Redefining xia: Reality and Fiction in Wang Dulu's Crane-Iron Series, 1938-1944

  • Hubertus Van Malssen

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis aims to shed new light on the Chinese character xia 侠 and the literature and history of the Republican Era (1912-1949) that revolves around it. Xia refers to either a concept (identifiable with kindness, altruism, righteousness, etc.) or to a person who practices this concept. Ever since its arrival in Chinese texts in the sixth century BC, it has created controversy for some and sympathy for others. In Modern China, xia became the central aspect of a literary genre that reached its zenith in production and consumption in the Republican Era, i.e. wuxia fiction 武侠小说, which can be translated as "using martial arts (wu 武) to obtain xia". The concept of xia was an integral part of presumably the most widespread literary genre of the time, but why were Republican-era readers so interested in it? Why did they relate to xia and what do the themes of these novels say about the chaotic Republican Era? To answer these questions, this thesis presents a case study of a wuxia pentalogy written by Wang Dulu at the end of the Republican Era and attempts to identify the topics and aspects most reflective of that historical period, showing that, despite the heavy criticism of intellectuals of that time, these "easy" popular novels contain innovative and modern aspects and can become today of great historical importance.The thesis starts with two literature reviews. The first determines that the term xia has not received enough scholarly attention, calling for a reassessment. The second literature review focuses on Republican Era wuxia fiction, showing how there is a gap in scholarship on this period. This is followed by a discussion of the methodology used for the analysis of the case study on Wang Dulu's Crane-Iron Series written in Qingdao (1938-1944), presented in the final three chapters of the thesis. Chapter one analyses the origins of the term xia in texts from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) and Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), presenting new interpretations for a more comprehensive understanding of the term. Chapter two gives a historical overview of xia¬-related literature and addresses the historical reasons for the changes that xia underwent throughout Chinese history. Chapter three includes a historiography of the Republican Era in combination with the life of the author Wang Dulu and identifies the aspects of the author's life that will become important in the textual analysis in the chapters to follow. Chapter four focuses on xia in the Crane-Iron Series. After having collected the terms and identified the semantic spheres that include the Chinese character xia, the chapter demonstrates how the story of one of the series' protagonist can be seen as an personification of Republican-era China, proving the historical dimension and value of these novels. Chapter five analyses yi 义 (righteousness) and represents the virtuous aspect of xia, concluding that, according to Wang Dulu, for the concept of xia, virtue is more important than being trained in martial arts (wu). Chapter six focuses on the literary figure of the baobiao 保镖 (protector) and is seen as the commercialisation of martial arts not necessarily linked to xia, showing how entrepreneurship and violence were characteristics of the time.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYang-Wen Zheng (Supervisor) & James St Andre (Supervisor)


  • Modern Chinese Literature
  • Republican Era (1912-1949)
  • Crane-Iron Series
  • Wuxia Literature
  • Xia
  • Wang Dulu

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