Song Jiang was the leader of a group of outlaws who lived during the Song Dynasty. The outlaws were active in the present-day provinces of Shandong and Henan before their eventual surrender to the government. Song Jiang is also featured as a character in the Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He ranks 1st of the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes and is nicknamed "Protector of Justice".
Song Jiang is mentioned in historical texts dating from the time of the end of the reign of Emperor Huizong of Song. His place of birth and base of operations is disputed. One account from Pi Ling Ji notes that Song Jiang rallied some fugitives to form a bandit army and they attacked travellers on the roads of Shandong. Another account from an unknown source states that Song Jiang and his bandits originated from the north of the Yellow River and moved south towards the Huai River Valley. They invaded some ten commanderies and were evidently regarded as being more than merely a nuisance by the imperial court in Kaifeng.
A palace memorial by Hou Meng survives in the historical text History of Song, which states: "Song Jiang and 36 others cross Qi and Wei (the central belt of the North China Plain) at will. Government troops number tens of thousands but none dare to oppose him. His abilities must be extraordinary. In the light of Fang La and his outlaws from Qingxi, why not grant Song Jiang and his men amnesty and allow them to lead a campaign against Fang La to redeem themselves?"
Song Jiang and his bandits were active in the prefectures of Chuzhou and Haizhou (in present-day central Jiangsu) in early 1121. A description of their activities and subsequent defeat by government forces is recorded in the official biography of Zhang Shuye, the Prefect of Haizhou. It states: "Zhang Shuye asked his scouts where they had gone. They say that the bandits have made their way to the coast and seized control of ten huge vessels. He recruited 1,000 men and planted an ambush in a nearby city. Next, he sent skirmishers to lure the bandits into battle. The best foot soldiers were stationed by the coast. When the armies clashed, the bandits ships were then burnt. When the bandits heard that, they lost their will to fight. The army lying in ambush then attacked and captured many of the bandits. Then Song Jiang surrendered." The historical Song Jiang's eventual fate is unknown after his surrender to the government.
|Water Margin character|
|Nickname||Protector of Justice
|Also known as||
|Rank||1st, Leader Star (天魁星) of 36 Heavenly Spirits|
|Leader of Liangshan|
|Hometown||Yuncheng County, Shandong|
|First appearance||Chapter 18|
Song Jiang's fictional association with the Liangshan outlaws has a long history. Folk stories from the Liangshan region speak of "36 huge banners and 72 smaller banners of local bandits", possibly a reference to the original 36 companions of Song Jiang. The Water Margin describes him as having a physical appearance that makes him outstanding from the average person. He has eyes like those of a phoenix, a big squarish mouth and dark complexion. He stands at six chi, relatively short as compared to the other heroes.
Originally a magistrate's clerk in Yuncheng County, Shandong, the swarthy-complected Song Jiang has a reputation for being extremely filial and generous in helping those in need. As such, he earned the nicknames "Timely Rain," "Filial and Righteous Dark Third Son," and "Dark Song Jiang". His official nickname in the ranking of the Liangshan heroes, however, is "Hu Bao Yi", which roughly translates to "Protector of Righteousness". Song Jiang is versed in literary arts and usually portrayed as a scholar. He has an interest in martial arts as well.
Song Jiang maintains a close friendship with the constables Zhu Tong and Lei Heng who serve in the same county office as he. Once, he meets Chao Gai of Eastern Creek Village and befriends him. He overhears that Chao Gai and his six companions have robbed the convoy of birthday gifts for the Imperial Tutor Cai Jing and are hence wanted by the government. On account of his friendship with Chao Gai, he distracts the constable He Tao, who has been assigned to arrest the seven men, and speeds off to alert Chao Gai and his friends of the imminent danger. With Song Jiang's help, Chao Gai and company manage to escape and eventually find refuge on Liangshan.
Killing Yan Poxi
Song Jiang marries Yan Poxi at the insistence of her mother after Song pays the funeral expenses of her deceased father. Although Yan Poxi never loved Song Jiang, the couple get along without problems initially. Over time, however, Yan Poxi comes to despise Song as he has distanced himself from her. She then falls in love with Zhang Wenyuan, Song Jiang's assistant, and the two begin an adulterous affair. Meanwhile, Chao Gai writes Song Jiang a letter and sends him some gold pieces to express his gratitude for having helped him escape. However, Yan Poxi discovers the letter and learns of Song Jiang's relationship with the outlaws. She threatens to report Song Jiang to the authorities if he does not agree to her three terms: Song must divorce her and allow her to marry Zhang Wenyuan; she is to retain ownership over all the possessions he has given her; the gold pieces from Chao Gai must become hers. Song Jiang agrees to the first two terms but cannot comply with the third because he accepted only one of the gold bars Chao Gai sent him. They have a brawl over the letter and Song Jiang eventually kills Yan Poxi in anger after she threatens to accuse him in court. He escapes from Yuncheng County after Zhu Tong releases him on account of their friendship and becomes a fugitive.
Becoming an outlaw
Song Jiang flees to Cangzhou and seeks refuge in Chai Jin's residence. He travels to Qingfeng Fort after that to join his friend Hua Rong. Along the way, Song Jiang befriends the bandits from Mount Qingfeng and saves the wife of Liu Gao, the official in charge of the fort, from being raped by Wang Ying. However, Liu Gao's wife repays kindness with evil and frames Song Jiang for being in league with the bandits. Song Jiang is arrested and thrown into prison. The Qingfeng bandits help Song Jiang escape and kill Liu Gao and his family in revenge. They follow Song Jiang back to Liangshan but Song is still reluctant to join the outlaw band. He returns home after hearing news that his father has died but is surprised to see that his father is still alive and wants him home.
When he returns home, Song Jiang is arrested again and placed on trial for the murder of Yan Poxi. He is sentenced to face-tattooing and exile in Jiangzhou (present-day Jiangxi). He leads an easy life in the Jiangzhou prison after befriending the wardens Dai Zong and Li Kui. In Jiangzhou, Song Jiang is overwhelmed by grief after feeling that he has been branded a criminal. Inebriated, he writes a poem inciting rebellion but later forgets doing so. Huang Wenbing discovers the poem and reports Song Jiang to the governor Cai Jiu. Song Jiang is arrested again and sentenced to death for allegedly plotting rebellion. The Liangshan outlaws storm the execution ground and succeed in rescuing Song Jiang from death, after which Song finally decides to join Liangshan.
As chief of Liangshan
As one of the most important leaders of Liangshan, Song Jiang often volunteers to lead the outlaws in the campaigns against the enemies of Liangshan, such as the Zhu Family Village, Gaotangzhou and the Zeng Family Fortress. After Chao Gai's death, Song Jiang becomes the new chief of Liangshan although Lu Junyi is the one who actually fulfils Chao's dying wish that whoever captured Shi Wengong (Chao's killer) could become chief. Lu Junyi declines the honour and Song Jiang takes up the position of chief reluctantly at the insistence of his fellows.
Song Jiang holds strongly to his faith in serving his nation with patriotism though his tactics are occasionally at variance with his moral proclamations. His unrelenting loyalty to the Song court nonetheless leads him to the eventual establishment of the Liangshan outlaws' manifesto of "delivering justice on Heaven's behalf". They seek to serve the nation as a means of atoning for their past crimes and be hailed as heroes instead of rebels and outlaws. Song Jiang's dream eventually comes true after Emperor Huizong grants the outlaws amnesty.
Song Jiang is persistent in his belief that the outlaws must obtain amnesty from the government and eventually achieves his goal after defeating imperial forces in various battles. The emperor sends Song Jiang and the outlaws on campaigns to attack the enemies of the nation, such as the Liao invaders and other rebel forces in the south, such as Fang La. Song Jiang fulfils his oath of becoming a loyal subject to the nation but the final campaign has also led to the deaths of at least two-thirds of the 108 Liangshan heroes. The surviving Liangshan chieftains either take up their official positions as rewards for their contributions or return to civilian life.
Song Jiang assumes office as governor of Chuzhou. However, Cai Jing and Gao Qiu are unhappy with Song Jiang's fate so they plot to have Song killed. They send him a jar of wine, spiked with poison, in the name of the emperor. After realising that he was poisoned, Song Jiang knows that if Li Kui hears news about his death, he will rebel against the imperial court and attempt to avenge him. He does not want Li Kui to tarnish the reputation of Liangshan, so he invites Li to consume the wine without revealing that it has been poisoned until after Li drinks it.
In the last chapter of the Water Margin, the emperor meets Song Jiang and Li Kui in a dream as they are seeking to redress their grievances. The emperor awakes from his dream and orders an investigation into their deaths. The key witness, the emissary who delivered the wine, died before returning to the palace, and the investigation comes to naught. Eventually, Song Jiang and several other former outlaws are posthumously granted honorific titles, but those responsible for his death are never brought to justice.
Song Jiang's poem
This is the poem hinting rebellion written by Song Jiang when he was drunk at Xunyang Tower in Jiangzhou.
I've read the classics and annals since I was a child,
Just like a ferocious tiger hiding in the hills,
How unfortunate to be branded on both cheeks,
If one day I can redress my grievances,
Song Jiang then read what he wrote, laughing hysterically as he did. He drank several more cups of wine and started behaving wildly, clapping his hands and dancing with joy. He picked up the ink brush and wrote another four lines as follows:
My heart is in Shandong but I'm in Wu,
If one day I can realise my noble ambitions,
He then signed off at the end as "The work of Song Jiang from Yuncheng" (鄆城宋江作).
The poem is interpreted as inciting rebellion against the government mainly because of the last two lines. Huang Chao started a rebellion in the late Tang Dynasty, causing the dynasty to be weakened and leading to its eventual collapse. The last two lines were thus interpreted by Huang Wenbing as: "If one day Song Jiang ever gets an opportunity to start a rebellion (against the Song Dynasty), he'll do something greater than Huang Chao."
- List of Water Margin minor characters#Song Jiang's story for a list of supporting minor characters from Song Jiang's story.
- (Chinese) Li, Mengxia. 108 Heroes from the Water Margin, page 217. EPB Publishers Pte Ltd, 1992. ISBN 9971-0-0252-3.
- Buck, Pearl. All Men are Brothers. Moyer Bell Ltd, 2006. ISBN 9781559213035.
- Zhang, Lin Ching. Biographies of Characters in Water Margin. Writers Publishing House, 2009. ISBN 978-7506344784.
- Keffer, David. Outlaws of the Marsh.
- Miyamotois, Yoko. Water Margin: Chinese Robin Hood and His Bandits.
- (Japanese) Ichisada, Miyazaki. Suikoden: Kyoko no naka no Shijitsu. Chuo Koronsha, 1993. ISBN 978-4122020559.
- Shibusawa, Kou. Bandit Kings of Ancient China. KOEI, 1989.