An evil ruler has imposed a tyrannical reign of terror over his impoverished subjects. An intrepid band of resourceful men and women, driven into hiding, have formed themselves into an outlaw army dedicated to restoring the rule of law and justice. If this seems eerily like Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, forget about Sherwood Forest and look halfway around the globe: this story takes place in twelfth-century China. Written by Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong, and magnificently translated by Sidney Shapiro, "Outlaws of the Marsh" is a stirring tale about the struggles of common people standing up for themselves against an overpowering oppression.
Chinese history tells us that the outlaws of the Shantung Province marshes really existed; the story that comes down to us is based on their legendary exploits during the reign of the Sung emperor from 1101 to 1125. Sidney Shapiro's translation, neither too formal nor overly colloquial, preserves the original vernacular and brings the book vividly to life, while preserving such typically Chinese features as the double-sentence chapter headings, and chapter endings telling the reader to "Read the next chapter if you would know" what is about to happen next.
The book is a rousing, old-fashioned action/adventure story, with lots of blood, gore, and battle scenes. Sagacious Lu, Stumpy Tiger Wang, and the other marsh outlaws are no angels, any more than Robin Hood, Little John and the other Sherwood Forest gang were, but they represent the good guys as brothers in arms against a corrupt government. "Outlaws of the Marsh" has been adapted into films, picture books, puppet shows, and at least one American novel called "All Men are Brothers" by Pearl S. Buck. Children all over China know the heroes of this story by heart. Sidney Shapiro gives us a great gift in bringing their exploits to the English-speaking world.