The term 遊俠 yóuxiá, "wandering force", refers to the way these men solely traveled the land using force (or influence through association with powerful people) to right the wrongs done to the common people and the monarchy if need be. Youxia did not come from any social class in particular. Various historical documents, wuxia novels, and folktales describe them as being princes, government officials, poets, musicians, physicians, professional soldiers, merchants, and butchers. Some were just as handy with a calligraphy brush as others were with swords and spears.
According to Dr. James J. Y. Liu (1926–1986), a professor of Chinese and comparative literature at Stanford University, it was a person's temperament and need for freedom, and not their social status, that caused them to roam the land and help those in need. Dr. Liu believes this is because a very large majority of these knights came from northern China, which borders the territory of "northern nomadic tribes, whose way of life stressed freedom of movement and military virtues". Many knights seem to have come from Hebei and Henan provinces. A large majority of the characters from the Water Margin, which is considered one of China's best examples of knight-errant literature, come from these provinces.
- For ten years I have been polishing this sword;
- Its frosty edge has never been put to the test.
- Now I am holding it and showing it to you, sir:
- Is there anyone suffering from injustice?
According to Dr. Liu, Jia’s poem "seems...to sum up the spirit of knight-errantry in four lines. At the same time, one can also take it as a reflection of the desire of all those who have prepared themselves for years to put their abilities to the test for some justice."
- Liu, James J. Y. The Chinese Knight Errant. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967 (ISBN 0-2264-8688-5)
- Shi, Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong. Outlaws of the Marsh. Trans. Sidney Shapiro. Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1993 (ISBN 7-119-01662-8)
- Extremely sharp.
- The Knight-errant in Chinese literature, a 12 page paper by James J.Y. Liu. (accessed 12-20-2008)