Xianxia (simplified Chinese: 仙侠; traditional Chinese: 仙俠) is a genre of Chinese fantasy influenced by Chinese mythology, Taoism, Buddhism, Chinese martial arts, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and other traditional Chinese elements.
There are many ancient texts that are sometimes classified as xianxia, such as the Classic of Mountains and Seas from the Warring States period, or the Legend of the White Snake from the Qing period. Xianxia novels were popularized during the Republic of China period, but it was the 1932 novel Legend of the Sword Heroes from Zu Mountain that sparked the modern popularity of the genre. The genre took on new life with the advent of online publishing, with sites such as Qidian.com, Zongheng.com, and 17k.com giving a platform for authors to reach wide audiences with high-volume, serialized content. It was popularized outside of China primarily by fan translations in the early 2000's. Novels such as Stellar Transformations, Coiling Dragon, Martial God Asura, and I Shall Seal the Heavens led to a boom in such fan translations. Later, official licensed translations began to be published by websites such as Wuxiaworld.com and Webnovel.com. The genre is also a staple of Chinese television shows, movies, manhua, and games.
Protagonists are usually "cultivators" who seek to become Immortals, attaining eternal life, supernatural powers, and incredible levels of strength. The fictional cultivation practiced in xianxia is heavily based on the real-life meditation practice Qigong.
The stories usually include elements such as gods, immortals, demons, devils, ghosts, monsters, magical treasures, immortal items, medicinal pills, and the like. They often take place in a "cultivation world" where cultivators engage in fierce and usually deadly struggles to acquire the resources they need to grow stronger. Oftentimes, the initial setting is reminiscent of Ancient China, but the stories usually become cosmic in nature, with the protagonists attaining godlike abilities, sometimes creating their own planets, galaxies or universes. While the primary focus is action and adventure, there are also romance-heavy stories.
Films and television
Perhaps one of the earliest successful xianxia movies was the 1983 Hong Kong film Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, which was followed up by the 2001 Hong Kong film The Legend of Zu. Other film adaptations of novels have been well received, such as the 2017 romantic xianxia film Once Upon a Time and the 2019 Jade Dynasty.
Overall, television shows are more numerous and popular. There have been numerous adaptations of Journey to the West, with the 1986 TV series being particularly beloved.
The characters forming xianxia are xian (仙) and xia (侠). Xian literally means immortal, not in the sense of immortality, but in the sense of the transcendent being from Chinese mythology. Xia is usually translated as hero, but specifically implies a person who is brave, chivalrous, and righteous.
Confusion with other genres
During the initial explosion of popularity of Chinese fantasy novels, one of the most popular translation websites was Wuxiaworld.com. Because of the use of "wuxia" in the name of the site, many readers began use that term to describe all of genres of Chinese fantasy novels. In reality, although xianxia shares many characteristics with wuxia, they are in fact separate genres. Later, as more readers came to understand the difference between wuxia and xianxia, they began to use xianxia to refer to all types of Chinese cultivation novels, when in fact there are some unique genres that are not xianxia, such as xuanhuan, qihuan, etc.
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