Chinese Storytelling Research Database
The Wu Song Project


The Wu Song Project Collection includes a number of texts—oral and written—all containing narratives belonging to the saga of Wu Song 武松 which is part of the larger saga of the Water Margin, Shuihu 水滸. The core material of the collection is the tale of “Wu Song Fights the Tiger”, Wu Song da hu 武松打虎, in versions from novel, drama and storytelling (also called ‘performed narrative arts’). This material is explored in the book-length study Wu Song Fights the Tiger. The Interaction of Oral and Written Traditions in the Chinese Novel, Drama and Storytelling by Vibeke Børdahl, NIAS Press, Copenhagen 2013.

The earliest extant version of the Water Margin saga is found in the plaintale, pinghua 平話, Xuanhe yishi [Legends of the Xuanhe Era] 宣和遺事, ca.1300. This version only contains a few of the stories that were assembled to form the novel. Only with the novel was the name of Water Margin, Shuihu zhuan, established, but many of the stories circulated already earlier. For this reason one can speak of a Water Margin complex of stories or story-cycle, even before the novel had taken form. In Xuanhe yishi Wu Song is mentioned among the band of outlaws of the Liangshan moors, but nothing further is told about his adventures. The text is, however, a highly interesting document in the history of Chinese storytelling and the rise of the novel.

The tale about Wu Song and the tiger , also called ‘the tiger tale’, is extant in early editions of the novel Water Margin Shuihu zhuan 水滸傳 in both ‘simple editions’, jianben 簡本, since the late 16ncentury, , and ‘full editions’, fanben 繁本, since 1610. Three Shuihu zhuan editions of the tiger tale are discussed in BØRDAHL 2013 (mentioned above), but more editions are available in the database. The version of the tiger story found in the first chapter of Jin Ping Mei cihua (1617) is considered along with the other novel editions.

The tiger tale belongs to the repertoire of Yuan drama, zaju 雜劇, but only the title survives. From the Ming period drama versions are extant since the late sixteenth century in the ‘plays of the marvellous’, chuanqi 傳奇 drama, and later in a number of local and national drama genres. A number of drama versions are analyzed in the study, and more drama texts are available in the database.

The tale has been a highly favoured subject of the ‘telling and singing arts’, shuochang yishu 說唱 藝術, since the early sixteenth century, as described by eyewitness accounts of the performances of the legendary storyteller Liu Jingting 柳敬亭 (1592- 1674). It is preserved in a number or oral related texts since the nineteenth century to the present.

From the later half of the twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first century the material includes performance versions from a number of shuochang genres, recorded in oral form on audio- and videotape, or purchased as cassette-tape or CD and DVD. A selection of these recordings is available on the database.