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Water Margin (Traditional: 水滸傳 Simplified: 水浒传), also known as Outlaws Of The Marsh, is one of the "Four Great Classical Novels" of Chinese literature along with Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber.
The novel was written during the 14th century, although it is clearly based on older folk stories. Authorship is traditionally attributed to two authors, Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong, but modern scholarly opinion is that Shi Nai'an is simply a pen-name for Luo Guanzhong, who also wrote the definitive version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The story is based on the Real Life adventures of a famous bandit, Song Jiang, who along with his companions surrendered to the Imperial authorities in 1121. The plot follows the various backstories of every one of the 108 outlaw protagonists, then their gathering together under the leadership of Song Jiang, and finally their deaths while fighting a desperate battle on behalf of Imperial authorities.
The earliest surviving example of the Wuxia genre, Water Margin has been translated many times, and adapted to other media such as film, television and comics. Probably the best known adaption is the successful 1973 Nippon Television series which was broadcast in many countries, effectively introducing this epic work to Western popular culture. Perhaps the second best known, and much much looser, adaptation is the Suikoden video game series. Mostly just the first game, with the rest drawing basically nothing from the original story other than the concept of 108 protagonists.
Water Margin contains examples of:
- Action Girl: Hu the Third (a.k.a. Ten Feet of Azure), Sun the Second (a.k.a. the Night Witch) and Mistress Gu (a.k.a. the Tigress).
- Anti-Hero: Every one of the 108 outlaws.
- Arranged Marriage: Song Jiang's marriage to Yan Poxi. Also, Wang Ying's marriage to Hu Sanniang.
- Badass: Just about every hero in this novel
- Black and Grey Morality: The protagonists in this story aren't saints. There's a reason they are called outlaws. But when compared to the government....
- Chew Toy: Poor, poor Lin Chong...
- Defeat Means Friendship: For the majority of characters that were recruited.
- Doorstopper: Over 2000 pages in paperback. A four-volume edition weighs more than a kilogram.
- Downer Ending
- Drunken Master: Wu Song kills a man-eating tiger with his bare hands largely because he was drunk off his ass.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Depending on your views of whether or not some of these bandits are "bad", there's one thing that's undebatable: they love their mamas.
- You have Li Kui, who tries to get his elderly mother to come with him to Liang Shan so that she can live a cozy life. He then goes absolutely berserk when a tiger kills his mother, and charges into the cave and massacres the entire tiger nest.
- There's Lei Heng, who was willing to put up with Bai Xiuying's machinations to get him to be put in stocks and deprived of food and water as well as the beatings. But the last straw was when she hits his mother. All hell breaks loose, and he beats her to death with his chains.
- Evil Chancellor: Gao Qiu, the corrupt Prime Minister and Arch Enemy of Song Jiang, who sends the heroes to their death.
- The Government: Oppressive and corrupt.
- Heroic Sociopath: Li Kui. There's main reason he is called the "Black Whirlwind". Kills anyone he feels like, even a four-year-old boy under orders, just so someone else will join them. Reckless and violent to a great degree.
- Even Song Jiang has his moments. Some of his methods to recruit people he wants can be seen as an extreme "end justify means."
- I Am a Humanitarian - Sun Er Niang runs a shop where she sells buns of "mystery meat" (i.e., the chopped up corpses of former guests). Lu Zhishen actually decides to become sworn brothers with this woman's accomplice and husband. After they narrowly made him into a human meat bun.
- Karma Houdini: Gao Qiu and a ton of other corrupt officials, who get away with poisoning and killing the remaining "heroes" scott free.
- Kill Them All: A huge number of the "heroes" don't survive the encounter against a rival outlaw band, and the government has the rest of them poisoned.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Well there are well over a hundred.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: What Gao Qiu wanted to do to Lin Chong so Lin's wife could be up for grabs. Wu Song's brother was murdered by his wife when she gained a lover on the side.
- Outlaw: The Chinese version.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Leaning very strongly cynical.
- The Strategist: Zhu Wu.
- Wu Yong.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Wu Song's brother and his wife, Pan Jinlian.
- You All Meet in An Inn