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Alistair Rennie
Posted on Sunday, October 02, 2005 - 03:42 pm:   

OK, this is my desperate attempt to find out more and clarify details about this amazing series.

For those who don't know, the Water Margin is simply the best thing that has ever been made for TV or film--ever; and that's all there is to say about it. But, I'd love to know some things which I can't, due to my own inadequacies, find out, which are these:

1) The Water Margin is an ancient Chinese book or novel or collection of legends or a mytholoy (what is it?!!). What *is* The Water Margin? Can someone explain and point me in the right direction as to what it is and its origins and so on?

2) Any info on the production of the series would be most welcome, if only for the hell of it. Lin Chung, for example. Who was that brilliant actor who played his part? What a man.

So, can anyone help me get to the bottom of the Water Margin?

Remember:

"Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who's to say it will not become a dragon?"

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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, October 02, 2005 - 11:21 pm:   

Alistair -

You should read the book. I think you will find it better than the TV series. The book is actually called "Water Margin" though, not "The Water Margin." It is also sometimes called "Men of the Marshes". The title simply refers to the watery marshes where the bandit stronghold (Liang Shan Po) was situated.
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Alistair
Posted on Monday, October 03, 2005 - 05:03 am:   

Many thanks, Brendan. This is exactly my intention, to read the book. As far as I know, the book actually comes in a couple of versions, one with more chapters I think. Any idea which edition is the best for reading, or am I mistaken here?



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Brendan
Posted on Monday, October 03, 2005 - 09:10 pm:   

Umm. I think there are a couple of versions. The one I have on hand is called Water Margin and is a big book. I seem to recall reading a different version a long time ago. I dont know how they compare though. The translation is a bit stilted, but it is still fun once you get into it. It is a long book. But it has to be to really understand the story which is quite complex.
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Alistair
Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - 04:43 am:   

Thanks again, Brendan. It's the different versions that's been confusing me, which was one of the things that prompted me to ask around here. I'll definitely get hold of it in some shape or form. The different titles I came across also confused me, so thanks for clarifying that they are indeed one and the same thing.

If anyone can offer any other info, I'd be most grateful, though it seems that knowledge of the matter is pretty scare.

Ach well, you can't win 'em all.
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Brendan
Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - 11:13 pm:   

The translation I have on my shelf is by J. H. Jackson. You could try that one.
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Alistair Rennie
Posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2005 - 05:00 am:   

Ah, this has enabled me to get somewhere, so thanks yet again, Brendan. I came across this description of Jackson's edition:

"The stories of the Water Margin were originally folk tales that appeared in the late Yuan dynasty as a novel. Created mainly by Shih Nai-an and Lo Kuan-chung, Water Margin is about the peasant revolts that took place during the Northern Sung Dynasty. It is about conflicts between two classes in a feudal society; one side comprising an incompetent royalty, corrupt officials and local tyrants, and the other comprising the revolting masses. The work elevates the heroes' personalities and ethics to a sublime level, and creates the first batch of heroes who truly relate to the masses in the history of Chinese novels."

And I also came across this, which reveals that there have been no less than three different translations, all with different titles. No wonder I was confused.

"Shi Nai’an and Lo Kuan-chung, *Shui hu chuan*, written 14th century; as *All Men are Brothers*, translated by Pearl S. Buck, 2 vols, 1933; also as *Water Margin*, translated by J.H. Jackson, 2 vols, 1937; reprinted, 1968; also as *Outlaws of the Marsh*, translated by Sidney Shapiro, 3 vols, 1980".

And, from here, I've been able to find out everything else I wanted to know, so all's well that ends well.

Cheers, Brendan.

Alistair

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Charlie Finlay
Posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2005 - 06:58 pm:   

The Water Margin is my favorite translation, if that's the one published in Shanghai originally, because there's so much in it that's just so damn foreign, and the narrative structure strikes me as very non-Western. There are hints all throughout it too of numerology, as though it's written in code to inspire "present day" rebels during the time period it was written. The Shapiro translation didn't make the same impression on me, although I remember great footnotes that talked about the ambiguity of certain passages. I have a copy of the Pearl Buck translation, in one of those elegant slip-covered editions, and it makes much more sense as a story than Jackson's version, but I felt that she had probably westernized it, especially structurally.

Mao carried a copy of The Water Margin with him on The Long March, and often read from it during the journey at night when he couldn't sleep. It's very interesting to read a historical account like Dick Wilson's Long March against a copy of The Water Margin and see how much the men under Mao were inspired to be heroes like those in the book.

I haven't heard anything about the series, but it'd make for great wire-fu adventure.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, October 06, 2005 - 12:01 am:   

I would forget about the Pearl S Buck translation. The newer Shapiro one might be good as the Jackson one does have some funny English. The book was written by Shih Nai-an. He wrote the whole thing. It might be "based" on folk tales, but it is mostly his own creation.
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Alistair
Posted on Friday, October 07, 2005 - 02:27 pm:   

I think I'll go for the Jackson "Water Margin" version, and maybe get hold of the Shapiro translation as well. I'd certainly prefer to read the most non-westernized version, which sounds like the most intriguing.

That's fascinating what you're saying about Mao having a copy by his side on the Long March. It reminds me of Napoleon who apparently kept a copy of James MacPherson's apocryphal tales of "Ossian" beside him to perk him up a little between battles.

As for the series, it certainly was a thrilling wire-fu extravaganza in many ways, a bit dated by today's standards, but still very much ahead of its time. It is, however, fairly complex for a tv series. There's a lot of emphasis on the characterisations, a lot of comedy close on the heels of tragedy, and the narrative is riddled with some very appealing ambiguities. Lin Ch'ung himself is portrayed as no straightforward pristine hero figrue. There are moments when he loses it altogether and lets loose the full extent of his fury, and other times when he's overcome with disillusion, and other such things. There's a lot of dramatic tension throughout the whole thing, to the point that the action sequences, though crucial, are generally secondary. It's beautifully made and well worth looking into if you have the chance, Charlie.

Much obliged to you both. I was starting to think I was chasing a lost cause. Info on the web is bewilderingly scarce on the Water Margin, whether it's the book or the series. So this is priceless.



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Brendan
Posted on Friday, October 07, 2005 - 08:31 pm:   

You should also consider reading "Journey to the West" in the 4 volume edition. It is another book you would definately like if you are into this sort of thing.

By the way, wasn't the TV series actually Japanese? I think so...
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Brendan
Posted on Friday, October 07, 2005 - 08:33 pm:   

Oh yes - and probably Jackson's is the most "non-westernised". Like I said - sometimes the narative is not even in quite proper English.
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Charlie Finlay
Posted on Friday, October 07, 2005 - 11:49 pm:   

Oh yes - and probably Jackson's is the most "non-westernised".

That's what I like about Jackson's. I remember Shapiro being very scholarly but lacking spark -- I'd use it as a supplement for understanding one of the other two versions, but wouldn't read it for pleasure by itself.

All this is making me want to go pick them up and reread them again.
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, October 08, 2005 - 06:18 am:   

Yes, I think you're right, Brendan. According to the sleevenotes for the dvds, the series was made as a joint production between Japan and, wait for it, the BBC! For the life of me I can't work out that one, how a classic Chinese novel is adapted to tv by Japan and Britain. I also suspect that the whole cast of actors in the series are Japanese rather than Chinese and that they may well be familiar names and faces to a Japanese audience.

"Journey to the West" is something I'll defintely check out. I'll have a look round and, if I have any questions, will save them for later.

I think part of the attraction of seeking this stuff (which was evident in the tv series) is the sheer dignity of the story telling. There's surely a perfection to be reached in telling stories which is, of course, almost impossible to reach--the perfection of combining simplicity with complexity to the extent that you never lose sight of the aims of the story and never lose sight of the anticipations or expectations of the readers/audience. Looking at it this way, the Water Margin tv series is the most perfect I've ever seen for the tv/film medium, which naturally led me to suspect that the same might be true of the book in relation to literature.

The Jackson version, with the obscure english, definitely sounds like the one to aim for. I'll get hold of it and keep you posted as regards how I get on. I also want to get the Shapiro edition. It sounds like using it as a supplement is a good idea.

Crikey, I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into it.
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, October 08, 2005 - 11:49 am:   

I hope you enjoy it Alistair!
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, October 15, 2005 - 02:16 pm:   

Jeezus! I'm having difficulty finding the Jackson version. Would you believe it! But it doesn't seem to be available on amazon or anywhere else. Looks like I might have to settle for the Pearl Buck version first off.

I'm starting to feel that my search for the Water Margin is becoming a kind of symbolic embodiment of the Water Margin itself. Which, I suppose, might be a good thing. Or, at least, character building.

But, I'm troubled. Reading the right translation is such an important thing.
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Charlie Finlay
Posted on Saturday, October 15, 2005 - 02:58 pm:   

If my memory's correct, the Jackson translation was printed in Shanghai by the foreign language press. That may make it harder to come by.

I think there are merits to all the versions I've read, and you're likely to find something to enjoy in each.
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Alistair Rennie
Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2005 - 02:37 pm:   

Thanks, Charlie. In that case, I'll just go for what I can get. I'll let you know how I get on.

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Brendan
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2005 - 12:00 am:   

Alistair - Don't get the Pearl S. Buck version!

It is probably abridged. Go to www.bookfinder.com and type in Water Margin. There are some choices. You might end up with a used copy - but hey, you will at least have the real deal. I see the Jackson version there 36 US dollars ( http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BookDetailsPL?bi=295245266 ).
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Brendan
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2005 - 12:02 am:   

Actually, this one is better - better condition, and, if you live in the UK, less on shipping:

http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BookDetailsPL?bi=557762352
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Alistair
Posted on Tuesday, October 18, 2005 - 10:37 am:   

Yes! This'll do very nicely indeed. Many thanks yet again, Brendan.

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