Wu Song

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Wu Song
Water Margin character
Nickname 1. "Pilgrim"
Also known as
  • "Tiger-fighting Hero"
  • Chief Wu
  • Grandmaster Qingzhong
Rank 14th, Harm Star (天傷星) of the 36 Heavenly Spirits
Wu Song Water Margin.jpg
Infantry leader of Liangshan
Origin Constable from Yanggu County
Hometown Qinghe County (present-day Dongping County, Tai'an, Shandong)
First appearance Chapter 23
Weapon Pair of sabers, staff
Simplified Chinese 武松
Traditional Chinese 武松
Pinyin Wǔ Sōng
Wade–Giles Wu Sung
Other names Wu the Second (武二郎)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Wu.

Wu Song, nicknamed "Pilgrim",[1] is a fictional character in Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He ranks 14th of the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes. According to legend, Wu Song was a student of the martial artist Zhou Tong and he specialised in Chuojiao, Ditangquan and the use of the staff.

Water Margin[edit]

Wu Song is from Qinghe County (present-day Dongping County, Tai'an, Shandong). He is described as a good-looking man with shining eyes, thick eyebrows, a muscular body and an impressive bearing. Once, he knocked out a person in a drunken fit. After mistakenly believing that he had killed the person, he flees to Chai Jin's residence for security and meets Song Jiang there. The two later become sworn brothers.

Slaying the tiger[edit]

On his way home, Wu Song passes by a tavern near Jingyang Ridge, where a large sign reads "Three Bowls Do Not Cross Ridge" (三碗不過崗). This arouses his interest and he stops there for a break. The waiter explains to Wu Song that the wine sold at the tavern is so strong that customers would become drunk after having three bowls and be unable to cross the ridge ahead, hence the sign. Wu Song manages to remain sober after drinking three bowls and he demands that the waiter continue serving him wine even though the latter is reluctant. By the end of his meal, Wu Song had consumed 18 bowls of wine in total and appears tipsy. He is about to leave when the waiter stops him, warning him about the presence of a fierce man-eating tiger at Jingyang Ridge. Wu Song suspects that the waiter is lying to him because he wants him to spend the night there so as to earn extra money, so he ignores the waiter and proceeds with his journey.

While crossing Jingyang Ridge, Wu Song sees a warning sign bearing an official endorsement and is now convinced that there is really a tiger at the ridge. However, he refuses to turn back because he knows he would be scorned and laughed at by the waiter if he did. He moves on and does really encounter a ferocious tiger while trying to take a nap to get over the effect of alcohol. While trying to fend off the beast, Wu Song accidentally breaks his staff, rending himself weaponless. Under the stimulation of alcohol, he ends up slaying the beast by pinning it to the ground and bashing its head repeatedly with his bare fists. Wu Song makes his name for the heroic deed and he is offered the post of a chief constable in Yanggu County. By coincidence, he meets his elder brother Wu Dalang (武大郎), who has moved into the town recently.

According to The Oral Traditions of Yangzhou Storytelling, several popular folktales about Wu Song, from the "Wang School" of Yangzhou storytelling, state that he killed the tiger "in the middle of the tenth month" of the "Xuanhe year [1119]" (the emphasis belongs to the original author).[2] Thus, he killed the tiger in the middle of the tenth lunar month of 1119. This date, however, is a fictional one.

Avenging his brother[edit]

Wu Song kills the man-eating tiger (top left).

Wu Dalang brings Wu Song home and introduces him to his wife Pan Jinlian. Wu Song learns that his elder brother and sister-in-law had moved to Yanggu to avoid gossip and harassment. Wu Dalang is a short, ugly and physically inferior man previously teased as the "Three-Inch Tree Bark" (三寸丁谷樹皮), while Pan Jinlian is an attractive woman. In the previous town they lived, the neighbors would often call out "a rose placed on a pile of cow dung" (一朵鮮花插在牛糞上) to describe Wu Dalang and Pan Jinlian's marriage.

Pan Jinlian is attracted to Wu Song and attempts to seduce him. Wu Song rejects her firmly and warns her, "My eyes recognise you as my sister-in-law, but my fists will not recognise you". He accepts an assignment from the magistrate to transport gold to Dongjing (present-day Kaifeng, Henan) to avoid Pan Jinlian's adulterous advances. Two months later when he returns home, he is shocked to see that his brother died and had been cremated, reportedly from illness.

Wu Song does not believe the story and secretly conducts a thorough investigation. He discovers that Pan Jinlian had an adulterous affair with an influential man named Ximen Qing. Wu Dalang was injured by Ximen Qing when he caught the latter in bed with his wife, and the adulterous pair murdered him later to silence him. Wu Song goes to the county court to present his case, with a blackened bone (suggesting that Wu Dalang was poisoned) from his brother's cremated body as evidence and two other witnesses, including the coroner who examined the body. However, the magistrate has been bribed by Ximen Qing and he dismisses the case with an excuse of "lack of evidence".

Denied of proper legal options, Wu Song is forced to take matters into his own hands. He invites the neighbours for a belated wake, including the teahouse owner Granny Wang, who pimped for Ximen Qing and abetted the murder of Wu Dalang. He confronts Pan Jinlian and forces a full confession out of her at knifepoint, before decapitating and disembowelling her in a ritual to avenge his brother. He then coerces Granny Wang to make a statement about the murder in front of the neighbours, before going to Lion Restaurant (獅子樓) to confront and kill Ximen Qing in a fight. After avenging his brother, Wu Song goes to the county office to surrender himself and brings along Granny Wang to face justice.

Becoming an outlaw[edit]

Because the locals all sympathise with Wu Song, the court ends up sentencing him to face-tattooing and exiled him to a prison in Mengzhou. Wu Song passes by Cross Slope along the way and meets Zhang Qing and Sun Erniang and befriends them. In the Mengzhou prison, the chief warden's son, Shi En, helps him get an easy life and they become friends. Shi En owns a restaurant called the "Delightful Forest" (快活林) but has been forcefully taken by a hooligan, Jiang Zhong, who is nicknamed "Jiang the Door God" for his fighting skills. To repay Shi En's kindness, Wu Song agrees to help take back the restaurant. Wu Song states that his fighting ability is at its best when he is drunk, and he asks to stop at every tavern they pass by along the way and drink three bowls of wine there. When Wu Song finally arrives at Delightful Forest, he has drunk an enormous amount of alcohol, but was only half drunk. There, he proceeds to fight and defeat Jiang Zhong with a set of skills known as "Jade Circle Steps and Mandarin Ducks Kicks" (玉環步,鴛鴦腳). Wu Song spares Jiang Zhong, and tells him to leave Mengzhou Prefecture for good. After this, Shi En takes back his restaurant.

Jiang Zhong collaborates with his boss Instructor Zhang and a local official Inspector Zhang to frame Wu Song for theft. Wu Song is arrested and sentenced to exile to Enzhou. The guards escorting him have been bribed by Jiang Zhong to kill him along the way at Flying Cloud Pool, along with two other assassins. However, Wu Song manages to overpower and kill all the assailants before returning to Mengzhou to settle the score. He tracks down Jiang Zhong, Instructor Zhang and Inspector Zhang at Mandarin Ducks Tower (鴛鴦樓) and kills them, along with Inspector Zhang's entire family. After leaving a note written in blood acknowledging his role in the killings, Wu Song flees from Mengzhou and reaches Cross Slope. Zhang Qing and Sun Erniang help to disguise him as a wandering Buddhist pilgrim to aid his escape. As such, Wu Song is nicknamed "Pilgrim" and becomes an outlaw.

Wu Song goes to Mount Twin Dragons to join the outlaw band there. On his way, he passes by Centipede Ridge, where he kills the evil Taoist Wang, burns down Wang's temple, and saves a girl from being raped by Wang. After the battle at Qingzhou (in present-day Shandong), Wu Song and his companions from Mount Twin Dragons join the outlaw band at Liangshan Marsh, where he becomes one of the leaders of the Liangshan infantry. He follows the heroes on their campaigns against the invading Liao army and rebel forces after they are granted amnesty by Emperor Huizong. During the Fang La campaign, Wu Song's left arm was sliced off by Bao Daoyi during the battle of Muzhou. Luckily, he is saved by Lu Zhishen in time. Wu Song is one of the few survivors of Liangshan after the campaigns but he refuses to take up any official posts despite his contributions. Instead, he goes to Liuhe Pagoda in Hangzhou to practise Buddhism and dies peacefully at the age of 80.

In Jin Ping Mei[edit]

The beginning is roughly the same as Water Margin. After his sister-in-law murdered his brother, he wanted to take revenge. At first, he tried to kill Ximen Qing, the lover of his sister-in-law, but he killed the wrong person instead. He was exiled to Mengzhou. He came back later, but Ximen Qing had already died of sickness. He then killed his sister-in-law, and fled to Mount Twin Dragons.

While Jin Ping Mei is famous in its sexually explicit content, there is nothing sexual about Wu Song in the novel.

Wu Song becomes Zhou Tong's student[edit]

The following tale alternatively known as "Meeting Zhou Tong By Chance" and "Swordplay under the Moon" belongs to the "Wang School Shuihu" of Yangzhou storytelling. It acts as a shuwai shu (Chinese: 书外书; literally: "story outside of the story"), which means it takes place in the same setting as Water Margin, but is independent of the main story line. The tale takes place after Wu Song kills the man-eating tiger, resists the charms of his sister-in-law and accepts a mission from the magistrate to transport money to Kaifeng, but before he becomes a bandit. It explains how he came to learn swordplay from Zhou Tong:

Wu Song was given orders to travel on assignment to Kaifeng after becoming a constable in Yanggu County. When he arrived in Kaifeng, Wu Song took his introduction letter to the yamen and retired to an inn to await his summons. The following day, he left his inn to explore the bustling city.

Kaifeng was one of the largest cities in China at that time and it was full of various kinds of shops and heavy traffic from people coming in and leaving the city. As Wu Song walked along enjoying the organised chaos, the sky changed colour and it became a torrential downpour. It rained so much that waves flowed across the ground and mist rose around the houses. The rain hurt the top of Wu's head so he huddled under the roof of a small shop along with several other people vying for safety. However, as soon as it started, the rain suddenly stopped.

Wu Song continued on his way when he came to the Tianhan Bridge. It was arched, so people had to use steps to ascend to the top. When he stepped onto the bridge, Wu Song lifted up his clothing and looked down at his feet so he could avoid the huge puddles of water left from the freak rain shower. Unbeknownst to him, he was walking directly towards an elderly man who was descending the stairs right above him. Wu Song continued to walk up the bridge without looking in front of him. This old man was Zhou Tong and he was in a hurry. When Zhou Tong saw Wu Song approaching him on the bridge without watching in front of him, he took Wu to be another martial arts master who wished to tarnish his reputation by throwing him off the bridge with a shoulder strike. Zhou Tong prepared for a counterattack and began to swallow air with a subtle "Hm!" and directed his energy to his right shoulder, which turned red then purple and became as hard as rock underneath his clothing. When the two men brushed shoulders, despite being a master of Iron Shirt and Drunken Eight Immortals boxing, Wu Song was nearly knocked off the bridge and the pain caused saliva to pour from his mouth. The attack left him weak in the knees and one side of his body was completely numb. He thought after all of his years of martial arts practice his body was nearly invincible, but he had met his superior in Zhou Tong. Instead of cursing and reprimanding the old man, Wu Song held his tongue, which greatly impressed Zhou Tong. In lieu of a kind word, Zhou Tong simply bowed in apology and went on his way since he was in a rush.

After Zhou Tong disappeared into the bustling crowd, Wu Song rubbed his shoulder and returned to his inn. He ate his lunch and supper in turn, but felt it was too early to go to bed. He went outside into a quiet courtyard behind the inn to do a little shadowboxing underneath the starry night sky. He untied his belt and wrenched it to the left and right until it was very tight and tied it into a knot. He then focused his energy and began to practise his Drunken Eight Immortals boxing. Before he was even half way done with his routine, the loud screams of another person's martial arts practice interrupted his concentration. He grabbed a bench to steady himself on and looked over the top of a brick wall that opened into the hall of a large mansion to the east of the inn.

In the middle of the hall sat three tables laden with all the myriad kinds of food. However, the stately-looking people attending this sumptuous feast were underneath the eaves of the hall watching a person practise his swordplay in the manor's courtyard. This person was Zhou Tong and he had his beard tied into a knot so he would not accidentally cut it off with his double swords. Zhou wielded his swords to and fro and did it so fast that the flashes of light cast from the blades made it look like his entire body was wrapped in snow. Even if a person threw a bowlful of ink at him, not a single drop of it would tarnish his clothing. Wu Song became mesmerised by Zhou Tong's display of superior swordsmanship. When he twirled around and ended up facing in his direction, Wu Song recognised Zhou Tong as the old man he had bumped into on the bridge earlier in the day. He realised that Zhou Tong must be a great master adept in the art of the "deep breath" technique.

Wu Song tomb

During his practice, Zhou Tong let out a mountain-crumbling scream and fell onto his back while kicking one leg into the air. Wu Song felt sorry for Zhou Tong because he thought maybe the man was too old to practise the martial arts and had lost his balance. However, Zhou Tong screamed once more and this time he shot high into the sky with his swords pointed upward towards the moon. After watching him land and perform a few punches and kicks, it finally dawned on Wu Song that Zhou Tong was indeed practising the boxing routines of the immortals Iron-Crutch Li and Han Xiang from the Drunken Eight Immortals style. Zhou Tong was so good at this style that his performance once caused a fellow warrior to become intoxicated. Puzzled, Wu Song remembered back to his own martial arts master who had told him there were only two people in the world (including Wu Song and his master) who could perform such boxing. Zhou Tong also knew the style too. Because Zhou Tong's performance was so great, Wu Song went against the rules of etiquette and shouted praise from the top of the wall.

This shouting interrupted Zhou Tong before he could finish the forms for the rest of the Eight Immortals. He spun around and asked his aristocratic audience who it was that was shouting praise of his performance. They were unable to answer because their snobbery prevented them from noticing anything outside of their own amusement. However, one of their level-headed servants heard the noise and pointed towards the brick wall. Zhou Tong used his magical X-ray eyes to peer through the brick wall and into Wu Song's bone structure to see he was a special person indeed. When Wu Song praised Zhou Tong's performance, he formed an instant friendship with the old man. Zhou Tong invited Wu Song over the wall to partake in the festivities.

When Zhou Tong asked for his name, he was delighted to learn Wu Song was the same fellow who became famous for killing a man-eating tiger with his bare hands on Jingyang Ridge in Shandong in the previous year. When Wu Song learnt who Zhou Tong was, he immediately dropped to his knees, kowtowed and pleaded to become his student. Wu Song was thrilled to meet this "master of the older generation". who was famous throughout the jianghu for his skill in military and civilian martial arts. Zhou Tong helped Wu Song up and began to teach him swordplay under the moon.[2]


The Wu Song story is probably the only one that has been remade many times in Chinese media, due to the fact that adultery in China was a serious offence (and a huge dishonour to the family). There are various parodies and remakes of this chapter, which is also known as the "Lion Restaurant".

Some notable movies like Chang Cheh starred as Wu Song in a 1972 film called Delightful Forest. The Shaw Brothers Studio also made a 1982 movie titled Tiger Killer, starring Ti Lung as Wu Song.[3]

Additionally, the Hong Kong comic Old Master Q has also done a special edition animated cartoon with Water Margin characters, with the primary focus being on Wu Song. However, this version is extensively modified and presents a skewed version of Wu and the original story.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Chinese) 行者 translates literally to "Traveller". However, in Chinese Buddhist terminology, it refers to a pilgrim, so Sidney Shapiro translated it to "Pilgrim".
  2. ^ a b Børdahl, Vibeke. The Oral Traditions of Yangzhou Storytelling. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996 (ISBN 0-7007-0436-1)
  3. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084922/