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.
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
Infantry leader of Liangshan
Origin Constable
Ancestral home / Place of origin Qinghe County (in present-day Xingtai, Hebei)
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",[a] 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 archer Zhou Tong and he specialised in Chuojiao, Ditangquan, and the use of the staff.

In Water Margin[edit]


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

Wu Song once knocked a man unconscious in a drunken rage and mistakenly thought that he had killed that man. He goes on the run to avoid arrest and takes shelter in the residence of the nobleman Chai Jin. He meets Song Jiang there and becomes sworn brothers with him. He makes his journey home later after Song Jiang left.

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, 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 usually get drunk after having three bowls and are unable to cross the ridge ahead, hence the sign. Wu Song is still sober after drinking three bowls and he demands that the waiter continue serving him wine. 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 and warns him about 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 to earn extra money, so he ignores the waiter and continues on his journey.

While crossing Jingyang Ridge, Wu Song sees an official warning sign and is now convinced that there is really a tiger at the ridge. However, he refuses to turn back because he knows that the waiter will laugh at him if he did. He moves on and later takes a nap on a rock to get over the effect of alcohol. Later during the night, he wakes up to find a fierce tiger appearing out of the forest. After narrowly evading the initial three charges from the beast, Wu Song attempts to fight back, but accidentally breaks his staff and renders himself weaponless. Under the influence of alcohol, he ends up slaying the tiger by pinning it to the ground and bashing its head repeatedly with his bare fists before finishing it off by beating it with his broken stick. He becomes famous for his heroic deed. The local magistrate of the nearby Yanggu County (in present-day Liaocheng, Shandong) offers him the job of a chief constable in the county office as a reward for his achievement. Wu Song accepts and settles down in Yanggu County, where he meets his elder brother, Wu Dalang, who has recently moved there.

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).[1] 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 by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Wu Dalang brings Wu Song home and introduces him to his wife, Pan Jinlian. Wu Song learns from them that they had moved to Yanggu County because they wanted to avoid gossip and harassment by their neighbours. Wu Dalang and Pan Jinlian's physical appearances are in stark contrast to each other: Wu, who was called "ugly", is nicknamed "Three-Inch Tree Bark" (三寸丁谷樹皮); Pan is beautiful and attractive. In the previous town where they lived, the townsfolk often used the phrase "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 tries to seduce him, but he rejects her sternly and warns her, "My eyes recognise you as my sister-in-law, but my fists may not recognise you." He accepts an assignment from the magistrate to transport gold to the imperial capital, Dongjing (東京; present-day Kaifeng, Henan), to avoid Pan's sexual advances. He returns home two months later and is shocked to discover that his brother had died, apparently from illness, and his body had already been cremated.

Wu Song does not believe the account and secretly conducts a thorough investigation. He learns that Pan Jinlian had an adulterous affair with an influential rich man, Ximen Qing. Wu Dalang caught Ximen and Pan in bed together, but was left bedridden after Ximen kicked him hard in the abdomen. Ximen and Pan then murdered Wu Dalang by poisoning his medicine after he threatened to tell Wu Song about their adulterous affair. Wu Song goes to the county office to present his case and brings along two witnesses. However, the magistrate has been bribed by Ximen Qing, so he dismisses the case with the excuse that there is insufficient 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 played a role in Wu Dalang's murder. He confronts Pan Jinlian and forces a full confession out of her at knife-point, before ritually decapitating and disembowelling her. He also coerces Granny Wang to make a statement about the murder in front of the neighbours. 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 and brings along Granny Wang to face justice.

Becoming an outlaw[edit]

The locals sympathise with Wu Song and plead for leniency, so the magistrate spares him from execution and sentences him to face-tattooing and exile to a prison camp in Mengzhou. Wu Song passes by Cross Slope (十字坡; in present-day Fan County, Puyang, Henan) along the way and meets Zhang Qing and Sun Erniang and befriends them. In the Mengzhou prison, the chief warden's son, Shi En, befriends him and helps him get a comfortable life in prison.

Shi En used to own a restaurant which was forcefully taken away from him by a powerful hooligan, Jiang Zhong, who is nicknamed "Jiang the Door God" for his large stature and fighting skills. Wu Song is eager to repay Shi En for his kindness so he agrees to help him take back the restaurant. He says that his fighting ability is at its peak when he is drunk, so he asks to stop by every tavern along the way and drink three bowls of wine. By the time he arrives at the restaurant, he has already consumed an enormous amount of alcohol but is only partially drunk. He provokes Jiang Zhong, fights with him, and defeats him in single combat with a set of martial arts known as "Jade Circle Steps and Mandarin Ducks Kicks" (玉環步,鴛鴦腳). He orders Jiang Zhong to apologise to Shi En, return the restaurant, and leave Mengzhou for good.

Jiang Zhong collaborates with his friend, Instructor Zhang, and a local official, Inspector Zhang, to frame Wu Song for theft. Wu Song is arrested and sentenced to exile to a further prison camp. The guards escorting him have been bribed by Jiang Zhong to murder him along the way at Flying Cloud Pool (飛雲浦). 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 and Inspector Zhang's entire family. He writes "Wu Song is the killer" in blood on a wall near the scene and flees from Mengzhou. He arrives at Cross Slope, where he meets Zhang Qing and Sun Erniang again. They help him disguise himself as a wandering Buddhist pilgrim and suggests to him to take shelter at the outlaw stronghold on Mount Twin Dragons (二龍山). Wu Song is thus nicknamed "Pilgrim".

Campaigns and death[edit]

After the battle between the outlaws from Liangshan Marsh and imperial forces in Qingzhou (in present-day Shandong), Wu Song and the others from Mount Twin Dragons follow the outlaws back to Liangshan and join the outlaw band there.

Wu Song 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 invading Liao army and rebel forces after they have been granted amnesty by Emperor Huizong.

During the campaign against the rebel leader Fang La, Wu Song is assigned to attack the enemy in Muzhou (睦州; in present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang), where he encounters and fights with Fang La's sorcerer, Bao Daoyi. Bao Daoyi uses his magic powers to control a sword and slice off Wu Song's left arm. Wu Song is saved by Lu Zhishen in time before Bao Daoyi could kill him. He is one of the few surviving Liangshan heroes after they achieve the final victory over Fang La. While the survivors make their way back to the capital to report their victory to the imperial court, Wu Song declines to join them because he does not wish to continue serving the government, which he perceives to be corrupt. He goes to Liuhe Pagoda in Hangzhou and practises Buddhism for the rest of his life until his death 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.[1]

In other media[edit]

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. ^ a b Børdahl, Vibeke (1996). The Oral Traditions of Yangzhou Storytelling. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-0436-1. 
  2. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084922/