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Jiānghú (江湖; Cantonese: gòng wùh) is the milieu, environment, or sub-community, often fictional, in which many Chinese classical wuxia stories are set. The term can be translated literally as "rivers and lakes". Jianghu is an alternative universe coexisting with the actual historical one in which the context of the wuxia genre was set. Each wuxia novel has its own Jianghu setting although in the trilogy like Jin Yong'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 or 绿林好汉, the "green forest" (绿林, lǜlín) was the antecedent to Jianghu.

One of the earliest coinage of Jianghu was by a dejected poet Fan Zhongyan (989—1052) in the Song Dynasty in his poem Yueyang Lou Ji 岳阳楼记 [1], in which the context of Jianghu was set out as distant to the courts and temples, meaning a world in its own right.


Premises in Jianghu

It is a tacit assumption in many wuxia novels that the law and order in the actual historical setting were dysfunctional or poor, like the change of dynastic China from Song Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty, to Ming Dynasty and to Qing Dynasty, periods in time correlating to tremendous upheavals and turmoil in the society. In Louis Cha's novels the dysfunctionality can come in two levels: firstly, law and order broken down locally within China and secondly, the sovereignty of China came to be challenged by invaders. Localised disorder is the predicate where the chivalry and the code of xiá will be much needed to mend the ills of the world. The second layer of dysfunctionality in Cha's work would then become setting to showcase the patriotism and loyalty of the protagonists to their epoch or their emperors.

Integral to Jianghu is the smaller circle of martial arts practitioners usually including the protagonists called Wulin.

Morality in Jianghu

A strong element in the structure of Jianghu, is the line between Good and Evil, Right and Wrong is crystal clear; it is absolute. With some exceptions in Gu Long's work, protagonist in wuxia novels usually represent the right side of the law and ethos, their nemesis the opposite. It is here that theories abound on Star Wars's philosophy of the Jedi knights were based on that of xiá and the setting of Jianghu in this genre. The absolute definition of morality in wuxia is understandably a reaction to the real world where it is not quite so clear what or who is purely good or otherwise, consider the context and the historicity of Hong Kong at the time of Louis Cha's work.

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