1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Thursday, January 31, 2008

5. Water Margin / Outlaws Of The Marsh (Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn - 水滸傳) (compiled in the 16th Century)


Francisco: From now on, my wife will only review the books she feels like, she has a lot less of a sense of self-sacrifice, and she's not as OCD as I am and therefore feels no necessity to finish a book or even give it too much time if she just isn't getting into it. I will always review the books, she may or may not. It all depends.

Well this was more interesting than the Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, for a while at least. The structure of the book starts by following the individual stories of characters which very smartly intersect with other characters and the you follow their story. Eventually, however, about 1000 pages into it, still less than half the way through, all the 108 main characters of the book get together at the Marsh of the book title and it becomes extremely confusing.

This is my problem with these two Chinese classics, they kind of demand a cultural context which is not mine, if I had grown up hearing the names of these characters, like I believe a lot of Chinese readers have, and if I was better at recognising Chinese names when I read them this would be a different story.

When you get to the point in the book where what happens is "A did this, B did that, C the other, ZY so forth, X so on" you have no idea what the hell is happening, the whole thing just gets dispersed in your head. The first half of the book when it is more focused is however very funny and the loose morals of it are actually quite surprising. Water Margin is a much more humorous book than Three Kingdoms, and that makes it a more interesting read, at least for half of it.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Water Margin is vaguely based upon the historical bandit Song Jiang and his 36 companions. The group was active in the Huai River region and eventually surrendered to government troops in 1119. They are recorded in the Song Shi (Chinese: 宋史 - "History of the Song Dynasty) (1345), the name of Song Jiang appearing in the chapter of Emperor Huizong, the activities of the gang in the chapter for Zhang Shuye (Chinese: 張叔夜). Folk stories about Song Jiang circulated during the Southern Song. The first text to name Song Jiang's thirty-six companions was the 13th century Guixin Zashi (Chinese: 癸辛雜識 - "Miscellaneous Observations from the Year Guixin") by Zhou Mi (Chinese: 周密) (1232 - 1298). Among the thirty-six are Lu Junyi, Guan Sheng, Ruan Xiaoer, Ruan Xiaowu, Ruan Xiaoqi, Liu Tang, Hua Rong and Wu Yong. Some of the characters to later become associated with Song Jiang also appeared around this time. They include Sun Li, Yang Zhi, Lin Chong, Lu Zhishen and Wu Song.

The Water Margin was also a cult TV series in the 70's and 80's in the UK and Australia, from a Japanese adaptation of the story. here's the show's intro:


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