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What's the Jianghu?

If you’re new to wuxia, you may just see gibberish when I say it, but the jianghu (江湖) is the parallel world, inhabited by bandits, beggars, blacksmiths, and merchants; everyone who doesn’t fit in with the scholarly, Confucian world of ancient China. Most importantly, it’s usually where you find the heroes of wuxia, living on the fringes of respectable society.
As warriors in times of peace, usually on a revenge quest of some kind of another, xia don’t fit in with normal society. The word “jianghu” first appeared around 400 BCE, and translates simply as “rivers and lakes.” Its meaning has changed many times since, at different times meaning something akin to a band of virtuous thieves (a la Robin Hood), or groups of vagabonds with their own code of rules (the outcasts of society grouping together to form their own parallel society), or sometimes a sanctuary for straight-up criminals (much like a criminal underworld in Western stories). For much of history, it did not include martial artists, who instead belonged to a third world, the “wulin” or martial arts world.
With the advent of “New Wave” Wuxia, the jianghu grew to encompass the wulin, and has become a haven for craftsmen, wandering heroes, beggars and bandits alike. Different wuxia authors have depicted it as a society of practical rules (in contrast with traditional Confucian rules), or as a lawless society ruled only by the strong. It has become so ubiquitous to wuxia novels, that it's now an essential part of any wuxia story!
Which author made you fall in love with the jianghu the most?

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by S. Sifton
Immortal Staff

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