The Water Margin, Moral Criticism, and Cultural Confrontation

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 16 (1):95-111 (2017)
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Abstract

The Water Margin is one of the four great classical novels of China. It describes how people from different walks of life were driven to become outlaws as a result of poor governance and widespread corruption. These outlaws have been regarded by some commentators as heroes, despite the fact that they perform wanton killing, over retribution, and cannibalism. Liu Zaifu 劉再復 argues that the novel has contributed to the moral downfall of the Chinese people. In this essay, I put forward various arguments in objection to Liu. I think Liu’s argument is unsound, partly because he fails to address the nature of the cultural confrontation between modern readers and The Water Margin. By conducting an evaluation of Liu, I also consider a range of issues concerning how we may understand The Water Margin, and how the novel may morally relate to us in modern society.

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