, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 231–246 | Cite as

Wu Song’s Killing of His Sister-in-law: An Ethical Analysis

  • William Sin


The Water Margin is a great Chinese classical novel; Wu Song’s 武松 killing of his sister-in-law, Pan Jinlian 潘金蓮, is one of the most popular episodes of the novel. It depicts Wu as the hero and defender of traditional values, and Pan as the adulterous woman. In contemporary discussion, there has been a dearth of ethical analyses regarding Wu’s killing of Pan. How should we judge the moral status of his action? Does the killing signify Wu Song’s ethical achievement or his ethical failure? What does the killing tell us about Wu’s character or his virtues? Does our appraisal of Wu’s action square with our modern belief regarding the treatment of women? I will examine these questions in the article.


The Water Margin Wu Song 武松 Pan Jinlian 潘金蓮 Confucianism Rituals Zhixing 直性 Moral relativism 


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Earlier drafts of this article have been presented at several study groups and at the Singapore-Hong Kong-Macau Symposium on Chinese Philosophy 2017. I am grateful for all criticisms and suggestions. For comments on the article, I am grateful to Tang Siufu and the journal’s reviewers. For editorial assistance, I want to thank Robert Vinten, Wong Suntik and Luke Mulhall.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International Education and Lifelong LearningThe Education University of Hong KongTai PoHong Kong

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