|Water Margin character|
|First appearance||Chapter 60|
|Nickname||"Wanderer" / "Prodigal"
|Rank||36th, Skilful Star (天巧星) of the 36 Heavenly Spirits|
|Infantry leader of Liangshan|
|Origin||Lu Junyi's steward|
|Ancestral home / Place of origin||Daming Prefecture (in present-day Handan, Hebei)|
Yan Qing is a fictional character in Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature. He ranks 36th among the 36 Heavenly Spirits, the first third of the 108 Liangshan heroes, and is nicknamed "Langzi", which translates as "the Wanderer" or "the Prodigal".
The novel describes Yan Qing's appearance as such: a handsome youth over six chi tall, with red lips, thick eyebrows, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He sports flowery tattoos all over his upper torso, which are especially a striking sight on him due to his fair complexion. He has lost his parents at an early age and was raised by the wealthy squire Lu Junyi, who lives in Daming Prefecture (大名府; in present-day Handan, Hebei). In return, Yan Qing serves as one of Lu Junyi's stewards and is very loyal to his master.
Besides being good in martial arts and wrestling, Yan Qing is a talented musician who plays many kinds of instruments and could sing well. With his natural charms and expertise in many fields, such as his knack in learning new tongues, he could blend easily into any environment. All this makes him a perfect candidate for undercover spying missions.
Becoming an outlaw
Lu Junyi falls for a ruse by Wu Yong, the chief strategist of the Liang Shan outlaws, who tricks him into going to the vicinity of the stronghold. Lu brings along his chief steward Li Gu but leaves Yan Qing to take care of the house. A number of the chieftains come down from the stronghold to challenge Lu in duels and lure him to the marsh where capture him. They treat him as a honourable guest and make him stay in Liangshan for an extended period. But Song Jiang releases Li Gu first, lying to him that his master has decided to join them. Wu Yong has also earlier left a poem containing a hidden seditious message on a wall in Lu Junyi's home when he, in the guise of a fortune teller, inveigled Lu to travel towards Liangshan.(see Lu Junyi#Wu Yong's poem). The outlaws eventually allow Lu to leave, seeing that he would not join them. When Lu reaches home, Li Gu, who has an affair with Lu's wife, reports his master to the authorities for collaborating with outlaws and brings soldiers to arrest him. Yan Qing has earlier been expelled from the house after Li Gu returned and while Lu was still in Liangshan. He had been begging on the streets waiting for his master to come home. But when he met Lu as he was approaching home, he failed to convince his master that betrayal awaited him.
Lu Junyi is sentenced to exile on Shamen Island (沙門島; present-day Changdao County, Yantai, Shandong). The guards escorting him there are bribed by Li Gu to finish him off on the way. Yan Qing tails them secretly and shoots the guards, killing them, when they are about to murder his master in a wooded spot. The two head for Liangshan, but Lu Junyi is captured again in an inn when Yan Qing goes looking for food. Yan Qing is at a loss as to what to do next. Just then he runs into Shi Xiu and Yang Xiong, both of them Liangshan outlaws. Shi Xiu promises to save Lu Junyi, leaving Yan Qing and Yang Xiong to rush to Liangshan to seek help. Shi Xiu manages to save Lu Junyi from being beheaded when he storms the execution ground solo, but both are captured and jailed. Song Jiang leads the outlaws to attack Daming Prefecture. After defeating the forces of Daming and then imperial forces sent from the capital, the outlaws infiltrate Daming and rescue Lu Junyi and Shi Xiu.
Yan Qing joins the Liangshan band following after his master. He becomes one of the leaders of the infantry after the 108 Stars have come together in what is called the "Grand Assembly". He participates actively in the battles between the outlaws and imperial forces. He develops a close friendship with Li Kui.
On one occasion, Yan Qing and Li Kui travel to Tai'anzhou (泰安州; around present-day Tai'an, Shandong) to challenge Ren Yuan, an arrogant big-sized wrestler who boasts that no one could beat him in wrestling. Ren Yuan has been the wrestling champion in Tai'anzhou for the past two years. Though outsized, Yan Qing defeats the burly Ren Yuan easily on the wrestling stage. But Ren's men move quickly to seize the trophies. A crowd stampede ensues and Li Kui is recognised by some of the spectators. Upon hearing Li Kui's name called out, soldiers pour into the contest area. Yan Qing and Li Kui are rescued at the city gates by Lu Junyi and some outlaws.
Song Jiang hopes that the imperial court will grant him and his band amnesty and give them a chance to serve the nation. He sends Yan Qing to make contact with Li Shishi, a courtesan whom Emperor Huizong frequently visits incognito. Li Shishi quickly falls for the handsome and debonair Yan Qing, but Yan subtly ignores her sexual hints, keeping focused on his mission. He astutely asks to become her sworn brother, thus squashing all her amorous hopes. The emperor makes a surprise visit to Li Shishi on the same night they meet, and Li lies to him that Yan Qing is her cousin. After entertaining the emperor with ballads, Yan Qing claims that he was a minor bandit in Liangshan for some time, having been caught by the outlaws. Then he speaks on the outlaws' behalf and explains why the previous amnesty mission the emperor sent to Liangshan did not work out. The emperor also writes, at the insistence of Li Shishi, an official pardon that exonerates Yan Qing of all his crimes and grants him immunity should he in future run afoul of the law. After that, Yan Qing and Dai Zong visit Marshal Su Yuanjin, who subsequently puts in a word with the emperor for the outlaws and helps them win a proper amnesty.
Yan Qing follows the heroes on their campaigns against the Liao invaders and rebel forces on Song territory, making great contributions. He is one of the few lucky survivors after the campaign against the rebel leader Fang La. Uninterested in a government career and afraid that Song Jiang will not let him leave, Yan Qing slips away from his Liangshan fellows while they are on the way back to the capital. He leads a reclusive life until the end of his days.
In many popular accounts Yan Qing and Li Shishi become lovers and abscond to some unknown place after the final campaign against Fang La.
Yan Qing is highly skilled with staffs, just like Lu Junyi. He is also an accomplished wrestler. Even Li Kui fears him, having been thumped onto the ground many times by him. Yan Qing's primary weapon is a crossbow and he reputedly needs no more than three arrows when he goes hunting as he is such a lethal marksman. He is also skilled in using a normal bow, and that he demonstrates when he shoots down several birds flying in a flock. Legend has it that the martial art called mizongquan, which the Qing dynasty martial artist Huo Yuanjia was famous for, originates from Yan Qing.
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