Congratulations! You've landed in Jiang Hu, where all the famous and talented Wuxia heroes reside! Yes, these heroes are skilled in martial arts, but there is so much more to know about this genre before you can become a hero as well.
(Credits: Asian and China resources)
Wuxia (武侠) directly translates to Martial Heroes, as opposed to Xianxia's Immortal Heroes. (Introduction to Xianxia Dramas) This is a fictitious genre in Chinese culture that mainly explores the adventures of martial artists in ancient China.
First of all, it should be known that Wuxia and Xianxia have a much longer history than many may think. Stories of Xia have been around for more than 2,000 years. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature, includes some Wuxia combat descriptions that were used by many future authors. The setting of a Wuxia drama is very similar to a normal Chinese historical drama, but if you've watched dramas of both genres, you'll know that there are details that make these two genres quite different. Wuxia dramas incorporate some ancient Chinese daily life into them, but they mainly focus on adventures and mysteries.
Wuxia dramas (as well as Xianxias) tend to be quite long, usually spanning from 40 - 80 episodes (some are shorter/longer), but this shouldn't prevent you from trying them! Some of the most famous Wuxia films and dramas were filmed in the 1900s, but recent Wuxia dramas and movies are very appealing as well. If you enjoy mystery, action, and adventure, be sure to try this genre! Some Wuxia dramas also have politics and romance.
Note: Although this article has some thorough explanations of Wuxia aspects, this does not mean that all Wuxia dramas have them. Same goes to my other Intros articles.
A Wuxia drama is not a Wuxia drama without martial arts! (Martial arts is also referred to as Kungfu and Wushu.) We can also thank martial arts for bringing this Chinese drama genre into the spotlight.
What is martial arts, exactly? Martial arts include a variety of fighting styles and techniques, and if a drama includes a few sects, these sects most likely have their own sets of fighting techniques. Martial arts focuses on external and internal practices. External Kungfu includes physical strength and agility, while internal Kungfu practices the cultivation of the mind and body, also known as a person's internal energy.
Wuxia dramas include cultivation as well, but martial arts cultivators are quite different from immortal cultivators in Xianxia drams. Internal energy (内力 nèi lì) is practiced and refined through years of dedication. As the internal energy in one's body grows stronger, his/her abilities, such as strength, agility, and endurance also grow stronger.
(Cultivation (xiū liàn 修炼, or xiū xiān 修仙) is a concept heavily influenced by Taoism where humans can extend their lifespans and gain supernatural powers. They can achieve these results by practicing martial arts or meditating and cultivating their Qi.)
(Madam Nichang is helping Zhou Fei regulate her unstable internal energy level, transferring a little of her energy into Zhou Fei's body through the contact of their palms.)
(Credits: Won Institute of Graduate Studies)
The Chinese also take special importance of one's Qi (气). In Chinese medicine, Qi is the life force or vital energy inside every person (and living being)'s body. When one's Qi level is stable, they are healthy and strong, but when it becomes unstable, this is when the person falls ill. In this circumstance, a Chinese doctor may be called to stabilize the person's internal energy, often using acupuncture to unclog his or her meridians (not the geographical term, but the paths inside the body in which Qi flows through). Using acupuncture needles, it is thought that this method can be used to correct and rebalance the flow of energy in someone's body.
|Jiang Hu (江湖 jiāng hú: jiāng means river & hú means lake), sometimes translated as the Pugilistic World, is a shared world or alternate universe, consisting of martial artists (or pugilists) that are typically congregated into sects and clans. Sects and clans are typically founded by one family, and the family increases their power and influence by accepting others into their group to learn. Inside sects/clans are schools and other places. Other than martial artists and Wuxia cultivators, Jiang Hu is also inhabited by aristocrats, thieves, beggars, craftsmen, and so many more people. While there are disputes and disagreements (like every community has), everyone has to find a way or system to make everything work out.|
(Gathering of sect disciples as two disciples fight on the platform, Legend of Fei)
Sometimes, the Wulin Meng Zhu (武林盟主) is mentioned. In many Wuxia dramas, he or she is the ultimate leader of Jiang Hu, but this doesn't mean that the community is ruled through tyranny. This leader is agreed upon by all (most) martial artists as someone who can keep peace in Jiang Hu. The Wuling Meng Zhu has a good reputation for righteousness and is also one of the strongest martial artists in Jiang Hu, and his or her job is to settle disputes with equality.
If Wuxia also has cultivation, how is it different from Xianxia?
Let's start with the names of these two genres. Wuxia and Xianxia are both composed of two Chinese characters, and both include Xia (heroes). Wu means martial, while Xian means immortal. Wuxia focuses more on the stories and adventures of martial artists and heroes while Xianxia focuses more on immortals, demons, and mortals. Mortals in Xianxia may be cultivating to become an immortal or improve their internal power and skills, but characters in Wuxia only cultivate to achieve the latter.
Another obvious difference is the line drawn between the real world and fantasy. It should also be mentioned that the Wuxia genre appeared in Chinese works earlier than the Xianxia genre and that Xianxia can be said to be Wuxia but with fantasy elements. Sometimes, dramas can be classified as Wuxia, Xianxia, or even Xuanhuan at the same time. Great examples include The Untamed and Word of Honor. In the end, viewers sometimes classify the drama as one genre, but this doesn't mean that the drama does not have elements of another genres as well.
• Martial artists (wield swords & other martial arts weapons)
(Chu Qiao with sword, Princess Agents ---->)
• Mortals, immortals, demons (wield swords & magical items/power)
(Donghua Dijun, Eternal Love of Dream ---->)
|• Has more realistic elements|
(A wolf, The Wolf ---->)
|• Has fantasy elements|
(Nine-tailed fox Bai Qian, Eternal Love ---->)
• Jiang Hu (Pugilistic World, where many ppl gather)
(Flame Manor, The Flame's Daughter ---->)
• Three Realms (Mortal, Heavenly & Demon Realms)
(Flower Realm, Ashes of Love ---->)
• Martial arts/internal energy (influences Wuxia)
• Taoism (influences Xianxia)
(I do not own these photos. They are either from the internet or are screenshots from dramas.)
Here are some Wuxia drama recommendations:
(Note: The dramas are not ordered or grouped in any particular order)
(Note (2): These drama recommendations are mostly recently aired/filmed dramas, but some older Wuxia dramas (from Mainland China and Hong Kong) are must-watches as well. Although the editing and filming are not as up-to-date as recent dramas, they are considered classics and have been watched by a large number of Chinese people.)
|After experiencing a series of events as a young girl, the female lead is determined to avenge her friends and family members’ unjust deaths. She realizes that in order to survive in this cruel reality revolved around, she must become stronger. With the help of Yuwen Yue, a powerful lord who takes her in, she transforms from a naive, oblivious girl to a valiant and intelligent young woman.||As a young girl, Xing'er befriends a boy raised by wolves. They reunite after years of separation, only to discover how much change they both have gone through. Her wolf boy is now a mighty lord. Under her influence, he slowly opens up to her and together, they undergo various trials only to bring them closer and restore peace to the nation.||During the Jin-Song Wars, two widowed pregnant women escape. Their sons grew up separately. Guo Jing is honest, loyal and righteous, but slow-witted. Yang Kang is clever, but scheming and treacherous. They eventually meet each other and their respective lovers, Huang Rong and Mu Nianci. The main plot follows Guo Jing and Huang Rong's adventures and their encounters with the Five Greats. (source: IMDb)|
The Condor Trilogy, a Wuxia series written by Jin Yong, has been adapted and remade into numerous dramas, and is considered a classic and must-watch series in China. The trilogy has also been adapted into a three-part drama series: (1) The Legend of the Condor Heroes, (2) The Return of the Condor Heroes, and (3) The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. (These 3 dramas is the 1983 - 1986 version, but there are also the 1976 - 1978 version, 1994 - 2001 version, so many more versions (lazy me), and the most recent version, the 2017 version, which has not been finished yet.)
|Raised by his grandmother, Fan Xian grows up in a small town away from the capital with memories of the present day. A sudden order of assassination sweeps him into the capital. During his stay in the capital, he is granted an arranged marriage, bringing him into the dirty fight for power. While experiencing a diversity of events, Fan Xian stays true to his life motto: living life with joy.||In sixth-century China, Lin Shu's family and their 70,000 soldiers are wrongly executed by the emperor. After the incident, Lin Shu completely changes his face, becomes Mei Changsu, and builds his own sect, the Jiangzuo Alliance, while also gaining respect in the Pugilistic World. Determined to avenge his family and friends, he begins to assist Prince Jing, the emperor's unfavored son, using his intelligence to restore justice.||Zhou Zishu leaves his temple and begins his wandering journey in Jiang Hu. Wen Kexing, a valley master, leaves behind his old life on a quest to avenge his parents' deaths. The two young men become acquainted on their journeys and become involved in many adventures concerning a legendary treasure rumored to make anyone who possesses it the most powerful of the Pugilistic World.|
Some more Wuxia dramas:
(Special thanks to @Neutralizinq and @Luna Skylar for a few summaries and edits, as well as the many MDL'ers who helped me along the way!)
I hope you found this article helpful. Work hard to help people in need in Jiang Hu, and enjoy the Wuxia journey!