Previously we’ve discussed Wuxia, and the general meaning behind the genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial heroes in ancient China or a secondary world borne from that perspective.
Although wuxia was originally a form of fantasy literature, it has evolved to include such diverse art forms as Chinese opera, film,, television, comics and video games. While it forms part of popular culture through out Chinese-speaking communities it’s appeal is evident around the world.
The word “wǔxiá” is composed of the character for wǔ (武, “martial”, “military”, or “armed”) and xiá (俠, “chivalrous”or “hero”). A martial artist who follows the code of xia is often referred to as a xiákè (俠客, “follower of xia”) or yóuxiá (遊俠, literally “wandering xia”) and can be likened to a ronin or knight-errant; a free-lance. It is a blanket term for anyone who was well traveled and generally righted wrongs that they saw before them.
The main source from which we hear of them is from poetry, epics, and folk
lore. Most such stories should not be taken at face value, especially ones where some heroes defeat hundreds of thousands of enemies singlehandedly or when
they could summon spirits or control magic.
Regardless, legends about officials, magistrates and judges who traveled the land and righted wrongs are believed to be solidly rooted in history. It was standard for officials of the court to personally go out
and rule the land benevolently handling problems throughout the land.
In as far back as the Records of the Grand Historian originally published in 91 BCE, also known as Shiji (史記) they are mentioned. Making up the largest of the five Records sections, and covering chapters 61 to 130, these 69 “Ranked Biographies” (lièzhuàn 列傳) make up 42% of the entire text. These chapters contain biographical profiles of about 130 outstanding ancient Chinese men; Youxia.
The Shiji is monumental, the first of China’s 24 dynastic histories. Written in the early 1st century BC by the historian Sima Qian, whose father Sima Tan had begun it several decades earlier. The work covers a 2,500-year period from the age of the legendary Yellow Emperor to the reign of Emperor Wu of Han. It describes the world as it was known to the Chinese of the Western Han dynasty.
Its most famous heroes are essentially household names, similar to the legendary statuses of Alexander the Great, Julius
Caesar, Socrates, among western classics.
They were just as likely to be warriors as they were officials, poets, or even