To escape the persecution of evil Commander Kao, a military instructor flees to the border. On the way, he instructs a village lord’s son, Shih Chin, in warlike skills. Later, Shih Chin becomes friendly with the robbers of Little Hua Mountain. Discovery of this alliance forces Shih Chin to flee. He falls in with Captain Lu Ta, who, after killing a pig butcher who was persecuting a young woman, escapes capture by becoming priest Lu Chi Shen. His violence and intemperance, however, force the abbot to send him to another temple. On the way, he makes peace between a village lord and the robbers of Peach Blossom Mountain.
Shih Chin joins the robbers of Little Hua Mountain. Lu Chi Shen goes on to his temple, where he becomes a friend of military instructor Ling Ch’ung. Commander Kao’s son lusts for Ling Ch’ung’s wife, so Ling Ch’ung is falsely accused of murder, branded, and exiled to Ch’ang Chou. His guards are prevented by Lu Chi Shen from carrying out their secret orders to kill Ling Ch’ung. Again on his way, Ling Ch’ung is hospitably received by Lord Ch’ai Chin.
In Ch’ang Chou, Ling Ch’ung accidentally escapes a death trap and kills his three would-be assassins. Again, he encounters Ch’ai Chin, who sends him to take refuge in Liang Shan P’o, a robbers’ lair headed by the ungracious Wang Lun. Warrior Yang Chi, after killing a bully, is branded and sent to be a border guard. His skill delights Governor Liang of Peking, who keeps and promotes him and even selects him to transport rich birthday gifts to Liang’s father-in-law. To rid the way of robbers, Chu T’ung and Lei Heng are sent out ahead of the party that is carrying the treasures. Lei Heng captures drunken Liu T’ang and takes him to Lord Ch’ao Kai, but the lord arranges his release upon privately discovering that Lei Heng has come to seek him; Lei Heng brings the news of the birthday gifts, which he, Ch’ao Kai, and a teacher, Wu Yung, then plot to steal. Magician Kung Sun Sheng and the three Juan brothers join them.
The plotters cleverly drug Yang Chi and his disguised soldiers and steal the treasure. In despair, Yang Chi leaves the others, who resolve to pin the blame on him. Yang Chi falls in with Lu Chi Shen; they go to Double Dragon Mountain and, overcoming the robber chief who refuses to admit them, become the leaders of the band.
When Ch’ao Kai is discovered to have been one of the robbers, plans are made to catch him, but with the aid of scribe Sung Chiang and robber-catcher Chu T’ung, Ch’ao Kai and the others escape to Liang Shan P’o. Ling Ch’ung kills the ungracious Wang Lun, and Ch’ao Kai is made the chief. Ling Ch’ung discovers that his wife has killed herself to escape the advances of Commander Kao’s son. The robbers vanquish two groups sent against them.
Sung Chiang’s connection with the robbers is discovered by his unfaithful mistress. Enraged at her blackmail threats, he kills her and escapes to Ch’ai Chin’s village. There he meets Wu Sung, who is on his way to see his older brother after a long absence.
Wu Sung kills a tiger and is greatly celebrated. He is of heroic size; his brother is puny and small. The latter’s wife tries unsuccessfully to seduce Wu Sung. In Wu Sung’s absence, she takes a lover and, with his help, kills her husband. Wu Sung returns and kills the pair. Although generally pitied, he is branded and exiled.
After an eventful journey, Wu Sung defends his jailer’s son against a usurper and so offends the tyrant that he plots with General Chang to accuse Wu Sung falsely of a crime. Wu Sung kills the plotters and joins those at Double Dragon Mountain.
While on a visit to military magistrate Hua Yung, Sung Chiang is captured by the robbers of the Mountain of Clear Winds, but they recognize and welcome him. One of them, lustful Wang the Dwarf Tiger, captures the wife of a civil magistrate, Liu Kao. Hoping to please Hua Yung, Sung Chiang persuades Wang to release her. Later the woman, a troublemaker, identifies Sun Chiang as one of the robbers. Sung Chiang and Hua Yung escape to the Mountain of Clear Winds, and Liu Kao is killed.
General Ch’ing Ming comes against these robbers and is captured. Their plot...
(The entire section is 1737 words.)