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Sòng Jiāng (宋江) was the leader of a group of bandits who lived during the Song Dynasty in the 12th century. The bandits were active in the present-day provinces of Shandongmarker and Henanmarker before their eventual surrender to the government. Song Jiang is also featured as a character in the Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He ranks 1st of the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes and is nicknamed "Hu Bao Yi" (呼保義).

Song Jiang in history

Song Jiang was mentioned in historical texts dating from the time of the end of the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty. His place of birth and base of operations is disputed. One account from Pi Ling Ji notes that Song Jiang rallies some fugitives to form a bandit army and they attack travellers on the roads of Shandong. Another account from an unknown source states that Song and his bandit group originated from the north of the Yellow Rivermarker and moved south towards the Huai River Valley. They invaded some ten commanderies and were evidently regarded as being more than merely a nuisance by the Song Imperial Court in Kaifengmarker.

A palace memorial by Hou Meng survives in the History of Song, which states: "Song Jiang and 36 others cross Qi and Wei (the central belt of the North China Plain) at will. Government troops number tens of thousands but none dare to oppose him. His abilities must be extraordinary. In the light of Fang La and his bandits from Qingxi, why not grant Song Jiang and his men amnesty and allow them to lead a campaign against Fang La to redeem themselves?" The emperor's response to Hou's suggestion is not recorded.

Song Jiang and his bandits were active in the prefectures of Chuzhou and Haizhou (present-day central Jiangsumarker province) in early 1121. A description of their activities and subsequent defeat by government troops is recorded in the official biography of Zhang Shuye, the Prefect of Haizhou. It states: "Zhang Shuye asked his scouts where thy had gone. They say that the bandits have made their way to the coast and seized control of ten huge vessels. He recruited a 1000 men and planted an ambush in a nearby city. Next, he sent skirmishers to lure the bandits into battle. The best foot soldiers were stationed by the coast. When the armies clashed, the bandits ships were then burnt. When the bandits heard that, they lost their will to fight. The army lying in ambush then attacked and captured many of the bandits. Then Song Jiang surrendered." The historical Song Jiang's eventual fate is unknown after his surrender to the Imperial Court.

Song Jiang in fiction

Song Jiang's fictional association with the Liangshan outlaws has a long history. Folk stories from the Liangshan region speak of "36 huge banners and 72 smaller banners of local bandits", possibly a reference to the original 36 companions of Song Jiang. The Water Margin describes him as having a physical appearance which makes him outstanding from the average person. He has eyes like those of a phoenix, a big squarish mouth and dark complexion. He stands at six feet, relatively short as compared to the other heroes.


Song Jiang is originally a magistrate's clerk in Yuncheng County, Jizhou, Shandongmarker province. He has a reputation for being extremely filial and generous in helping those in need selflessly. As such, he has two other nicknames besides "Hu Bao Yi", being "Timely Rain" (及時雨) and "Filial and Righteous Dark Third Son" (孝義黑三郎). His official nickname in the ranking of the Liangshan heroes, however, remains as "Hu Bao Yi", which is roughly translated to "Protector of Righteousness". Song Jiang is well-versed in literary arts and is portrayed as a scholar. He is also an expert in martial arts as well.

He maintains a close friendship with the constables Zhu Tong and Lei Heng who serve in the same county office as him. Once, he meets Chao Gai of Eastern Creek Village and befriends him. Once, he overhears that Chao and his six companions have robbed the convoy of birthday gifts for the Imperial Tutor Cai Jing and are wanted by the government for that. On account of his friendship with Chao, he distracts the constable He Tao, who has been assigned to arrest the seven men, and speeds off to alert Chao and his friends of the imminent danger. With Song Jiang's help, Chao and the other six men manage to escape and finally find refuge on Liangshan.

Killing Yan Poxi

Song Jiang marries Yan Poxi, who is actually forced by her mother to do so after Song Jiang provided her with financial assistance in the funeral of her deceased father. In fact, Yan Poxi does not love Song Jiang at all. Instead, she loves Zhang Wenyuan, Song Jiang's assistant and has an adulterous affair with him. Chao Gai writes Song Jiang a letter and sends him some gold pieces to express his gratitude to Song after Song helps them escape. However, Yan Poxi discovers the letter and finds out Song Jiang's relationship with the Liangshan outlaws. She threatens to report Song Jiang to the authorities if he does not agree to her three terms; Firstly, Song Jiang must allow her to remarry Zhang Wenyuan. Secondly, Song Jiang must hand over ownership of his house to her. Thirdly, the gold pieces from Chao Gai must become hers. Song Jiang agrees to the first two terms but not the third one as he says that the gold does not belong to him and he intends to return to Chao Gai. They have a brawl over the letter and Song Jiang eventually kills her in anger. He escapes from Yuncheng County after Zhu Tong and Lei Heng release him on account of their friendship and henceforth becomes a fugitive.

Becoming an outlaw

Song Jiang flees to Cangzhou and seeks refuge in Chai Jin's residence. He travels to Qingfeng Fort after that to join his friend Hua Rong. Along the way, Song Jiang befriends the bandits from Qingfeng Mountain and saves the wife of Liu Gao, the official in charge of the fort, from being raped by Wang Ying. However, Liu Gao's wife repays kindness with evil and frames Song Jiang for being in league with the bandits. Song Jiang is arrested and thrown into prison. The Qingfeng bandits help Song Jiang escape and kill Liu Gao and his family for revenge. They follow Song Jiang back to Liangshan but Song Jiang is still reluctant to join Liangshan. He returns home after hearing news that his father had died but is surprised to see that his father is still alive and wants him home as he misses his son.

When he returns home, Song Jiang is arrested again and placed on trial for the murder of Yan Poxi. He is sentenced to face-tattooing and exile in Jiangzhou. He leads an easy life in the Jiangzhou prison after befriending the prison official Dai Zong and Li Kui. In Jiangzhou, Song Jiang is overwhelmed by grief after feeling that he has been henceforth branded as a criminal. He writes a poem instigating rebellion in a drunken stupor and forgets about it. The unscrupulous Huang Wenbing discovers the poem and reports Song Jiang to the governor Cai Jiu. Song Jiang is arrested once again and sentenced to death for opposing the Imperial Court. The Liangshan heroes storm the execution ground and succeed in rescuing Song Jiang from death. Song Jiang finally decides to join Liangshan after that.

As chief of Liangshan

As one of the most important leaders of Liangshan, Song Jiang is often assigned to lead the heroes in the campaigns against the enemies of Liangshan, such as the Zhu Family Village, Gaotangzhou and the Zeng Family Fortress. After Chao Gai's death, Song Jiang becomes the new chief of Liangshan although Lu Junyi, who fulfills Chao's dying wish that whoever who captures Shi Wengong (Chao's killer) becomes the new chief of Liangshan. Lu Junyi strongly refuses to be the leader and Song Jiang takes up the position of chief reluctantly after the other heroes insisted.

Song Jiang holds on strongly to his faith of serving his nation with patriotism and maintains a strong sense of morals. His ideals follow him to the eventual establishment of the Liangshan outlaws' manifesto "Delivering justice on Heaven's behalf", to make the Liangshan outlaws appear as righteous men who are forced to become outlaws due to corruption in the justice system. They seek to serve the nation and be hailed as heroes instead of rebels and outlaws. Song Jiang's dream eventually comes true after the Imperial Court grants the outlaws amnesty.


It is also ironic that Song's constant faith in the government would lead to the disintegration of Liangshan. He is persistent in his belief that the outlaws must obtain amnesty from the government, which he succeeds although the outlaws have inflicted crushing defeats on government troops numerous times. The Imperial Court sends Song Jiang and the outlaws on campaigns to attack the enemies of the nation, such as the Liao invaders and other rebel forces in the south such as Fang La. Song Jiang fulfills his oath of becoming a loyal subject to the nation but the campaigns have also led to the deaths of at least two-thirds of the 108 Liangshan heroes. The majority of the surviving Liangshan heroes either take up their official positions as rewards for their contributions or face tragic ends at the hands of the evil officials in the Imperial Court, such as Cai Jing and Gao Qiu.

Song Jiang assumes office as governor of Chuzhou. However, Cai Jing and Gao Qiu are unhappy with Song Jiang's fate so they plot to have Song Jiang killed. They send Song Jiang a jar of wine in the name of the emperor, which has actually been spiked with poison. Song Jiang is aware and he knows that his death may cause the survivors to rebel against the imperial court to avenge him. He wishes to remain as a loyal subject to the emperor in the eyes of the masses, thus he chooses to end his life by committing suicide by consuming the poisoned wine together with Li Kui. In the last chapter of the Water Margin, the Emperor Huizong meets the dead heroes of Liangshan in his dream, who seek him to redress their grievances. The emperor awakes from his dream and orders a investigation into the deaths of the heroes, redressing their grievances and posthumously granting them honorific titles.

See also

  • Song Jiang's storyline for a list of supporting minor characters from Song Jiang's storyline in the Water Margin.

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