The Wu Song Project so far constitutes the largest collection of the Research Database on Chinese Storytelling. It functions as a reservoir of materials for the book Wu Song Fights the Tiger. The Interaction of Oral and Written Traditions in the Chinese Novel, Drama and Storytelling by Vibeke Børdahl, NIAS Press, Copenhagen 2013. Textual, auditory and visual versions of the sources for this study are here available in a number of different formats in order to facilitate future studies, see Item Formats. The core materials of the tale of Wu Song Fights the Tiger are analyzed into a number of categories, and linguistic and narrative differences between the various versions are uncovered. A set of textual features are demonstrated through entries that are special to this collection, see below.

The Wu Song project


The Wu Song project is based on a collection of the tale of “Wu Song Fights the Tiger” found in a variety of versions in novel, drama and performed narrative arts. The overall aim of the project is to explore the interplay of oral and written culture in China.

The main focus is on the linguistic form of the tale, in written, semi-oral and oral sources, old and new. The aim is to show the intertextual relation between a number of ‘instances’ of the tale, both as words of performance (oral texts) and as words of written texts. The project has a broad synchronic and diachronic framework, encompassing oral performances on tape, CD and videos, as well as written texts, including novels and dramatic versions, see Contents.

The research database connected to the project is created with a view to several purposes: 1) to uncover the special linguistic and narrative forms of the various instances of the ‘Wu Song and tiger’ tales; 2) bring out the contrastive patterns that become apparent from the categorization and comparison of a number of features of the tale.

The following features are registered in the database: textual unit, storyline, prose/verse, narrator type, stock phrases, fixed phrases, proper names, see System.

The database facilitates a comparative study of a large textual corpus, not only within the categories that have been designed for this project, but also for further research—in particular since the entire corpus of texts are made available for searching and indexing both in Chinese and in English. In the English translations passages that are identical in several instances of the tiger tale are also rendered in identical wordings, so that it is even possible—even if subject to some uncertainty—to search for special phraseology in the translated versions.


The Wu Song Project Collection includes a number of texts—oral and written—all containing narratives belonging to the saga of Wu Song 武松 which is part of the larger saga of the Water Margin, Shuihu 水滸. The core material of the collection is the tale of “Wu Song Fights the Tiger”, Wu Song da hu 武松打虎, in versions from novel, drama and storytelling (also called ‘performed narrative arts’). This material is explored in the book-length study Wu Song Fights the Tiger. The Interaction of Oral and Written Traditions in the Chinese Novel, Drama and Storytelling by Vibeke Børdahl, NIAS Press, Copenhagen 2013.

The earliest extant version of the Water Margin saga is found in the plaintale, pinghua 平話, Xuanhe yishi [Legends of the Xuanhe Era] 宣和遺事, ca.1300. This version only contains a few of the stories that were assembled to form the novel. Only with the novel was the name of Water Margin, Shuihu zhuan, established, but many of the stories circulated already earlier. For this reason one can speak of a Water Margin complex of stories or story-cycle, even before the novel had taken form. In Xuanhe yishi Wu Song is mentioned among the band of outlaws of the Liangshan moors, but nothing further is told about his adventures. The text is, however, a highly interesting document in the history of Chinese storytelling and the rise of the novel.

The tale about Wu Song and the tiger , also called ‘the tiger tale’, is extant in early editions of the novel Water Margin Shuihu zhuan 水滸傳 in both ‘simple editions’, jianben 簡本, since the late 16ncentury, , and ‘full editions’, fanben 繁本, since 1610. Three Shuihu zhuan editions of the tiger tale are discussed in BØRDAHL 2013 (mentioned above), but more editions are available in the database. The version of the tiger story found in the first chapter of Jin Ping Mei cihua (1617) is considered along with the other novel editions.

The tiger tale belongs to the repertoire of Yuan drama, zaju 雜劇, but only the title survives. From the Ming period drama versions are extant since the late sixteenth century in the ‘plays of the marvellous’, chuanqi 傳奇 drama, and later in a number of local and national drama genres. A number of drama versions are analyzed in the study, and more drama texts are available in the database.

The tale has been a highly favoured subject of the ‘telling and singing arts’, shuochang yishu 說唱 藝術, since the early sixteenth century, as described by eyewitness accounts of the performances of the legendary storyteller Liu Jingting 柳敬亭 (1592- 1674). It is preserved in a number or oral related texts since the nineteenth century to the present.

From the later half of the twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first century the material includes performance versions from a number of shuochang genres, recorded in oral form on audio- and videotape, or purchased as cassette-tape or CD and DVD. A selection of these recordings is available on the database.