|Created by||Jin Yong|
|Appearances||The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber|
|Spouse(s)||Song Qingshu (fake wedding)|
|Romantic interest(s)||Zhang Wuji|
|Skills and abilities|
|Qinggong||Emei Sect qinggong|
|Neigong||Emei Nine Yang Skill,
Nine Yin Manual skills
|Unarmed combat skills||Nine Yin White Bone Claw,
Heart Shattering Palm,
Soft Palm of the Golden Peak
|Armed combat skills||Emei Swordplay,
White Boa Whip Skill
|Weapons||Heaven Reliant Sword,
White Boa Whip
Zhou Zhiruo is one of the two female lead characters in the wuxia novel The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber by Jin Yong (Louis Cha). Jin Yong describes Zhou's physical appearance as "beautiful, pure and free of worldly traits" (清麗秀雅，容色極美).
Role in the novel
Zhou is the daughter of a boatman from the Han River. Her name "Zhiruo" is derived from her birthplace, Zhijiang. Zhou's mother died when she was very young. Her father was killed by Yuan soldiers when she was 10, but she was rescued by Zhang Sanfeng, who was passing by. Zhou meets the young Zhang Wuji, who was travelling with Zhang Sanfeng then, and they develop a friendship. Zhang Wuji leaves them later and follows Chang Yuchun to Butterfly Valley to seek treatment from Hu Qingniu. Zhang Sanfeng brings Zhou back to Wudang and recommends her to join the Emei Sect later. Zhou enters the sect and becomes a student of Abbess Miejue, leader of Emei.
Zhou meets Zhang Wuji several years later by chance and falls in love with him. However, Miejue dislikes Zhang because of the latter's affiliation with the Ming Cult. Miejue forces Zhou to swear that she must not marry Zhang or have any romantic feelings for him. The oath is as follows:
I, Zhou Zhiruo, hereby swear to Heaven, that if I have any romantic feelings for the Demonic Cult (Ming Cult)'s leader Zhang Wuji or if I marry him, my late parents' souls will not be at peace; my teacher Abbess Miejue will become a vengeful ghost after death and haunt me day and night, and should I have any offspring with Zhang Wuji, the males will become slaves while females will become prostitutes for every generation.
Miejue names Zhou as her successor to leadership of Emei and tells her the secret behind the Heaven Reliant Sword and the Dragon Slaying Saber. Miejue tells Zhou to extract the martial arts manuals and the Book of Wumu concealed in the weapons' blades and master those skills, and use them to glorify Emei. Zhou is unwilling to harm Zhang, but is bound by her oath to do so. On Divine Serpent Island, Zhou steals the weapons and breaks them by clashing them together, obtaining the secret items hidden inside. She kills Yin Li (Zhang's cousin) and frames Zhao Min for the deed.
Zhou practises the skills detailed in the Nine Yin Manual, mastering a quick-learning, unorthodox and "evil" version of the skill, known as the 'Nine Yin White Bone Claw', as well as the 'Heart Shattering Palm' and 'White Boa Whip Skill'. As the story progresses, Zhou develops a closer relationship with Zhang, until she decides to break her oath and marry him. However, Zhao Min shows up and disrupts the wedding and Zhou attacks Zhao in anger but Zhang intervenes and stops her. Zhou feels that Zhang had betrayed her love, and begins to see him and Zhao as her sworn enemies. She pretends to marry Song Qingshu of the Wudang Sect, who has a crush on her. Song joins the Emei Sect after becoming an outcast of Wudang for turning against his fellows. Zhou teaches Song the 'Nine Yin White Bone Claw' and intends to use him against Zhang in a battle.
During the Lion Slaying Ceremony held at Shaolin Monastery, Zhou defeats all martial artists who attended and emerges as champion of the wulin (martial artists' community). However, Zhou is defeated by the Yellow Dress Maiden later, who uses an orthodox version of the skills in the Nine Yin Manual to overcome Zhou's 'Nine Yin White Bone Claw'. The Xuaming Elders attempt to steal the manual from Zhou after seeing how her martial arts had improved from learning it. They injure her with their 'Xuanming Divine Palm', but she is saved by Zhang Wuji. Zhang heals her with his 'Nine Yang Divine Skill', which inadvertently negates her "Yin" inner energy and restores her back to her original state. Zhou feels guilty for her sins, especially when she encounters the "ghost" of Yin Li and admits to Zhang her past deeds and her love towards him. Towards the end of the story, Zhang tells Zhou directly that he has decided that Zhao Min is his true love and Zhou gives up on Zhang forever. Zhou also discovers that Yin Li has survived her attack and Yin accepts Zhou's apology and forgives her. Zhou visits Zhang and Zhao in the last chapter and makes some cheeky remarks when Zhang is about to help Zhao paint her eyebrows.
Martial arts and skills
- Nine Yin Manual (九陰真經) skills:
- 'Nine Yin Inner Energy' (九陰內功)
- 'Nine Yin White Bone Claw' (九陰白骨爪) is an unorthodox derivation of the skills detailed in the manual for close quarters combat. The combatant usually pierces the victim's skull with his / her fingers and causes a gruesome death to the victim.
- 'White Boa Whip Skill' (白蟒鞭法) is an armed combat skill detailed in the manual for long range combat.
- 'Heart Shattering Palm' (摧心掌) is an alternative to the Nine Yin White Bone Claw for short range combat. It causes severe internal bleeding near the victim's heart once the palm hits the victim's chest, but causes no visible wounds.
- 'Emei Nine Yang Skill' (峨嵋九陽功)
- 'Emei Swordplay' (峨嵋劍法)
- 'Soft Palm of the Golden Peak' (金頂綿掌)
- (Chinese) 我看周芷若 - review essay on the character of Zhou Zhiruo[dead link]
- (Chinese) 周芷若：从柔顺的纯情美女到诡异的复仇女神 (1) (2) - extracts about Zhou Zhiruo from Rankings of Characters in Jin Yong's Works (金庸人物排行榜) by Tan Xianmao (覃贤茂)[dead link]