Song Jiang (宋江) was the leader of a bandit group in the 12th century, during the Song Dynasty. His group was active in the present-day provinces of Shandong and Henan, before surrendering to government troops. He features as one of the heroes of the classic Chinese novel Water Margin, the leader of an army of bandits on Mount Liang. In the gallant fraternity, he was known as Timely Rain.
Song Jiang in history Editar
Song Jiang is mentioned in the historical texts toward the end of the reign of Emperor Huizong. There is some confusion about his place of birth and his original base of operations. One account, from Piling Ji notes that Song Jiang gathered together fugitives to prey on the roads of Shandong. Another account says that he and his group rose north of the Yellow River and moved south into the Huai River valley. They were said to have invaded some ten commanderies and were evidently regarded as more than merely a nuisance by the imperial court at Kaifeng. A palace memorial by the official Hou Meng survives in the History of Song: "Song Jiang with thirty-six others crosses Qi and Wei (roughly the central belt of the North China Plain) at will. Government troops number several ten thousand, but none dare to oppose him. His ability must be extraordinary. Now that the Qingxi bandits have risen, why not pardon Song Jiang and have him campaign against [the bandit] Fang La to redeem himself." No imperial response is recorded to Hou's suggestion.
Song Jiang's bandits were active in the prefectures of Chuzhou and Haizhou (now in central Jiangsu province) in early 1121. A description of their activities and subsequent defeat by government troops is recorded in the official biography of Zhang Shuye (張叔夜), who was at the time prefectural head of Haizhou:
- Shuye asked his scouts where they had gone; the bandits had made their way to the coast and taken charge of ten huge ships. He then recruited a thousand dare-to-die men and arranged an ambush in a nearby city. Next he sent skirmishers to bring the bandits to battle. The strongest footsoldiers were placed by the sea. When troops from both sides clashed, he had the bandits' ships burned. When the bandits heard of this they lost their will to fight. The troops in ambush struck, capturing many of the bandits. Then Song Jiang surrendered.
Nothing more is known of the historical Song Jiang or his companions after his surrender.
Song Jiang in the Water Margin Editar
Song Jiang's fictional association with Mount Liang is very old. Folk stories in the Mount Liangshan area refer to 'thirty-six big banners and seventy-two small banners' of local bandits, perhaps a reference to the original thiry-six companions of Song Jiang. Song Jiang's appearance was outstanding from normal people, with eyes like those of a phoenix, a big squarish mouth, and a dark complexion. He stood at about six feet, which was quite short as compared to the other heroes. He was known to be very filial and helped those who were in need of help selflessly, which earned him his reputation throughout Shandong Hebei region and the nickname The Timely Rain(及时雨), or The Welcome Rain(呼保义). He was also well-versed in martial arts and literature, and served as an official in Yuncheng Prefecture.
For his benevolence, Song was the popular choice to succeed Chao Gai when the latter died from an arrow wound inflicted by Shi Wen-gong. Once, Song had heard that the officials were after Chao and the band (i.e. Wu Yong, Gongsun Sheng, the Ruan brothers, Liu Tang and Bai Sheng) who robbed the birthday gifts of Cai Jing, and he quickly rode to warn Chao and the others of the danger they were in.
Song Jiang also married Yan Poxi, but she committed adultery by having an affair with Zhang Wenyuan, Song Jiang's assistant. Yan discovered Song Jiang's relationship with Chao Gai and the bandits through a letter from Chao for Song, and threatened to expose him. Song Jiang accidentally killed her while trying to get the letter back. In fact, when he was captured by the government later (see below) for writing a rebellious poem while drunk, his rescue was most well orchestrated, highlighting his importance to the Liangshan cause. Nonetheless, it took some persuading before Song was willing to join the bandits.
Nonetheless, Song Jiang soon escaped to Cangzhou, where Chai Jin lived and sought refuge under him. Then, he travelled on to Qingfeng Fort where his friend, Hua Rong, stayed. Liu Gao, the official in charge of Qingfeng Fort repaid kindness with hatred and had Song Jiang locked up. The bandits from Qingfeng Mountain rescued Song Jiang. Song Jiang decided to return home to visit his father, who was reportedly dying, but was caught by the officials and was exiled to Jiangzhou. And it was here that Song Jiang wrote the poem which had revolutionary undertones and was framed by Huang Wenbing. Song Jiang was sentenced to be executed for opposing the Imperial Court. However, Li Kui and the bandits from Liangshan Mountain stormed the execution ground and rescued Song Jiang. It was then when Song Jiang finally agreed to join the band on Liangshan Mountain.
As one of the most important chieftains, Song led the bandits in conquering the Zhu Family Village, Gaotangzhou, the Zeng Family Village and made great contributions to the Liangshan band. After Chao Gai's death, the Imperial Court made a pact with the Liangshan band and allowed them to go on expeditions against the other rebels.
Hence, it was ironic that Song's constant faith in the government would bring about the disintegration of Liangshan - Song was persistent in obtaining an amnesty from the government, and when he succeeded after, strangely enough, many military campaigns by the government against his men, the Liangshan bandits were ordered to repel both the Liao armies and the rebel Fang La, but at a huge cost. By the time Fang, the last thorn in the government's flesh, was removed, there were only about a third of the 108 heroes left. One only wonders what would have happened if Song had led his men to usurp the throne; something they could have done easily, considering how they defeated the imperial troops effortlessly whenever the latter assaulted their stronghold. Then again, there was, historically, never 108 heroes to begin with. But a parallel act of mercy which turned the fortunes of an empire can find some historical veracity in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, when in the great battle of Chibi, Guan Yu decides to let Cao Cao live - and the kingdom of Shu as we all know was to be destroyed by the kingdom of Wei decades later.
Eventually, Song Jiang, Wu Yong, Hua Rong, Li Kui and the other survivors were either secretely assassinated by the government or chose to commit suicide out of anguish, bringing a rather tragic end to the glorious reign of the Liangshan heroes. Only a small number retired in peace, and even so, it was before the campaigns against the Liao and Fang had begun.
In the Water Margin, Song Jiang is a native of Shandong, and a judge. He is known as the Timely Rain, or the Welcome Rain, depending on which translation one prefers (及時雨), and is responsible for releasing Gao Qiu, the über-villain of the novel, from being killed by Lin Chong, who had sought revenge on Gao after being framed by Gao and lost his family and status earlier in the novel.