“So, this is actually a very famous story, and I am going to give you the 20 seconds version of it. Basically, there are a bunch of guys, they are like Robin Hood, right? Basically they, they, they rob the rich, give to the poor, stuff like that. There are actually a bunch of them, 108 of them. Um, then, you know, their plans grow bigger because, you know, the government at that time was very weak, uh, but then they decide to join the government because there are some uh other nations, people from other ethnicities, whatever, trying to invade China, so they decide to join the government to help the government fight and most of them die in that fight, that’s basically it.”
The informant is a 19 year old, undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, studying accounting. He was born and lived in Shanghai, China for most of his life. He spent his high school years at a boarding school in Connecticut, before coming to college in California. He still spends his summers back in China, where he likes writing music and working on potential future business projects.
The informant provided this story after being asked what is an urban legend of China, something that sounds like history but may not entirely be true. He has heard this story a number of times from friends or family members, and it has had a few books written based on it.
The informant, being well-versed in Western urban legends, immediately compares this story to Robin Hood, the whole idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. This idea is very popular in urban legends and even contemporary popular culture. There is Robin Hood, an outlaw, often previous lord, goes on daring pursuits to retaliate against the high taxes of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood is often described as charming, witty, good with the ladies, everything a man should be. There have been many Western spinoffs and movies made based off of his story. There is also the Tv Show Leverage, which brings the practice of stealing from the rich to give to help the poor to modern situations. This idea is clearly just as popular in Chinese culture as in many other cultures, because of its ideals of stopping corruption and even the stratification of the classes. The stratification between classes is an incredibly important in China, as the government is largely based in the ideals of communism.
In the Chinese story, the members of this group are willing to give up their valiant goals aside when China itself is threatened. This adds another layer to the ideals of China. It is alright to fight the government during peacetime and when it is in the wrong, but if the entire nation is threatened, then it is important to put aside differences for the good of the nation and the people. This demonstrates some of China’s strong feelings of nationalism, and even some of its militaristic pursuits. Even the way the informant tells the story, describing the enemy as “people from other ethnicities” shows the “us vs. them” attitude of many Chinese people. Asian people in general differentiate themselves very clearly from one nation to another, sometimes even getting offended if someone thinks they are from a different country.This story supports that.
Why 108 members? It turns out that 108 is an important number for Buddhism and Hinduism, as that is the number of beads on a traditional mala, or prayer beads. In Hinduism, there is also the belief that there are 108 sacred sites in India and 108 sacred places of the body. Having 108 members of a group adds a sacred justification to their actions, which would allow them to be more accepted in their—generally illegal—actions.
Like many noble battles, many die in the end. If the members of this group had not died in the end, they would have continued to disrupt the government’s plans once the war was over and little would have changed. Because they died, especially because they died in support of the government, the final message is to support the government. They get to die a noble death instead of being executed. This story is definitely folklore, but it might as well be propaganda for the ideals it supports.