Linghu Chong (traditional Chinese: 令狐沖; simplified Chinese: 令狐冲; Mandarin Pinyin: Línghú Chōng; Jyutping: Ling6-wu4 Cung1) is the scruffy, happy-go-lucky protagonist of the novel. An orphan, he was raised as Yue Buqun's eldest student. He learns the 'Nine Swords of Dugu' from Feng Qingyang and becomes a formidable swordsman. His sudden and tremendous improvement in swordplay causes his teacher to suspect him of having stolen the Bixie Swordplay Manual and mastered the skill. Even after his expulsion from Mount Hua, he remains loyal and respectful towards his teacher. Although his kind nature and heroic attributes make him a likeable person, they also negatively influence him by increasing his affiliations with jianghu lowlifes, resulting in him being misunderstood by his fellows and other orthodox sects. He retires from the jianghu eventually to lead a peaceful life with his lover Ren Yingying.
Yue Buqun (Chinese: 岳不群; Mandarin Pinyin: Yuè Bùqún; Jyutping: Ngok6 Bat1-kwan4) is the leader of the sect. He is an expert in using the 'Violet Mist Divine Skill' (紫霞神功). Although he is nicknamed "Gentleman Sword" (traditional Chinese: 君子劍; simplified Chinese: 君子剑; Mandarin Pinyin: Jūnzǐ Jiàn; Jyutping: Gwan1-zi2 Gim3) for appearing to be cultured and refined, he gradually reveals his dark side — a bigoted, selfish and power-hungry hypocrite. He lusts for the Lin family's Bixie Swordplay Manual and plots an elaborate scheme to seize it, to the extent of castrating himself to master the skill. He is incidentally killed by Yilin while attempting to trap and murder his rivals.
Yue Lingshan (traditional Chinese: 岳靈珊; simplified Chinese: 岳灵珊; Mandarin Pinyin: Yuè Língshān; Jyutping: Ngok6 Ling4-saan1) is Yue Buqun and Ning Zhongze's daughter and Linghu Chong's first romantic interest. She falls in love with Lin Pingzhi later and marries him. However, she eventually learns that she is actually a pawn in a struggle for power between her husband and father. Lin Pingzhi kills her after she refuses to follow him to join Zuo Lengshan.
Lin Pingzhi (Chinese: 林平之; Mandarin Pinyin: Lín Píngzhī; Jyutping: Lam4 Ping4-zi1) is Lin Zhennan's son and the sole survivor of the Lin family, who was massacred by the Qingcheng Sect. Yue Buqun sympathises with him, accepts him as a disciple and marries his daughter to him. Driven by hatred and resentment after discovering Yue Buqun's ulterior motive in treating him well, he becomes increasingly vicious and slays his family's murderers brutally in revenge but is blinded by Mu Gaofeng. He is eventually imprisoned in an underground dungeon by Linghu Chong, who agreed to Yue Lingshan's dying wish to spare her husband's life.
Feng Qingyang (traditional Chinese: 風清揚; simplified Chinese: 风清扬; Mandarin Pinyin: Fēng Qīngyáng; Jyutping: Fung1 Cing1-joeng4; literally "wind, clear, raise") is a senior member of the Sword faction (劍宗). During the sect's internal conflict, he was lured away by the Qi faction, who used the opportunity to defeat and force the Sword faction into exile. Feeling embarrassed for being deceived, Feng leaves the sect and leads a reclusive life in a secluded area on Mount Hua. He meets Linghu Chong by chance and teaches him the 'Nine Swords of Dugu'. His name is derived from the Classic of Poetry and describes refreshing weather in a poetic manner, as he seems to be giving Linghu Chong the power of a gust of wind which clears all evils when he taught the latter the 'Nine Swords of Dugu'.
Feng Buping (Chinese: 封不平; Mandarin Pinyin: Fēng Bùpíng; Jyutping: Fung1 Bat1-ping4) is the leader of the Sword faction. Instigated by Zuo Lengshan, he returns to Mount Hua to challenge Yue Buqun for the position of head of their sect, but is defeated by Linghu Chong and forced back into exile.
Zuo Lengshan (traditional Chinese: 左冷禪; simplified Chinese: 左冷禅; Mandarin Pinyin: Zuó Lěngshàn; Jyutping: Zo2 Laang5-sin6) is the ambitious and ruthless leader of the Mount Song Sect (嵩山派) and chief of the alliance. He practises a skill called 'Freezing Breath' (寒冰真氣) that freezes his inner energy to sub-zero temperature and increases its power tremendously. He sends his spy Lao Denuo to obtain the Bixie Swordplay Manual from Yue Buqun, not knowing that it is a fake copy, and masters the skill. He then calls for a special assembly of the alliance and attempts to intimidate the other four sects into submitting to him. He is defeated and blinded by Yue Buqun, who uses the real Bixie Swordplay against him, and pretends to concede his position as the alliance's chief to Yue. Later he leads his followers to Mount Hua to kill Yue Buqun but the latter sees through his plan and traps them inside a cave. The trapped martial artists start killing each other out of paranoia and mistrust, and Zuo is killed by Linghu Chong during the chaos.
The "Three Elder Nuns" are the leaders of the (North) Mount Heng Sect (恆山派). They are:
Dingjing (traditional Chinese: 定靜; simplified Chinese: 定静; Mandarin Pinyin: Dìngjìng; Jyutping: Ding6-zing6) is the most senior of the trio, but she gives up the position of leader to her junior Dingxian. Zuo Lengshan sends his henchmen to ambush her and coerce her into joining his "alliance". She refuses to capitulate and dies from her wounds before Linghu Chong can save her.
Dingxian (traditional Chinese: 定閒; simplified Chinese: 定闲; Mandarin Pinyin: Dìngxián; Jyutping: Ding6-haan4) is the benevolent and wise leader of the sect. She is mortally wounded by a masked attacker (later revealed to be Yue Buqun) in Shaolin Monastery. Before dying, she names Linghu Chong as her successor.
Dingyi (Chinese: 定逸; Mandarin Pinyin: Dìngyì; Jyutping: Ding6-jat6) is the most junior of the trio and the most hot-tempered one. She and Dingxian are both murdered by Yue Buqun in Shaolin.
Yilin (traditional Chinese: 儀琳; simplified Chinese: 仪琳; Mandarin Pinyin: Yílín; Jyutping: Ji4-lam4) is Dingyi's student, and the daughter of Monk Bujie and Mute Granny. She falls in love with Linghu Chong after he rescues her from Tian Boguang's sexual advances, but has to suppress her feelings because she is forbidden by her sect's code to love a man.
Mo Da (Chinese: 莫大; Mandarin Pinyin: Mò Dà; Jyutping: Mok6 Daai6) is the mysterious leader of the (South) Mount Heng Sect (衡山派), who is known for playing melancholic tunes on a huqin, where his sword is concealed. His swordplay techniques, which correspond with music themes, are very fast and unpredictable. He is the sole surviving person from his sect at the end of the novel.
Liu Zhengfeng (traditional Chinese: 劉正風; simplified Chinese: 刘正风; Mandarin Pinyin: Liú Zhèngfēng; Jyutping: Lau4 Zing3-fung1), nicknamed "Third Master Liu" (traditional Chinese: 劉三爺; simplified Chinese: 刘三爷; Mandarin Pinyin: Liú Sānyé; Jyutping: Lau4 Saam1-je4), is Mo Da's junior. He plays the dizi and befriends Qu Yang of the Sun Moon Holy Cult, who shares the same passion for music with him. The duo compose the music piece Xiaoao Jianghu (笑傲江湖) together. He intends to leave the wulin and invites fellow martial artists to witness his retirement ceremony. During the event he is confronted by Zuo Lengshan and his followers and comes under attack. While fleeing together with Qu Yang, he meets Linghu Chong and passes him the music score for Xiaoao Jianghu. He and Qu then commit suicide by bursting their arteries with their inner energy.
Yujizi (traditional Chinese: 玉磯子; simplified Chinese: 玉矶子; Mandarin Pinyin: Yùjīzǐ; Jyutping: Juk6-gei1-zi2) is the last known leader of the sect. He debates with the "Six Immortals of the Peach Valley" on who should be the rightful leader of the alliance, and attempts to fight them but has his limbs torn from his body by Zuo Lengshan.
Ren Woxing (Chinese: 任我行; Mandarin Pinyin: Rén Wǒxíng; Jyutping: Jam4 Ngo5-hang4; literally "I go wherever I want/I go where I please") is the leader of the Sun Moon Holy Cult (日月神教) and a master of martial arts, politics and manipulation. He is feared by both his followers and enemies. He masters the 'Star Sucking Great Skill' (吸星大法), a dreaded ability that allows him to drain and absorb an opponent's inner energy. He is ousted from power in a scheme orchestrated by Dongfang Bubai and imprisoned in an underground dungeon for 12 years before escaping with Linghu Chong's help. He returns to confront Dongfang Bubai and regains control of his cult with Linghu's assistance. He dies from a stroke triggered by his own megalomania.
Ren Yingying (Chinese: 任盈盈; Mandarin Pinyin: Rén Yíngyíng; Jyutping: Jam4 Jing4-jing4) is Ren Woxing's daughter. Although she is intelligent and caring towards her subordinates, she can be ruthless and cold blooded at times. She meets Linghu Chong and falls in love with him after being attracted to his heroism. She succeeds her father as the cult's leader but later retires to lead a reclusive life with Linghu Chong.
Xiang Wentian (traditional Chinese: 向問天; simplified Chinese: 向问天; Mandarin Pinyin: Xiàng Wèntiān; Jyutping: Hoeng3 Man6-tin1; literally "asks the Heavens") is an elder of the cult. He remains loyal to Ren Woxing even after Dongfang Bubai seized power and becomes an outcast of the cult. Linghu Chong once saved him while he was under attack by dozens of enemies. He becomes sworn brothers with Linghu after realising that both of them share similar attributes. He succeeds Ren Yingying as the cult's leader.
Qu Yang (Chinese: 曲洋; Mandarin Pinyin: Qū Yáng; Jyutping: Kuk1 Joeng4) is an elder of the cult who plays the guqin. He befriends Liu Zhengfeng of the (South) Mount Heng Sect, who shares the same passion for music as him. The duo compose the music piece Xiaoao Jianghu together and later pass the score to Linghu Chong. He commits suicide together with Liu Zhengfeng when both of them are cornered by Zuo Lengshan's men.
Ren Yingying's subordinates:
Lan Fenghuang (traditional Chinese: 藍鳳凰; simplified Chinese: 蓝凤凰; Mandarin Pinyin: Lán Fènghuáng; Jyutping: Laam4 Fung6-wong4; literally "Blue Phoenix") is the leader of the Five Deities Cult (五仙教). She attempts to cure Linghu Chong of his internal injuries but fails. She becomes Linghu Chong's godsister later.
Laotouzi (traditional Chinese: 老頭子; simplified Chinese: 老头子; Mandarin Pinyin: Lǎotóuzǐ; Jyutping: Lou5-tau4-zi2; literally "Old Man") is Laobusi's father. He has eight herbal tablets, intended to be used as a cure for his daughter, but Linghu Chong consumes the tablets by accident. Linghu willingly uses his blood to save Laotouzi's daughter and the latter is very grateful to him.
Zu Qianqiu (Chinese: 祖千秋; Mandarin Pinyin: Zǔ Qiānqiū; Jyutping: Zou2 Cin1-cau1) is a jianghu lowlife who tricks Linghu Chong into consuming Laotouzi's tablets.
Fangzheng (traditional Chinese: 方證; simplified Chinese: 方证; Mandarin Pinyin: Fāngzhèng; Jyutping: Fong1-zing3) is the abbot of Shaolin. He is highly revered in the wulin for his prowess in martial artists and morally upright character. Believing that it is Linghu Chong's karma to learn the skills in the Yijin Jing, he lends the latter the Yijin Jing manual. Linghu masters the skills and heals himself of his internal injuries in the process.
Taoist Chongxu (traditional Chinese: 沖虚道長; simplified Chinese: 冲虚道长; Mandarin Pinyin: Chōngxū Dàozhǎng; Jyutping: Cung1-heoi1 Dou3-zoeng2) is the leader of Wudang. Like Shaolin's abbot Fangzheng, he is highly respected in the wulin for his excellence in martial arts and morally upright character. While travelling in disguise as a farmer once, he meets Linghu Chong and engages the latter in a friendly duel. He is impressed when Linghu Chong uses the 'Nine Swords of Dugu' to defeat his 'Taiji Swordplay', and thereafter befriends the latter.
Yu Canghai (traditional Chinese: 余滄海; simplified Chinese: 余沧海; Mandarin Pinyin: Yú Cānghǎi; Jyutping: Jyu4 Cong1-hoi2) is the leader of the Qingcheng Sect (青城派). Lin Pingzhi killed his son in a heated argument, so he used that as an excuse to massacre the Lin family and destroy the Fuwei Escort Agency. He is actually after the Lin family's Bixie Swordplay Manual, but does not find it. Lin Pingzhi survives the massacre and later returns to take revenge. He and his followers are brutally killed by Lin. Yu is known for his 'Pine Wind Swordplay' (松風劍法), which allows him to enshroud his foes in a green hue.
Lin Zhennan (Chinese: 林震南; Mandarin Pinyin: Lín Zhènnán; Jyutping: Lam4 Zan3-naam4) is Lin Yuantu's grandson and Lin Pingzhi's father. He inherits his ancestor's Bixie Swordplay Manual, which becomes a highly sought artefact by many martial artists in the jianghu. He and his wife are captured by Yu Canghai, who leads his Qingcheng Sect to massacre the Lin family and destroy the agency. The couple are later tortured to death by Mu Gaofeng.
Monk Bujie (Chinese: 不戒和尚; Mandarin Pinyin: Bùjiè Héshàng; Jyutping: Bat1-gaai3 Wo4-soeng6) is Yilin's father. He fell in love with Mute Granny and renamed himself "Bujie", which means "no rules". He attempts to cure Linghu Chong of his internal wounds by injecting two streams of energy into the latter's body but that worsens Linghu's condition instead.
The "Six Immortals of the Peach Valley" (Chinese: 桃谷六仙; Mandarin Pinyin: Táo Gǔ Liù Xiān; Jyutping: Tou4 Guk1 Luk6 Sin1) are six brothers, each named after a different part of the peach tree. They are very close to each other even though they always quarrel and bicker among themselves. They try to cure Linghu Chong of his internal injuries by injecting six streams of energy into his body but that worsens Linghu's condition. They become an ally of Linghu Chong and join his (North) Mount Heng Sect eventually.
Mu Gaofeng (Chinese: 木高峰; Mandarin Pinyin: Mù Gāofēng; Jyutping: Muk6 Gou1-fung1) is a notorious hunchbacked bandit from the north and one of the people seeking the Lin family's Bixie Swordplay Manual. He tries to force Lin Pingzhi to be his student and tortures Lin's parents to death. His hunchback is actually a sack containing poison gas, which when torn, will release the gas and blind everyone around it. He is slain by Lin Pingzhi in revenge but Lin is also blinded by the poison gas.
Ping Yizhi (Chinese: 平一指; Mandarin Pinyin: Píng Yīzhǐ; Jyutping: Ping4 Jat1-zi2) is a physician nicknamed "Killer Physician" (traditional Chinese: 殺人名醫; simplified Chinese: 杀人名医; Mandarin Pinyin: Shā Rén Míng Yī; Jyutping: Saat3 Jan4 Ming4 Ji1). He believes that life and death are predestined, so saving a life is equivalent to violating the law of nature. As such, he lays down a rule that for every life he saves, another must die. He fails to cure Linghu Chong of his internal injuries and commits suicide in shame.
The "Four Friends of Jiangnan" (Chinese: 江南四友; Mandarin Pinyin: Jiāngnán Sì Yǒu; Jyutping: Gong1-naam4 Sei3 Jau5) are four martial artists hired by Dongfang Bubai to watch over Ren Woxing in the underground dungeon in Hangzhou. They are:
Heibaizi (Chinese: 黑白子; Mandarin Pinyin: Hēibáizǐ; Jyutping: Hak1-baak6-zi2) is a weiqi fanatic with a pale face and dark hair. He becomes a handicap after Linghu Chong uses the "Star Sucking Great Skill" on him.
Dan Qingsheng (Chinese: 丹青生; Mandarin Pinyin: Dān Qīngshēng; Jyutping: Daan1 Cing1-sang1) is an alcohol addict and swordplay expert who knows Linghu Chong through their common interest. He duels with Linghu but lost and is forced to surrender to Ren Woxing in the same manner as Tu Biweng.