The legend of Tang Saier

Authored by: Kenneth M. Swope

The Ming World

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138190986
eBook ISBN: 9780429318719
Adobe ISBN:


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The long history of imperial China is replete with tales of peasant rebels. As long as the odds were for the success of popular uprisings, when times became desperate enough, people would often choose to challenge the authorities, some even with the aim of replacing those figures. And though the cases of truly successful peasant uprisings are relatively few, their example encouraged myriad others. Of course, the Ming was both founded and toppled by peasant rebels. 1 As in other parts of the world, these rebels occupied different, and often conflicting positions in popular culture. While some, such as Li Dingguo discussed below, were canonized as heroes and immortalized in popular stories, plays, and folklore, most were branded enemies of the state, and challengers to the proper and rightful social order. Perhaps the most famous example of the former are the heroes of the Ming dynasty novel Shui hu zhuan, usually translated as The Water Margin, which depicts the exploits of a group of 108 Robin Hood-like bandits struggling against corrupt Song (960–1279) dynasty officials. 2 These characters later became among the most beloved figures in Chinese folklore and are still depicted today in comic books, television shows, and popular opera performances.

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