Wu Song

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Wu Song
Water Margin character
Wu Song Water Margin.jpg
An illustration of Wu Song at the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace, Beijing.
First appearanceChapter 23
Nickname1. "Pilgrim"
Also known as
  • "Tiger-fighting Hero"
  • Chief Wu
  • Grandmaster Qingzhong
Rank14th, Harm Star (天傷星) of the 36 Heavenly Spirits
Infantry leader of Liangshan
Ancestral home / Place of originQinghe County (in present-day Xingtai, Hebei)
WeaponPair of sabres, staff
Simplified Chinese武松
Traditional Chinese武松
PinyinWǔ Sōng
Wade–GilesWu Sung
Other namesWu the Second (武二郎)

Wu Song (Chinese: 武松; pinyin: wǔ sōng), also known as Wu the Second (武二郎; wŭ èrláng), is a fictional character in Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature. Nicknamed "Pilgrim",[a] he ranks 14th among the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Stars of Destiny. In folk tales, Wu Song is a martial arts student of Zhou Tong and specialises in Chuojiao. He fights well with bang (quarterstaff) or a pair of broadswords.


Wu Song is from Qinghe County (in present-day Xingtai, Hebei). The novel describes him as good-looking with an impressive bearing, shining eyes, thick eyebrows and a muscular body. As his parents died early, he was raised by his dwarfish elder brother, Wu Dalang (武大郎; literally "Wu the Older"), to whom he is very close.

Water Margin[edit]

Wu Song once knocked out a man when drunk. Thinking that he had killed that man, he goes on the run and takes shelter in the residence of the nobleman Chai Jin. He meets Song Jiang there and they become sworn brothers. He decides to go home after learning there is no charge pressed against him.

Slaying the tiger[edit]

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

On his way home, Wu Song passes by a tavern near Jingyang Ridge which puts out a banner that reads "After Three Bowls, Do Not Cross the Ridge" (三碗不過崗), and stops there for a break. The tavern waiter explains that the inn's homebrewed wine is so strong that customers usually get drunk after having three bowls and are unable to cross the ridge ahead. Still sober after drinking three bowls, Wu Song demands for more. By the end of his meal, Wu Song has consumed 18 bowls of wine but still looks steady. He is about to leave when the waiter stops him and warns him about a fierce man-eating tiger on the ridge. Wu Song suspects that the waiter is lying to him so that he would pay to spend the night at the tavern. He ignores the waiter's words and continues his journey, armed with only quarterstaff.

While crossing Jingyang Ridge, Wu Song sees an official notice which convinces him that there is indeed a tiger on the ridge. However, unwilling to lose face to the waiter, he decided not turn back to the inn and pressed on. As he moves on, the wine starts taking effect, so he takes a nap on a big rock. As he is falling asleep, the tiger leaps out from the woods and he awakes in a fright. After narrowly dodging the tiger initially attack three times, Wu Song attempts to fight back but breaks his staff on a tree. Left with no weapon, he summons all his might and manages to pin the tiger face-down into a pit with his arms, then rains blows with his bare fist on the tiger's head. After punching the tiger into unconsciousness, he then picked up his broken staff and whips the tiger further to death. Fearing another tiger might appear, Wu Song then flees the ridge, and runs into some local hunters in the area, who are amazed by his feat. Wu Song thus becomes famous, and the magistrate of the nearby Yanggu County (in present-day Liaocheng, Shandong) offers him the job of chief constable in the county office. Wu Song accepts the job and settles down in Yanggu County, where he runs into his brother Wu Dalang, who has recently moved there.

According to some scripts used in Yangzhou storytelling, particularly the "Wang school", Wu Song's slaying of the tiger took place "in the middle of the tenth (lunar) month" of the "Xuanhe year [1119]".

Avenging his brother[edit]

Wu Dalang brings Wu Song home and introduces him to his wife Pan Jinlian (潘金蓮). Wu Song learns that they had moved to Yanggu County to avoid harassment by their past neighbors. Wu Dalang, who sells flatbread for a living, is a physically ugly dwarf frequently humiliated with the nickname "Three-Inch Nail Tree Bark" (三寸丁谷樹皮) for his short stature, and contrasts starkly in physical appearance to his young and attractive wife Pan Jinlian, who was originally a maid of a rich man and was forced to marry Wu Dalang as punishment for resisting her master's advances. Pan Jinlian is immediately attracted to her more handsome and strong brother-in-law and tries to seduce Wu Song, but he sternly rejects her.

Later, Wu Song accepts an assignment to escort a convoy of gold to the imperial capital Dongjing (present-day Kaifeng, Henan). He returns home two months later and learns that his brother had died and that his body had already been cremated. Wu Song does not believe his sister-in-law's account that his brother died of a sudden illness, and secretly conducts a private investigation. He learns that Pan Jinlian had an adulterous affair with a rich thuggish local merchant Ximen Qing (西門慶), procured by the neighbor teahouse owner Granny Wang (王婆). Informed by a teenage friend named Brother Yun (鄆哥), Wu Dalang had caught Ximen Qing and Pan Jinlian in bed together, but was left injured and bedridden after being kicked hard in the abdomen by Ximen Qing. Abetted by Granny Wang and Ximen Qing so they can continue the affair without Wu Song knowing, Pan Jinlian then murdered Wu Dalang by poisoning his medicine, and Ximen Qing coerced the local coroner to approve a rushed cremation. Wu Song tracks down the coroner, who confesses the truth and that he has also kept some of Wu Dalang's bones as evidence of poisoning. Wu Song then goes to the county office to present his case, bringing along two witnesses. However, the magistrate, who has been bribed by Ximen, dismisses the case citing insufficient evidence.

With legal channels denied, Wu Song takes matters into his own hands. He invites the neighbours, including Granny Wang, for a belated wake. During the wake, he forces Pan Jinlian at knife point to make a full confession about the murder, and then decapitates and disembowels her. He then makes the frightened Granny Wang confess about the murder in front of the neighbors, who are asked to record the confession in writing. He then goes to Lion Restaurant (獅子樓) to confront Ximen Qing and kills him after a fight. After avenging his brother, he goes to the county office to surrender himself, bringing along Granny Wang.

Becoming an outlaw[edit]

The locals all sympathise with Wu Song and plead for leniency on his behalf. While Granny Wang is sentenced to death via lingchi, the magistrate spares him from execution under public pressure and exiles him to a prison camp in Mengzhou. Along the way, Wu Song and the two guards escorting him come by Cross Slope (十字坡; in present-day Fan County, Henan), where they take a rest in Sun Erniang's inn. Wu Song immediately senses Sun Erniang is up to no good and pretends to drinking the wine spiked with drugs and fall unconscious. When Sun Erniang tries to lift him, he easily overpowers her. Just then, Sun Erniang's husband Zhang Qing comes back and stops the fight. The couple apologizes and befriend Wu Song, and hosts him at their inn before seeing him off to Mengzhou.

In the Mengzhou prison, Shi En (施恩), son of the chief warden, has heard of Wu Song's fame and hopes Wu Song could help him seize back his lucrative restaurant Happy Forest (快活林), which has been forcefully taken away by Jiang Zhong (蔣忠), who is nicknamed "Jiang the Door God" for his huge stature and wrestling skill. The restaurant is in fact a facade for collecting protection money from local businessmen and tolls from travelers, but when Jiang was brought over by his friend, the local militia leader Instructor Zhang (張團練), as an enforcer, he beat up Shi En badly and violently took over the enterprise. Shi En finds ways to help excuse Wu Song from mandatory prison beatings, and also ensures Wu Song leads a comfortable life in prison. After knowing why he is so well treated, Wu Song agrees to help Shi En take back the restaurant. He says that his fighting ability is at its peak when he is drunk, so he asks to be served three bowls of wine at every tavern he passes by on his way to the Happy Forest, and by the time he reaches the restaurant has taken an enormous amount of wine. He provokes Jiang Zhong into a fight and soundly defeats the thug with a set of martial arts moves known as "Jade Circle Steps and Mandarin Ducks Kicks" (玉環步,鴛鴦腳). He then orders Jiang to apologise to Shi En, return the restaurant, and leave Mengzhou for good.

Jiang Zhong then collaborates with his friend Instructor Zhang and the local garrison inspector Zhang Mengfang (張蒙方) to take revenge against Wu Song. Inspector Zhang pretends to admire Wu Song for his fighting skill and invites him to stay at his manor. However, it turns out to be a trap when Inspector Zhang frames Wu Song for theft. After getting beaten up and imprisoned for six months, Wu Song is sentenced to exile in another prison camp. Jiang Zhong then bribes the prisoner escorts to murder Wu Song along the way, aided by two of Jiang's disciples. When the group come to Flying Cloud Pool (飛雲浦), Wu Song breaks free of his cangue, overpowers and kills all four assailants. He returns to Inspector Zhang's manor and finds his way to Mandarin Ducks Tower (鴛鴦樓), where the trio — Inspector Zhang, Instructor Zhang and Jiang Zhong — are drinking in waiting for the news of his death. He kills all three of them along with Inspector Zhang's entire family (overall 15 people in Zhang's house), and writes with blood "The killer is Wu Song the tiger-slayer" on a wall before leaving.

After fleeing Mengzhou, he meets Sun Erniang and Zhang Qing again, who advise him to go to Mount Twin Dragons to join the outlaw band there. Sun Erniang suggests that he disguise himself as an unshaven Buddhist pilgrim to avoid being recognised as a wanted fugitive who portraits are posted widely in public. Earlier on, Sun Erniang had butchered a Buddish pilgrim who left behind a Buddhist robe, a necklace of skulls, a headband and a pair of broadswords. Wu Song disguises himself by wearing the robe and letting down his hair as Buddhist pilgrims do to conceal the felon tattoo on his face. He is thus nicknamed "Pilgrim".

On his way to Mount Twin Dragons, he passes by a temple where a priest keeps a kidnapped woman for sexual pleasures. Wu Song kills the priest and his servants, saves the woman, and burns down the temple. Next he comes by a tavern and has a quarrel with Kong Liang, whom he defeats in a fight. Later in the night, with help from his brother Kong Ming and their servants, Kong Liang tracks down Wu Song who is so drunk that he could barely maintain his balance. They overpower him easily and tie him to a tree. Song Jiang, who is a guest at the Kong residence at the time, recognises Wu Song, and asks the Kong brothers to release him, and the Kong brothers and Wu Song become friends. Wu Song reaches Mount Twin Dragons where he joins Lu Zhishen and Yang Zhi.

Campaigns and retirement[edit]

After the battle between the outlaws from Liangshan Marsh and government forces in Qingzhou (in present-day Shandong), Wu Song and the others from Mount Twin Dragons join Liangshan.

Wu Song becomes one of the leaders of the Liangshan infantry after the 108 Stars of Destiny came together in what is called the Grand Assembly. He is one of the few chieftains who vehemently objects to accepting amnesty from the emperor and serving the Song government. Nevertheless, he follows the Liangshan heroes on their campaigns against the invading Liao army and rebel forces on Song territory after they received amnesty from Emperor Huizong.

During the campaign against the rebel leader Fang La, Wu Song is assigned to attack Muzhou (睦州; in present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang), where he fights with Fang La's sorcerer Bao Daoyi. Bao Daoyi uses his magic power to control a sword and slice off Wu Song's left arm. Wu Song is saved by Lu Zhishen. He is one of the few Liangshan heroes who survives the campaign against Fang La. Wu Song refuses to go back to Dongjing as he has no desire to serve the government, and stayed behind to care for a stroke-stricken Lin Chong. He leads the life of a Buddhist recluse in Liuhe Pagoda in Hangzhou until his death at the age of 80.

Jin Ping Mei[edit]

The beginning of Jin Ping Mei 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 for its sexually explicit content, there is nothing sexual about Wu Song in the novel.

Zhou Tong's apprentice[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 spin-off story (Chinese: 书外书; pinyin: Shū Wài Shū; 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 his 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 Song 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 apprentice. 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.[1]

In other media[edit]

Wu Song slays a bully, from a 2014 Peking opera performance by Shanghai Jingju Theatre Company in Tianchan Theatre, Shanghai, China.

Notable actors who have portrayed Wu Song in film and television include: Ti Lung, in The Water Margin (1972), Delightful Forest (1972) and Tiger Killer (1982);[2] Zhu Yanping, in Outlaws of the Marsh (1983); Ding Haifeng, in The Water Margin (1998); Chen Long, in All Men Are Brothers (2011).

The Hong Kong comic Old Master Q also has 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 Song and the original story.

See also[edit]


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