In the introductory chapters of Outlaws of the Marsh, the main characters try to do what they consider right. Marshal Hong was trying to do the right thing when he arrived at the mountain to ask the Divine Teacher to conduct a prayer service to stop the plague. Although Marshal Hong was doing the right thing –saving his people – he did it wrongly. Before sending Marshal Hong to find the Divine Teacher, the abbot warned him: “If you’re not sincere, your trip will be in vain” and “You must never retreat” (Shi and Guanzhong 11). However, all the way up the mountain, Hong complained about his tough way and retreated when the boy on his way told him that the Divine Teacher had already left (Shi and Guanzhong 12). Hong was lucky that the Divine Teacher had left to help his people even though Hong did not fulfill the conditions.
Gao Qiu is the character who managed to improve his position in society. Initially, he was a rogue, but due to his abilities and service, he was appointed “a marshal commanding the Imperial Guards” (Shi and Guanzhong 19). However, instead of becoming a good commander, which would be the right thing, Gao Qiu abused his power to take revenge on his past enemies. Shi Jin was a son of an old man who sheltered one of Gao Qiu’s enemies. Shi Jin defeated the bandits who occupied the nearby mountain and captured one of them. When two other bandits came and asked Shi Jin to turn them over to officials for a reward, Shi Jin refused: “If I turn them in and claim the reward, every stout-hearted fellow in the land will scorn me” (Shi and Guanzhong 29). He tried to do the right thing by letting bandits go and exchanging gifts with them. However, it turned out to be the wrong decision because the sheriff soon came to Shi Jin to arrest him and the bandits.
In contrast to these three characters, Lu Da wanted to do the truly right thing. He helped the old man and his daughter escape from the butcher who abused them and took away their money. After Lu Da made sure that the two left the town, he went to the butcher and beat him to death. Soon, the murder was reported to the commander: “Major Lu Da has, without cause, beaten to death on the street a butcher named Zheng” (Shi and Guanzhong 40). Thus, although Lu Da did the right thing by saving two people, he did it in the wrong way because the butcher’s death could be avoided.
Shi, Nai’an, and Luo Guanzhong. The Outlaws of the Marsh. Translated by Sidney Shapiro, World Public Library, 2013.