Finally, I completed reading the entire three volumes of Outlaws of the Marsh aka Water Margin (水滸傳) (14th Century) by Shi Nai'an (施耐庵) (ca. 1296—1372) and Luo Guanzhong (羅貫中) (ca. 1330-1400). Translated by Sidney Shapiro (沙博理) (1915 ~) and published by the Beijing Foreign Language Press back in 1980, I have been "hunting" for this edition for quite a while until I manage to get it by chance at KLCC's Kinokuniya bookstore last year. Bound in hardcover with dust jacket, nevertheless the pages are quite fragile and the binding is not the best of quality. A page came off, much to my dismay for the price I forked out for it. The volumes also contain some illustrations. The epic is said to be loosely base on a series of different stories told verbally and then "knitted" together. It is also said that some characters like outlaw leader Song Jiang is a real historical persona. Considered one of the Four Great Classical Novel of Chinese Literature (四大名著) which includes Romance Of The Three Kingdoms (三國演義) (14th Century), The Journey To The West (西遊記) (16th Century) and Dream Of The Red Chamber (紅樓夢) (18th Century), which replaces the infamous The Plum In The Golden Vase aka The Golden Lotus (金瓶梅) (15th Century) upon its publication.
Containing 100 chapters, it deals with the trials and tribulations of each members of the 108 outlaws of the Liangshan Marsh, how they come together, as well as their meteoric rise and eventual tragic downfall, around the mid Song Dynasty. Majority of the chapters began with introduction of each of the key characters and their background, as to how and why they becomes an outlaw, usually due to a certain level of social injustice they suffered. These individuals are depicted as full of honour, loyalty and chivralous, with the collective objective of setting any injustice right and rebel against the highly corrupted ministers and officials occupying the government during that time. Curiously the outlaws held a high level of loyalty to the Emperor and hope that he will forgive them and get rid of the unscrupulous officials surrounding him. However, there are occasional scenes of excessive violence, described in graphic details, which left me uncomfortable at times. These include massacre of an entire family, including childrens and those not responsible, as well as the brutal killings/multilations of adulterous wives.
There has been ongoing debate as to who is the original author of this epic. Some say Shi Nai'an is a psyeudonym of Luo Guanzhong, some argued that he is a student of Shi Nai'an, whilst others say that Shi Nai'an wrote the books and Luo Guanzhong edits it. Nothing can be confirmed. There is a saying that when one is young, avoid reading Outlaws of the Marsh and when one is old, avoid reading The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.