Wuxia is an important part of kung fu culture. Wuxia stories are basically martial arts stories about ordinary people who do incredible things through martial arts. Novels are grounded in real-life Chinese martial arts and internal energy cultivation (qigong) techniques that are kicked up to an exaggeratedly awesome level. Wuxia is a distinct genre in Chinese literature, television and cinema. One of the oldest genres in Chinese literature, wǔxiá stories are tales of honorable warriors fighting against evil, whether it be an individual villain, or a corrupt government. Although some wuxia stories are set in modern times, or even the future, most take place in the "Martial Arts World" of Jiānghú ,literally "rivers and lakes", a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Imperial China. Very popular in Asia , these stores are gaining more fans all over the world in the last decade and few subgenres developed from the original Wuxia story patterns.
Wuxia stories have their roots in some early youxia , "wanderers"and cike , "assassin" stories around 2nd to 3rd century BC.
Xiake stories made a strong comeback in the Tang dynasty in the form of Chuanqi , "legendary" tales.
The earliest full-length novel that could be considered part of the genre was Water Margin, written in the Ming Dynasty. Water Margin's championing of outlaws with a code of honor was especially influential in the development of Jianghu culture. Many works in this genre during the Ming and Qing dynasties were lost due to prohibition by the government. The ethos of personal freedom and conflict-readiness of these novels were seen as seditious even in times of peace and stability. The departure from mainstream literature also meant that patronage of this genre was limited to the masses and not to the literati, and stifled some of its growth. Nonetheless, the genre continued to be enormously popular
China during the Qing era (1644-1911) was ruled by a foreign aristocracy, the Manchu, and subject to ferocious censorship purges aimed at rooting out any references to revolution, resistance, or the glory days of earlier dynasties ruled by ethnic Chinese. Authors were hence incentivized to locate their stories in a vaguely-defined dreamtime, the jianghu [literally "rivers and lakes"] of an idealized Fantasy realm, safely situated in the distant past, or devoid of overt references to contemporary places or people. Drawing on older traditions of wandering swordsmen, the wuxia tales sought to allegorize Chinese heroes as a Pariah Elite of picaresque warriors, often drawing upon inner power derived from Daoist sorcery and quasi-magical kung fu training .
Following the proclamation of the Chinese Republic in 1911, and the loss of the prime impetus to allegory, wuxia fictions drifted further into Pulp. Initially encouraged as a domestic antidote to foreign incursions and influences, the stories fell out of favor because they were often used to critique corrupted and unstable republican government. This is the period when Wuxia made a breakthrough in movie and received instant success. In republican period we can see first glimpses of new subgenre which will later became known as Xianxia.
Post-1949, wuxia remained suppressed in Mainland China until the 1980s and Taiwan until the 1960s, but remain extremely popular Hong Kong and among overseas Chinese communities. New Wuxia tales now fearlessly dealt with issues of the Manchu conquest and oppression, in allusion to the rise of the Communists that had forced so many Chinese from the Mainland. Recurring themes often favored the end of the Ming dynasty, with its echoes of an unwelcome change in government and a flight to the south. The rise of wuxia film among overseas Chinese communities during a time when Mainland China was shut off behind Iron curtain, and restrictions still held in Taiwan, also created an entirely mythical and unhistorical fantastic base for the stories, without any specific references to historical periods. Secret Masters, often from the fictionally opposed Shaolin and Wudang monasteries, fought each other and with agents of Western Imperialism and Manchu domination.
From 1970 onwards, the wuxia tradition enjoyed a new expansion into the world of Comic books , with many adaptations into graphic form.
In last decade, when censorship in Communist China loosened , brought rise on new term ,Xianxia ["Immortal Heroes] to distinguish the more fanciful and magical stories popular in Hong Kong and on Taiwan from the more down-to-Earth narratives tolerated on the mainland.
Modern wuxia stories are historical adventure stories. A common plot typically features a young protagonist, usually male, in ancient China, who experiences a terrible tragedy , goes through exceeding hardship and arduous trials, and studies under a great master of martial arts, or comes into possession of a long-lost scroll or manual containing unrivalled martial arts techniques. Eventually the protagonist emerges as a supreme martial arts master unequalled in all of China, who then proffers his skills chivalrously to mend the ills of the "Jianghu" world. Another common thread would involve a mature, extremely skillful hero with a powerful nemesis who is out for revenge, and the storyline would culminate in a final showdown between the protagonist and his nemesis. Other stories create detective or romance stories set in ancient China.
The meaning of the term jianghu ,literally "rivers and lakes has evolved over the course of Chinese history. It is used to describe the pugilistic world of ancient China. It was a world where the law doesn't exist. The people of "jianghu" are those who try to make a living, or survive, in this world. The variety of people in "jianghu" is endless. Each has their occupation, their membership of a brotherhood, their martial art skills and their personalities. The way of jianghu was either join a brotherhood or be a wanderer. A brotherhood, can also be sisterhood, uses a particular weapon, follows a particular religion, does a particular trade, or looks over a particular area. "Jianghu" is a place where the law doesn't exist. Each person has their own morals and rules that keeps them alive. The code of brotherhood is important in "jianghu" as chivalrous people would be loyal to their friends. . The five basics of the code are:
1. xia (chivalry)
2. hao (gallantry)
3. li (virtue)
4. yi (righteousness)
5. zhong (loyalty
Wuxia realm is all about an honorable and generous person who has considerable martial skills which he puts to use for the general good rather than towards any personal ends, and someone who does not necessarily obey the authorities. Foremost in the xia's code of conduct are yi ("righteousness") and xin (honour), which emphasize the importance of gracious deed received or favours and revenge over all other ethos of life. Nevertheless, this code of the xia is simple and grave enough for its adherents to kill and die for, and their vendetta can pass from one generation to the next until resolved by retribution, or, in some cases, atonement. The xia is to expected to aid the person who needed help, usually the masses, who are down-trodden. Not all martial artists uphold such a moral code, but those who do are respected and recognized as heroes
Although wuxia is based on real-life martial arts, the genre elevates the mastery of their crafts into fictitious levels of attainment. Combatants have the following skills:
Fighting, usually using a codified sequence of movements known as zhāo where they would have the ability to withstand armed foes.
Use of everyday objects such as ink brushes, abaci, and musical instruments as lethal weapons, and the adept use of assassin weapons with accuracy.
Use of qīnggōng , 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 arts practices. Real martial art exponents practice qinggong through years of attaching heavy weights on their legs. Its use however is greatly exaggerated in wire-fu movies where they appear to defy gravity.
Use of nèilì or nèijìn , which is the ability to control inner energy (qi) and direct it for attack or defense, or to attain superhuman stamina.
Ability to engage in diǎnxué also known by its pronunciation Dim Mak , or other related techniques for killing or paralyzing opponents by hitting or seizing their acupoints 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.
Consistent with Chinese beliefs about the relationship between the physical and paranormal, these skills are usually described as being attainable by anyone who is prepared to devote his or her time in diligent study and practice. The details of some of the more unusual skills are often to be found in abstrusely written and/or encryption|encrypted manuals known as mìjí , which may contain the secrets of an entire sect, and are often subject to theft or sabotage
The fantastic feats of martial arts prowess featured in the wuxia novels are substantially fictitious in nature, although there is still widespread popular belief that these skills once existed and are now lost. A popular theory to explain why current martial arts practitioners cannot attain the levels described in the wuxia genre is related to the methodology of passing on the martial arts crafts. Only the favorite pupil of a master gets to inherit the best crafts but the masters tend to keep the most powerful or significant chapter to himself. Hence what we have today at the Shaolin or other schools are but a fraction of what they were centuries earlier. There is little evidence to support this claim
The wuxia genre is popular in Chinese culture because it is the unique blend of martial arts philosophy of xia developed throughout history, and the country's long history of wushu. Although the xia or "chivalry" concept is often translated as "knights", "chivalrous warriors" or "knights-errant", most xia aspects are so rooted in the social and cultural environment of ancient China that it is impossible to find an exact translation in the Western world. Despite wuxia has been a strong inspiration for popular cinema for decades, it was only Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" what made a global audience aware of the wuxia genre.
Xianxia, the characters forming it are ‘Xian’ and ‘Xia’, which literally means ‘immortal hero’. Xianxia is a newer genre and is essentially a ‘fantasy’ version of Wuxia, with magic, demons, immortals, people who can fly, etc. The biggest contributor to the Xianxia genre is actually not martial arts, rather, it is ‘Taoism’, which is a major part of Chinese history. Taoism is both a philosophical way of life as well as an actual religion. Religious Taoism is often blurred together with Chinese folk mythologies, and is chock-full of stories about demons, ghosts, and people learning how to become immortals through meditation/understanding the ways of heaven, and flying in the air and casting powerful magic spells. Xianxia blends lots of these folk stories and magical Taoist legends into their stories .