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Outlaws Of The Marsh
« on: December 15, 2007, 08:22:07 AM »
Outlaws of the Marsh is a book of epic proportions that gives a glimpse of Chinese history, specifically during the late Song Dynasty. This novel of adventure covers the primal sensations that are universal for all, such as warfare, intrigue, murder, and rise and fall of grace. Thorough reading of the Outlaws of the Marsh Series, written by Shi Nai’an and Luo Guangzhong and translated by Sidney Shapiro, gives to the average reader the basic understanding of the life in ancient China. The authors of this book show awe for the bandits as either chivalric Confucians, who despite their role as social deviants in Imperial Chinese society, who either correct wrongs or try to live a semi honest life or as cold-hearted law breakers.
The book begins with the releasing of the 108 spirits by Marshal Hong and their occupation of bodies that would later cause rebellion and strife in the outer provincial regions of Imperial Song (Guangzhong and Nai’an 16). This gives the reader a sense of understanding the kind of ramifications of Imperial decree being ignored by citizens, this case; it is the welfare of Imperial Song. The refusal of Marshal Hong to listen to the monks and the emperor would be paralleled once again by the bandits, who defy government’s want of control, one specific example would be the extermination of Ho Tau’s police force by the Ruan brothers and the later annihilation of the 2,000 troops lead by Commander Huang by the formidable Liangshan Marsh Bandits (Guangzhong and Nai’an 401-402). Although the Liangshan Marsh Bandits slaughtered lives, it was seen as a legitimate organization and its actions necessary since it was self defense, correlating it in a game of kill or be killed. The Marsh Bandits also displayed a sense of mercy and respect for trade, as is exemplified when Chao Gai allows a raid on a traveling merchant caravan and orders that no merchant must be killed during the raiding (Guangzhong and Nai’an 403). As one actually reads the book, one is given the change to get to know the members of the book such as Song Jiang, who happens to be one of the influential members of the Liangshan and shows to us a deeper side of these bandits, one of care and romance. In one incident, Song Jiang marries a child of Mistress Yan, Poxi, out of pity (Guangzhong and Nai’an 408). Such kinds of actions were idealistic and are the epitome of the virtuous outlaw laws of aiding the poor, stealing only from the wealthy, have mercy on the innocent and slaughter the evil.
The reader has to understand that the book itself is quite accurate on its history in that such characters were factual in Chinese history such as Song Jiang. There was an actual Song Jiang persona who was the leader of a rebellion that was rampant in the Chinese provinces of Jiangsu, Henan, Hebei and Shandong (Guangzhong and Nai’an 1).  The book itself overall implements factual events such as the rebellions, rampant banditry, governmental military response to the uprisings and lawlessness was observed.
The book is written in 3rd person omniscient form, which provides the reader a storyteller format. The use of unique names for the characters, such as ‘Nine dragons’ Shi Jin, ‘Miraculous Strategist’ Zhu Wu and ‘Gorge-Leaping Tiger’ Chen Da (Guangzhong and Nai’an 45). The story is written in vivid and lucrative colloquial diction, which gives an eccentric Chinese tone, always addressing the superior and giving obeisance to royalty or nobility. The reader will get accustomed to this as he continues to read the book and realize the filial piety and social order that was accepted and revered in Imperial China.
As an avid reader of historical adventure based books such as Gods and Generals, Red Badge of Courage, etc., this book struck me as one of the best books read. The long list of characters and their special characteristics, sub adventures and stories within a chapter allows one to get lost in the world of the era of Imperial Song. This book, unlike most, is very broad and literally covers an entire world within the pages one reads through. I loved to read this book in that it actually drew me in, I literally could not stop until I finished a chapter. This is an absolute must read.


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