The Good-Bad Monk Lu Zhishen

One hundred and eight “heroes” form the main characters in the classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh. Unlucky number 13 is Lu Zhishen, a brash 8-foot-tall giant who loved to drink.

Lu Zhishen was good at being bad, and bad at being good. Originally named Lu Da, this minor government official of Wei County had a knack for getting into trouble—no matter how he tried, he was just bad at being good.

In his town lived an unscrupulous butcher. When the butcher forced a young townswoman to marry him, Lu Zhishen was infuriated. The two got into a fight and Lu Zhishen killed the butcher with three punches. To escape prosecution, he fled to Wutai Mountain and sought refuge in a Buddhist monastery. Upon meeting him, the monastery’s abbot proclaimed: “Even a slight inclination towards goodness is worth a thousand pieces of gold. The Buddha’s law is vast, thus I name you Deep Wisdom (zhi shen).”  

But monastic life was not for him. Lu Zhishen refused to obey the rules, eating meat and getting drunk again and again. The final straw was broken when he accidentally smashed a temple pavilion and some Buddha statues during a drunken rampage. He was banished to a different monastery and placed in charge of the vegetable garden. Soon enough, though, came his first moment of glory—he single handedly subdued 23 thieves, and then, for good measure, uprooted a tall willow tree with his bare hands. He began being hailed as a hero far and wide.

One day, he came across General Lin Chong, who was an instructor in charge of 800,000 imperial guards. The two hit it off and became sworn brothers. But Lin Chong was soon framed by corrupt officials and exiled. When Lin Chong’s escorts tried to slay him in Wild Boar forest, Lu Zhishen suddenly pounced from behind a tree to save Lin Chong—it turns out Lu Zhishen had been secretly protecting him all along. The pair eventually reunited on Mount Liang, along with Song Jiang and the others.


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