|Water Margin character|
|Nickname||"Short-lived Second Brother"
|Rank||29th, Guilt Star (天罪星) of the 36 Heavenly Spirits|
|Navy leader of Liangshan|
|Ancestral home / Place of origin||Shijie Village (in present-day Liangshan County, Jining, Shandong)|
|First appearance||Chapter 15|
Ruan Xiaowu, also known as Ruan the Fifth, is a fictional character in Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He ranks 29th of the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes and is nicknamed "Short-lived Second Brother".
The novel describes Ruan Xiaowu as a man with eyes resembling bells, arms like iron staffs and a tattoo of a leopard on his chest. Although he always wears a smile on his face, one can detect his murderous advances. His nickname "Short-lived Second Brother" does not imply that he is short-lived; rather, it means that his enemies are short-lived when they meet him and his murderous smile.
Ruan Xiaowu is the second of the three Ruan brothers (Ruan Xiaoer, himself and Ruan Xiaoqi). The brothers live in Shijie Village (石碣村; in present-day Liangshan County, Jining, Shandong), where they earn a living by fishing and trading illegally on the river.
Becoming an outlaw
Wu Yong recommends the brothers to Chao Gai and they join Chao's team to rob the convoy of birthday gifts for the Imperial Tutor, Cai Jing. The government orders their arrest after the robbery but they manage to flee to Liangshan Marsh for refuge after defeating a group of soldiers sent to arrest them.
On Liangshan, Wang Lun, the incompetent and selfish leader of the outlaws, refuses to accept the seven men and tries to send them away with gifts. Lin Chong kills Wang Lun after being instigated by Wu Yong, and then Chao Gai takes over the position of chief. Ruan Xiaowu becomes an important member of the outlaw band and makes several contributions to Liangshan in the subsequent battles against the enemies of Liangshan. For his expertise in naval warfare, he is appointed as one of the leaders of the Liangshan navy.
Campaigns and death
After the outlaws are granted amnesty by Emperor Huizong, Ruan Xiaowu follows them on their campaigns against the Liao invaders and rebel forces. During the campaign against the rebel leader Fang La, Ruan Xiaowu and Li Jun pretend to defect to Fang La and work as spies for Liangshan. The spies make a major achievement by setting Qingxi County (清溪縣; present-day Anxi County, Quanzhou, Fujian) on fire and opening the gates for the heroes to enter and defeat Fang La's army. Ruan Xiaowu is discovered and killed by Fang La's premier, Lou Minzhong, during the battle.
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- 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.
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- Keffer, David. Outlaws of the Marsh.