What is Xia?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Xia is a term in Eastern philosophy which is used to describe a righteous and honorable person. The concept of xia can be difficult to define, as no terms from other cultures are precisely equivalent, but words like “hero,” “righteous warrior,” and “knight” are sometimes used as rough translations. The concept of xia has an ancient history in Chinese culture which continues to this day, most notably in the flowering of arts in the wuxia genre, detailing the exploits of heroic and chivalrous people.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Someone who embodies the spirit of xia has a strong personal code, and abides to it at all costs. Honor is a very prized value in general in Chinese culture, so people who adhere to their honor tend to be heralded as heroic, whether or not they are skilled fighters. However, people who can be described with the term “xia” also happen to be very talented warriors, with extensive Chinese martial arts skills.

However, these skills are not used for rampant fighting or display; rather they are used as tools to protect the innocent and fight injustice. Heroes may not necessarily abide by the letter of the law to accomplish their goals, but their actions are always in accordance with their personal faith and beliefs. For example, a warrior might be forced to do something illegal in order to defend someone else, but he or she would consider the action just because it was done in the interest of protection, rather than for gain.

When someone is described is having the quality of xia, it means that he or she has an exceptionally good character, with a strong and clear honor code. In a sense, xia could be considered a form of chivalry, as it places a heavy focus on righting wrongs and protecting those in need. Both men and women can be considered heroes with the trait of xia in Chinese society, another marked difference between the ideas of xia and European knighthood. Xia can manifest in someone of any class or background, and warriors need not necessarily serve a specific lord or ruler, either.

The wuxia genre can be confusing to some Westerners, who may read wuxia books or watch wuxia films with the expectation of seeing detailed and complex fights in which the hero prevails over enemy forces. In fact, martial attitudes are only a small part of xia, as heroes are encouraged to use the powers of persuasion and diplomacy to achieve their goals, rather than leaping to the sword for a quick solution.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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