Shui Hu Zhuang
Zhuang, known as Outlaws of the Marsh in English, is one of
the four famous books in Chinese literature and was written in the early Ming
Dynasty (1368-1644) by Shi Nai'an. Like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms
(by Luo Guanzhong), it was also based on folk legends, storytelling
scripts, and dramas. Shi Nai'an lived in the time just before Luo Guanzhong.
Self-portrait of Shi Nai'an
Outlaws of the Marsh is the first novel dealing with the subject
matter of peasant revolt in China. It describes the full development of a
peasant revolt from its inception, with the rise of a rebel group at
Liangshan,down to its defeat, with all the rebels accepting amnesty and
surrenderingto the government. The novel is regarded as progressive because it
is fully supportive of the rebel peasants, who used to be despised as "thieves
and bandits" by the feudal rulers. As well, it also analyzes and exposes the
deep social roots of the peasant revolt: the decadent ruling class, the corrupt
government, and the deepening class conflicts.
Its successful portrait of more than 2O distinctive characters greatly
contributes to the novel's enduring popularity. Shi Nai-an is skilled at
revealing the inner world of characters through their behavior and language.
This expressive technique originated from the "storytelling scripts," which due
to its special form, does not allow much explanation about characters'
appearances and psychological activities. Therefore, it displays the figures'
character mainly through their language and behavior, as well as conflicts and
intrigues in which they are involved.
The Outlaws of the Marsh
further developed this expressive technique. For example, Lin Chong seizes Young
Master Gao in a fury but dare not to hit him, with the momentary hesitation in
his behavior bespeaking the hidden psychological struggle in his mind. Some
characters in the novel have very similar personalities, yet they can be
distinguished from each other in subtle ways. The author shows great skill in
treating these subtleties. For example, Lu Da and Li Kui are both
straightforward and unsophisticated men. They seem careless but are quite sharp
at times, only in very different ways. Li Kui's prudence has a naive and
ingenuous nature while Lu Da's astuteness reflects his rich life experiences.