2011-10-26 06:18:24

 Jianghu, translated literally as "rivers and lakes", is the milieu, environment or sub-community, often fictional but an alternative universe coexisting with the actual historical one, in which many Chinese classical wuxia stories are set. Each wuxia novel has its own Jianghu setting although in the trilogy like Louis Cha's Condor series it will be one with continuity; whereas Gu Long's Jianghu would be distinct in every novel.
 The concept of Jianghu can be traced to the 14th century novel Water Margin, in which a band of noble outlaws, who mounted regular sorties in an attempt to right the wrongs of corrupt officials, retreated to their hideout. These bandits were called the Chivalrous men of the Green Forests, the antecedent to Jianghu.
 The fictional Jianghu 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, Jianghu provided a substitute lineage, which offered them the assistance and protection that they did not receive from mainstream society.
 Integral to Jianghu is the smaller circle of martial arts practitioners usually including the protagonists called Wulin. Inhabitants of wulin are clearly differentiated from those within Jianghu, in that they all know some form of martial arts. And the way to differentiate the good from the bad within wulin is the code of xia, those who adhere to it are good, those who do not are bad.
 The standard of morality within wulin is less vigorous than that in Jianghu or in the historical setting. It is common to split wulin into black and white ways, denoting the criminous and virtuous. Killers, murderers and those less scruplous belong to the black way would live in wulin with a bad reputation, until someone would right their wrongs. The virtuous white way adherents are commonly represented by the major schools including Shaolin, Wudang, Emei to name a few, who are the benchmark good guys of wulin.
 The different schools are looked up to, and usually act as the elder advisors to the smaller elite circle within wulin. Every now and again wulin needs to have a champion, a general or a commander to lead the collective resources of wulin participants for China. A wulin mengzhu will sometimes be nominated and voted for this role. Typically but not always, the protagonist of a wuxia novel will become this leader and command the actions of wulin.
 In many wuxia novels, many seemingly uprighteous masters harbor seedy ambitions eventually turning them into dark personalities. These characters are in fact real-life approximations and reflections of politicians and lobbyists, where the truths are in shades of grays, instead of the absolute black or white.
 In modern times, the term Jianghu can take on several meanings, including different professions and sometimes used to refer to the triads and the secret societies of gangsters. They have a reputation to uphold in that world and they have a certain set of rules that they are to abide by. Likewise, the same applies for Jianghu.
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张力平,IT行业资深分析师。Zhang Liping, aka Sevencastles,a senior analyst in IT industry and the owner of Seven Castles,'a Shanghai blog featuring news and views of great interest'.