Brotherhood exists in every culture, and this seemingly unbreakable bond is shared by many. While this theme is found in countless stories around the world, the genre of Wuxia has a unique focus on it. Of the Immortal Storyverse’s stories, Fa Sheng: Origins exemplifies this theme, and brings to light questions of whether or not it is always the right path.
Despite being 18 years of age, the titular character Fa Sheng is often called “Wa-er” (Chinese slang for kid) by his senior martial brothers of the Righteous & Harmonious Fists. He often frowns at being called “Wa-er,” but gets excited to finally participate in the Armor of the Golden Bell Ceremony, where he can shed his “husk of mediocracy” to become strong, like his senior brothers. This ceremony involves a ceremonial elixir, and Fa Sheng knows that participants are expected to become energetic and proud upon drinking it. When he finally drinks the ceremonial elixir, he feels empty, while his fellow brother-in-arms become energetic as expected. This occurs shortly before they all decide to attack the Germans, whom they feel are stealing their land.
Hierarchy matters greatly in martial arts sects, where most disciples are expected to show great respect, sometimes even reverence, to those who outrank them. The youngest disciple is often expected to do favors for his seniors, and serve them obediently, while the seniors may also tease and embarrass younger disciples to no end. Because of this, many want to move up the ranks, as this is associated with greater skill, as well as greater respect from your juniors. Disciples who move up ranks and/or get older are expected to be role models, which is another aspect of brotherhood in Wuxia. Fa Sheng’s reaction upon drinking the elixir is very atypical, and this leads to a change that his brother-in-arms do not expect.
After Chinese Imperial General Yuxian arrives late to a meeting that he arranged with local members of the Righteous & Harmonious Fists, General Yuxian attempts to make up for this by offering alcohol to them, and even addresses them as “brothers-in-arms.” The leader of this group, Zhu Binhou, refuses the alcohol, and General Yuxian responds with smirks and offers no apology. Everyone expects General Yuxian to honor his words due to his distinguished title and rank. By dishonoring his words, and committing rude acts in front of others, he proves that he is a bad role model. This results in a loss of face, which is an important concept in both Chinese culture and the Wuxia genre.
Maintaining face involves honoring your words and doing whatever it takes to avoid tarnishing one’s reputation. Although he outranks everyone else, the others openly express their disappointment with him. With hierarchical power like this comes the potential for abuse, and this is a perfect example of that. His smirk proves that he is aware of how he is abusing his position, and failing to meet the expectations of his new brothers-in-arms, and shows us how little he cares for their respect in turn.
When Fa Sheng is on the verge of attacking the German priest Anno and the children that Anno is guarding, Fa Sheng stops in his tracks to consider whether attacking them with his martial brothers is right. Junior brothers are expected to follow exactly in the footsteps of their seniors. If he did not follow them in this attack, it is not an exaggeration to say that Fa Sheng would be seen as disobeying his seniors, and betraying them. Many martial arts sects would punish their disciples for disobeying orders; however, betrayal may have even harsher penalties. At best, such disciples are excommunicated from the sect. At worst, they are executed for betrayal. Should Fa Sheng give up on this brotherhood, his only family, to follow the right path?
Brotherhood is a universal theme, and one that allows audiences to relate to characters in the Wuxia genre, and empathize with their desire to belong. Fa Sheng: Origins demonstrates not only the benefits, but also the expectations and conflicts that come with that fellowship.