All Men Are Brothers

by Shi Naian

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Places Discussed

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Mountain lair

Mountain lair. Hideout in the most remote mountains of Shandong Province that provides the central, unifying setting for the collected stories. Here the bandits form a society for themselves, one in which they assure a system of justice and patriotism. They make outcasts of themselves on a particularly large mountain near an idyllic lake that is surrounded by boundless reeds forming a marsh. The ever-present mists create a heavenly backdrop as the skies verge into the habitats of the gods themselves. Long, moving, and invisible waterways and passages provide the bandit group with easy places to hide and help them carry out ambushes and surprise attacks. This idyllic setting is all in contrast to Chinese society at lower altitudes, where the wealthy ruling class maintains a corrupt government.


Battlefields. The largest section of the book (chapters 20 through 41) covers the adventures of Wu Sung and the battle of Chiangchow, in which Sung Chiang joins the band and becomes its leader. These eleven adventures include the story of Wu Sung’s killing of the great tiger of Ching Yang Ridge. Repeated battles occur in and near the village of Chu (Chuchiachuang) as the further adventures of Sung Chiang are recorded in later chapters. The Ridge of the Lonely Dragon is the scene of the fighting of some ten thousand men from three different families in tribal warfare. At Tamingfu and Tsengtoushih, all the bandits fight and defeat the government troops, at least for the time being.


China. Innumerable descriptions of China occur throughout the narrative, which was set in the twelfth century and put into its final form in the fourteenth. Large cities, villages, inns, homes (bedrooms for adultery, even), shops, forests, temples, farms, and so on all recur repeatedly. At times they are the main backdrop for the adventures of a particular bandit. Instances literally number in the hundreds. Examples include the story of a tattooed priest in the Wood of the Wild Boar, bandits gathering at the Temple to the White Dragon, and a great turmoil on the Great Hua Mountain in the west. This final, assembled version of these legends collected into stories reveals much about China and Chinese life in these centuries.


Heaven. Because the mountain lair opens directly into the mists of the skies (heavens), there is often direct contact with Taoist gods who occupy it. As early as chapter 8, guests from both heaven and everywhere under heaven are admitted to the Hall of Justice and Patriotism. More than one dozen different temples appear in the work, and in each instance references to heaven as setting consistently occur. The most significant of these is at the end of the stories when the Taoist gods come directly from heaven with messages, poems, and directions for the bandits. Hell, too, is mentioned, and the work concludes with the men having an evil dream in which their afterlife is painful because of their many murders in their sundry adventures.


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Buck, Pearl S. The Chinese Novel. New York: John Day, 1939. Her 1938 Nobel Prize lecture discusses the vividness of characterization in All Men Are Brothers, the folk mind, and the freedom and flexibility of the Chinese novel. Includes her philosophy of translation and a brief discussion of the instincts of Chinese fiction.

Hsia, C. T. The Classic Chinese Novel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. Introduction discusses the importance of the work as one of six major Chinese novels. General discussion and excellent commentary on the text; well-selected quotations from the text.

Irwin, Richard Gregg. The Evolution of a Chinese Novel: “Shui-hu chuan

(This entire section contains 208 words.)

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The Evolution of a Chinese Novel: “Shui-hu chuan.” Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953. Discusses the novel in its most complete form, and shorter forms and translations. Conclusion has helpful chapter-by-chapter plot summaries.

Plaks, Andrew H. The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987. Chapter on deflation of heroism in All Men Are Brothers. Argues that the models in the novel can serve for serious historical writing, although the characters are largely products of the imagination and not true historical figures.

Rolston, David L., ed. How to Read the Chinese Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. General introduction to Chinese fiction criticism; chapter on how to read All Men Are Brothers.


Critical Essays