officers usually do, so Song Jiang sets out on his own to reduce the burden of his friend.

The civil commandant, however, seizes this opportunity to get rid of Hua Rong. First, Song Jiang is captured on the run. Hua Rong is tricked into a meeting and captured too. In cages, Song Jiang and Hua Rong are escorted to the prefecture. Will they survive?

jun 28, 2015, 6:26 pm

Augh, I'm dismally behind. How much behind? Very. Will go dive into the gore tonight. Save me a corpse!

jun 29, 2015, 11:45 am

Goodness, so much carnage. The Wu Song story struck me as the most interesting so far, maybe because the adulterous couple, the bawd, and even that rascally boy, were more fleshed out. "Three-tenths a man, seven-tenths a monster!"

"The prettiest papayas are the emptiest!"

"His rage sailed off to Java..."

It was almost literary. The rest of it still reads like a bare bones comic book scenario.

jun 29, 2015, 11:49 am

the "naked" terracotta army of Han emperor Jing Di revealed that they had female soldiers in the ranks, and especially among the cavalry, which makes sense as bantam size was typical for many cavalrymen in history. Big men like Heros von Borcke were restricted to heavy cavalry.

I never understood what was the point of cavalry (short of sheer ease of transport, relative to marching). Hard to strike from above, impossible to aim in motion... Poor horses, the slashing and stabbing they must have taken.

jun 29, 2015, 6:28 pm

I agree. Wu Song's story finally had some depth, though his kinetic solution approach is not working particularly well. This is also the reason why I find most superhero comics and films unrewarding. The bad guys try to inflict some completely senseless mass destruction and the good guys solve the problem by beating them up. At the end, instead of filling in road potholes and solving world hunger, the superheroes just relax and wait for the next baddie.

The Chinese outlaws also only react with burst of violence against an oppressive and corrupt system but do little to replace it. Even the bandit council mirrors the hierarchical structure of their state system. While "Outlaws" is said to be more dangerous to a government than "Three Kingdoms" by inciting to rebellion, Liu Bei & co. are a far bigger challenge to authority than violent amateurs such as Wu Song who could easily be bought off with a supply of wine and meat

Ad cavalry: While training is required, both shooting and fighting from horseback is very effective, especially in open terrain where cavalry retains the initiative and infantry has to stay put in place. Raising infantry forces for non-local missions has always been very expensive as you take many farmers off the field that eat the food reserves. This becomes even more critical if the food has to be transported to infantry stationed in distant border areas (causing the ruin of many Chinese rulers).

Infantry also tends to be either low quality militia that tends to run away or hardened professionals (usually from some mountain area). Not paying those professionals was usually a bad choice for a ruler. Cavalry, in contrast, is either nomadic and cheap light cavalry or aristocratic heavy cavalry. The nomadic cavalry is essentially free if they can be restricted to areas where they do only limited damage. Heavy cavalry is expensive in upkeep but limited in number. Its big advantage is that its conservative goal usually are in agreement with the ruler (being little kings in their own sphere).

The outlaws of our story only survive against the government forces due to the difficult terrain (swamp, forest, mountains) that negate the cavalry advantages. The government infantry forces we see in the story are of terrible quality and run away from a few opponents (similar to modern Iraqi army units). Retirees flocking into underpopulated rural/tourist areas also messes up the relevance.

jun 29, 2015, 7:23 pm

I'd forgotten how effective the Huns and Mongols were, although I don't know what kind of organised resistance they met. I've probably seen too many bad movie battles to judge properly on the uses of mounted soldiers... usually the scenes look like infernal melées, horses trampling bodies regardless, and how does one control the animal in the din AND do anything useful in the way of fighting?

Anyway, that's a very cool tidbit about Chinese female riders (General Mulan!), please let me know if you come across a book dealing with them--actually, if you have any references for historical engagement of women in combat, I'd be grateful for recommendations.

jun 29, 2015, 10:23 pm

Tang Dynasty Pottery “Leg-Biting” Horse With Cover

jun 30, 2015, 4:14 am

In addition to #48 and #49:

The Eurasian landmass has been a cavalry’s dream location: endless flat or slightly hilly lands, a pre-Modern green super highway from Beijing (where the desert meets upon the Chinese heartland) all the way to Hungary. The Mongols have been the best at exploiting this opportunity, thanks to being excellent horsemen:

Each Mongol soldier typically maintained 3 or 4 horses. Changing horses often allowed them to travel at high speed for days without stopping or wearing out the animals. Their ability to live off the land, and in extreme situations off their animals (mare's milk especially), made their armies far less dependent on the traditional logistical apparatus of agrarian armies. In some cases, as during the invasion of Hungary in early 1241, they covered up to 100 miles (160 km) per day, which was unheard of by other armies of the time.


Six of every ten Mongol troopers were light cavalry horse archers; the remaining four were more heavily armored and armed lancers. Mongol light cavalry were extremely light troops compared to contemporary standards, allowing them to execute tactics and maneuvers that would have been impractical for a heavier enemy (such as European knights). Most of the remaining troops were heavier cavalry with lances for close combat after the archers had brought the enemy into disarray. Soldiers usually carried scimitars or battle axes as well.


Mongolian horses are relatively small, but extremely hardy, self-sufficient and longwinded. These horses could survive in climates that would have killed other breeds, enabling the Mongols to launch successful winter attacks on Russia. Mongol horses typically do not require a daily supply of grain. Their ability to forage grass and twigs on their own—and to survive on such fodder—helped free the Khan's army from the need for supply lines. The Mongol horse has excellent stamina. In 30 km traditional races between Mongol horses and breeds like the Arabian or Thoroughbred, it has been found that the latter are faster, but that Mongol horses are better able to run at length. The tireless nature of the Mongol horse meant that it would have stayed fresh longer in battle, granted Genghis Khan's armies an endurance advantage.

Seen as a "machine of war," the Mongol horse is an all-terrain, all-weather vehicle requiring little gas or maintenance and providing excellent mileage. A warrior relied on his herd to provide him with staple foods of milk and meat; hide for bowstrings, shoes, and armor; dried dung to be used as fuel for his fire; hair for rope, battle standards, musical instruments and helmet decorations; milk also used for shamanistic ceremonies to ensure victory; and for hunting and entertainment that often served as military training. If he died in battle, a horse would sometimes be sacrificed with him to provide a mount for the afterlife.

The main drawback to Mongol horses was their lack of speed. They would lose short-distance races under equal conditions with larger horses from other regions. However, since most other armies carried much heavier armor, the Mongols could still outrun most enemy horsemen in battle. In addition, Mongolian horses were extremely durable and sturdy, allowing the Mongols to move over large distances quickly, often surprising enemies that had expected them to arrive days or even weeks later.


The Mongols could shoot an arrow over 200 metres (660 ft). Targeted shots were possible at a range of 150 or 175 metres (492 or 574 ft), which determined the optimal tactical approach distance for light cavalry units. Ballistic shots could hit enemy units (without targeting individual soldiers) at distances of up to 400 metres (1,300 ft), useful for surprising and scaring troops and horses before beginning the actual attack.

jun 30, 2015, 8:33 am

Arrows were expensive and usually in short supply. So the beloved mass arrow volleys seen in movies today were a rare event for shock activity (cf. Agincourt). With superior firepower and mobility, it doesn't make much sense not to get close to the target before shooting.

In my view, the Mongols are overrated. Their "locust" strategy was unsustainable. They were fortunate that their opponents did not have good administration and logistics to oppose them effectively, which means not to play their game (as the stupid king of Hungary did at Mohi 1241).

There is a lot of bad history about "women in combat". As fewer than 10% of a population were mobilized for war, it simply makes more sense to send young unmarried men into battle. A man is both physically larger and stronger, thus can strike harder and draw a stronger bow. Most examples of women in battle served either inspirational (Joan of Arc, Margarete Maultasch) or in last desperate measure castle defense (many Japanese examples). In the famous example of trial by combat between man and woman in Tallhofer's fencing manual, the man is placed in a ditch/hole to give the woman a better chance to win.

jun 30, 2015, 9:50 am

>52 jcbrunner:

Yes, I know deploying women in combat is unusual, that's why it interests me. I have one book on the topic, in Russian ( apparently self-published, in Buenos Aires (no date) by someone implausibly or very plausibly named "Sergio von Spakowsky" --I'd guess it's of 1940s-1950s vintage (I think it contains a section on Soviet female soldiers). I looked through it but haven't read. The author, IIRC, was full of admiration for these Amazon women. :)

Anyway, if you come across something scholarly dealing with the topic, I'll always be interested in hearing about it--any country, any time.

>51 mercure:

I understand the advantage of speedy movement on a horse, but at the same time, in combat, aren't you double or triple the target? That is, if you're facing another army, not just crashing through an unarmed crowd.

Redigerat: jun 30, 2015, 12:49 pm

I do not have any martial background, but the Mongols managed to conquer land against a wide variety of adversaries: Russians, Arabs, Chinese, and that later graveyard of empires Afghanistan. None of my books mentions much about the costs of arches, however.

Horses were a constant headache for the Chinese. The T'ang whose art you featured went deep into debt in 755, because of the rising price of horses, according to China Marches West. The Manchus maintained good relations with the eastern Mongols because of their supply of horses. The supply of horses was always critical to the survival of the Chinese state (until the 20th century).

I would expect that the speed of a soldier on horse back gives protection against an enemy trying to shoot him.

As for young men and war, there are theories that war is often caused by an oversupply of young men. If the total fertility ratio of women rises to 4 or higher, there are two many men to find good jobs, find appropriate mates and settle down in domestic boredom. There is statistical support for the theory, but remains a matter of belief, as far as I know. More info in Söhne und Weltmacht

jul 1, 2015, 3:23 pm

Your women in war book sounds rather sketchy. For a Swiss take on the topic, there is Helvetias Töchter Frauen in der Schweizer Militärgeschichte von der Entstehung der Eidgenossenschaft bis zur Gründung des Frauenhilfsdienstes, though women played mostly a supporting role and only in extreme cases participated actively in war. Usually, to shame either the defeated men or their opponents. Famous is one group of women repulsing an attack on a city while their men were away (though a similar feat was achieved by a flock of geese at another time) and enraged Swiss women attacked the French revolutionary soldiers after the Swiss men had lost the battle against them. In any case, Mutter Courage is a more typical model for women in war than a woman actively participating in the fighting.

In London, there is currently a minor scandal about a rape scene in Rossini's Guillaume Tell. Nobody in England seems to have realized the historical context of the Swiss national epic: Austrian soldiers raping a Swiss girl is a stand-in for Rossini's own era of Austrian occupation of Northern Italy. The opera was at first prohibited from being played in Italy itself before the location was changed to Scotland (Austrian censors apparently were less troubled by English soldiers molesting Scottish women - given the success of Outlander, they might have been onto something.).

Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army makes a convincing case that in the Ancient World, humans were as efficient carriers as horses. In mountainous terrain without good roads, the advantage of a human carrier is even larger. No wonder that the noblewomen etc. in the novel are carried by men in palanquins. In urban areas, horses were one of the main causes of pollution - mankind once thought to have solved it by shifting to cars.

Animals and horses are able to stoically bear wounds and continue to function. It was quite usual to continue to ride a wounded horse until it collapsed. Commanders tended to use up multiple horses in a battle. The numerous rotting horse corpses were actually one of the worst after-effects of a battle. Burning the dead horses (causing a horrible smell) was often the best option, as moving the carcass was too time-consuming and required too much effort.

Finally, horses are force-multipliers. Cortez & co. used their few horses to great effect in America where they were first seen as some sort of centaurs (so well worked the interplay of horse and rider).

jul 1, 2015, 6:17 pm

>54 mercure:

I imagine horses were essential in facilitating communication in such a huge and administratively centralised country as China.

There's definitely too many men. Not only are they the cause of violence chronic and acute, on a mass and individual scale, they are a much greater drag on natural resources than women. If 90% of men disappeared, the planet would be saved and human civilization and outlook for the future instantly improved.

But, alas, biology is what it is, stupidly generating the sexes in approximately equal proportions, and the, ahem, FINAL SOLUTION just isn't implementable... at this time...

>55 jcbrunner:

I googled "Sergio von Spakowsky" back when in Spanish and Russian but found nothing (there are some Spakowskys in Argentina and von Spakovskys in the US), because I'm thinking the story behind this must be interesting. Pity that my book was ex-library and rebound, so the original cover was lost.

Re: horses, it does seem there were at least as many drawbacks in employing them in fighting, as there might be advantages. But perhaps I'm making the mistake of looking at it too generally, perhaps only specific situations are capable of showcasing the maximum benefits they could give.

Speaking of urban pollution by horse, Compton Mackenzie, founder of The Gramophone, writes in his memoirs in the thirties about how much he misses the atmosphere of pre-car London, including the all-pervading "horsey" smells. He has a wonderful paragraph on flowers that everyone used to cultivate at least on windowsills, in, among other things, a counter-offensive against the more pungent odours. The mix was a characteristic London-stamp of the times, never to be smelled again...

jul 2, 2015, 3:30 am

Horses were also important for communication, which the government had organized pretty well. But the land of the Han has natural borders to its east, south, and west, but not to its north. The two times that all of China was under a foreign dynasty (Yuan and Qing), the occupiers came from across the northern desserts and grasslands.

Modern society could indeed do with a different ratio between men and women:

But only recently, now that machines have made typical male skills as muscle power (and map reading?) obsolete. Machines are better at this for a few decades than at typical female qualities. However, Japan will have the first hotel fully staffed by robots this year already. Men are more violent, but particularly in areas of poverty, and/or extreme income inequality. Look for example to the willingness of people to fight for their country:

I did not know that men are a much greater drag on natural resources, particularly if you would discount for the fact that they still travel more for their jobs, the fruits of which are also enjoyed by their mates. In many cultures a reduction of the ratio between men and women would require massive cultural changes. Cultures where women are heads of households in the majority of cases are mainly found in the Caribbean and among the poor in Western countries. In my own country, middle and upper class women are quite content with easy part-time jobs and plenty of time to take their cargo bike to the nearest café for endless hours of chatting with girlfriends while their children are in a daycare centre. To bring this back to the Chinese, modern Chinese women are known to insist on hypergamy.

I would rate Mackenzie’s love of horsey smells as an example of how perfidious Albion is.

jul 2, 2015, 1:12 pm

Men are energy hogs. Even without the incalculable, historically truly stupendous cost of male violence and male-directed ecological disaster, on a purely individual level they require more food and space. Country life and livestock farming is useful in driving this lesson home: for prosperity, keep many female and only a few male animals.

It is nonsensical to extrapolate from a situation of a male supremacy (currently the global condition) to one of female supremacy, because we'd all behave differently--BE different--in those drastically different circumstances. Women aren't given much choice in how to behave under male supremacy--if they care to survive, that is.

As for the Chinese or Asians in general, those societies seem riddled with misogyny and overt, sanctioned sexism even more than the West, meaning that the behaviour of women there is even more restricted to type, as the penalty for non-conforming is severe, so I'd confer even less predictive significance to how Asian women are coping now. (If you can stand gore, I'd recommend Natsuo Kirino's Out for a picture of female condition in modern Japan from a woman's point of view, a career, "salarywoman"'s at that.)

I have some Dutch female colleagues I'd classify as middle if not upper class who don't seem like your acquaintances at all. I doubt very much the majority of women in the Netherlands are implied shirkers, gold diggers and coat-riders, but if it's true that most of them can afford to be just "ladies who lunch" and live on "easy part-time" jobs, perhaps that's a sign of how well your country's doing economically (at least the upper class, or at least people in your circle). Or maybe it's a sign that traditional gender roles and behaviours enforcing them are still strong enough to keep women sticking to family life. Or maybe a bit of both.

I would rate Mackenzie’s love of horsey smells as an example of how perfidious Albion is.

lol! But also how garden-full. :) I live close to a mounted police station and often see them in the street. Once I ran into a neighbour who claimed a patch of public land for an unconventional garden following them at a distance and collecting the droppings. Asked me to lend him a hand but I cowardly claimed urgent business. I'm no expert, but I'd say baby poop is a million times worse. Ugh, milk breakdown products.

Well, this is some thread drift.

jul 3, 2015, 5:14 pm

Vienna has some expertise in those horsey smells. The city center used to have a very rural smell in summer. At least they reduced the problem to unhappy accidents thanks to equipping the famous Fiaker with collection units. It is strange that such a simple and effective innovation was made so late.

Back to the novel. I am actually amazed how much agency the women characters have, though they tend to be bitches. The only non-bitch female character I remember were the faithful wife who preferred to kill herself rather than give in to the advances and the dutiful prostitute-daughter at the beginning. Considering that most men in the story aren't good guys either, perhaps it's a sort of Chinese "Sin City".

jul 7, 2015, 4:34 pm

Chapter 34 Song Jiang out of the cage

So these foot soldiers are as worthless as Imperial stormtroopers - just for decoration. While the commander of the prisoner transport, Huang Xin, manages to flee, the rest of the force is captured and Hua Rong and Song Jiang liberated from their cages. Given that the three chieftains had already captured the wife of the commander, he should have taken into account that they would at least try to attack the transport. Bottled up in Clear Winds mountain, he sends for help from the prefecture.

The prefect sends "Thunderbolt" Qin Ming to assist Huang Xin in recapturing the rebels. General Thunderbolt is not the brightest and lets himself be trapped and flushed out in Hua Rong's cat and mouse design. Using Qin Ming's arms and armor in an attack on the prefecture, Hua Rong implicates and taints Qin Ming's reputation to force him into joining the bandits. With "friends" like these ...
Qin Ming in turn manages to convince Huang Xin to switch sides.

Chapter 35 Song Jiang on the march

Huang Xin opens the gates of Clear Winds mountain to Song Jiang and Hua Rong. Liu Gao and his clan are executed, his wife given to Stumpy Tiger, though Yan Shun quickly kills her to avoid future troubles. The shocked and enraged Stumpy Tiger is calmed by Song Jiang who promises (again) to find him a wife in compensation. Qin Ming marries Hua Rong's younger sister and thus becomes a real member of the team.

The whole force and their civilian followers then march towards Liangshan Marsh. On the way, they pick up another pair of new heroes. Song Jiang in the advance guard rests at an inn where they encounter a rough stranger who, once again, is a fervent admirer of Song Jiang. He also happens to carry a letter from Song Jiang's brother informing him that his father had just died. Naturally, Song Jiang wants to go home for the funeral and leaves the advance party, not without having written an introduction letter for the Liangshan bandits.

The two groups of bandits then meet and greet and solve the crucial problem of establishing the new pecking order. Hua Rong moves up a spot thanks to two amazing bow trick shots. Now, there are 21 leaders on Liangshan Mountain.

Meanwhile, Song Jiang arrives home to find his father - alive. Apparently, informing him about his death would be the quickest way to get Song Jiang home. His father informs him about an Imperial amnesty. Will Song Jiang take it or return to the Liangshan Mountain? Others may take this decision for him as the family manor is surrounded by other troops.

jul 15, 2015, 6:33 pm

Chapter 36 Song Jiang captured and released, at ease and in danger

The general amnesty as well as Song Jiang's guanxi result in a lenient sentence after his capture. On his way to the exile, he has to march past his comrades on Liangshang Mountain who do not understand why he wants to redeem himself in exile instead of joining the merry bandits. After a dance of courtesies and formalities, Song Jiang is once again on his way to his exile. In an inn, he and his guards are drugged and once again survive only due to his reputation. He is saved by Li Jun, a helmsman. After another round of merriment, Song Jiang is on his way again, only to get into trouble once more. This time, his good deed unwittingly enrages a local bully who wants revenge.

Chapter 37 Song Jiang in exile

The local bully is also the local boss who reacts badly to being tackled by Song Jiang's acquaintance. He gives out the order that nobody is to offer board and food to Song Jiang and his guards. They only find lodging at the bully's place - an unexpected turn of events. When they realize the state of affairs, they flee again.

Chased by the bully's men, Song Jiang and his guards manage to get away on a boat. Unfortunately, the boatsmen are in the business of extortion and murder. Once more, it is only Song Jiang's reputation that saves his life. Perhaps he should start wearing signs with his name on it, so that his attackers might learn who they intend to attack. By chance, Song Jiang also manages to have his acquaintance released who was captured as well.

Finally, they arrive at the prison/exile destination where Song Jiang starts establishing good relations with the guards. To meet the new boss soon, he explicitly fails to pay the bride to the big boss.

I hope that the repetitive and bland story of Song Jiang ends soon. A timely final rain? So many chapters that are not actually about bandit life.

jul 16, 2015, 12:09 pm

I wonder if rehab was a thing in those days? People seem to get convicted, flogged, sent into exile... next stop, banditry.

It's all a bit samey and very episodic. Maybe it's a mistake to expect a unifying story line. I keep thinking this is a gathering of the forces, but that's probably misleading.

Wicked nicknames! Tong Meng the River Churning Clam.

Song Jiang is a strange sort of gallant hero. They send a hundred men to pick him up, but he quakes with fear when the boatman threatens him.

jul 17, 2015, 1:52 pm

There are not a lot of options in an absolutist system. Without separation of power and independent judicial review, becoming a bandit is a likely outcome for any bureaucrat making decisions (similar to the almost obligatory prison sentence of Illinois governors). Three strike laws also lead to worse outcome due to their inflexibility.

"Sick Tiger" is my favorite! Though it would be helpful what kind of sickness is implied.

There seem to be three kinds of Chinese heroes. Brawny guys such as Sagacious Lu or Zhang Fei; gallant/brave ones such as Wu Song and Guan Yu; and smart/diplomatic ones such as Song Jiang or Zhuge Liang.

jul 17, 2015, 1:59 pm

Mm, yes, and I expect the custom of tattooing offenders' faces didn't help with reintegration. How much more discreet a lily on the shoulder!

"Sick": funny resonance with today's cool kids talk... :)

jul 17, 2015, 2:10 pm

The tattoos seem supremely ineffective in signaling outcast status, though we are only given the stories of high status individuals. Tattoed common beggars will likely not have been given much leeway.

jul 19, 2015, 5:48 pm

Chapter 38 Song Jiang in damage control mode

Song Jiang uses an indrect approach to become best buddies with the prison superintendent. Their budding friendship and drinking is interrupted by another impulse-challenged hulk, Li Kui, a drinker, gambler, bruiser and terror of the locals. The superintendent seems quite disinterested in protecting the poor locals from the mischief of his employee. Song Jiang is much better in (costly) damage control. Li Kui manages to run up quite a tab in a short time. He meets his match in the water where he is soundly beaten by another new acquaintance of Song Jiang, Zhang Shun, the White Streak in the Waves, for whom Song Jiang also has a letter from his brother.

jul 20, 2015, 2:27 pm

From chapter 23 onward, the story of wu song, has been one of the most popular story among the Chinese . and there is another classic dedicate to this plot.

jul 20, 2015, 3:46 pm

Wu Song's popularity is no mystery to me. I wonder why the "straight man" and Confucian poster boy Song Jiang receives so much space.

jul 21, 2015, 2:41 am

Song jiang expertise lies in a different category then his outlaw brother. he was not known for riding skill or martial art, but he was good at manipulated people's mind, and to adapted himself in hard time, very good at marketing himself, choosing right nickname and working hard to be gain public praise, and make friend with people with very different personality.

His lack of fighting skill and physical fitness means less conceited then other outlaw, more easy to get along with , and his background of a low rank clerk in local bureau of law, also provide him valuable experience in dealing with people, and be forever patient with hothead.

All these quality contribute to make him a good leader , and most important, a good recruiter, for most outlaw only knows how to classified people and accept them . they don't ask why. song jiang nickname is "Rain in Time", in a society that word of mouth has more credibility then internet information today, "Rain in Time" would be a far more effective nickname of a leader then "Nine dragon" or "Lion killer".

There are 2 other characters who has the leader quality, but they lack the patient and skill of song jiang, when in later chapter the leader of the gang were murdered, he wouldn't let Song jiang took the leadership, but Song jiang gang was way too strong by then , all his hard work and manipulation would paid off.

jul 21, 2015, 1:06 pm

Thanks, kafkachen, that's extremely interesting. Does "rain in time" have some special meaning, i.e. is it an idiom? Or does it literally refer to, well, timely rain (a good thing in itself, a "blessing"?)

jul 21, 2015, 1:58 pm


You are welcome ,

It means he always came to aid when people were at desperate moment, like the rain that come to save the dying crop from a drought. however , from the story it usually didn't take him much effort to do that .

jul 21, 2015, 4:49 pm

So less the "rainmaker" than "here comes the cavalry" to save the day. The rain can turn into a Moses-like bloody stream: "If one day I can redress my grievances, the Xunyang River will be covered in blood!" (his unexpectedly violent poem is part of chapter 39).

jul 21, 2015, 11:45 pm

>72 jcbrunner:

The style of that kind of poem is focus on making an effect , exaggerated to impress people, it has little meaning or logic in it . some said the last line mean if he could regress his grievance, he wouldn't mind to spill his own blood at that river .

When I first read the book, I flip through the part of song jiang too, much like i skip all part of frodo in Lord of the ring.

jul 22, 2015, 2:59 pm

Tom Bombadil and the Ents are my LOTR fiends, though I have read the book just once and late (preemptive, just before the movies came out), as I prefer history to fantasy. The Elves also sing too much for my taste.

To look at it in a Freudian mode, isn't it likely that somebody like Song Jiang who is driven by his super ego to "go postal", once his capacity to take it is overcharged? After all, he can only watch out for a limited number of id-driven characters.

Up to now, we have seen Song Jiang less in a leadership role than as engaged in damage control or being rescued thanks to his connections.

jul 30, 2015, 6:45 pm

Chapter 39 Song Jiang blunders and is punished

After Song Jiang solves another problem with money, he commits a stupid blunder by writing poetry. As a prisoner, it is really a bad idea to express his desire to turn the river red with blood. No good could come out of the poem. Why didn't he just write about butterflies and peonies?

Thanks to his insider friends, his arrest is not as harsh as a common prisoner would have to endure, even though Song Jiang is whipped again. He is still lucky again, as speedster Dai Zong is tasked with carrying a letter to the emperor to ask about how to proceed with Song Jiang. Dai Zong, whose talents are clearly wasted in being a prison superintendent when he could be a Chinese pony express runner exchanging information between cities faster than anybody else, happens to make a rest stop just at the tavern of the dry land crocodile where hes is drugged and taken prisoner.

The bandits find and read the letter to the emperor and learn about Song Jiang's fate. Fortunately for Dai Zong, they also recognize him and spare his life. To rescue Song Jiang, an elaborate plan is prepared for which they require a letter writer and a seal producer to forge the emperor's reply. Seemingly, everything goes well but after the letter has been sent, Wu Yong becomes aware of a terrible mistake in the letter. Are Song Jiang and Dai Zong doomed?

aug 3, 2015, 5:39 pm

Chapter 40 Song Jiang is rescued

As predicted, Song Jiang and Dai Zong are discovered, imprisoned and tortured (again, for Song Jiang). Fortunately, the cavalry is coming to the rescue - in style. The bandits mobilize a small army and travel over a great distance to get Song Jiang back. The bad guys are not very smart and prolong, like a James Bond villain, the execution for too long, especially as Dai Zong has been the local superintendent with many friends.

The execution setup and the liberation happen in a cinematic grand style. The heroes, divided into multiple groups, attack and destroy the useless local stormtrooper soldiers. The naked ax-wielding berserker Li Kui is especially conspicuous in battle. They free the prisoners and escape towards the river where their luck seems to have run out.

Chapter 41 Song Jiang's revenge

The government soldiers are defeated at the river and boats carry the bandits away. They rejoice and rest. Song Jiang isn't happy yet, though. He wants to see his tormentor Huang Wenbing dead. Their raid will stir up the government troops to come to his aid, so the window of opportunity to get Huang is closing fast. At the same time, the bandits risk being trapped in an area far from their base.

Song Jiang has quickly developed an elaborate plan to get Huang: While some men infiltrate the city, the task force will approach it by boat and then raid Huang's compound. The action goes according to plan - except that Huang isn't at home. The bandits kill all in the compound, rob it and retreat. The unfortunate Huang happens to hurry back to the scene when he is captured on his boat by the White Streak and the Turbulent River Dragon.

Song Jiang has Huang Wenbing die a slow death at the hand of Li Kui. He has also made much of his drunk poem become reality with many dead instead of him rehabilitated. The bandits still have to return home. On the way, they pick up another 500 bandit groupies, so that Song Jiang is not a poor man rescued but returns with men and plunder from a raid. He becomes second-in-command of the bandits. The final pecking order of the other bandit leaders is still to be determined. After a few days of rest, Song Jiang wants to set out on another mission.

aug 7, 2015, 5:51 pm

Chapter 42 Song Jiang is the Star Lord

So the plot gets a reverse George Lucas moment of making the Star Wars sequels all about the kids. Everybody wants to bring their parents to the bandit base. Song Jiang proceeds especially hare-brained. Instead of sending his speed traveler Dai Zong, he goes undercover and without support to visit his father. Lacking the resources to escort his father to the bandit base, he is himself trapped by government forces in a village.

A dea ex machina rescues him in a temple, first by diverting the soldiers from finding him in the temple. Then follows a dream sequence where the spirit nature of Song Jiang is revealed and he receives three divine books in a Joseph Smith moment.

He is then rescued physically by the naked ax-wielding berserker Li Kui and some other fellows who had been sent to get Song Jiang and also escort his family to the base. Gongsun Sheng then wants to go and visit his own mother. Li Kui then wants to do likewise. Even with adult supervision, Li Kui is a danger to the environment. Letting him go on his journey will get people killed. Even though Li Kui had never followed the rules, Song Jiang wants him to comply with three. Easier to keep mogwais from water!

aug 8, 2015, 12:05 pm

Li Kui makes Sagacious Lu look as inoffensive as a goldfish.

Nice mystical interlude, calling back to our old Pu Songling.

It looks as if finally a more self-conscious rebellion against the government might be forming.

aug 9, 2015, 9:03 am

As stated previously, I am not fond of the supernatural stuff. No problem if it appears in such homeopathic doses. The next chapter reveals that Wu Yong is the "Occult Star", though its meaning remains mysterious. Does it indicate grey eminence, "hidden star", or is the magical component (wizard) more important? He is also known as resourceful or clever star.

Chapter 43 Unnecessary calamities caused by clumsy Li Kui

Song Jiang could probably not have stopped Li Kui from making his trip. With a bit of better management, however, he could have learned from his own botched family rescue to arrange a quiet and non-violent extraction of mother Li. While Zhu Gui is smart and has local connections, he does not have the resources to do the job for Li Kui.

A lone traveler on these roads faces a tough life - bandits and innkeepers trying to poison their customers. Still, given his track record, Li Kui arrives home without too many casualties yet. Instead of leaving the silver to his brother, he might have bought some porters and supplies to carry his mother back. The poor old lady has to endure a lot, before she meets a violent end eaten by a tiger.

Face to face with the tiger family, Li Kui does what he does best - an orgy of destruction ensues and he becomes a local hero for having killed the pests. This fame also blows his cover and results in his capture. Zhu Gui and his brother rescue him by poisoning the escorts. Shouldn't there be a standing order of never accepting food and drink for soldiers on duty?

The bandits thus gain the services of Zhu Gui's brother and probably also the soldiers' commander Li Yun who, however, has to come to blows with Li Kui first to restore his honor. A nickname of "black-eyed tiger" is not a great threat to the tiger slayer Li Kui.

aug 14, 2015, 2:53 am

A great pity that the entire endemic specie of tiger had been wiped out by the chinese , the last was killed around 1994, marco polo recorded that many road in southern china were not safe to travel because of the population of tiger, just like what we can often read in this novel.

In the original meaning , the nickname of wu yong is about intelligent. not magical.

aug 17, 2015, 6:16 pm

I can't blame the Chinese for not being comfortable with big cats as neighbors. Even tiny predators like foxes can create quite a bloody mess in a hen house. Wolves and bears re-introduced into Switzerland tend to be too attracted to civilization for their own good and have to be put down in the hope that the others will be less "social".

I forgot to mention Li Kui's shockingly casual cannibalism in the last chapter. Is this an example of Li Kui's transgressive nature or rural frugality? The innkeepers are not above adding human special ingredients into their meals either.

Chapter 44 Another battalion joins the bandits/ Yang Lin and Shi Xiu

Li Kui fights with commander Li Yun to establish his proficiency before he too joins the bandits. Mastermind Wu Yong re-assigns the jobs amidst the bandits. Quite an enterprise the bandits have developed on their mountain.

Dai Zong is sent out to collect Gongsun Sheng. He meets Yang Lin, the Elegant Panther (are there any that aren't?). The two speed-travel together. Dai Zong's magic requires him to keep a Vegetarian diet. In Horse Watering Valley, they encounter a group of bandits who happen to be friends of Yang Lin and are starstruck about Dai Zong. Another 500 join the bandits - they will have to go on campaign soon, as this army seems to be getting to big for one mountain.

Dai Zong and Yang Lin then encounter justice warrior Shi Xiu called the Rash due to his propensity to reflexively defend the weak. He is not yet ready for the bandits. He first sets up shop as a butcher with a little help from Yang Xiong's family. After conspicuous service, he suddenly wants to close his shop and go away. Naturally, the family is reluctant to let such a good man go. And there seems to be another task for Shi Xiu's blades.

aug 25, 2015, 5:38 pm

Chapter 45 Chinese thorn birds get a rash

How would Shi Xiu have reacted to the outing of the Ashley Madison cheaters? He notices how his blood brother's wife is cheating with a monk, after he had refused her prior advances. Her husband is all work, no play and often absent from home. His father seems to keep a keen eye on the butcher business but not what his daughter-in-law and her servant are doing - but "Clever Cloud" is quite clever in disguising her affair. If not for nosy Shi Xiu, she might have continued for a long time. When he reveals the affair to his blood brother, the latter believes his wife who accuses Shi Xiu of having molested her.

Shi Xiu is kicked out of the family. He stays around and plots his revenge rampage. He cuts down the lookout friar, then the unfaithful monk. An old man notices the two dead bodies and is promptly arrested as a double murder suspect.

aug 27, 2015, 5:14 pm

Chapter 46 The killing spree continues

While the officials are willing to close the case of the dead beggar and monk, Shi Xiu is not. He bullies Yang Xiong into executing his own wife for adultery and also kills her maid. Shi Xiu is responsible for considerable collateral damage. The beggar and the maid were but tools of their masters and did not deserve to die. Bringing along the carriers was also a stupid decision, as it forces them to give up their careers as official and butcher in haste.

On the way to Liangshang Mountain, they pick up another fellow with questionable judgment: Someone named "Flea on a Drum" should ring all alarm bells. At an inn, he kills and cooks the inn rooster, blowing their low profile and getting them into a fight. Shi Xiu and Yang Xiong fight their way out (and even acquire new halberds in the process), while Mr. Flea is captured (and probably abandoned by his companions). Shi Xiu burns down the inn too, just to increase his damage count.

Out of danger, the two rest in another inn where they meet an old acquaintance.

sep 3, 2015, 4:19 pm

Chapter 47 A fight about a flea

Demon Face is the name of the acquaintance. Another murderer escaping from justice whose martial skills made Yang Xiong offer him a job. He is now a steward in the Li family village next to Zhu family village that holds Mr. Flea on a Drum hostage. Demon Face gets his Li boss to send messages to the Zhu to release Mr. Flea but the Zhu are not willing to do so. Mr. Flea has committed a crime, after all.

Li Ying has lost a lot of face and now attacks the Zhu champion Tiger Cub. The duel ends in a draw but an arrow wounds Li Ying. Bigger guns are needed and the guys appeal to Song Jiang for help. Their reception is mixed and some even want to see them killed for being louts. Song Jiang, however, sees the Zhu feud as an opportunity to solve his supply problem of his growing army.

Yang Lin and Shi Xiu are sent ahead as undercover spies. Yang Lin is captured but Shi Xiu manages to learn the key to the pathways to the Zhu family village: Follow only the white poplars. Couldn't they just have asked Mr. Demon Face as this information seems common knowledge among the locals?

Song Jiang, meanwhile, had managed to get his task force into a bad spot and right into an ambush. Mr. Rainmaker isn't really a good general, is he?

Chapter 48 Song Jiang and his men fight against the Zhu family

The bandits have managed to defeat numerous government forces. Why do they have such trouble in subduing a local force? The Zhu aren't very good either. Their ambush relies on a single signal lamp that is quickly extinguished by an arrow shot by Hua Rong. The first day of combat is a miserable failure.

Song Jiang does what he does best, charming other people. He goes to the Li family village. Li Ying, however, fears of receiving the bandit. He still gets good information about how to attack the Li family village.

The attack is renewed with the Stumpy Tiger in the lead. He fights and loses to a woman warrior Ten Feet of Steel. Next Ou Peng fails against the woman. Deng Fei is captured too. Having been reinforced, Panther Head Lin Chong finally captures the woman fighter. While the Stumpy Tiger obviously wanted to rape her, Song Jiang makes extra precautions to protect her and send her back to the mountain to his father with a big escort.

The second day of battle ended as badly for the bandits as the day before. Still, reinforcements arrive. And Wu Yong is on the spot to provide some strategic thinking. The account of the battle is interrupted by an intermezzo.

sep 6, 2015, 12:21 pm

Li Kui seems to be as insane as he's dumb, the worst possible combination. The appearance of Ten Feet of Steel inspired me to rush through to the end of the second volume...

The battle was very exciting.

sep 6, 2015, 6:18 pm

Li Kui is a piece of work that Song Jiang better would have killed for he will disregard orders again, I think.

That said, one of our dogs returned with such a glint of blood lust in his eyes, knowing full well that he was not allowed to kill one of the farmer's free ranging happy chickens. She had such an odd mix of extreme satisfaction in her bloddy snout while expressing a mixed expression of remorse ("I am sorry but actually I am not and really, really enjoyed it."). Crazy Li Kui seems to be similarly mentally wired.

PS. Some of these happy chickens also met their end by non-local car drivers who failed to lower their speed sufficiently for those chicken that were crossing the road. Even happy chicken live in a violent world.

Chapter 49 A tiger killed, new bandits unleashed

The bandits get unexpected support from two brothers who hunt a tiger but then are deprived of the spoils by a local bigwig and locked up. Their relatives help and rescue them, however. They have to flee their home and want to join the bandits.

Wu Yong arranges a deal in which Sun Li & co. help to get the bandits capture the Zhu family compound.

Chapter 50 All family compounds fall and are razed

First, there is another agreement. As the bandits had captured the Hu family daughter, they arrange a deal with the Hu family to no longer help the Zhu.

Sun Li enters the Zhu manor as reinforcements (in order to betray them later). The Zhu go down fighting and are only defeated by Sun Li's treachery. The bandits are surprisingly weak and could subdue the Zhu villagers only by treachery.

Li Kui then goes bananas and burns down the Hu family compound and slaughters its members, despite them having fulfilled all conditions.

A similar trick is performed to get the Li family to join the bandits. The Li are tricked into believing that imperial troops are coming after them. Actually, these are bandits in disguise. Li Ying the Heaven Soaring Eagle has no other option than to join the bandits.

Ten Feet of Steel, survivor of the Hu family, is given in marriage to Stumpy Tiger, the potential rapist. It reads like the author wanted to disguise the actual rape after the capture and white-washed it by having Song Jiang escort her to the bandit base and then officially give her to Wang Ying. The partriarchy is preserved in that he ranks as no. 58 and she as no. 59 in the 108 Stars List.

So the first raid ends well for the bandits even though they had much more problems than expected to subdue three villages. End of volume II.

sep 22, 2015, 5:31 pm

Chapter 51 Another member forced into joining the club

Song Jiang is a real asshole leader. Murdering a child to get Lei Heng to join him? Join us or be killed by the authorities is a Hobson's choice that will not inspire loyalty. Poor Lei Heng was already in trouble due to his vendetta with the singer and her father that ends in murder. In exile, he seems to get back on his feet when his old bandit acquaintances catch up with him and force him to join them. Crazy man Li Kui is used as the hatchet man to kill an innocent child (they did not actually have to kill the child. Instead, they could have kidnapped it for a week and then release the kid again.).

Lei Heng asks for one promise: Not to have to see the murderer of the child, Li Kui, again on the mountain. The problem is "solved" by having him stay at Lord Chai's.

Chapter 52 Li Kui kills again

Chai Jin is trying to assist his uncle against a corrupt local official who wants to dispossess him. Unfortunately, he fails to bring his get-out-of-jail card of an Imperial Iron Pledge with him, so that the bullies can continue to threaten th family. When his relative dies, the corrupt officials try to move in. Chai Jin should probably have waited for the arrival of the Pledge and fight the theft by bureaucratic means. This is taken out of his hands by Li Kui who once again uses murder as a problem solving technique.

Unfortunately, this does not really work in a place where public administration still exists. Chai Jin sends him away and is jailed and tortured instead. Li Kui alerts the bandits who move in to attack the city and liberate Chai Jin.

Their opponent, however, has tricks of his own - magic tricks. He soundly defeats the bandits in battle thanks to his magic. Song Jiang too needs magical assistance.

Chapter 53 Li Kui kills again after Gongsun Sheng is found

Dai Zong and Li Kui are sent out to finally bring back the Taoist monk Gongsun. Once again, Li Kui nearly wrecks the mission by not following rules. Dai Zong tries to teach the fellow a lesson, without a lasting effect. A chance encounter in an inn offers them the location of Gongsun Sheng who is living in a retreat under the name "the Pure Taoist". Li Kui's craziness is used to get Gongsun to reveal himself. Unfortunately, his new boss, Luo the Sage, is reluctant to see him go back to the bandits.

Thus, Li Kui seeks to solve the problem once more in his style by murdering the sage and an apprentice. The apprentice is indeed dead, but the sage used magic to evade Li Kui. His message, though, reached the sage though he inflicts a punishment on Li Kui for his murder attempt. Before they are allowed to leave, the sage has a message for them.

okt 12, 2015, 6:06 pm

Ah yes, these are hardly Robin Hood and his merry gang... Zhu Tong's "recruitment" reminds me of the ungentle practice of pressing men into service, especially the navy... except probably fewer children died in the process.

okt 13, 2015, 6:31 pm

The British navy actually preferred to lift sailors off from merchant men, as they required experienced hands not accidental pub patrons. American ships especially resented to serve as talent pools for the British navy.

The crumbling Chinese government in the story seems to be terribly inept in keeping its talent locked into loyal service. The next chapters see, once more, many transfers of loyalty. Publius Decius Mus and Marcus Atilius Regulus were certainly not Chinese.

Chapter 54 Magic showdown

On the way home, Li Kui picks up another brawny recruit, Tang Long. Gongsun proves highly effective in neutralizing the magic of Gao Lian who is forced to retreat behind his walls after he had lost a lot of his men. A scheme lures him out of his fortress to attack Song Jiang expecting a fake relief army. Gao Lian is overwhelmed and killed.

The captive Lord Chai had been hidden down a well, out of which he is rescued by Li Kui - not without unnecessary complications. Friendless Li Kui is almost forgotten at the bottom of the well. Li Kui ends up with doing the dirty deeds but gets little respect for it.

Chapter 55 The Empire strikes back

Gao Lian's cry for help belatedly stirs the imperial forces to assemble a proper army against the bandits, commanded by good generals, well equipped and mounted: 3000 cavalry, 5000 infantry and 500 cannon (though the latter were more likely handguns, as the ratio of men:cannon would otherwise be too high - in Napoleonic to American Civil War armies, there were about 2 guns per 1000 men).

The government generals were: Han Tan in the van, Huyan in the middle and Peng Qi with the rear. The bandits offer battle to the arriving army. The champions on both sides engage in duels. Peng Qi is captured by the woman warrior Ten Feet of Steel. Overall, though, the bandits are forced back due to Huyan's armored shock cavalry. The bandits retreat behind the river (where cavalry is useless).

Huyan orders the artillery expert Ling Zhen to reinforce him. Ling Zhen may have been an expert in artillery but not in the bandit stratagems: He is lured onto the river where his boats are quickly overwhelmed by the aquatic forces of Song Jiang.

The two captives Peng Qi and Ling Zhen quickly change sides (as long as Song Jiang sends out his family relocation service). How will the bandits overcome Huyan's armored cavalry?

okt 18, 2015, 6:05 pm

Chapter 56 An elaborate plot to get some weapon training

This is a great chapter with an excellent heist using the proper skills of the individual heroes. The motivation for the heist is rather weak, though. Chained cavalry makes no actual sense as a single dead horse would immobilize the formation. During the American Civil War, it was always a difficult task of cutting off the straps connecting a wounded or dead horse out of a moving artillery limber piece. A rope with a hook tied to a tree trunk could also easily defeat the chained cavalry. In practice, the chained cavalry would have been riders riding stirrup to stirrup.

The man to teach the bandits the skill against the chained cavalry is Xu Ning who enjoys a peaceful soldier's life. His greatest possession is a piece of ancient armor that he hangs above his bed place. The rebels send a task force to get it. Master thief Flea on a drum shows how skilled he is as a Chinese ninja. Undetected, he manages to steal the armor.

Speedster Dai Zong takes the armor and brings it safely back to the mountain. Meanwhile Mr. Flea on a drum is tasked to act as bait for the pursuing Xu Ning who is soon joined by Tang Long to bring him over to the dark side. Just to make sure that he will not resist they drug Xu Ning. Now in the hands of the bandits, he is asked to join them as well. They close off his return to imperial service by committing a crime in his armor and also provide their customary relocation service to get their new tactical instructor on board.

My favorite chapter so far!

Chapter 57 The charge of the chained brigade

Xu Ning starts training the rebels with barbed lances in elaborate patterns. I can't quite understand how these patterns of 3 hooks and 4 parries would be useful against the mass charge of chained cavalry that would simply ride over their enemies. The Swiss used a phalanx of spears to stop cavalry and then sent in halberdiers to cut down the horses and kill the knights. A more sensible approach than the Chinese ballet offered here.

Having trained his soldiers, Xu Ning utterly defeats Huyan Zhao and his cavalry. Huyan's soldiers are either killed or captured (where they swiftly change allegiance). Personally, Huyan barely manages to escape and survive. He sets out for Qingzhou where the prefect offers him a smaller mission before he would give him more troops to attack the bandits again.

The land is filled with other bandits. Huyan should first clean out the bandits at Peach Blossom Mountain. Huyan puts on a big show frightening the bandits there who call their neighboring bandits on Two Dragon Mountain for assistance. On the latter mountain are Sagacious Lu, the Demon Carver, Sun the Witch and the Blue-faced Beast we have met before. They go to help their bandit neighbors with Lu and the Beast dueling with Huyan who is impressed by their skills.

Before it comes to a showdown, Huayan is recalled to Qinzhou to help defend it against an attack by another group of bandits from White Tiger Mountain. The latter group is easily defeated by Huyan who returns to the city with one leader as his captive.

The other bandits appeal for help to the Peach Blossom and Two Dragon Mountain bandits. Attacking Qinzhou, however, requires a larger force. Fortunately, there is another bandit base close by ...

okt 19, 2015, 10:42 am

Were these based on historical battles? I expect the individual duels got inflated, but it would be interesting to know whether the general movement matches.

okt 19, 2015, 5:52 pm

>91 LolaWalser: As stated on the Wikipedia page, there is a historical core to the story.

The writing of Chinese history was performed by literati trying to impress other literati and the people in charge so that historical accuracy (especially in terms of military activities - in contrast to the war, battle and campaign obsessed Europeans) was only a subordinate goal. History is also told through multiple biographic sketches that provide a Rashomon view of the past.

That said, I wish that the various official dynasty histories produced were published in English too. The edX course about Chinese history from the Warring States to the Tang is based on the monumental Zizhi Tongjian where frustratingly only snippets were available in English.

okt 29, 2015, 6:36 pm

Chapter 58 Joint attack on Qingzhou

Qingzhou obviously is a big target that only a joint venture of the different bandit groups can hope to conquer, if at all. Do they have the necessary siege tools? Song Jiang once again profits from his stellar reputation. All the bandits want to be his partners. After a round of feasting, an expedition corps of 3000 soldiers divided into five groups under 20 commanders is sent out from the mountain.

Their first task is to capture Huyan Zhuo who valiantly battles with the champions. While Qingzhou asks the Eastern Capital for help, Huyan is trapped and captured. Song Jiang has now caught all the Imperial commanders to catch him! Huyan also joins him and helps the bandits to get into town by treachery. The town is spared though the prefect's family is slaughtered.

The other bandits close down their old fortresses and join the rebels in their fortress. Wu Song and Sagacious Lu undertake a mission to recruit another stalwart, Shi Jin who has been captured in a valiant attempt to rescue a damsel in distress. Sagacious Lu is also captured.

Chapter 59 Another prefect dispatched

Dai Zong fortunately soon arrives to get reinforcements while Wu Song observes the situation. In three groups of three thousand, two thousand and two thousand, the bandits come to the rescue. The imperial court is not as quick in sending reinforcements to prefect Ho.

When they finally come by ship, Wu Yong integrates them into his plan to capture the town. The "champions of the righteous" block the imperial ship and force marshal Su to land and escorted back to the mountain. Song Jiang has his men dress and impersonate marshal Su's troops. Visiting the nearby Huashan temple, the fake marshal sends for the presence of the prefect. When he comes, he is tricked and decapitated by the bandits who also kill his entourage of 300 men. The town is quickly captured and looted. Sagacious Lu recovers his weapons but the damsel in distress had long ago committed suicide by jumping down a well.

Marshal Su is given back his stuff and released. He sends a furious report about the affair back to the capital. The bandits meanwhile learn about another group of bandits threatening them. The new champion Shi Jin is too weak to defeat them alone but receives reinforcements. Before the final battle, they must eat and rest, though. The enemy also uses magic which has to be dealt with by their magic guy Gongsun.

nov 5, 2015, 4:52 pm

Chapter 60 A bad omen confirmed

The chapter starts with a reference to master strategist Zhuge Liang of Three Kingdoms fame. In this novel, Zhuge's role is played by Wu Yong to Song Jiang's Liu Bei. Up to this chapter, Song Jiang is nominally still Nr. 2. That changes by the end of the chapter.

Firstly, there is still the matter of disposing of the group of nasty rebels. A set piece battle with a magic twist resolves the issue and adds another bunch of soldiers to the bandit army. Another day, another battle-hire.

Song Jiang then meets the Golden Dog, so named after his red hair and yellow beard (!), who tells him about a fabulous horse called Jade Lion that he wanted to present as a gift to Song Jiang but which was taken from him by the Zeng brothers, a Tartar family.

Despite an evil omen, Chao Gai goes out to recapture the horse and the Zeng family place. The five tiger brothers, however, are just as good as the bandit champions. Chao is offered suspicious help by a half-empty monastery that looks like a trap - because it is. Stupidly, Chao Gai insists on leading his men into the trap and is mortally wounded by a poison arrow. Half his task force is killed too. This damn horse better be worth such loss rates!

Chao Gai's last word is to appoint the man who kills his killer to lead the bandits. As all of them want Song Jiang as their leader, this creates some tension. What if an oaf catches the killer? Are the bandits and Song Jiang then bound to respect Chao's last wish?

Song Jiang is chosen as leader and this requires another reshuffling of all the leadership positions which are given in fine bureaucratic detail. Before they can take their revenge, they have to observe 100 days of mourning. In the meantime, Wu Yong has set his eyes on another hire, a rich man from the Northern Capital named Lu Junyi the Jade Unicorn.

nov 11, 2015, 10:36 am

Not only are they bandits, but horse thieves too...

nov 11, 2015, 5:46 pm

It is interesting how important even indispensable the horse is in the combat in the novel. Apart from the unconventional Sagacious Lu and Li Kui, the heroes essentially fight mounted. Like in Homer, the outcome of battles is decided by dueling champions. The masses of infantry and cavalry around are but spectators whereas in reality, the deadly crossbows and the hilly and wooden terrain were very infantry-friendly and would have ended any hero's life quickly.

Compared to the Genpei War (a century later than the novel) in Japan, which was mainly fought by samurai on horseback, though not yet in the typical style armor, the bow had a much more prominent role as does the lance. When the Japanese charged in, they wanted a kill whereas the Chinese heroes are exchanging inconsequential blows in rounds.

Chapter 61 Sights on another recruit

Wu Yong and Li Kui prepare the ground of another force-hire. The target, magnate Lu Junyi, despite his reputation, seems to be not only not very smart but also a bad fighter, so I fail to understand why they would want this guy so desperately. Then again, I find Song Jiang also a bland and ineffective leader.

Lu Junyi is lured by a false prophecy to march with a small band of merchants towards Liangshan Mountain. At home, he is in a strange situation with an unfaithful wife having an affair with his advisor while Lu Junyi spends his time with his boy toy Yan Qing, a smarter Chinese version of Rocky Horror (in the Rocky Horror Show). Lu knows that Rocky would be the better fighter against the bandits, but he can not leave his advisor Li Gu behind with his wife. So he ventures out with the useless Li Gu, the carriers and essentially no muscle to defend himself against the bandits.

Chapter 62 A recruit still struggling and barely saving his neck

He is promptly captured after a ludicrous almost slapstick-like fight. Then starts an endless row of feasting as Song Jiang tries time and again to hire Lu Junyi who does not want to join them. So he will be forced to join them by releasing Li Gu who promptly betrays his master and sets up shop with Lu's wife and kicks the boy toy out of the mansion.

Having finally managed to end the feasting and remaining steadfast, Lu Junyi returns to the capital only to notice that the mice were no running the shop. Informed by Yan Qing about the bad behavior of Li Gu and his wife, Lu Junyi had every chance to go full Odysseus on "a lover not a fighter" Li Gu. Instead, he manages to get arrested for treason and is whipped and sentenced into exile.

Here occurs an very nice vignette into Chinese bureaucracy, guanxi and politics as various parties try to bribe the officials into either killing or sparing Lu Junyi. Our bandits also join in and bribe the executioner. Lu is to be escorted by two policemen into exile who have been secretly instructed to kill him. The two soon try to do it - but are killed not by our bandits (where are they?) but you Yan Qing who is very skillful with his crossbow but lacks bolts. As Lu Junyi's feet hinder him from fleeing quickly, Yan Qing leaves Lu Junyi at an inn to go hunting and, by chance, encounters Liangshan bandits who promptly inform Song Jiang about Lu's troubles. Lu, however, is re-captured in the mean time and faces official execution.

Bandit Shi Xiu improvises and rescues Lu Junyi from the executioner but the two are still trapped in the city. Where are Dai Zong and the other heroes? Shouldn't they have been prepared to assist the rescue mission? So the chapter ends with another unnecessary cliffhanger.

Saying no to Song Jiang's offer has led to quite some physical punishment and near-death moments for Lu Junyi. With friends like these ...

Redigerat: nov 17, 2015, 9:54 am

Searching the site for something entirely different, (Santa Thing 2015) I found this thread. I love the idea!
And I'm so sad I'm late, I do have this classic and (all 3?) the others to read as well. If there will be a similar thread next year for one of the others, I'll try to read along. And maybe even put in a word or two after each chapter.

nov 17, 2015, 7:44 pm

Welcome, BoekenTrol! I think--J-C may or may not share this opinion--that if you wish, you could easily start to read along with us from the point we are at, although perhaps you'd want to start at the start too, if only to catch up. Only a few characters have been around from the beginning (IIRC, only Sagacious Lu now? J-C?) and even they drop off the stage for long spells.

The cast changes vertiginously, and I wouldn't say anyone undergoes major character changes such as would be difficult to follow... Mostly it's all plot, plot, plot, action action action.

There have already been group reads of Three kingdoms (I missed that one) and Dream of Red Mansions (been here for that...) I'm not sure how much more is there on a similar multi-volume scale... Journey to the West, I suppose. I'm guessing the saga of Chin P'ing Mei and his wives and concubines (The plum in the golden vase) might be just a tad too same-y, not to mention embarrassing, for a group read. :)

nov 18, 2015, 6:35 pm

Welcome! I concur, you might just jump in. We are now at about 2/3 of the novel and it has been all about origin stories. While there has been some character development in guys like Sagacious Lu and Li Kui, the closest resemblance to me are the X-Men - though they do not yet collaborate and make use of each other's strengths effectively. Chapter 63 is a textbook case of not using the magic traveler Dai Zong just to extend the story.

Chapter 63 To the Northern Capital

Lame, lame, indeed. Shi Xiu and Lu are recaptured and their whole escape in vain. Never ever let "master strategist" Wu Yong execute his plan without discussing the details first. So we are back to square A with hopeful recruit Lu behind bars. Governor Liang also fails in Villainy 101 - always kill your captives quickly or you will regret it later. He is aware that he does not have enough forces in the Northern Capital (not of a capital then, is it?) to defend it against a full bandit attack. So the easiest way to defuse the situation would be to kick out Shi and kill Lu. Remember, the bandits only want to recruit Lu. Governor Liang keeps him around and even sends out his troops into open ground to lure the bandits into battle.

The bandits move out in style and order. Their opponents block them with 15.000 soldiers and soon come to blows. After a few rounds of show-fighting, Song Jiang's troops sweep across the field and defeat the government troops. Next stop: the Northern Capital.

Song Jiang invests the city while they send for help in the capital. There they go for a brand name, a supposed descendant of Guan Yu of 3K fame, Guan Sheng fighting with the signature halberd. He brings along Wild Dog Hao, his sworn brother. Instead of going to the Northern Capital, Guan Sheng wants to strike the bandit stronghold and hope that the remaining troops will be easier to defeat.

nov 30, 2015, 5:57 pm

Chapter 64 The Empire strikes back at the base

Song Jiang continues to recruit the empire's incompetent generals. Guan Sheng's march against the base is swiftly discovered and the rebels send forces to contain him. This means breaking off the siege of the Northern Capital and a staged withdrawal to fend off pursuers.

Meanwhile at the base, the Ruan brothers are too enterprising and one is captured by Guan Sheng who later puts on a martial show for the benefit of Song Jiang. Huyan Zhao manages to tempt Guan Sheng by deception into a foolish move that leads to his capture. Song Jiang and friends resume their siege where another commander is captured and turned.

Chapter 65 Carbuncles, boatmen and pets

Governor Liang, like any James Bond villain, has not learned the basic rule of always killing important prisoners swiftly. Song Jiang will exterminate his family without remorse. Instead, Song Jiang is struck with illness (ulcer/carbuncle), after a quick chat with the ghost of Chao Gai.

Zhang Shun is sent on a mini-quest to fetch a doctor. Instead of using the magical traveler to speed up the process, the quest is nearly ended by a greedy boatman who likes to rob and kill his passengers. Not Aquaman Zhang Shun, though. He receives local help and is sent on to the doctor. In a crazy co-incidence, the boatman and the doctor use the services of the same whore called Clever Pet. Zhang Shun goes postal on the whore's bawd, the servants, the whore and implicates the doctor for the murders. Thus "motivated", the doctor and Zhang Shun return, killing the boatman on the way.

Finally, Dai Zong shows up and speedily delivers the doc to Song Jiang. The doc fortunately knows his craft and cures Song Jiang but advises him to rest. Thus, Wu Yong takes over the siege of the Northern Capital

dec 10, 2015, 6:49 pm

Chapter 66 Dangerous festivities in wartime

With Song Jiang on the way to recovery, the bandits plan to get the Northern Capital by sneaking into the city during a lantern festival. The whole action is over-engineered with multiple undercover teams. The bandits create havoc in the city and take it over. The governor's clan is slaughtered, Lu the Magnate freed and his ex-wife and lover captured. Half the population, unfortunately, died in the sack.

Chapter 67 Another city, another sack and battle-hire

The governor himself manages to escape. With the plunder and their captives, the bandits return home. Lu the Magnate accepts to serve as second-in-command and as his first task carves out the hearts of his ex-wife and her lover and cuts them up. Job completed, he returns to the banquet.

Governor Liang also return to the sacked city and calls for reinforcements from the capital. There, the politicians are musing about pardoning Song Jiang, given that the previous policies did not work. But first, they will attempt another strike by the army.

Guan Sheng offers to defeat it while Li Kui undertakes a side quest on which he meets Jiao Ting the Merciless (not Ming the Merciless). The first engagement results in the capture of two bandit generals who are fortunate to be freed again by Li Kui by chance. Li Kui is essential too in the battle as he sneaks in and captures the city of Lingzhou while the battle rages in front. The imperial commanders, again, switch sides.

Chapter 68 Against horse thieves

The bandits next have to deal with horse thieves who fail to appreciate the strength of the bandits. New kid on the block, Lu the Magnate, is in charge of punishing the thieves and avenge Chao Gai. In the battles, Li Kui is unlucky - hit by an arrow, he is nearly captured. The horse thieves soon want to negotiate - but this is personal for Song Jiang. The horse thieves also try to hold on to the wonder horse. Using a turncoat, Song Jiang manages to trick his opponent into an attack that soon becomes an ambush. In the retreat, the killer of Chao Gai is captured by Lu the Magnate.

Song Jiang first has the clan executed and the village plundered. Back home, the killer's heart is cut out at Chao Gai's shrine. While Lu the Magnate thus could claim leadership based on Chao Gai's last wish, political realities show that the others want Song Jiang to be their leader. So he accepts to be no. 2. In any case, as they undertake a new mission, there is not much time for argument.

dec 17, 2015, 5:41 pm

Chapter 69 One provincial city captured ...

Song Jiang's 20.000 bandit soldiers eat and cost a lot of money that the meager local banditry can not supply. So they have to go on raids to sustain their forces. He chooses two provincial cities named Dongping and Dongchang to be raided by two forces of 10.000 soldiers and 25/24 captains each, one led by himself the other by Lu the Magnate. Song Jiang tries his old joke of relinquishing command to Lu if he captures his city faster but is again turned down by everybody.

Song Jiang at Dongping runs into the old problem that he is too weak to conquer the city outright. One bandit sneaks into the city but is ratted out to the authorities. Chinese bawds do not have golden hearts. Mistress Gu disguises herself as a beggar to keep watch over the imprisoned Shi Jin and inform him about the planned attack on the city. Calendar troubles result in a too early prison break, so that the authorities can not only defeat it but also proactively engage the bandits outside. The city's champion can not be defeated by Song Jiang. He holds a grudge, though, as he wants to marry the governor's daughter. The governor as a civil servant is not enticed by a military son-in-law. So, after the usual practice of his eventual capture, he is turned and opens the city gate to the bandits.

When will the bandits ever learn that they are too weak to capture a city directly and only use treachery from the start? Song Jiang then would also not require such huge forces that currently are mostly idle watchers of the dueling generals.

Chapter 70 ... then another

Lu the Magnate is faced with an especially powerful local champion who hits his generals with sneaky rock throws. Zhang Qin, the Featherless Arrow, knocks out one after the other of the bandit champions. Instead of using distance weapons themselves, the bandits try to get Zhang by dueling. Unfortunately for him, Zhang gets overeager and falls into the trap set up by the bandits and is captured by overwhelming force. Without the champion, the city falls quickly. Zhang Qin switches teams too.

The bandits learn about a curious fellow called Purple Beard, a horse doctor with blue eyes, blond hair and foreign features. Stranger than a normal Westerner, Purple Beard has two pupils per eye ... Double stereo vision! Wikipedia tells us that "Huangfu Duan can cure 408 different types of diseases contracted by horses, and is rumoured to be able to bring dead horses back to life." A welcome addition to the team.

The merry bandits, having just conquered two cities and added a few more heroes to their roster, return to the bandit home for a merry feast and roll call. It looks like that the band is now complete after 70 chapters.

dec 24, 2015, 11:14 am

Chapter 71 The All Stars List

This is probably the chapter the author wrote the book for. Like a Pokemon fan, he is finally able to list all his heroes and given - from heaven - the complete and ranked list with neat monikers such as the "long-armed ape" or the "nine-tailed tortoise". I found three women among too: Ten Feet of Steel, Sun the witch and Mistress Gu. The 108 heroes are divided into an upper (36) of heavenly spirits and lower tier of earthly fiends (72) - but not actual thirds, as that stack-ranking would trigger bad feelings. Duan Jingzhu, the Golden Dog, is the last one to catch a spot.

The chapter also provides a functional list of the leaders. This is a practical structure with combat troops (infantry, heavy cavalry, light cavalry, naval forces) and specialists (reconnaissance, guards, ...) as well as functional and administrative posts. What is missing is a dedicated logistics and transportation service.

Besides all the list-making and receiving, the chapter is about celebrating the 70 completed chapters with feasts! The chapter ends with quite an unfortunate turn for Li Kui who does not fit in well in refined society and Song Jiang's urge to go and see the lantern festival in the capital.

Chapter 72 Looking at lanterns, emperors and mistresses

Song Jiang's reckless idea is executed quite well by the task force he selects. We also learn that he had his tattoo removed so that the stigma of the outcast was no longer visible to everyone (no Onion Knight). The description of the city allow us a glimpse into the imperial library with a rather strange practice of listing the most wanted there. Highly unlikely to find the current US list displayed at the Library of Congress (must send Nick Cage).

What is stranger, though, is the emperor patronizing a courtesan. Star-struck, Song Jiang wants to get closer to her to be near the emperor (shared interests). Being Song Jiang, he can't help but write a rebellious poem. When the emperor arrives at the courtesan's place, a true French comedy of errors develops which escalates into a brawl when the easily offended Li Kui knocks out a general. Fortunately, the heroes manage to escape before all hell breaks loose. What an unnecessary risk!

Only Li Kui has trouble extracting himself from the city and is eager for the next fight on the way home at the Eastern Capital.

Redigerat: dec 24, 2015, 1:58 pm

Not entirely caught up yet, but I just wonder--was there ever in history such a bunch of turncoats as the Imperial Chinese officers?

What's the most spectacular defection to the other side in combat in the West that you can think of, J-C? Among higher ranks, not pawns.

dec 25, 2015, 10:16 am

Treason during combat is terribly risky so rather rare but spectacular (see the betrayal scene at the battle of Falkirk 1298 in Braveheart. The inaction of the Stanleys at the battle of Bosworth 1485 probably cost Richard III the battle and his life (In Japan, the battle of Sekigahara 1600 is famous for a similar constellation). Switching sides required either very similar armies (e.g. many civil wars) or very different ones (switching alliances e.g. in the medieval three way match between Czechs, Austrians and Hungarians).

On a personal level, for Americans, Benedict Arnold has become almost synonymous with treason. For France, though not soldiers, Talleyrand and Joseph Fouché have switched sides so many times to come full circle. For England, John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, is a good candidate: A big chum of the Stuart king James II and his sister was the king's mistress, he switched to the protestant William (who later always had to keep an eye on Churchill who continued to connect with and inform the Stuarts in exile).

The Chinese heroes switching sides are in a different situation, though, as they can only choose between death and switching sides. The problem was how to assure loyalty in later circumstances. Song Jiang does this by sending watchdogs to keep an eye on the new guys (as well as keeping the family hostage). The imperial no pardon policy was helpful too (and actually triggers many of the heroes to rebellion in the first place).

I have read that the surprisingly high loyalty of the officer corps to Assad lies in the fact that they and their families live in segregated officer gated communities creating close bonds and potential hostages in case of defection. Loyalty among the footsoldiers is quite different with an open job market paying different rates (the generous Saudi and Qatari paying top rates for their Jihadis. At the opposite end, the bungled efforts of the Americans offering Walmart pay below a living wage to sustain the soldiers' families and, to nobody's surprise, attracting almost no candidates).

dec 25, 2015, 12:22 pm

>105 jcbrunner:

I never saw "Braveheart"; now there's a reason.

I wonder if any Russian officers defected to Napoleon, there must have been some with republican leanings...

dec 26, 2015, 8:08 am

Really, no Braveheart? 8.4 on IMDB, 5 Oscars, great scenes and lines while butchering history. You must at least have watched Connor McLeod with its Queen soundtrack, haven't you?

Napoleon is hardly a republican, but I suspect that only a tiny minority of Russians at that time played with republican ideas, as the Russian people at that time, except for a tiny sliver of aristocrats and German merchants, were living in abject conditions of poverty and ignorance. The transfer of officers went in the other directions as more and more French officers lost their illusions that Napoleon would be open for a peaceful solution. One who did so was the "French Clausewitz" Antoine-Henri Jomini (technically Swiss) who switched to the Russians late in the war (after having had French and Russian commissions at the same time!).

The BBC, by the way, starts a new War and Peace TV series with Downton Abbey's Rose. Will it top my favorite, the Woody Allen version?

Chapter 73 Li Kui on rampage

Loose cannon Li Kui is the problem-solver from hell leaving behind him a trail of destruction. The Hulk without Bruce Banner. On the way back to the base, they stop at a squire's mansion where he "solves" the squire's problem of an unfaithful and unfilial daughter by slaughtering both her lover and her. Her parents receive the "gift" of the two cut-off heads from Li Kui. Err, thanks for helping?

At the next stop they learn from another squire that Song Jiang is supposed to have captured his daughter. Strangely, Li Kui believes the squire, still influenced by his disbelief of Song Jiang's visit to the courtesan (failing to understand that Song Jiang was actually desiring imperial attention and proximity to the emperor and not the charms of the courtesan.). Instead of talking privately with Song Jiang, Li Kui makes a public spectacle and destroys one of the bandit's banners.

Completely nuts, he then enters into a mutual wager of death with Song Jiang on whether Song Jiang had kidnapped the girl. Song Jiang can easily do so, as he knows with 100% certainty that he hasn't done it, while Li Kui only has the word of a squire.

Naturally, when the squire meets Song Jiang, it is clear that an impostor has taken the girl and Song Jiang is innocent. Li Kui has forfeited his head. Song Jiang could use the occasion to rid himself of the loose cannon Li Kui who can't be controlled and is unsuitable for civil life. Song Jiang decides otherwise (which I predict he will come to regret) and sends Li Kui out to free the girl.

Now, that is a type of mission for Li Kui who in tag team style with champion wrestler Yan Qing cuts down the kidnapper impostor bandits and rescues the girl and returns with the bandits' loot. Crisis averted. Some time later, the bandits learn about another champion wrestler called the Sky-supporting Pillar (Atlas or Herakles?). Time for an adventure for wrestler Yan Qing.

dec 26, 2015, 11:51 am

>107 jcbrunner:

Really, no Braveheart?

No, I manage to ignore lots of popular stuff. Oscars mean nothing to me, and as for IMDB... feh. :)

Napoleon is hardly a republican, but I suspect that only a tiny minority of Russians at that time played with republican ideas, as the Russian people at that time, except for a tiny sliver of aristocrats and German merchants, were living in abject conditions of poverty and ignorance.

It's not about Napoleon but the ideas that were spread from France by his army in the wake of the French revolution even after the constitution of empire. And Russian "people" may have been some of the most abjectly ignorant on the planet; the aristocratic officer corps was not. The Decembrists, for instance, didn't spring from nowhere... I'm curious about that point of contact.

Will it top my favorite, the Woody Allen version?

Oh yes! I barely recall it, but I do remember how much I laughed. When he's good he's fabulous, Allen.

dec 27, 2015, 7:48 am

Braveheart and Gladiator are or will be the classic sandals films of their era, though far short of the quality achieved by Kubrick's Spartacus.

IMDB is quite good an indicator for mainstream English films, once the ratings have settled. I wish they were able to integrate the data from other platforms for French, German films etc. Tracking down obscure films from just a decade ago is still a difficult task. Instead of funding national film archives (the Austrian film archive does not expose its database to the net), it would be better to do it at an international scale.

Russian history is not my forte, though as i understand it the Decembrists were, like the later 1848 revolutionaries, staffed by the frustrated youth of the upper crust who saw their careers blocked by bumbling idiotic aristocrats and monarchs. They wanted what the US Republicans practice. The great unwashed may vote but only the plutocrats decide what happens. These types of elite democracies tend not to be stable - as experienced by Nabokov père.

Chapter 74 Wrestling and terror

Yan Qing's wrestling adventure is included mostly because the narrator wanted to present the grand style of such events. The actual fight is over in seconds, after days of preparations. The audience goes nuts, while the followers of the defeated champion try to salvage some of his trophies. Li Kui naturally soon becomes the center of havoc and is recognized. Fortunately for the them, a rescue force has been sent by the bandits who manage to extract them from the city.

Li Kui hasn't had enough and goes on a personal rampage through the countryside, performing mock justice and terrorizing pupils until he is escorted back to the mountain.

The Emperor meanwhile is still not able to handle the crisis. Similar to the intrusion of the long-nosed barbarians during the First Opium Wars, communication between the field commanders and the Emperor is difficult and based on deceptive accounts. The newest offer is an amnesty in combination of fighting the barbarians at the border. Will the new ambassador have better luck dealing with Song Jiang?

dec 31, 2015, 10:59 am

A final chapter to complete volume III before the year ends.

Chapter 75 An Imperial pardon wasted

The Emperor's offer of a pardon does not have strong support on either side and the conditions look more like a unilateral surrender than a re-integration. The imperial travel party to present the pardon to the bandits is loaded with mischief makers to derail it. No worries, though, as among the bandits,, there is an equal number willing to torpedo it - quite literally. Ruan the Seventh, tasked with ferrying the guests across, stands to benefit but little from a pardon (which would mean returning to his former life as a fisherman and part-time bandit). He floods his own boats, so that the guests have to be evacuated while he and his men drink the Imperial wine presents and replace it with the cheapest booze.

Li Kui, ever the diplomat, also gets physical with the imperial edict and the guests. The "feasting" ends and the clash of weapons will resume in volume IV.

While volume IV will occupy us for Q1 2016, we should start thinking about the next title. What about The Scholars? Or the fourth classic novel Monkey to complete 3 Kingdoms, Water Margin and Red Chamber? Or one of the books that will be the topic of China X's book club (though they will be more modern)? Ideas and titles welcome.

jan 2, 2016, 9:27 pm

( #38 Thanks LolaWalser. By chance I got a copy of the set and the abridged version. The bookseller said they didn't have it and after a while decided to look on the shelves ignoring what the computer's inventory of stock. And, there they were. I reached chapter 22 and got your message, now. Again, thanks. )

Apologies to everyone for interrupting.

The edx/ubcx two part course on Chinese Thought is more believable than the TsinghuaX's warring states to Tang period one, based on experience of part one which starts again this month and the wait is to March for part two.

jan 3, 2016, 12:52 pm

>111 vy0123:

You're welcome.

>110 jcbrunner:

I'm up for either The scholars or the (full version) of Journey to the West.

On the contemporary front... hmm, I must admit I'm simply not tempted... although I suppose I could be... not sure it would sit well in this group, though?

Have you considered perhaps the classic plays? Just thinking of what else is there available in Western translations that is "old", before we exhaust it. For example:

Not sure how well they would work for a group read, and they would probably go very fast...

jan 3, 2016, 3:51 pm

Classic plays, indeed. Great idea. The Peach Blossom Fan is available in a recent NYRB Classics paperback re-issue of a 1970s translation and seems to be an acclaimed work of Chinese literature and covers the fall of the Ming dynasty, a historical topic I prefer to Monkey's themes of fantasy and religion.

The inspiration for the Story of the Western Wing and its different endings were presented and discussed by Prof. Bol in China X. It creates an interesting opposition between romance and different concepts of filial piety/career orientation at that time. The scholar-hero is a role one hardly finds in the West before Faust. Rescuing damsels was the job of knights and aspiring peasant boys.

Chapter 76 The Empire strikes back

Finally, finally it looks like that the Empire has realized the threat and assembles a large host of 100.000 men under Tong Guan to defeat the bandits (who have around 20.000 men). The crème de la crème of the bandits receive them by a parade display of their elite troops of 2000 men and generals. Like his predecessors, Tong Guan accepts the bandits' challenge of elite duels instead of letting grim attrition do the job. Naturally, his champion is defeated and the bandits even venture to strike directly against Tong Guan and give his troops a bloody nose - for them, a decapitation strategy is the only way they can succeed.

Chapter 77 Delegation is not a Chinese word

These 100.000 government soldiers are about as useful as the 10.000 Iraqi soldiers who barely managed to defeat the 500 IS fanatics in Ramadi. Only where the commanding general and his key lieutenants are present is there any chance of success. At the same time, this exposure means risking instant defeat in case the general is killed or captured. Instead of having a David vs. Goliath battle, we thus watch a more equal fight between the bandits and the elite of the Imperial troops.

The bandits divert the attention of Tong Guan away from leading his host into pursuing and battling some heroes - an activity in which he barely escapes from being captured and only thanks to his brave key commanders can evade the strikes by the bandits. Meanwhile, the leaderless body of his army is defeated and routed (loss rate 2/3) by the bandits, with crazy Li Kui in the lead slashing and hacking down the opposition. Another imperial army defeated. Song Jiang even sends back one of the captured commanders to communicate again his good will towards the emperor. While the defeated Tong Guan reassembles his forces, the bandits send out a spy into the capital.

An interesting historical parallel is how the Qing emperor took ages to react to the roaming British troops in the First Opium War. It is both an information, a coordination and a trust problem. Like the Habsburgs, the Chinese emperors preferred an actual defeat in the field to a potential threat or challenge to their dynasty.

jan 17, 2016, 5:33 pm

Chapter 78 The same old mistakes

Gao Qiu has learned nothing from the failure of his predecessors. He manages in a short time to lose his ships and see his army defeated.

Chapter 79 Doves and chickenhawks

Back in Jizhou, marshal Gao reassembles his forces without actually changing his strategy. In front of the city, a duel first on horseback, then on foot and finally in the water is taking place between two champions, Han Cunbao and Huyan Zhuo. They are quite evenly matched, though Huyan is supported by his fellow bandits while Han Cunbao is left out in the cold - and is captured. Song Jiang again treats the captured generals with leniency and just asks for the emperor's clemency.

The doves in the capital also try to settle the matter with an amnesty. Tricky Gao manages to cross their efforts by Bismarck's old Emser Depesche trick. Splitting the sentence in two changes its meaning completely and sets up a trap for Song Jiang.

The bandits and Song Jiang know better than to trust Gao, however, even though they are elated from burning and destroying another assembled fleet of boats. Like the Star Wars Empire, the imperial soldiers are unworthy opponents even for Ewoks. Cao Cao's soldiers were made out of different stuff.

Redigerat: jan 25, 2016, 8:01 pm

Chapter 29 - The Jade-Circle Steps with Duck and Drake Feet

On page 604, volume II, chapter 29, at opposite is a line drawing of three participants in the combat-circle, the second and third combatants from the bottom of the picture frame have large belly. They are Wu Song (approaching from under the tree?) and Jiang the Giant Gate Guard with unwrapped from silk ripped arm muscles but no six-pack abs (or is he Wu Song having taken off his tunic and tied it around his waist?).

To see how the fight scene would play out I imagine something like the following two clips may help other readers:-


jan 25, 2016, 11:17 am

Interesting clips--special thanks for the second one...

That bit could be the most detailed description of unarmed combat in the book. It seems rare.

jan 31, 2016, 3:58 pm

Threads would be really helpful to discuss the individual chapters. In contrast to Hollywood's 300, actual ancient and medieval warriors preferred to have a layer of fat protect their belly instead of exposing the six-pack muscles directly to an unfriendly sword. A book about the history of surgery I am currently reading states that the first successful stomach operation in the West only happened in the early 19th century. So the cheap solution of a bit of blubber was a good investment. Furthermore, in contrast to the modern top-heavy broad-shouldered ideal, the ancient and medieval warriors had very strong leg and calf muscles as they walked and rode all day.

I see two dominant wrestling occasions in the novel: 1. Wrestling/grappling an opponent out of the saddle 2. Wrestling/grappling an opponent in the water.

Netflix's Marco Polo will soon start its second season. Is it actually watchable? I watched the first episode but found it a neither fish-nor-fowl mix of Western and Asian tropes. Marco Polo was a merchant/ambassador not a fighter.

Finally, dabbling a bit in 24 tai chi, I found the second video not following two best practices. He takes too big strides (thus opening himself up to be thrown off balance) and his motions aren't as flowing as they could be. Perhaps that is part of his style but I prefer more harmonious "effortless" styles. Talking about "effortless action", I am greatly enjoying the edX MOOC Foundations of Chinese Thought. Here Edward Slingerland discusses the concept of wu-wei (what is known in the West as "Flow"). The content can also be found in his book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.

Chapter 80 Another weak attack repulsed

Marshal Gao first crushes the amnesty efforts for a peaceful solution. The emissary is struck down by Hua Rong's arrow - shooting the poor messenger! The ensuing battle ends diplomacy. Inter armas ...

The throne prepares a new offensive, with a focus on a powerful fleet with human-powered small and large paddle-wheelers. The preparations are hurt by a fire attack of the rebels on the main shipyard combined with a surprise attack. Still, only a temporary setback.

Finally, the offensive is ready to be launched. The progress of the big ships is stopped by swarming boats and water obstructions. Not quite believable the bandits also managed to drill holes into the ships by stealth underwater attack. In the American Civil War, with much improved technology the early submarines of the Confederacy failed miserably to inflict any damage with their stick-mounted torpedoes. The bandits even manage to capture Gao himself and kill or capture many of the other leaders. Song Jiang calls for lenient treatment of the captives.

During the now customary victory banquet, Gao boasts of his wrestling skills - hic Rhodos hic salta. The poor chap is soon shown reality by Yan Qing. Song Jiang sends Gao back as an emissary and exchanges hostages.

Chapter 81 Meeting the Emperor
Wrestler and boy toy Yan Qing is then sent to the capital to open direct communication with the Emperor via his mistress Li Shishi. Yan Qing used to be Lu Junyi's boy toy, so he and the mistress understand each other perfectly and there is a lower risk of torpedoing the diplomatic advance towards the Emperor by a quickie with his mistress. When Yan Qing finally meets the Emperor, he too is enchanted. Then they inform Marshal Su about the true status of the negotiations. Finally, they rescue their hostages. The mission was a complete success - also due to the intelligent staffing of the team.

feb 3, 2016, 9:14 pm

The fights continue in current day China's small world, The Road is available until Feb. 14, 16. A cut to the back of the head and the brain in part spews out, but after 90-days of hospital care, other than a slight speech impediment, the man is good to go back to work if there is any to be had. A man is arrested and goes to prison. Bribes are paid to have staff's meal privileges. There is a happy ending. Justice is served. Where they sit on the ground to block the boss's truck rearing its way out, the unhappy workers don't even sit on the foam kickboard you see in the raw footage of Ukraine's fighters as they waddle with it covering their butt going house to house.

No mud wrestling in the novel. I see. The bits and pieces I pick up suggest clip 2 above is an early form of taiji with qigong. It bridges the one to the other.

feb 11, 2016, 5:23 pm

It is said that tai chi works as a martial arts, though the removal of the element of speed makes it questionable. What I like about tai chi is the awareness it creates about your own body parts, the precision of executing and controlling the movements of them as well as the feeling of realizing how the qi is flowing through your body. As mentioned above, I see a connection to wu-wei - a conscious approach for unconscious control of your body.

Chapter 82 The bandits turn legal

The battlefield victory and the direct communication with the emperor pays off. The bandits finally receive their full pardon. They celebrate, feast and liquidate their mountain bastion, distributing money to the locals (to ensure a power base if a return is necessary). The government, meanwhile, is thinking about how they can neutralize the bandits-turned-legal. Fortunately, there are unruly invaders.

Chapter 83 New adventures against the Liao Tartars

The paralyzed central government fails to react to the deep incursions of the Liao Tartars. The provinces do not have the forces necessary to defend themselves against the invaders. Their calls for help are not heard in the capital. Until these invaders present a two-for-one opportunity for the crooked imperial junta. Sending Song Jiang against them removes his army from the area and might either result in the defeat of Song Jiang or the Liao, at least solving half the problem.

First, however, Song Jiang has to deal with a problem of changing loyalties: A junior officer has murdered imperial soldiers - and is now executed for what used to be business as usual. Song Jiang orders the officer to hang himself and then decapitates the dead body, so he is only partially responsible for killing his own man.

Song Jiang mobilizes both naval forces and a land army against the Liao. After the customary exchange of insults, the bandits battle with the Tartars and actually manage to defeat them. The ships are tasked with the surprise capture of Tanzhou to which Song Jiang's army is also marching. The Tartars send a relief force. Once again, the bandits win. In a combined arms coup, the bandits take Tanzhou.

feb 28, 2016, 12:11 am

Unlike in the Netflix fights, fighting in real end very quickly, Jet Li said, in a promo interview not on the following clip with Jack Ma.

There is law to punish death by one punch drunk.

A serious student in my taichi class turned up at a 5pm Sunday class a complete wreck having binged watched a Netflix series the night before. If your instructor demonstrates the floating hands in application you might say, “such a beautiful name for a disarming move” as the dentist in our class did. I believe you learn slow, reach mastery then flow like an Olympian at bullet speed. The Japanese grade the 24 Tai Chi form at 4 levels of achievement.

maj 11, 2016, 2:58 am

Chapter 59, page 1243: Dai Zong was before DC Comics The Flash.