- Paperback: 2149 pages
- Publisher: Foreign Languages Press (January 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 7119016628
- ISBN-13: 978-7119016627
- Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 4.5 x 7.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 71 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #443,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Outlaws of the Marsh (Chinese Classics, Classic Novel in 4 Volumes)
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I would separate the book into two sections. Roughly the first half describes various criminals, evildoers, and misfits, all of whom tend to gravitate toward an outlaw post at Liangshan Marsh. These chapters are full of violent actions such as killing tigers, poisoning people, murders, countless decapitations, cutting hearts out, eating human flesh, and the like. The ease and matter of triviality with which people, frequently with their whole families, households, and sometimes even their entire villages are exterminated, are horrifying viewed from today's perspectives--until the horrors of modern war come to mind such as the 60 million souls lost in WWII.
- Possible spoiler alert in the next paragraph! -
The second section of the book seems to shift the emphasis from the earlier blind aggression to more selective confrontations. After the death of Chao Gai, a righteous man turned outlaw dies in a battle, an emerging new leader, Song Jiang takes over at Liangshan Marsh. From this point on the outlaws' activity becomes more and more focused on punishing corrupt officials though a lot of innocent lives are still lost due to their actions. Song is an unflinching loyal supporter of the Emperor, but he knows that the imperial court is full of corrupt, murderous ministers. Song's ultimate goal is to achieve amnesty from the Emperor so that he can put his outlaw army in the service of the country. Song Jiang builds up his corps of chieftains to 108 fearless warriors. Using his exceptional diplomatic sense he frequently recruits powerful imperial officers captured in battles. One thing I personally could not forgive of Song Jiang despite all his later gallant and noble actions is a murder he ordered. In order to recruit one of his chieftains, Zhu Tong, he had a child killed. (I guess with today's terminology the little boy would be referenced as a "mushroom," or with a more upgraded term, a "civilian casualty of a drone strike").
From here on, the focus of the story shifts to Song Jiang's personal journey with his army. Indeed, his character development became one of the strongest attractions of the book for me. Eventually he is granted the desired amnesty from the Emperor and is sent to fight the Liao people at the northern border of the empire and later to beat down a rebellion in the southern part of the empire, led by Fang La. This second expedition comes at the extremely high price of the ex-outlaw army leaving only a fraction of its chieftains alive. The surviving members of Song's officers are properly rewarded by the benevolent, though mostly clueless Emperor however the conspiring ministers, led by Marshal Gao Qiu, have more murderous schemes up in their sleeves.
As I alluded to above, the portrayal of the multidimensional Song Jiang is superb. He is a righteous wise man with unmatched loyalty to the Emperor who displays respectable poetic skills as well. At times he appears merciless and abrupt although he also has a strong melancholic streak.
A number of other characters are masterfully depicted. Every single one of the 108 chieftains has a unique personality, talent, and life story. Although I can't do justice to all of them, here are some names that stand out after having finished the book: Sagacious Lu, the Buddhist monk with tremendous strength who fulfills his prophecy; Li Kui, the bloodthirsty psychopath who gets into killing frenzies yet somehow becomes the funniest and most entertaining character of the story; Wu Song, who kills a tiger with his bare hands; and the unusually fast walking Dai Zong who serves as the outlaws' courier. Countless other life-like personalities make the book enjoyable, including some of the conniving ministers (Gao Qui, Cai Jing, Marshal Tong Guan) and the Emperor himself along with his favorite concubine, Li Shishi.
Besides its length (2200+ pages), I see two potential difficulties in the book for today's Western readers. Although the depiction of violence may not be as graphic as in some modern books, it still could keep a few potential readers away. As with the three other great classic Chinese novels (The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Journey to the West, and The Dreams of the Red Mansions), the sheer number of characters makes it hard to keep them straight. The similarity of the short Chinese names adds further complexity to this problem. I frequently had to go back to earlier parts of the story for clarification of who is who although many times I simply accepted a certain degree of ambiguity about a character's exact identity.
That being said, I think that this is a fascinating book with countless interesting subplots neatly fitted together. By the end the reader will be rewarded with a giant mosaic in the center of which stands a larger than life character seeking to "Delivering justice on Heaven's Behalf:" Song Jiang.
the design of the book itself is great, its your typical paper back book, it comes in four volumes and the translation is good. I know chinese fluently, however cant read the characters all that well. from what I can tell and from what my dad told me, the translation was well done. I do wish the box it came in didnt fall apart, however i re-glued it and it was fine. the other two i bought (three kingdoms and journey to the west) never fell apart, incase anyone cared.
if this is your first attempt into chinese literature, its not the easiest to read, there are simpler ones out there, but if your willing to put a bit of work into it, the reward is well worth it. i recommend it for anyone who wants to give chinese literature a try, and anyone who wants a good version of this classic tale without paying too much.
Peace and Be Well, Always
This Shapiro translation is a very smooth read. Some people have commented on some typo issues, but it never detracted from my reading experience. I can easily get lost in this world 100 pages at a time without breaking concentration. The most difficult part is keeping up with all the characters (and their names!), though seeing them all come together is also arguably the most interesting part.
At the cheap price for the kindle version, I think anyone should give it a try. But especially those interested in China, the ancient world, or ancient literature should give it a read. As a note, I also suggest reading to at least Chapter 3, since Chapter 1 might move a little slow as it is a chapter designed to set the scene for the epic that follows.