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Wǔxi (also Wu Xia) (Template:Zh-ts pronounced "woo-shyah") literally meaning "martial arts chivalry", is a distinct genre in Chinese literature and cinema. Wuxia figures prominently in the popular culture of all Chinese-speaking areas, and the most important writers have devoted followings.

The wuxia genre is confined and peculiar to Chinese culture, because it is a unique blend of the martial arts philosophy of xia (俠, "chivalry", "a chivalrous man or woman") developed down the centuries, as well as the country's long history in wushu. Samurai bushido traditions share some aspects with Chinese martial xia philosophy, but there is nothing exactly equivalent to the Chinese concept of xia within even East Asian cultures like Japan and Korea. Although the xia or "chivalry" concept is often translated as "knights", "chivalrous warriors" or "knight-errants", most xia aspects are so rooted in socio- and cultural milieu of ancient China that it is impossible to find an exact translation in the Western world.



Plot and Setting

Plot devices in wuxia novels are plentiful; however, it must be remembered that wuxia books are basically adventure stories with a strong dose of cultural and historical contexts. Plot differs largely from writer to writer, but as populist literature most writers depend on identifiable storylines to engage the readers' attention.

A common, often repeated plot device revolves around a young, usually male protagonist in ancient China, who may start out as a child going through exceeding hardship and other tragic circumstances, such as the loss of family, humiliation, or displacement from home. These characters then go through a series of extraordinary experiences, arduous trials, and amazing coincidences, often meeting and studying under great masters of martial arts, who pass on to them near-supernatural martial skills; the protagonist also gains a "chivalrous" outlook on life. Eventually the protagonist emerges as a supreme martial arts master, unequaled or barely equaled across all of China, his/her very name a legend.

On the other hand, the Deer and the Cauldron, the final novel by Jinyong, is distinguished as an "anti-wuxia" novel that breaks all of the cliches above, and his anti-hero, the lazy, greedy, lewd, sycophant brothel boy Wei Xiaobao, has become a cultural symbol of sorts, loved by some and hated by others.

Suspension of disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is an important requirement in wuxia. Whether applied to movies or books, a number of wuxia action is characterized by its fantasy component. Although wuxia is based on true-life martial arts, its practitioners have often reached a state where they seem to have perform feats unattainable to normal human beings, so that they can, among other things:

  • fight, usually using a codified sequence of movements known as zhāo (招)
  • use improbable objects, such as ink brushes, abaci, and musical instruments, as lethal weapons
  • the adept use of assassin weapons (nq 暗器) with accuracy
  • use qīnggōng (T: 輕功 S: 轻功), or the ability to move swiftly and lightly, allowing them to scale walls, glide on waters or mount trees. This is based on real Chinese martial art practices. Real martial art exponents practise qinggong through years of attaching heavy weights on their legs. Its use however is greatly exaggerated in wire-fu movies where they appear to circumvent gravity.
  • use nil (内力) or nijn (內勁), which is the ability to control mystical inner energy (qi) and direct it to do certain tasks, mostly to protect themselves from being hurt physically, or to attain superhuman stamina.
  • engage in diǎnxu (T: 點穴 S: 点穴) also known by its Cantonese pronunciation Dim Mak 點脈, or other related techniques for killing or paralyzing opponents by hitting or seizing their acupressure points (xu 穴) with a finger, knuckle, elbow or weapon. This is based on true-life practices trained in some of the Chinese martial arts, known as dianxue and by the seizing and paralyzing techniques of chin na. Tui na is often used (especially in wuxia comedies or parodies) to reverse the effects of the point strikes. Again, the effects of these techniques are usually highly exaggerated in wuxia fiction and films.

These skills are usually also described as requiring talent and many years of study. The details of these skills are often to be found in abstrusely written and/or encrypted manuals known as mj (秘笈), which may contain the secrets of an entire sect, and are often subject to theft or sabotage. The discovery and learning of such paramount skills often make up a favorite plot device in wuxia fiction.

Because the wuxia genre occupies a less defineable position between pure fantasy and reality, many Western audiences have difficulty accepting the conventions of wuxia genre, dismissing them as pure improbability. However, it is paradoxical that Western audiences can readily accept the concept of the Force in the Star Wars series or the superpowers of mutants in X-Men or an alien in Superman, and this is often an argument made in favor of the genre.

Jiang Hu

Jiang Hu (Gong Woo), (literally means "rivers and lakes") or the wuxia underworld, is another strong theme. Jiang Hu refers to the underworld of martial artists and pugilists, usually congregrating in sects and schools of martial learnings. The best wuxia writers draw a vivid picture of the intricate relationships of honor, loyalty, love and hatred between individuals and between communities. In the world of Jiang Hu, both favours (恩 ēn) and revenge (仇 chu) are not taken lightly at all; an entire story may revolve around the single-minded pursuit of a single protagonist for revenge, which may take decades. Characters are also concerned with trustworthiness and honour, over all of which they are willing to take life (including their own), and this system of Jiang Hu moral code is usually brought to such a level that would be considered highly impractical in modern life. Love is also an overarching theme in wuxia; the relationship between young lovers (who are also unparalleled wuxia masters) may drive an entire story forward.


Wuxia novels (Template:Zh-tsp) constitute a highly popular fiction genre in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Wuxia novels, especially by eminent authors like Jinyong and Gu Long, have a cult-like following there, not unlike fiction or science fiction in the West.

Important wuxia novelists include:

Many of the most popular works, such as most of the work by Jinyong, has been repeatedly converted into films and TV series in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. In addition, the study of Jinyong's work has created an independent branch of study called Jinology.


Wuxia film (or wuxia pian, Mo Hap film, Mo Hap Pin) (Template:Zh-tsp) is a film genre originating in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The term "wuxia", from Mandarin Chinese, means "martial arts heroes". Because of its distinguishing characteristics (historical setting, swordplay, a stronger emphasis towards melodrama and heroic bloodshed), this genre is considered different from other martial arts film styles.

The modern form of the genre has existed in the Pacific Rim region since the mid 1960s, although the earliest films date back to the 1920s. King Hu, working from Taiwan, and the Shaw Studio, working from Hong Kong, were pioneers of the modern form of this genre, featuring sophisticated action choreography with plentiful wire-assisted acrobatics, trampolines and under-cranking. It was introduced to mainstream Hollywood in 2000 by Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Following Ang Lee's footsteps, Zhang Yimou made Hero targeted for the international market in 2003, and House of Flying Daggers in 2004.

There is a strong link between wuxia films and wuxia novels, such as those of Jinyong. Many of the films are based on novels; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an example of this.

Wuxia film style has also been appropriated by the West. In 1986, John Carpenter's film Big Trouble in Little China was inspired by the visuals of the genre. The Matrix trilogy has many elements of wuxia, although the heroes and the villains of The Matrix gain their supernatural powers from a different source. Similarly, when the Star Wars movie came out in the late 1970s, many Chinese audiences viewed it as a western wuxia movie set in a futuristic and foreign world.

Significant wuxia films include:

See also

External links



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