Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mount Liang

Mount Liang is a mountain in Liangshan County, Shandong province, China which rises to 197.9 m above sea level. It is well known as the stronghold of the 108 legendary Song Dynasty heroes of the classic Chinese novel ''Water Margin''. The modern Liangshan County is located a few kilometres to the north, and 80km west of the Beijing-Shanghai railway line.

The original Mount Liang was named after the son of , the King of Liang, who was buried on the mountain. The area was from prehistoric times surrounded by the largest marshland in north China, called the Daye Marsh and later the Liangshan Marsh. During the Song Dynasty, the Yellow River passed through the area. Mount Liang was located at the extreme north of what became known as the "eight hundred ''li'' moorage of Mount Liang". Because the area was largely a wasteland on the frontiers of several administrative units, government control was minimal. It is known that bandit chiefs were active in the area during the Northern Song, although Song Jiang - one of the chief protagonists of the ''Water Margin'' - was not associated with the area. Some of the bandits on Mount Liangshan preyed selectively upon the rich and became known as "righteous bandits" . Legends about the heroes of Mount Liangshan, which provided the basis for the ''Water Margin'', probably formed from this historical context. Banditry continued on Mount Liang until the mid-seventeenth century, when the Qing Dynasty government established a military garrison at what is now the city of Liangshan.

''Water Margin'' describes Mount Liangshan in majestic terms, imagining its peak to be a plateau ringed by high mountains and protected by six passes and eight fortresses. The Yuan Dynasty play ''Black Hurricane Presents Twin Victories'' envisages Mount Liangshan as having: "seventy-two deep rivers, garrisoned with hundreds of warships. In thirty-six feasting towers are gathered food for a million soldiers and their mounts."

When the Yellow River shifted course 1289, the marshes of Liangshan shrunk considerably. During the Ming Dynasty it had been reduced to five smaller marshlands. After the Yellow River shifted back to its northern course in 1853, the marshes were gradually filled in by sediments carried downstream by the river and human land reclamation. Today the relatively small Dongping Lake is what remains of the great marshes.

Considerable effort has been made in recent years to develop Liangshan as a destination for domestic tourists. A number of buildings have been erected to match descriptions given in ''Water Margin''. The mountain now has a somewhat theme park feel about it.

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