[FOUNTAIN]Imaginary realityJianghu, literally meaning “river and lake,” is the imaginary world where dreams come true. While the term is now found only in martial arts stories, Jianghu was originally an actual domain. It meant all of the waters in the world.
Jin Dynasty Daoist Ge Hung wrote in “Shenzian Zhuan,” or “Traditions of Divine Transcendents,” that the blood and sweat and oil of Pangu, the mythological first living being in China, became Jianghu.
Jianghu first appeared as a stage in the stories of wuxia, or the martial arts heroes, in Sima Qian’s “Shiji,” “The Records of the Grand Historian.” The field of contest where assassins Jing Ke and Yu Rang operated was called Jianghu. Jianghu became an imaginary domain during the East Jin Dynasty. As it was often called the retreat of the Seven Sages in the Bamboo Grove, the concept of Jianghu was elevated to mean a space for noble spirits. Then, during the Ming Dynasty, the famous Robin Hood-style novel “Water Margin” turned Jianghu back into a stage for heroes and warriors. In this utopia, corrupt officials were punished and peasants and innocent people were saved. Jianghu was a fantasy world where good always triumphed over evil. In the Qing Dynasty, Jianghu became an imaginary haven, and wuxia novels became fairy tales for the grown-ups.
Jinyong is credited for having modernized the wuxia novels for contemporary readers. Beginning with his 1955 work “The Romance of the Book and Sword,” he produced 15 wuxia novels in 17 years until he published the last work, “The Dear and the Caldron,” and retired from writing in 1972.
Ni Kuang, another Chinese writer and a friend of Jinyong, summed up Jinyong as the best wuxia novelist who ever lived or ever would.
“The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” is one of Jinyong’s most famous works. Linghu Chong, the hero of the story, kills his master, who was enchanted by evil power, and leaves Jianghu. Mr. Chong was angry at Jianghu, because it now only sought to improve its martial arts techniques and pursue political power. “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” is back in the spotlight, this time not in the wuxia world but in Korean politics. Former vice minister for culture Yoo Jin-ryong is at the center of the controversy. He was dismissed from his post after turning down requests to influence nominations to high posts. He said that today’s world reminds him of the smiling, proud warrior leaving Jianghu.
The grimmer the reality is, and the more difficult living is, the more popular Jianghu seems to become.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.