Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1737
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 to force him to join their band is successful. Liu Kao’s wife is recaptured and executed. Sung Chiang promises to get a wife for the disappointed Wang the Dwarf Tiger. The whole band decides to join those at Liang Shan P’o, but Sung Chiang is summoned home for the burial of his father. The report of his father’s death, however, turns out to be a trick to keep Sung Chiang from turning outlaw. Persuaded to stand trial for his mistress’s murder, he is branded and exiled. The trip is very eventful, involving many near escapes in encounters with robbers who later prove friendly. At his destination, Sung Chiang becomes a friend of his jailer, Tai Chung, who possesses magic enabling him to walk three hundred miles a day. Another friend, violent but loyal Li K’uei, causes much trouble, which Sung Chiang is able to smooth over. One day, Sung Chiang becomes drunk and writes revolutionary verses on a wall. Tai Chung, sent to a distant city to get execution orders, goes instead to Liang Shan P’o, where a letter is forged, freeing Sung Chiang. A mistake made in the seal, however, also results in Tai Chung’s death sentence. Both are freed from the execution grounds by the robbers. All go back to Liang Shan P’o, enlarging their group with additional robbers recruited along the way.
Sung Chiang sets out to bring his father and brother to the robbers’ lair. He is miraculously saved from capture by a temple goddess who gives great prophecies. The robbers take the Sung family to their lair. Kung Sun Sheng and Li K’uei go out to get their old mothers. On his journey, Li K’uei kills a false robber who pretends to be himself, but the impostor’s wife escapes. On the return journey, Li K’uei’s mother is killed by tigers. Li K’uei kills the tigers, but when he goes to receive the reward money, the impostor’s wife identifies him, and he is captured. Another of the band frees him, however, and they return to Liang Shan P’o.
Shih Hsiu opens a meat shop with the help of official Yang Hsiung. Shih Hsiu discovers adultery between Yang Hsiung’s wife and a priest. They kill the adulterers and escape. Later, they fall in with a thief, Shih Ch’ien, who causes a row and is captured in the village of Chu. In Liang Shan P’o, the robbers plan warfare against the Chu village; the others are, at last, victorious. Li K’uei, ignoring a pact between the robbers and the Hu village, kills all the members of the Hu household except the female warrior, the Ten-Foot Green Snake, who had previously been captured by the robbers. Later, she joins the robbers and marries Wang the Dwarf Tiger.
Robber catcher Lei Heng, after killing a courtesan, is allowed to escape to Liang Shan P’o by robber catcher Chu T’ung, who is, consequently, exiled. He pleases the magistrate, however, who wants Chu T’ung to look after his little son. By killing the little boy, the robbers force Chu T’ung to join them.
Li K’uei and Ch’ai Chin go to right a wrong; Ch’ai Chin is captured, and the robbers attempting to free him are repelled by their enemies’ magic. Kung Sun Sheng, now a hermit, is summoned; his magic finally enables the robbers to overcome the enemy and free Ch’ai Chin.
A fresh advance planned by Commander Kao against the robbers results in many useful additions to Liang Shan P’o when enemy leaders are captured and persuaded to change allegiance. The robbers of Double Dragon, Peach Blossom, and Little Hua mountains, after some difficulties of capture and escape, join those at Liang Shan P’o.
A stolen horse intended for Sung Chiang has been stolen again by the Chun family. Instructor Shi Wen Kung, who now possesses the horse, boasts that he will destroy the robbers. While leading his men, Chief Ch’ao Kai is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he asks that whoever captures Shi Wen Kung be named the new chief. A long period of mourning follows.
Rich and respected Lu Chun I is enticed to Liang Shan P’o in the hope that he will join them. Returning, he is arrested and imprisoned as a robber. His steward, now in possession of his wife and goods, plots to have Lu Chun I killed. Many events follow, including the near death of Sung Chiang, but finally the city is taken. The prisoners are freed and the adulterers killed. Lu Chun I refuses Sung Chiang’s offer to make him the chief.
The robbers capture additional soldiers sent against them and add many of the leaders to their ranks. Ch’ao Kai’s death is finally avenged in the conquest of the Chun family and of Shi Wen Kung, whose actual captor is Lu Chun I, who still refuses to become the chief. Since all the robbers wish Sung Chiang to remain the leader, he prepares a test. He and Lu Chun I each lead a group against one of the two cities remaining to be taken. The first to take his city will be the chief. After some reverses, Sung Chiang is successful. He then goes to the aid of Lu Chun I, who has been twice vanquished by warrior Chang Ch’ing. This general, finally overcome, is persuaded to join the outlaws. Sung Chiang receives a heavenly message in the form of a miraculous stone tablet that lists all thirty-six greater and seventy-two lesser chieftains who make up the robber band. All swear undying loyalty, wishing to be united forever, life after life.
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