|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 (present-day Daming County, Hebei)|
Yan Qing is a fictional character in Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature. Nicknamed "Langzi" (浪子; literally "Wanderer" or "Prodigal"), he ranks 36th among the 36 Heavenly Spirits, the first third of the 108 Stars of Destiny.
The novel describes Yan Qing as a handsome youth over six chi tall, with a fair complexion, red lips, thick eyebrows, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He sports flowery tattoos all over his upper torso. Orphaned as a child, he was raised by the wealthy squire Lu Junyi, who lives in Daming Prefecture. To repay Lu Junyi's kindness, Yan Qing serves as one of his stewards and shows unwavering loyalty towards his master.
Apart from being a highly skilled martial artist and wrestler, Yan Qing is also a talented musician who sings well and plays many instruments. His charming good looks and ability to learn quickly make him a perfect candidate for spying missions.
Becoming an outlaw
On one occasion, Lu Junyi falls for a ruse by Wu Yong, the chief strategist of the outlaw band at Liangshan Marsh, and ends up being captured by the outlaws in a trap. The outlaws treat him respectfully and host him like an honoured guest for an extended period of time at their stronghold. In the meantime, they release Lu Junyi's other steward Li Gu, who has accompanied Lu Junyi to Liangshan Marsh, and tell him that his master has decided to join them.
When Lu Junyi returns home later, he gets arrested and charged with plotting a rebellion against the Song Empire. Earlier on, when Wu Yong visited Lu Junyi, he wrote a poem containing a hidden seditious message on a wall in Lu Junyi's house and lied that it was a prophecy. Li Gu, who has an affair with Lu Junyi's wife, had discovered the hidden message and reported his master to the authorities. When Yan Qing refuses to betray his master, Li Gu and Lu Junyi's wife expel him from the household. Yan Qing meets Lu Junyi when the latter is on his way home from Liangshan and tries to warn him. However, Lu Junyi does not believe him and walks straight into the trap awaiting him at home.
After Lu Junyi is exiled to a prison camp on Shamen Island (沙門島; present-day Changdao County, Shandong), Li Gu bribes the guards escorting him there to finish him off along the way. However, Yan Qing follows them secretly and saves his master when the guards are about to murder him. They decide to make their way to Liangshan. Along the way, a weakened Lu Junyi gets captured by soldiers when Yan Qing goes to look for food. Just as Yan Qing is at a loss on what to do, he encounters Liangshan's Shi Xiu and Yang Xiong, and tells them what happened to his master. Shi Xiu volunteers to save Lu Junyi while Yan Qing follows Yang Xiong back to Liangshan to seek help. Although Shi Xiu manages to save Lu Junyi by storming the execution ground just as Lu Junyi is about to be beheaded, the two men are ultimately overwhelmed and captured by the soldiers. The Liangshan outlaws attack Daming Prefecture later, defeat the government forces, and rescue Lu Junyi and Shi Xiu.
Life at Liangshan
Yan Qing follows suit after Lu Junyi joins the Liangshan outlaw band. He becomes one of the leaders of the Liangshan infantry after the 108 Stars of Destiny come together in what is called the Grand Assembly. He participates in the battles between the outlaws and their enemies such as government forces and hostile private militias.
During his time in Liangshan, Yan Qing forges a close friendship with Li Kui. On one occasion, Yan Qing and Li Kui travel to Tai'anzhou (泰安州; present-day Tai'an, Shandong) to challenge Ren Yuan, an arrogant big-sized wrestler who boasts that no one can defeat him. Ren Yuan has been the wrestling champion in Tai'anzhou for the past two years. Although Yan Qing is smaller in size compared to Ren Yuan, he manages to outsmart the burly wrestler and defeat him in the ring. When Yan Qing was fighting Ren Yuan, some spectators recognised Li Kui as a Liangshan outlaw and reported him to the authorities. A stampede breaks out when soldiers show up at the scene to arrest the outlaws. Yan Qing and Li Kui manage to fight their way out and return to Liangshan safely.
Role in securing amnesty for Liangshan
Song Jiang, the leader of the outlaw band, hopes that the imperial court will grant them amnesty and allow them to serve the Song Empire. After learning that Emperor Huizong has a secret affair with the courtesan Li Shishi, he sends Yan Qing to contact her and ask her to set up a meeting between him and the emperor. Li Shishi falls in love with Yan Qing and tries to seduce him, but he subtly rejects her and astutely asks her to be his sworn sister.
One night, when Emperor Huizong visits Li Shishi, he is surprised to see Yan Qing, whom Li Shishi claims is her cousin. After entertaining the emperor with ballads, Yan Qing reveals his true identity as a Liangshan outlaw, speaks on his fellow outlaws' behalf, and explains to the emperor why the outlaws' previous attempt in seeking amnesty failed. At Li Shishi's insistence, the emperor writes an edict that effectively pardons Yan Qing of any offences he commits, and says he will consider offering amnesty to the outlaws again. After that, Yan Qing and Dai Zong visit Grand Marshal Su Yuanjin, who shows understanding towards the outlaws' plight, and helps them convince Emperor Huizong to grant them amnesty and an opportunity to serve the Song Empire.
After the Liangshan outlaws received amnesty, Yan Qing follows them on their campaigns against the Liao invaders and rebel forces on Song territory, and performs great service to the Song Empire. He is one of the few surviving Liangshan heroes after all the campaigns. Despite his achievements, he does not want to continue serving the imperial court. He worries that his fellow Liangshan heroes will not allow him to leave so he slips away when they are on their way back to the imperial capital to report their victory. He finds Li Shishi, whom he is in love with, and elopes with her.
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