Have been reading WATER MARGIN
This is a medieval chinese book that is, supposedly, about a group of virtuous bandits that gather together in a marsh, in opposition to the vicious and corrupt officials of the Song Dynasty. However, I wonder if any of the people who describe the bandits this way have actually read the book, because actually the bandits are quite vicious and amoral!
For instance, in the episode I’m reading right now, one of the bandits, Wu Song, comes to an inn where the innkeeper and his wife specialize in drugging their guests, killing them, and then slicing them up and cooking them into dumplings. Wu Song foils their plot and is on the verge of killing the wife of the innkeeper, but then the innkeeper is like, “Oh, Wu Song! We’ve heard of you! You’re the guy who killed the tiger! I can’t believe my wife tried to kill you!” And then they wine him and dine him and he becomes great friends with them! And they send him off with presents! And he just leaves them behind to ply their bloody trade!!!!
Now, Wu Song is definitely one of the more banditty of the bandits, but even the ostensibly more-heroic ones will sometimes do terrible things. For instance, one of them murders his concubine in cold blood! She’s trying to blackmail him, but still, it’s awful. And you can’t tell me that this sort of thing was simply accepted in ancient China, because the officials in his town do try to prosecute him, and he has to pull all kinds of shenanigans to wiggle out of the grasp of the way.
But then, that’s what makes the novel good, in the end. There’s a weird, complex system of morality here. The officials _are_ corrupt and the dynasty _is_ weak, but these people are not the saviors that they’re made out to be. They’re more of a symptom of the decay than they are a solution to it.