Wild Goose Pass
The Water Margin 水滸傳

The Water Margin 水滸傳

The Water Margin, traditionally considered to be one of China’s first novels, was inspired by a series of folktales that began circulating after the fall of the Northern Song dynasty (1126). These earliest tales were spread by storytellers; later, during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), many of them inspired or evolved into plays. Eventually, an ingenious individual—or, more likely, several ingenious individuals—linked it all together, forming a single narrative of 108 antiheroes that went on to become one of the most influential works of popular literature in China. Taken together, these stories are a sort of fictional archetype that resonates across many cultures and eras: a band of vigilante outlaws who come together to battle social injustice and oppressive authority, relying on badass fighting skills, undying loyalty, clever planning, and (occasionally) magical powers.

Included here are excerpts from two of the stories that inspired Wild Goose Pass.

Major Lu Da Strikes Down the Lord of the West

Jade Lotus Causes a Disturbance

Murder at the Zhuangyuan Bridge Market

Yan Poxi Demands a Divorce

Yan Poxi Embarrasses Song Jiang

Old Woman Yan Beats Up Tang the Ox

The Water Margin, woodblock print

Historical Background

In addition to dealing with injustice, The Water Margin is a response to one of the many traumatic events in Chinese history: the fall of northern China to the invading Jurchen, which resulted in a chaotic, mass migration south. In the decades that followed, many people asked themselves—not for the first time—how could Heaven have allowed the civilized world to fall into the hands of the barbarians?

Historians were quick to pin the blame on those in charge at the time of the invasion: the artistically inclined Emperor Huizong and his allegedly corrupt and ineffective entourage. Clearly, this regime had lost the Mandate of Heaven. While it’s unlikely that they were as inept as they are often portrayed, at least two major rebellions took place during the latter years of Huizong’s reign, which confirms there was a significant level of popular discontent with the government.

Song Jiang led the first of these rebellions in today’s Shandong and Hebei provinces. The Song History doesn’t include much in the way of detailed information, but it must have been impressive enough to the general populace, as Song Jiang’s generals (initially thirty-six, later 108) went on to become some of the most enduring and against-the-grain folk heroes in Chinese culture.