|Suikoden ("The Water Margin")|
Suikoden is the epic 11th century Chinese tale known in English as 'The Water Margin'. It has also been translated as 'The Heroes of the Marsh' and 'All Men Are Brothers'. Suikoden is the Japanese pronunciation; in its native tongue it is known as Shuihu Zhan.
Several versions of the story exist, with the number of chapters ranging from eighty to one hundred and twenty. Although the Suikoden has its origins in oral racontry. It only became a written novel in the fourteenth century. Shih Nai'an is the credited author.
Set in the Northern Song Dynasty (10th century), the story recounts the adventures of Song Jiang (Japanese: Soko), a local government official. Unlike many civil servants of the time, Song Jiang is an honorable and righteous man and secretly uses his position of authority to help those in need - for example the poor, those who cannot afford to pay their taxes, and the wrongly-accused. However, in his efforts to do good he is found out by the authorities and is forced to go on the run and to hide in the marshy swamp area of Liang Shan in Shan Dong Province. On his way he undergoes many trials and tribulations, but he picks up followers and supporters at the same time as his compassion and honor wins him many friends. As word spreads of his fame his gang gradually increases to one hundred and eight members. Since the government regards his men as criminals, Song Jiang becomes a Robin Hood-style figure, protecting the downtrodden and oppressed common people from their cruel rulers.
The translations into Japanese of Shuihu Zhan in the late Edo Period by Okajima Kanzan proved to be some of the most popular stories of all time in Edo. In the story, eight of the heroes are tattooed and this inspired the tattoo fan and Ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi to produce his influential Suikoden print series.