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Shui Hu Zhuang

Self-portrait of Shi Nai'an

Shui Hu 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.

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.

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