From “Outlaws of the Marsh” to Chen Guangcheng: What Hasn’t Changed in China

Recently, I have been watching the Chinese TV series “All Men Are Brothers,” a 2011 TV production based on the classic Chinese literature Outlaws of the Marsh (Water Margin is another translation). This historic fiction is set in the 11th century in China during the Song Dynasty. A group of good men and women were being forced into a life as outlaws by injustice in society.

Some of them were persecuted by evil officials. Others were victims of local thugs and rebelled. Yet there were others who took justice into their own hands and broke the law. Eventually, 108 of them (including three women) gathered at Liang Mountain to form an outlaw society. Known as heroes of Liang Mountain, they robbed the rich and helped the poor, and vowed to “do justice on Heaven’s behalf.”

Revisiting this epic novel in a TV series, I was struck by how relevant the stories are to today’s China. Despite the dramatic changes in recent years, much of China hasn’t changed at all. Every single story in “All Men Are Brothers” seems to be repeating itself in contemporary China – common people who are powerless and subject to abuse by villains, petty-minded officials who have gained high powers, upright people who find themselves running afoul of the authorities. Continue reading