Li Kui (Water Margin)

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Li Kui
Water Margin character
LiKui.gif
An illustration of Li Kui by Chen Hongshou.
First appearance Chapter 37
Nickname "Black Whirlwind"
黑旋風
Also known as "Iron Ox"
鐵牛
Rank 22nd, Killer Star (天殺星) of the 36 Heavenly Spirits
Infantry leader of Liangshan
Origin Prison warder
Ancestral home / Place of origin Baizhang Village, Yishui County (in present-day Linyi, Shandong)
Weapon Pair of axes, Pudao
Names
Simplified Chinese 李逵
Traditional Chinese 李逵
Pinyin Lǐ Kuí
Wade–Giles Li K'uei

Li Kui is a fictional character in Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature. Nicknamed "Black Whirlwind", he ranks 22nd among the 36 Heavenly Spirits, the first third of the 108 Stars of Destiny.

Background[edit]

The novel describes Li Kui as a muscular man with a dark complexion, a reddish-yellow unibrow, and fiery eyes. He is as strong as an ox, which earns him the nickname "Iron Ox". However, he is more popularly referred to as "Black Whirlwind" for his berserk behaviour in combat and dark complexion. He has a bad temper and a strong penchant for alcohol, and is known to be a hardcore gambler. He strikes fear in the hearts of many people; a mere glare from him is sufficient to scare away an aggressor. A tough melee fighter, he uses a pair of axes in battle and often charges ahead of his men.

Li Kui is from Baizhang Village (百丈村) in Yishui County, which is in present-day Linyi, Shandong. He flees from home after accidentally killing someone in his hometown. He comes to Jiangzhou (江州; present-day Jiujiang, Jiangxi) and becomes a warder in the prison under the warden Dai Zong. By chance, he meets Song Jiang, who has been sentenced to exile in Jiangzhou, and befriends him. Later, when Dai Zong and Li Kui accompany Song Jiang to a restaurant for a meal, Song Jiang has a sudden craving for fish. After learning that the fish at the restaurant is not fresh, Li Kui volunteers to get fish from the nearby market and gets into a brawl with Zhang Shun, the chief fishmonger. He beats Zhang Shun on land, but nearly drowns when they fight in the water. Luckily, Song Jiang and Dai Zong arrive on time and stop the fight. Li Kui and Zhang Shun then become friends.

Joining Liangshan[edit]

An 1887 woodblock print by Yoshitoshi, depicting Li Kui (bottom) wrestling with Zhang Shun underwater.

When Song Jiang is arrested and sentenced to death for composing a seditious poem, Dai Zong tries to help him by tricking Cai Jiu, the governor of Jiangzhou, into sending Song Jiang to the imperial capital Dongjing. Along the way, the Liangshan outlaws will ambush the convoy and rescue Song Jiang. However, Cai Jiu's assistant Huang Wenbing sees through the ruse, so Dai Zong ends up being arrested and sentenced to death as well.

Just as Song Jiang and Dai Zong are about to be beheaded in public, Li Kui and the Liangshan outlaws storm the execution ground, save them, and retreat to a temple near the riverbank. Along the way, Li Kui goes on a rampage and kills everyone, including innocent bystanders, who stood in their way. He only stops his behaviour at the insistence of Chao Gai, Liangshan's chief. When government forces from Jiangzhou surround the outlaws at the temple, Li Kui is the first to charge out as the outlaws resist the attack and drive back the soldiers. With aid from Song Jiang's friends, they manage to leave Jiangzhou and return safely to Liangshan Marsh. Li Kui becomes a member of the outlaw band from then on.

Fetching his mother and slaying four tigers[edit]

Li Kui leaves Liangshan later to fetch his mother. Along the way, he runs into Li Gui, who pretends to be him and robs lone passersby along a remote pathway. Li Kui beats Li Gui in the fight and wants to kill the latter for impersonating him. However, after hearing Li Gui's lie that he has resorted to robbery to feed his 80-year-old mother, Li Kui softens up and lets Li Gui off. He even gives Li Gui some money and tells him to take good care of his mother. Shortly afterwards, Li Kui passes by Li Gui's house and overhears Li Gui telling his wife about his plan to capture Li Kui and hand him over to the authorities for a reward. The infuriated Li Kui rushes in and kills Li Gui but Li Gui's wife manages to escape.

Li Kui reaches home and meets his cowardly brother Li Da, who scolds him for becoming an outlaw and rushes off to get some men to help him capture Li Kui. Li Kui flees from home with his mother, who has gone blind, and carries her on his back. They travel along a path through the woods and up a hill. Before long, Li Kui's mother complains that she is thirsty, so Li Kui rushes off to find water for her. When he returns, he is shocked to discover that his mother has been attacked and killed by tigers. Overwhelmed with grief, he slays all the four tigers, two of which are cubs, after he tracks them down to their lair. He becomes famous in the local town for his feat.

The wealthy Squire Cao of the town pretends to admire Li Kui and shower him with gifts. In fact, Squire Cao has learnt from Li Gui's wife that Li Kui is a wanted man. They plan to capture him and hand him over to the county office. Unaware that it is a trap, Li Kui drinks the spiked wine offered to him and becomes unconscious. The magistrate then sends the constable Li Yun and some men to escort Li Kui back to the county office. Along the way, Liangshan's Zhu Gui and his brother Zhu Fu rescue Li Kui by serving the guards food and wine spiked with drugs. When Li Yun and the guards are knocked out, Li Kui kills the guards and wants to kill Li Yun as well but Zhu Fu stops him and tells him that Li Yun is a good man. When Li Yun comes to, he sees that he has no choice but to become an outlaw too so he accompanies them back to Liangshan.

Campaigns and death[edit]

Li Kui becomes one of the leaders of the Liangshan infantry after the Grand Assembly of the 108 Stars of Destiny. He follows the Liangshan heroes on their campaigns against the Liao invaders and rebel forces on Song territory after they received amnesty from Emperor Huizong.

During the outlaws' quest for amnesty, Li Kui strongly objects to accepting amnesty from the imperial court because he sees it as nothing but capitulation. He sabotages Song Jiang's meeting in Dongjing with Li Shishi, a courtesan who has a close relationship with Emperor Huizong. When the first imperial edict arrives at Liangshan, Li Kui jumps forth and tears it up before the emperor's emissary could read it. However, he ultimately fails to prevent Song Jiang from securing amnesty for all the Liangshan outlaws.

Li Kui is one of the few Liangshan heroes who survive all the campaigns. To honour Li Kui for his service to the Song Empire, the imperial court appoints him as an official in Runzhou (潤州; present-day Runzhou District, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu). However, Li Kui misses his carefree life at Liangshan, shows no interest in his career as an official, and spends most of his time drinking.

When Song Jiang realises that he has been tricked into drinking poisoned wine by the corrupt officials in the imperial court, he is worried that Li Kui might stir up trouble after his death. If Li Kui does attempt to avenge his death, the Liangshan heroes will be branded as outlaws instead of loyal subjects of the Song Empire. Song Jiang thus summons Li Kui to Chuzhou (楚州; present-day Huai'an, Jiangsu), where he lets Li Kui imbibe the poisoned wine until he is half-drunk before revealing that the wine is poisoned. Li Kui happily embraces his fate and only requests to be buried alongside Song Jiang. He dies after returning to Runzhou. Although Song Jiang was the one responsible for Li Kui's death, Li Kui appears in the last chapter in Emperor Huizong's dream, brandishing his axes and seeking revenge for both his and Song Jiang's wrongful deaths.

Other cultural depictions of Li Kui[edit]

In the video game Jade Empire by Bioware, a character who resembles Li Kui and also goes by the nickname "The Black Whirlwind" joins the player's party as it gets underway. He displays many of the same traits as the Water Margin character and wields the same fighting weapon (twin axes).

The OVA adaptation of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Giant Robo was not able to obtain licence for the original cast of the manga or the live-action series, so the creators used characters from Yokoyama's body of work, including adaptations of Water Margin. The character of Tetsugyu (which roughly translates to "Iron Ox"), known too as the Black Whirlwind, is based on Yokoyama's adaptation of Li Kui.

See also[edit]

References[edit]