Also called Water Margin and The Marshes of Mount Liang, this novel is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese history. Compiled and published in the 16th century, Water Margin is loosely based on Song Jiang, a famous Chinese bandit, and his 36 companions, who roamed the Huai River area and surrendered to the law in 1119 A.D. 100 chapters chronicle the movements of 108 fictional bandits throughout China from the Song (960 – 1279 A.D.) to Ming (1358 – 1644 A.D.) dynasties. Two other versions are available. A 120-chapter version highlights additional outlaws while a 70-chapters version omits some information.
The story begins with Marshal Hong in 1052 A.D. He releases the 36 Stars of the Heavenly Spirits and 72 Stars of Earthly Fiends (Demons) from a temple on a mountain in Jiangzi Province. These spirits would eventually become incarnated as the 108 outlaws described in the book. The conclusion of the novel is tragic and has been left open to interpretation.
While the novel was believed to have been written by 2 people, Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong, new information has come to light that these two “people” were most likely the same person. Luo Guanzhong lived during the Yuan (1271 -1368 A.D.) dynasty in Zhejiang province. In addition to writing Water Margin, he also authored Romance of the Three Kingdoms, another important novel in Chinese history.
The book has been translated and edited by 2 authors. Pearl Buck translated the novel in 1933 and entitled the novel All Men Are Brothers. The novel was popular in America but criticized for inaccuracies and errors as well as many mispronunciations. The other translation was completed by Sidney Shapiro. This version is titled Outlaws of the Marsh. Shapiro’s version is considered superior to Buck’s version. While Buck’s novel is readily available, Shapiro’s novel is only available through a single publishing company and the price is high. Both versions are available through Amazon.com.
In addition to English translations, the novel has been translated into films, TV series, and even video games in China and Japan.