Wuxia (Chinese: 武侠 ; Pinyin: wǔ xiá) directly translates to martial hero.
It is a fictional genre in Chinese culture that primarily explores the adventures of martial artists in ancient China.
Like xianxia, wuxia has a longer history than many people think.
The story of xia has been around for more than 2,000 years. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature, includes several descriptions of wuxia battles used by many future writers.
The setting of wuxia dramas is very similar to that of traditional Chinese historical dramas, but if you’ve ever watched dramas of the two genres, you’ll know that there are details that make the two genres very different.
Wuxia drama incorporates some ancient Chinese everyday life into it but focuses more on adventure and mystery.
Wuxia dramas usually tend to be long, usually ranging from 40 – 50 episodes (some are shorter or longer).
A wuxia drama is not a wuxia drama without martial arts. Martial arts are also referred to as kungfu and wushu.
What exactly is a martial art?
Martial arts include a variety of fighting styles and techniques.
If in a wuxia drama there were several sects, these sects most likely had their collection of fighting techniques.
Martial arts focus on both external and internal practice. External kungfu includes physical strength and agility, while internal kungfu cultivates the mind and body, also known as one’s internal energy.
Wuxia dramas included cultivation as well, but martial arts cultivators were very different from immortal cultivators in xianxia dramas.
Internal energy is practiced and refined through years of dedication. As the internal energy within a person’s body grew stronger, his abilities, such as strength, agility, and endurance also grew stronger.
Cultivation is a concept heavily influenced by Taoism where humans can extend their lifespan and gain supernatural powers. They can achieve this result by practicing martial arts or meditating and developing their Qi.
The Chinese also attach importance to Qi. In Chinese medicine, Qi is the life force or vital energy in the body of every person (and living being). When a person’s Qi level is stable, they are healthy and strong, but when it becomes unstable, this is when the person falls ill.
Under these circumstances, a Chinese doctor may be called upon to stabilize a person’s internal energy, often using acupuncture to unblock his meridians, pathways in the body through which Qi travels.
By using acupuncture needles, it is thought this method can be used to correct and rebalance the flow of energy in a person’s body.
Jianghu (Chinese: 江湖 ; Pinyin: jiāng hú), sometimes translated as Pugilistic World, is a shared world or alternate universe, consisting of martial artists who usually gather into sects and clans.
Sects and clans were usually founded by one family, and families increased their power and influence by accepting others into their group to study.
Within the sect/clan, there are schools and other places. Apart from martial artists and wuxia cultivators, Jianghu was also inhabited by nobles, thieves, beggars, craftsmen, and more.
Sometimes, Wulin Meng Zhu (Chinese: 武林盟主 ; Pinyin: wǔ lín méng zhǔ) is mentioned.
In many wuxia dramas, Wulin Meng Zhu is the main leader of the Jianghu, but this does not mean that society is ruled by tyranny.
This leader was agreed upon by all (most) martial artists as someone who could keep the peace in Jianghu.
Wulin Meng Zhu had a good reputation for truth and was also one of the strongest martial artists in Jianghu, and his job was to settle disputes on an equal footing.
If wuxia also has cultivation, how is it different from xianxia?
Let’s start with the names of these two genres.
Wuxia and xianxia both consist of two Chinese characters, and both have ‘xia (Chinese: 侠 ; Pinyin: xiá) which means hero’ characters. Wu (Chinese: 武 ; Pinyin: wǔ) means martial, while xian (Chinese: 仙 ; Pinyin: xiān) means immortal.
Wuxia focuses more on stories and adventures of martial artists and heroes while xianxia focuses more on immortals, demons, and humans.
Humans in xianxia might cultivate to become immortals or increase their internal strength and skills, but characters in wuxia only cultivate to reach the latter.
Another obvious difference is the line drawn between the real world and fantasy. It is also worth mentioning that the wuxia genre appears in Chinese works earlier than the xianxia genre and that xianxia can be said to be wuxia but with fantasy elements.
Sometimes, a drama can be classified as wuxia, xianxia, or even xuanhuan at the same time.