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         > Wuxia Fiction
            > An Introduction to the Wuxia Genre

Jiang Hu

Enticing from without; awesome from within.

Jianghu is a word that appeared during the Ming dynasty, and is used to describe the world of the you-xia. The word originally referred to places where hermits lived, but eventually came to designate what has been termed as the Underworld, the World of Vagrants, or sometimes the World of Martial Arts. For Once Upon a Time in China the literal translation of River-lake will be used. The historical River-lake, refers to the world of secret societies and bandits. The fictional River-lake includes the Wulin, and is composed of wanderers of slender means, with no fixed abode. Its denizens include xia, lumpen intelligentsia, adventurers, monks, priests, rebels, cultists, unemployed peasants and laborers, itinerant peddlers, beggars, disbanded soldiers, gangsters, smugglers, and other outcasts of society. To these people, the River-lake provided a substitute lineage, which offered them the assistance and protection that they did not receive from mainstream society.

Lu Lin

Those who deprive others of their property are either bandits or burglars. The former work in groups, use violence unreservedly; they kill and rob in broad daylight, in open defiance of the law. On the other hand, the later work in cliques of three to five; they sneak about at night, and only resort to violence when their lives are at stake. -- He Xiya

The Lulin is the World of the Outlaw. Its members are termed 'underworld stalwart' in The Water Margin, or 'brothers of the greenwoods' in Judge Dee novels. The Lulin includes bandits, burglars, pirates and other criminals. In general, bandits and pirates started out by working in small groups. In order to strengthen themselves against opposition, they would recruit from the ranks of dispossessed peasants and boatmen, as well as other members of the River-lake. As their numbers grew, it became necessary to form hierarchies and establish rules to maintain order. The bandits borrowed heavily from secret societies in this respect. Members of the Brotherhood of the Greenwoods swore blood-oaths, maintained their own codes of law and ethics, and communicated with secret codes, signs and languages.

In times of stability, bandits would prey upon honest peasants. Towns and villages would be forced to pay protection money or suffer the consequences. These villages essentially became part of a bandit 'lineage', and could prevent the depredations of weaker bandit groups by claiming the protection of their 'elder brothers.' Occasionally, villages would call upon their outlaw protectors to carry out inter-lineage vendettas. An independent village facing this type of opposition, would be forced to join a rival bandit gang for their own protection. This would lead to an escalation of the conflict, and such disorder would result in the intervention of the government. Ironically, for the official charged with the task of suppressing bandits, the Lulin was also the source from where mercenaries for his militia army (tuan lien) were recruited.

A related development was that of the village union (lian zhuang hui), which was organized and led by the peasants themselves, to resist bandits, and oppose the more egregious demands of the local elite. Such groups were often sympathetic to anti-dynastic revolutionaries, due to infiltration of their ranks by members of secret societies. Officials called such groups 'bogus militia' or 'bandit militia' for their armed resistance to tax-collectors, and for the ease with which they became actual bandits when instigated by secret societies. Even traditional bandits became full-fledged rebels during periods of turmoil, leading popular uprisings against oppressive landlords. It was also quite common for such bandit groups to work in conjunction with anti-dynastic secret societies. In the wuxia genre, righteous bandits who opposed local despots and protected the weak were known as dao-xia.

Wu Lin

Your gong-fu is no good!

Wulin exists only in fiction, and is a term used to describe the World of the Martial Arts. This is the world of the wuxia heroes of authors like Jin Yong and Gu Long, as well as the Hong Kong cinema (or rather, the Mandarin cinema). It is a world in which xia dedicate their lives to perfecting their martial skills, and fighting for truth, justice and the Confucian way. More worldly xia seek glory, fame and wealth. In fiction, these members of the Wulin carry on the shi legacy, and follow many of the rules embodied in wude (martial virtue), li (chivalry), hao (gallantry), and bao (vengeance). In the River-lake, the elite of the Wulin are known as gao shou (lit: high hands) or huang-baofu (lit: yellow-bags), and treated with the utmost of respect and deference.