Song Jiang

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For the district of Shanghai and other uses, see Songjiang.
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Song.

Song Jiang was the leader of a group of Chinese outlaws who lived in the Song dynasty. The outlaws were active in the present-day provinces of Shandong and Henan before their eventual surrender to the Song government. Song Jiang is also featured as a character in 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 end of the reign of Emperor Huizong of Song. His place of birth and base of activity are disputed. One account from Pi Ling Ji says 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 says 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 Song 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 dared to oppose him. His abilities must be extraordinary. In view of the ravages by 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 said that the bandits had 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.

In fiction[edit]

Song Jiang
Water Margin character
Nickname Protector of Justice
Also known as
  • Gongming
  • "Timely Rain"
  • "Filial and Righteous Dark Third Son"
  • "Dark Song Jiang"
Rank 1st, Leader Star (天魁星) of 36 Heavenly Spirits
Leader of Liangshan
Origin Magistrate's clerk
Ancestral home / Place of origin Yuncheng County, Heze, Shandong
First appearance Chapter 18
Simplified Chinese 宋江
Traditional Chinese 宋江
Pinyin Sòng Jiāng
Wade–Giles Sung Chiang

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.


In the novel Water Margin, Song Jiang is described as a dark-complexioned man six chi tall, with eyes like a phoenix's and a big squarish mouth. He is from Yuncheng County (in present-day Heze, Shandong) and serves as a clerk under the magistrate in the local county office. His reputation for being filial, chivalrous and generous, and his dark complexion, earn him the nicknames "Timely Rain", "Filial and Righteous Dark Third Son", and "Dark Song Jiang". However, his official nickname is "Protector of Righteousness" in the ranking of the 108 Stars of Destiny. He is known for being well versed in scholarly and martial arts.

Song Jiang maintains close friendships with the constables Zhu Tong and Lei Heng, who also serve in the county office. He meets Chao Gai, the headman of a village in the county, and befriends him. Chao Gai and six others rob a convoy of birthday gifts for Cai Jing, the corrupt Imperial Tutor, and are wanted by the authorities after their identities are exposed. Song Jiang distracts the constable He Tao and rushes to the village to warn Chao Gai and his six friends that He Tao and a group of soldiers are on their way to the village to arrest them. With help from Zhu Tong and Lei Heng, Chao Gai and his six companions escape from the village and find refuge in the outlaw stronghold at Liangshan Marsh.

Killing Yan Poxi[edit]

Song Jiang marries Yan Poxi at the insistence of her mother after paying for 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 falls in love with Zhang Wenyuan, Song Jiang's assistant, and begins an adulterous affair with him.

Meanwhile, Chao Gai writes Song Jiang a letter and sends him some gold pieces to express his gratitude for helping him and his friends 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 three conditions: Divorce her and allow her to marry Zhang Wenyuan; let her retain ownership of 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. They have a brawl over the letter and Song Jiang eventually kills Yan Poxi in anger after she threatens to accuse him in court. With help from Zhu Tong and Lei Heng, he escapes from Yuncheng County and becomes a fugitive.

Becoming an outlaw[edit]

Song Jiang flees to Cangzhou and takes shelter in Chai Jin's residence. Later, he travels to Qingfeng Fort (清風寨; in present-day Qingzhou, Weifang, Shandong) to join his friend Hua Rong and befriends three bandit chiefs from Mount Qingfeng (清風山; near Qingfeng Fort) along the way. He also stops Wang Ying (one of the three bandits) from raping the wife of Liu Gao, the official in charge of Qingfeng Fort. However, Liu Gao's wife repays Song Jiang's kindness with evil by accusing him of being the kidnapper who tried to rape her. Liu Gao believes his wife and has Song Jiang arrested and imprisoned. Hua Rong and the Qingfeng bandits rescue Song Jiang from prison, defeat government forces together, and kill Liu Gao and his family in revenge. Song Jiang leads them to Liangshan Marsh to join the outlaw band there, but does not join the band himself.

Song Jiang receives news that his father had died while he was on the run, so he immediately rushes back to Yuncheng County and is surprised to see that his father actually faked his death because he misses his son and wants him to come home. As soon as Song Jiang returns to Yuncheng County, he is arrested and placed on trial for killing Yan Poxi earlier. The magistrate shows leniency and spares Song Jiang from execution, but sentences him to criminal branding (face-tattooing) and exiles him to (江州; east of present-day Chongzuo, Guangxi).

Song Jiang leads an easy life in the prison in Jiangzhou after befriending Dai Zong, the chief warden. He also befriends several others, including those he met on the way to Jiangzhou. One day, while having drinks in a restaurant, he feels overwhelmed by sorrow because he has been branded as a criminal. He gets drunk, writes a seditious poem on the wall, and forgets about it when he becomes sober. Later, the poem is discovered by Huang Wenbing, a petty and corrupt official, who reports it to Jiangzhou's governor, Cai Jiu. Cai Jiu orders Song Jiang's arrest and sentences him to death for inciting rebellion against the government. However, the outlaws from Liangshan Marsh show up in Jiangzhou, storm the execution ground, rescue Song Jiang, and bring him back to Liangshan. Song Jiang feels very grateful to the outlaws for saving his life and decides to join them.

As chief of Liangshan[edit]

As one of the most important leaders of Liangshan, Song Jiang often leads the outlaws in the battles against Liangshan's enemies, such as imperial forces, the Zhu Family Village and Zeng Family Fortress. After Chao Gai dies in a battle against the Zeng Family Fortress, Song Jiang assumes the position of chief while the outlaws seek vengeance on Shi Wengong, the man who killed Chao. Shi Wengong is eventually captured by Lu Junyi, who has recently joined Liangshan. Per Chao Gai's dying wish, Lu Junyi should succeed Chao, but he declines the honour and asks Song Jiang to be the new chief of Liangshan. Song Jiang reluctantly accepts the position at the insistence of Lu Junyi and his Liangshan fellows.

Song Jiang holds strongly to his faith in serving his nation with patriotism, even though his tactics are occasionally at variance with his moral proclamations. His unrelenting loyalty to the Song Empire nonetheless leads him to the eventual establishment of the Liangshan outlaws' manifesto of "delivering justice on Heaven's behalf". They seek to serve the Song government 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 them 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 Song Empire's enemies, such as the invaders from the Khitan-ruled Liao Empire and rebel forces within the Song Empire. Song Jiang fulfils his oath of becoming a loyal subject to the Song Empire, but at a heavy cost: at least two-thirds of the 108 Liangshan heroes perished in the final campaign against the rebel leader Fang La. Some of the surviving Liangshan heroes accept offers from Emperor Huizong to be instated as officials while others choose to lead the rest of their lives as commoners.

Song Jiang assumes office as the governor of Chuzhou (楚州; in present-day Huai'an, Jiangsu). However, the corrupt officials in the imperial court are unhappy with his fate, so they devise a plot to murder him. They send Song Jiang a jar of poisoned wine in the emperor's name and order him to finish it. When Song Jiang realises that he has been poisoned, he is worried that the hot-tempered Li Kui will seek vengeance by rebelling against the imperial court and hence tarnish the Liangshan heroes' reputation. As such, he invites Li Kui to Chuzhou and join him in drinking the poisoned wine, without telling him the truth. Both of them die from poisoning.

In the last chapter of Water Margin, after learning the truth from the ghosts of Song Jiang and Li Kui in his dream, Emperor Huizong orders an inquiry into their deaths, but the investigation comes to naught because the key witness – the emissary who delivered the poisoned wine – died mysteriously before returning to the palace. The emperor then grants posthumous titles to Song Jiang and the Liangshan heroes to honour them for their loyalty.

Song Jiang's seditious poem[edit]

This is the seditious poem written by Song Jiang when he was drunk at Xunyang Tower in Jiangzhou.


I have read the classics and annals since I was a child,
When I grew up I learnt politics and strategy.


Just like a ferocious tiger hiding in the hills,
sheathing its claws and jaws while waiting and enduring.


How unfortunate to be branded on both cheeks,
and exiled to Jiangzhou.


If one day I can redress my grievances,
the Xunyang River will be covered in blood!

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 am in Wu,
I wander around alone sighing.


If one day I can realise my noble ambitions,
I dare to laugh at Huang Chao for not being a real man!

He then signed off at the end as "The work of Song Jiang from Yuncheng" (鄆城宋江作).

The poem is deemed seditious 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 will do something greater than Huang Chao."

See also[edit]