Down by the River

Lunghu has recently been reading Luo Guanzhong‘s classic novel Water Margin (aka ‘Outlaws of the Marsh‘).   Perhaps the reason he finds this work so appealing has something to do with the simmering scent of imminent rebellion bubbling just beneath the clattering lid of today’s society … or maybe it’s the way that the story’s relentless serial carnage slakes the drought of his own 10th century ancestors’ millenium-long bloodthirst.

In every chapter, the greedy, unjust and  downright evil denizens of Sung Dynasty society are beheaded, pinned to the ground with a mighty spear-thrust, cleft in twain by a battleaxe, sliced to ribbons by razor-sharp daggers or bludgeoned to death with cudgels and fists.   The ever-increasing succession of valiant, generous, and loyal heroes inevitably survive the harrowing perils that conclude each chapter (sometimes only by the skin of their teeth).   There are a lot of reasons to like Water Margin … and every reader can pick his own.

Lunghu particularly likes a couple of repeated catchphrases from Water Margin that have immeasurably enriched his everyday conversation:

Of this we shall speak no more.”  (Used by Lao Luo whenever minor bitplayers in the narrative exit the story, never to return.  Used by Lunghu when a topic is considered closed to further [open] discussion.)

But enough of this idle chatter.  Let us get to the point.”  (Used by Lao Luo when an extended description –usually of a banquet scene– has diverted the story too far from the spellbinding action sequences that the audience eagerly awaits.  Used by Lunghu when smalltalk has become miniscule talk.)

But enough of this idle chatter.   Water Margin is obviously a literary classic that emerged (in multiple written incarnations) from China’s lengthy oral story-telling tradition.   In the 20th and 21st centuries it has been recycled –in whole or in part– as film, television serial, video game and graphic novel.   Long live the heroes of Liangshan Marsh!


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