Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494
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...
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