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Traditional Chinese遊俠
Simplified Chinese游侠
Literal meaningwandering vigilante

Youxia (Chinese: 遊俠) was a type of ancient Chinese warrior folk hero celebrated in classical Chinese poetry and fictional literature. It literally means "wandering vigilante", but is commonly translated as "knight-errant" or less commonly as "cavalier", "adventurer", "soldier of fortune" or "underworld stalwart".[1]


Of the two characters of the term, yóu (遊) literally means to "wander", "travel" or "move around", and xiá (俠) means someone with power who helps others in need. The term refers to the way these men solely travelled the land using physical force or political influence to right the wrongs done to the common people by the powers that be, often judged by their personal codes of chivalry. 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 Various historical documents, wuxia novels and folktales describe them as being princes, government officials, poets, musicians, physicians, professional soldiers, merchants, monks and even humble farmers 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.[2]

In poetry[edit]

One good example of Youxia poetry is The Swordsman (剑客) by Jia Dao (Tang Dynasty):

For ten years I have been polishing this sword;
Its frosty edge[a] has never been put to the test.
Now I am holding it and showing it to you, sir:
Is there anyone suffering from injustice?[3]

  1. ^ extremely sharp edge

According to Dr. Liu, Jia's poem " 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."[3]

A metric translation of the original Chinese poem with one iamb per Chinese character[4] reads as follows:

A decade long I honed a single sword,
Its steel-cold blade still yet to test its song.
Today I hold it out to you, my lord,
and ask: "Who seeks deliverance from a wrong?"

Analogous concepts[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Liu, James J. Y. The Chinese Knight Errant. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967, p. xii.
  2. ^ Shi, Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong. Outlaws of the Marsh. Trans. Sidney Shapiro. Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1993 (ISBN 7-119-01662-8)
  3. ^ a b Liu, p. 68.
  4. ^ Tian Min, 2020. Medium article.

External links[edit]