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''Water Margin'' (Traditional: 水滸傳; Simplified: 水浒传; Pinyin: ''Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn''), also known as ''Outlaws Of The Marsh'', is one of [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Great_Classical_Novels the "Four Great Classical Novels" of Chinese literature]] along with ''Literature/JourneyToTheWest'', ''Literature/RomanceOfTheThreeKingdoms'' and ''Literature/DreamOfTheRedChamber''.

The novel was written during the 14th century, although it is clearly based on older folk stories. Authorship is traditionally attributed to two authors, Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong, but modern scholarly opinion is that Shi Nai'an is simply a pen-name for Luo Guanzhong, who also wrote the definitive version of ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms''.

The story is based on the RealLife adventures of a famous bandit, Song Jiang, who along with his companions surrendered to the Imperial authorities in 1121. The plot follows the various backstories of every one of the 108 outlaw protagonists, then their gathering together under the leadership of Song Jiang, and finally their deaths while fighting a desperate battle on behalf of Imperial authorities.

The earliest surviving example of the {{Wuxia}} genre, ''Water Margin'' has been translated many times, and adapted to other media such as film, television and comics. Probably the best known adaption is the successful 1973 Nippon Television series which was broadcast in many countries, effectively introducing this epic work to Western popular culture. Perhaps the ''second'' best known, and much much looser, adaptation is the ''VideoGame/{{Suikoden}}'' video game series. Mostly just the first game, with the rest drawing basically ''nothing'' from the original story other than the concept of 108 protagonists. (Other video game adaptations include {{Koei}}'s TurnBasedStrategy game ''Bandit Kings of Ancient China'' and Creator/DataEast's FightingGame ''Outlaws of the Lost Dynasty''.)

!! ''Water Margin'' contains examples of:

* ActionGirl: Surprisingly, given the story's highly dismissive attitude towards women, there are a few here and there, like Sun the Witch and Gu the Tigress. Perhaps the most prominent and impressive, though, is 'Ten Feet of Steel' Hu, a dainty young girl who fights with a pair of swords almost as big as she is (hence the nickname). She routinely hands even the most experienced warriors their asses, and her first meeting with her future husband, the bandit warlord 'Stumpy Tiger' Wang, ends with her defeating him in pitched battle and taking him prisoner.
* AntiHero: Every one of the 108 outlaws is somewhere on a scale between 'fundamentally decent, but aids and abets murderous lunatics' (Lin Chong) and 'is a murderous lunatic' (Li Kui).
* ArrangedMarriage: Song Jiang's marriage to Yan Poxi. Also, Wang Ying's marriage to Hu Sanniang. The latter ends up being a PerfectlyArrangedMarriage. The former... doesn't.
* BestServedCold: Wu Song doesn't exactly bide his time when he hears rumors that his brother was poisoned by his adulterous sister-in-law, but considering his anger and his reputation it's impressive that he proceeded as politely as he did. He sought evidence and testimony, and he gathered neighbors as witnesses and stenographers before forcing a confession out of the poisoner and her accomplice. ''Then'' he stabbed, disemboweled, sacrificed, and beheaded his sister-in-law and her lover. He even tried to take the matter to court first, and it's implied that if the adulterer hadn't gotten the case dismissed through bribery Wu Song wouldn't have killed them.
* BigBad: Gao Qiu, the Song Emperor's corrupt and none-too-competent EvilChancellor.
* BigGood: Chao Gai, the "Heavenly King" of Liangshan. After his death, the role goes to Song Jiang.
* BittersweetEnding: The ending definitely has its ups and downs. [[spoiler:The rebel king Fang La is captured, saving the kingdom, but at a tremendous cost in lives. The remaining bandits go their separate ways afterwards, some to happy fates, some to unhappy ones. The two leaders of Liangshan Marsh are poisoned by corrupt officials who go unpunished for their crimes, but Song Jiang ascends to godhood, is reunited TogetherInDeath with his companions, and goes on to serve the people from beyond the veil.]]
* BlackAndGreyMorality: The battle between Liangshan Marsh and the corrupt government is this on a good day, and EvilVersusEvil on a bad one. There are few crimes that the various villains commit that are not also on the rapsheet of one of our heroes, with the possible exceptions of adultery (they're quite good about making sure any unwelcome husbands are dead first) and misappropriating public funds.
* BribeBackfire: When Ximen Qing is implicated in the murder of Wu Dalang, both his accepted ''and'' rejected bribes contribute to his death. His bribe to the coroner is seemingly accepted, but really the coroner set it aside to give to Dalang's brother Wu Song as evidence. Meanwhile, his bribes to the court to avoid prosecution are gladly accepted, but it's implied that if he ''had'' been prosecuted Wu Song wouldn't have felt the need to kill him. (Then again, if convicted he probably would have died anyway.)
* BringMyBrownPants: Ximen Qing has this reaction when he hears Wu Song's voice for the first time.
* CelibateHero: The preferred version of Confucian philosophy in this story advises that spending too much time around women and having too much interest in sex is a sign of weakness - a true warrior lives only for battle and the company of other brave men. Naturally, this tends to play merry hell with our heroes' marriages.
* ChewToy: Poor, poor Lin Chong...
* ClusterFBomb: Li Kui swears way more than the other heroes do.
* CulturalTranslation: Adaptations for western audiences are often pitched as "the Chinese ''RobinHood''".
* DamnItFeelsGoodToBeAGangster: One of the primary messages of this book? Being a bandit in ancient China is ''awesome''.
* DefeatMeansFriendship: For the majority of characters that were recruited. Somewhat justified given that it's often either implied or outright stated that they have a choice between becoming best buddies with their captors or dying gruesomely.
* DismissingACompliment: Not all the heroes are well-bred, but even many who aren't employ this trope instinctively. Their Confucian self-deprecation in the face of praise can be so extreme that obviously no one involved is taking it literally. Also, they can take half a page to decide who sits at the head of a table: Everyone wants someone else to.
* DisposableSexWorker: If a prostitute shows up on-page, don't expect them to last long. The only exception is Li Shishi, the Emperor's favourite courtesan, who miraculously comes out unscathed despite spending more than thirty seconds within the same building as a crotchety [[TheBerserker Li Kui]].
* {{Doorstopper}}: Over 2000 pages in paperback. A four-volume edition weighs more than a kilogram.
* DrunkenMaster: Wu Song kills a man-eating tiger with his bare hands largely because he was drunk off his ass.
* EvenBadMenLoveTheirMamas: Depending on your views of whether or not some of these bandits are "bad", there's one thing that's undebatable: they love their mamas.
** You have Li Kui, who tries to get his elderly mother to come with him to Liang Shan so that she can live a cozy life. He then goes absolutely berserk when a tiger kills his mother, and charges into the cave and ''massacres the entire tiger nest''.
** There's Lei Heng, who was willing to put up with Bai Xiuying's machinations to get him to be put in stocks and deprived of food and water as well as the beatings. But the last straw was when she hits his mother. [[BerserkButton All hell breaks loose]], and he beats her to death with his chains.
* EveryoneMeetsEveryone: The grand assembly chapter functions as this trope, but because all 108 heroes need to be assembled at Liangshan Marsh first, the chapter doesn't take place until about seven-tenths into the novel.
* EvilChancellor: Gao Qiu, the corrupt Prime Minister and ArchEnemy of Song Jiang, who sends the heroes to their death.
* FakeDefector: The Liao Empire offer Song Jiang and several of his officers cushy, high-ranking positions on their side, and our heroes accept. The Liao ministers end up losing most of a province before they realise that things might not be going according to plan.
** Also, several of the heroes fake defection to Fang La's rebel government to bring it down from within near the end of the novel.
* FalseFlagOperation: This was Song Jiang's ploy to force General Qin Ming to join their band. While they wined and dined him in captivity, a bandit dressed in his armor led a force to pillage his hometown. Qin Ming initially declines their invitation to stay, but when he gets home he finds he's thoroughly unwelcome, and his family has already been executed. This plan actually succeeds, even though Song Jiang fesses up to the whole thing immediately. Qin Ming doesn't even hold a grudge.
* FemmeFatale: Pan Jinlian.
* FindOutNextTime: Every chapter ends with a teasing OnTheNext and "Read our next chapter if you would know."
* FullFrontalAssault: Several characters at different points in the story end up fighting completely naked, but the one most famous for this is probably The Black Whirlwind Li Kui, who makes a habit of stripping naked and running into battle while DualWielding axes.
* {{Gorn}}: Shows up a lot, particularly when the Liangshan Marsh bandits get their hands on an evildoer. Cutting tongues out is sometimes only the starter course.
* TheGovernment: Oppressive and corrupt.
* HeelFaceTurn: The bandits after their pardon. Getting one was the goal all along, but it still results in them becoming a lot less murderous and a lot more consistently heroic.
* HeroKiller: Two of Fang La's men stand out. Shi Bao is personally responsible for killing five of the Liangshan heroes, while the archer Pang Wanchun and his men kill seven, including Ou Peng, whose skill was ArrowCatch.
* HonourKilling: Yang Xiong gruesomely murders his wife for infidelity, requiring him to flee the law and join the Liangshan Marsh bandits. [[ValuesDissonance Given that this is a medieval Chinese novel, this is treated as a heroic act.]] Song Jiang's and Wu Song's killings of their wife and sister-in-law respectively also have shades of this, though with additional mitigating factors that make them slightly more reasonable to modern eyes (Song Jiang's wife was blackmailing him at the time, and Wu Song was avenging the killing of his brother-in-law by his unfaithful wife).
* IAmAHumanitarian: Several bandits are cannibals, kidnapping innocent travelers for their pot. It's treated in an oddly blasé manner by the story and characters, even by the standards of the time, and Wu Song and Song Jiang both become sworn brothers with people who almost ate them before finding out who they were.
* ImposterForgotOneDetail: When the heroes have to save Song Jiang from Jiangzhou prison, they recruit calligrapher Xiao Rang and craftsman Jin Daijian to forge a letter from Cai Jing, the Prefect's father. Xiao Rang imitates Cai Jing's legendary handwriting flawlessly ... but Jin Daijian uses the wrong seal, which nearly gets Song Jiang, and the messenger, Dai Zong, executed. Fortunately, Wu Yong realized the error rather quickly and mounted the inevitable rescue mission.
* JustLikeRobinHood: The Liangshan Marsh bandits do occasionally steal from the rich and give to the poor, especially under Song Jiang's leadership. More often, though, their game-plan is either 'steal from the rich, ignore the poor' or 'steal from the rich, slaughter the poor'. Since the historical Song Jiang was active in 1121, and he became a legendary folk hero long before the novel was written, this likely makes the trope [[OlderThanTheyThink older than Robin Hood himself]]; ''Water Margin'' or the stories it was based on may be the UrExample.
* KarmaHoudini: Gao Qiu and a his cadre of corrupt officials, who are never punished for any of their misdeeds, up to and including poisoning Song Jiang.
* KillThemAll: [[spoiler: [[DwindlingParty A huge number of the "heroes" die in the campaign against Fang La's rebellion]], [[DroppedABridgeOnHim several others die of disease]], and [[NoGoodDeedGoesUnpunished Song Jiang and a couple of his most senior officers are poisoned by jealous officials for their efforts]], leading his strategist, Wu Yong, and his best friend, Hua Rong, to join them TogetherInDeath. Some of the bandits do make it out alive, and even live HappilyEverAfter, but they're in the minority.]]
* LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters: Well there are well over a hundred main characters alone, each of whom have friends, family, and enemies some of whom play significant roles.
* MagicKnight: Several of the characters are skilled in Taoist magic as well as with weapons. Gongsun Sheng and Fan Rui are amongst the magicians in residence at Mount Liang.
** Fang La's astrologer Bao Daoyi summons a literal one to help his apprentice, Zheng Biao, in his duel with Guan Sheng. Fan Rui defeats it with one of his own.
* MightMakesRight: Any crime whatsoever is justified so long as you're sufficiently talented with weapons. This is made repeatedly explicit.
* MurderTheHypotenuse: What Gao Qiu wanted to do to Lin Chong so Lin's wife could be up for grabs. Wu Song's brother was murdered by his wife when she gained a lover on the side.
* NeverHurtAnInnocent: One of the guiding principles of the Liangshan Marsh bandits. They're not very good at sticking to it, though.
* NominalHero:
** Li Kui, an AxCrazy berserker with a HairTriggerTemper who's a danger to everyone around him. His long and inglorious career includes child-killing, cannibalism, repeatedly massacring unarmed civilians, [[ArsonMurderAndJaywalking and bullying]]. Even his fellow bandits eventually become sick of his shit, only letting him go out on missions after he agrees to a list of prohibitions (one of which he usually breaks). [[spoiler:Eventually, Song Jiang kills him in the epilogue by having him drink the same poisoned wine that was slowly killing him, ensuring that he won't avenge his death with a bloody rebellion and ruin all their efforts.]]
** Even Song Jiang has his moments. He initially gets outlawed for killing his neglected wife after she tries to blackmail him for participating in one of the biggest robberies in history, and once he becomes a bandit warlord, he has a nasty habit of ensuring prospective recruits have nowhere else to turn by framing them for crimes ranging from infanticide to mass murder. Not only that, but his sense of virtue and high moral standards tend to be either self-serving, extremely inconsistent, or both.
* OlderThanPrint: However it's ''technically'' probably not since the Chinese had a form of movable type earlier than Gutenberg.
* OnTheNext: Every chapter ends with an enigmatic preview of the next or later chapters, capped with "[[FindOutNextTime Read our next chapter if you would know.]]"
* OneHundredAndEight: The total amount of heroes in the novel. Which starts when an equal amount of demons escape and reincarnate into these same heroes. They are divided into 36 Heavenly Spirits and 72 Earthly Fiends.
* {{Outlaw}}: The Chinese version.
* RapePillageAndBurn: A favourite activity for the Liangshan Marsh bandits. They usually skip the rape, though - not so much because of respect for their prisoners, mind you, as because the specific interpretation of Confucian philosophy they follow holds that GirlsHaveCooties.
* ReligionIsMagic: Taoist mysticism is very powerful in this book, to the point where going into battle without a trained combat-mage is extremely unwise. The Liangshan Marsh bandits' top Taoist priest, Gongsun Sheng, is basically TheArchmage, and an invaluable tactical asset.
* SchmuckBait: The Stele-Bearing Tortoise is inscribed with the words "Open when Hong arrives," thus tempting Marshal Hong to open it once he sees it.
* ScrewTheRulesIHaveMoney: Bribery is not just for the rich, but for everyone, so it's more like The Rules Screw You If You Don't Have Money. Venality is portrayed as a way of life in the Song Dynasty, to the point that officials often expect a "tip" just for doing their jobs correctly. Even relatively honorable characters will sometimes accept a bribe just to avoid giving offense. Note that the "rules" that are screwed by money aren't limited to those of the government, but sometimes include the chivalrous tenets of the "gallant fraternity". For example, Wang Lun tries to buy off men who want to join the Liangshan outlaws if he's afraid they'll show him up.
* SealedGoodInACan: The 108 demons who later become the Liangshan Heroes are introduced sealed inside a Stele-Bearing Tortoise.
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: Leaning very strongly cynical.
* SplitHair: Yang Zhi, one of the novel's heroes, is forced to sell his [[AncestralWeapon family heirloom of a sword]] in the street. When confronted by a drunken local bully who demnds a dirt cheap price, he tells the latter that the sword is capable of "cut metals like mud, slice through hair by the merest touch, and kill people with no blood on the blade". [[spoiler: It's all true, and Yang Zhi proved the third feature on the bully himself.]]
* TheStrategist: Zhu Wu.
** Wu Yong.
* SuspiciouslySimilarSubstitute: Several of the characters are expies of characters from ''Literature/RomanceOfTheThreeKingdoms'', some by ancestry (i.e. Guan Sheng to Guan Yu), some by the choice of fighting style and weapons (Suo Chao to Xu Huang and Lin Chong to Zhang Fei), others by deliberate and active imitation (Lu Fang to Lu Bu).
* UglyGuyHotWife: Wu Song's brother and his wife, Wu Dalang (also known as "Three Inches of Mulberry Bark") and Pan Jinlian (also known as "Golden Lotus"). Neither is enormously happy with the situation. Apparently their neighbors know this trope as "a luscious piece of meat landing in a dog's mouth".
* UnfitForGreatness: The original Liangshan leader, Wang Lun, knows he is, and that's why he felt threatened when Yang Zhi joined up and tried to turn Lin Chong away. When he tried the same with the famous Chao Gai, Lin Chong decided he'd had enough.
* UnspokenPlanGuarantee: This is used numerous times, being a particular trademark of characters who qualify as TheStrategist. It's customary for the characters to lampshade it by following the non-explanation with remarks about what a marvelous plan it is.
* WarIsGlorious: The campaign against the invading Liao Tartars, the Liangshan Marsh bandits' FinestHour. After finally being given the chance to actively work for the betterment (and expansion) of the realm, they succeed on a grand scale, performing acts of chivalry and heroism all the way.
* WarIsHell: The campaign against Fang La's rebellion. It's a brutal meat-grinder with both sides behaving much more ruthlessly than in the battle against the Tartars. Not only that, but our heroes' PlotArmour has finally worn off. Every battle costs Song Jiang at least one of his trusted companions, often in extremely gruesome and pointless ways.
* WhereAreTheyNowEpilogue: The two final chapters. Our heroes' fates range from [[DroppedABridgeOnHim death by falling off a horse]] (Guan Sheng) to [[NoodleIncident leaving for a life as a fisherman and becoming king of Siam instead]] (Li Jun). For the most part, though, their endings are somewhat happy.
* WouldNotShootACivilian: After joining the army, the bandits make a point of minimising damage to the civilian population. They're much better and more consistent about it than they were as outlaws (see NeverHurtAnInnocent above).
* YouAllMeetInAnInn: The inn of Zhu Gui, the 'Dry-Land Crocodile', is where most of our heroes get recruited.
* YourCheatingHeart: Happens about five different times in the novel, though the two most famous ones are Yan Poxi with Zhang Wenyuan, and Pan Jinlian with Ximen Qing. In fact, the latter feature as the main characters in ''Literature/JinPingMei''.