Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

The Wuxia drama "Mysterious Lotus Casebook" has attracted a large number of viewers since its premiere with its innovative martial arts format. The seemingly outdated elements of the martial arts world such as martial heroes, inns, and sects have broken through the traditional boundaries in the drama. However, when it comes to martial arts, one cannot ignore the concept of the Jianghu (江湖, rivers and lakes) in Chinese culture. What exactly is the Jianghu?

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World


How can we define the Jianghu culture?

The term Jianghu seems to be a vague concept. People admire and yearn for the Jianghu, but it always seems difficult to define and is not considered highbrow. The earliest appearance of the term Jianghu can be found in the book "Zhuangzi": “相濡以沫,不如相忘于江湖。(Rather than leave them to moisten each other with their damp and spittle, it would be far better to let them forget themselves in their native rivers and lakes)”

This phrase evokes a sense of imagination, encompassing the vast territories of the Central Plains, the four corners of the world, the rivers and lakes that crisscross the land. Gradually, the Jianghu has evolved into a metaphor for the world. The beauty brought forth by nature, the Taoist philosophy of tranquility and carefreeness, have inspired people's initial imagination of the Jianghu and become the foundation for cultural creations.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

After the Spring and Autumn period, and the Warring States period, the concept of the Jianghu gradually became abstract and closely related to the ideas of the elite literati and scholars in feudal society. In Fan Zhongyan's "The Yueyang Tower," it is mentioned: "When serving as a high-ranking official in the imperial court often worries about the common people, and when in the midst of the Jianghu will worry for the ruler." The distant point of the Jianghu primarily refers to the Yangtze River and Dongting Lake. The Jianghu was an important hub of communication for the literati, and it also carried their cultural spirit.

The Jianghu, with its vastness and magnificence, stands in contrast to the bustling and prosperous court, becoming a haven for literati and scholars to escape fame and fortune. Throughout history, literati and poets have used the rivers, lakes, and oceans as themes to express their emotions, leaving behind immortal poems.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

With their lofty aspirations, they traveled between the court and the countryside through the Jianghu, either achieving great feats and contributing to the nation, or experiencing setbacks and gaining enlightenment about life. Through their remarkable deeds and poetic verses recorded in history, the cultural symbol of the Jianghu has been deeply ingrained in people's hearts.

Later on, the Jianghu became a secret society for wandering outcasts. The Jianghu carried the cultural attributes of the urban population, and the image of the Jianghu associated with wandering outcasts is closest to our current understanding. However, the reality is often much harsher.

When we think of homeless wanderers, who have no fixed abode and roam the Jianghu, we often think of the chivalrous knights in history books. They were valiant, imposing, forming private alliances, and those who established themselves in the Jianghu were called "You Xia (游侠)".

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

However, most wanderers do not possess extraordinary martial arts skills and noble origins. They are merely drifting leaves without a home, transient beings living from day to day. During periods of social turmoil, frequent wars, continuous disasters, and unbearable living conditions, large numbers of people are forced to leave their homes and flock to the Jianghu, becoming wanderers.

They are marginalized and abandoned by society, living on the fringes and at the bottom of society. As individuals, they are weak and have limited survival skills. Naturally, they organize themselves in some way, forming factions. These factions may not have a unified organizational structure or fixed legal norms, but they consist of diverse individuals, various groups, relatively stable rules and moral principles, and a peculiar jargon. Together, they constitute the mysterious and extraordinary world of the wanderer's Jianghu.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

During the late Eastern Han Dynasty, the Way of the Five Bushels of Rice (Wudoumi Jiao) exhibited the basic characteristics of the wanderer's Jianghu. They followed the religious rituals of Taoism, each with their own roles, and carried a rebellious gene, eventually leading to the nationwide Yellow Turban Rebellion. Over the course of the ages, this rebellion has accumulated a strong cultural tradition and a spirit of resistance, gradually entering the mainstream vision as the urban class rises.


The culture of the Jianghu in martial arts novels

The film "Ashes of Time" mentions that everyone has a Jianghu in their heart. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, elite culture declined while citizen culture rose. Novels such as "Water Margin" and "The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants" flourished, depicting the lives of wandering knights and revealing the social conditions of the time. "Water Margin" mainly focuses on the portrayal of heroic figures from Liangshan, shedding light on the distinct Jianghu culture: to roam the Jianghu is no easy task, only when one can't survive otherwise would they turn to banditry.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

From the perspective of the literati, these individuals engaged in unlawful activities such as murder and challenging the court. However, from the author's perspective in "Water Margin," these actions are all commendable experiences, admired by the masses. Among the Jianghu heroes, there is the hearty Lu Zhishen, who drinks and eats heartily, and there are the dramatic battles of Wu Song and Mrs. Sun in the tavern, emphasizing the camaraderie and justice of the Jianghu.

In a corrupt and inept world of the court, knights and righteous men possess exceptional skills and stand up for justice. As a folk supplement to the system, the people of the Jianghu play a role where the court has no control, embodying the principles of helping in times of crisis and administering justice. The novel bestows the Jianghu people with positive meanings such as punishing evil and promoting good, robbing the rich to aid the poor, and carrying out heavenly justice, expressing the yearning of the lower class for an ideal country through this Jianghu culture.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

Due to the opposition and mystique between wandering warriors of the Jianghu and mainstream society, in modern times, they naturally withdraw from the stage of reality under the stability of government and legal order. However, their unique mystique and fluid characteristics, as well as the moral core of punishing evil and promoting good in Ming and Qing novels, provide abundant material for literary creation.

Phrases such as the world's martial arts originate from Shaolin, the seven heroes of Wudang, and the seven disciples of Quanzhen are widely used in Jin Yong's modern martial arts novels, demonstrating the influence of traditional culture on modern martial arts.

The Jianghu in martial arts novels is essentially a small society composed of individuals with martial arts skills and those associated with them in the novels. In this illusory society, people seem to have no worries about their clothing, food, shelter, and transportation, nor do they have to fear legal sanctions.

It can be said that it is a world where strength speaks for itself. However, just as it removes the shackles from the villains, it also liberates the thoughts of righteous individuals and provides them with a sense of satisfaction in seeking justice and revenge. Modern martial arts novels inherit the utopian fantasy of "Water Margin."

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World


We cannot live without the Jianghu?

We were born when the world was changing, and once we enter the Jianghu, time rushes by. Conversations about imperial ambitions and dominance of the world happen effortlessly, but life's intoxication overwhelms us.

With sword in hand and riding across, we unleash a storm of ghostly rain, causing bones to mount like hills and startling birds into flight. The affairs of the world surge like tides and people flow like water, leaving us only to lament how few return to the Jianghu.

This is the ideal state of the joyful Jianghu in martial arts novels. In this setting, although there are many powerful villains, righteous heroes always emerge, ultimately punishing evil and promoting good. The Jianghu depicted in martial arts novels create a world of fantasy, where countless people continue to immerse themselves, despite knowing it is not real.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

On one hand, the spiritual core of the martial arts Jianghu remains unchanged throughout the ages, representing people's yearning for fairness, justice, and freedom. As martial arts novels became popular, people's imagination of martial arts and the Jianghu evolved into an escape from the oppressive reality.

With the evolution of romantic sentiments, the dream of a Jianghu resembling the peach blossom spring, free from rules and compromises, became imbued with poetry and a sense of distant lands. The fictional Jianghu society in martial arts novels exists outside or apart from official and civilian realms, creating a utopian world of freedom imbued with ideals.

On the other hand, the anxieties and confusion brought about by the rapid development of modern society have led people to seek solace in exploring imaginary worlds. The Jianghu depicted in martial arts novels, with their historical basis and credibility, undoubtedly become the most enchanting realm of fantasy.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

However, the foundation of fantasy is always fragile and cannot be examined in detail, as people must always live in reality. The Jianghu world in martial arts novels is a virtual society detached from or independent of the official and civilian realms, a fairy tale space constructed around the core values of chivalry and righteousness.

With so many people in the martial arts world, how do they sustain their livelihoods? What do they rely on for sustenance? If the Jianghu were to truly manifest in the real world, even if we were to contemplate it with a realistic mindset, it would immediately become a dried-up swamp, a mere remnant of the past, losing its original vitality and meaning. The sense of satisfaction and vengeance experienced by martial artists in the rivers and lakes actually points out a misguided path of using violence to counter violence for people in the real world.

When the Jianghu culture derived from martial arts is placed in urban life, the most harmonious combination is undoubtedly the triads. In the transitional period of Hong Kong, where new and old orders intersect, Jianghu concepts once grew wild there. From a contemporary film perspective, the Jianghu is an important cultural representation in both martial arts films and gangster films. In Hong Kong gangster films, it is essentially a variation of martial arts films, transferring the role of chivalrous heroes to the police. "Infernal Affairs" can be considered a pinnacle of this genre.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

As the form of gangster films became more important than social reflection, the glory of Hong Kong films reached its decline. In mainland Chinese films, Jia Zhangke's "Ash Is Purest White" uses the traditional structure of the Jianghu to depict the legendary stories of characters from the lower strata of society during the transitional period.

From a macro perspective, the Jianghu exist not only in literature and the world of imagination, but also in the vast rivers, lakes, seas, and even among small groups of three to five people. However, wherever there are people, there will be Jianghu, and wherever there are Jianghu, there will be grudges and feuds. Each of us, who is not a wanderer in the Jianghu? With mountains high and waters long, we will surely meet again in the Jianghu.

Essence and Implies of Jianghu and Wuxia - Exploring the Martial World

Creative License: The article is the author original, udner (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) Copyright License. Share & Quote this post or content, please Add Link to this Post URL in your page. Respect the original work is the best support for the creator, thank you!
0 Comment(s) A文章作者 M管理员
    No Comments. Be the first to share what you think!