Wu Song, nicknamed “Pilgrim”, is a fictional character in the Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He ranks 14th of the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes. According to legend, he is a student of the martial artist Zhou Tong. Wu Song is from Qinghe County (present-day Dongping County, Tai’an, Shandong). He is described as a good-looking man with a muscular body and gives people an impressive bearing. Once, he knocked out a person in a drunken fit. Misunderstanding that he had killed that person, he flees to Chai Jin’s residence for security and meets Song Jiang there. The two later become sworn brothers. He had 3 age in his life;
- Slaying the tiger (in Tiger Killer),
- Avenging his brother (in Tiger Killer),
- and “Becoming an outlaw” (in Delightful Forest and Water Margin).
After he killed the tiger, he had nickname “Tiger Killer”….
Slaying the tiger
On his way home, Wu Song passes by a tavern near Jingyang Ridge, where a large sign reads “Three Bowls Do Not Cross Ridge” (三碗不過崗). This arouses his interest and he stops there for a break. The waiter explains to Wu Song that the wine sold at the tavern is so strong that customers would become drunk after having three bowls and be unable to cross the ridge ahead, hence the sign. Wu Song manages to remain sober after drinking three bowls and he demands that the waiter continue serving him wine even though the latter is reluctant. By the end of his meal, Wu Song had consumed 18 bowls of wine in total and appears tipsy. He is about to leave when the waiter stops him, warning him about the presence of a fierce man-eating tiger at Jingyang Ridge. Wu Song suspects that the waiter is lying to him because he wants him to spend the night there so as to earn extra money, so he ignores the waiter and proceeds with his journey.
While crossing Jingyang Ridge, Wu Song sees a warning sign bearing an official endorsement and is now convinced that there is really a tiger at the ridge. However, he refuses to turn back because he knows he would be scorned and laughed at by the waiter if he did. He moves on and does really encounter a ferocious tiger while trying to take a nap to get over the effect of alcohol. While trying to fend off the beast, Wu Song accidentally breaks his staff, rending himself weaponless. Under the stimulation of alcohol, he ends up slaying the beast by pinning it to the ground and bashing its head repeatedly with his bare fists. Wu Song makes his name for the heroic deed and he is offered the post of a chief constable in Yanggu County. By coincidence, he meets his older brother Wu Dalang (武大郎), who has moved into the town recently.
According to The Oral Traditions of Yangzhou Storytelling, several popular folktales about Wu Song, from the “Wang School” of Yangzhou storytelling, state that he killed the tiger “in the middle of the tenth month” of the “Xuanhe year ” (the emphasis belongs to the original author). Thus, he killed the tiger in the middle of the tenth lunar month of 1119. This date, however, is a fictional one.
Avenging his brother
Wu Dalang brings Wu Song home and introduces him to his wife Pan Jinlian. Wu Song learns that his older brother and sister-in-law had moved to Yanggu to avoid gossip and harassment. Wu Dalang is a short, ugly and physically inferior man previously teased as the “Three-Inch Tree Bark” (三寸丁谷樹皮), while Pan Jinlian is an attractive woman. In the previous town they lived, the neighbors would often call out “a rose placed on a pile of cow dung” (一朵鮮花插在牛糞上) to describe Wu Dalang and Pan Jinlian’s marriage.
Pan Jinlian is attracted to Wu Song and attempts to seduce him. Wu Song rejects her firmly and warns her, “My eyes recognize you as my sister-in-law, but my fists will not recognize you”. He accepts an assignment from the magistrate to transport gold to Dongjing (present-day Kaifeng) to avoid Pan Jinlian’s adulterous advances. Two months later when he returns home, he is shocked to see that his brother died and had been cremated, reportedly from illness.
Wu Song does not believe the story and secretly conducts a thorough investigation. He discovers that Pan Jinlian had an adulterous affair with an influential man named Ximen Qing. Wu Dalang was injured by Ximen Qing when he caught the latter in bed with his wife, and the adulterous pair murdered him later to silence him. Wu Song goes to the county court to present his case, with a blackened bone (suggesting that Wu Dalang was poisoned) from his brother’s cremated body as evidence and two other witnesses (including the coroner who examined the body). However, the magistrate has been bribed by Ximen Qing and he dismisses the case with an excuse of “lack of evidence”.
Denied of proper legal options, Wu Song is forced to take matters into his own hands. He invites the neighbors for a belated wake, including the teahouse owner Granny Wang, who pimped for Ximen Qing and abetted the murder of Wu Dalang. He confronts Pan Jinlian and forces a full confession out of her at knifepoint, before decapitating and disemboweling her in a ritual to avenge his brother. He then coerces Granny Wang to make a statement about the murder in front of the neighbors, before going to Lion Restaurant (獅子樓) to confront and kill Ximen Qing in a fight. After avenging his brother, Wu Song goes to the county office to surrender himself, bringing Granny Wang with him to face justice.
Becoming an outlaw
Because the locals all sympathize with Wu Song, the court ends up sentencing him to face-tattooing and exiled him to a prison in Mengzhou. Wu Song passes by Cross Slope along the way and meets Zhang Qing and Sun Erniang and befriends them. In the Mengzhou prison, the chief warden’s son Shi En helps him get an easy life and they become friends. Shi En owns a restaurant called the Delightful Forest (快活林) but has been forcefully taken by a hooligan called Jiang Zhong, who is nicknamed “Jiang the Door God” for his fighting skills. To repay Shi En’s kindness, Wu Song defeats Jiang Zhong in a fight and helps Shi En take back the restaurant.
Jiang Zhong collaborates with his boss Instructor Zhang and a local official Inspector Zhang to frame Wu Song for theft. Wu Song is arrested and sentenced to exile to Enzhou. The guards escorting him have been bribed by Jiang Zhong to kill him along the way at Flying Cloud Pool, along with two other assassins. However, Wu Song manages to overpower and kill all the assailants before returning to Mengzhou to settle the score. He tracks down Jiang Zhong, Instructor Zhang and Inspector Zhang at Mandarin Ducks Tower (鴛鴦樓) and kills them, along with Inspector Zhang’s entire family. After leaving a note written in blood acknowledging his role in the killings, Wu Song flees from Mengzhou and reaches Cross Slope. Zhang Qing and Sun Erniang help to disguise him as a wandering Buddhist pilgrim to aid his escape. As such, Wu Song is nicknamed “Pilgrim” and becomes an outlaw.
Wu Song goes to Mount Twin Dragons and joins the outlaw band there. He joins Liangshan after the battle at Qingzhou (in present-day Shandong) and becomes one of the leaders of the Liangshan infantry. He follows the heroes on their campaigns against the invading Liao army and rebel forces after they are granted amnesty by the emperor. During the Fang La campaign, Wu Song’s left arm was sliced off by Bao Daoyi during the battle of Muzhou. Luckily, he is saved by Lu Zhishen in time. Wu Song is one of the few survivors of Liangshan after the campaigns but he refuses to take up any official posts despite his contributions. Instead, he goes to Liuhe Pagoda in Hangzhou to practise Buddhism and dies peacefully at the age of 80.