Wuxia on the Web goes West as genre spreads

Updated: 2013-04-13 01:13

By ERIC JOU (China Daily)

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Chinese wuxia series are becoming increasingly popular in the West in a similar fashion to Western TV shows gaining audiences in China, thanks to devoted fans and the power of the Internet.

Wuxia, which translates as "martial hero", is a genre of Chinese fiction related to martial artists. It appears in various forms, from video games to movies - such as Ang Lee's highly acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

On an average weekday, 20-year-old Jonathan Breedveld, who lives in the Netherlands, grabs snacks from the fridge the minute he arrives home, carries them to his desk, turns on the computer and continues where he left off the day before - with the latest episode of the adventure series Guai Xia Yi Zhi Mei.

Breedveld, a self-professed wuxia fanatic, does not watch the show on TV. Instead, he watches it on the Internet through Web-streaming sites such as YouTube.

"I don't speak Chinese, and I absolutely cannot read Chinese, except for the words kung fu," he said. "I want to learn it. I think it's a beautiful language, but I don't mind reading subtitles. I can read very fast."

Breedveld said his first wuxia film was Jackie Chan's Forbidden Kingdom.

"While googling Liu Yifei (one of the actresses from Forbidden Kingdom) on the Internet, I discovered that she played in the series Return of the Condor Heroes," said Breedveld. "I watched one episode and was immediately hooked."

Having fallen in love with the genre, Breedveld then discovered Wuxia Edge, a website dedicated to sharing wuxia TV series on the Internet.

The brainchild of Susanna Liang, a Chinese Web designer who lives in the United States, Wuxia Edge features translated wuxia media links, and a blog about everything related to the genre.

Liang started the website a few years ago but it did not take off until late last year.

"A few years ago, I discovered a wonderful show - Chinese Paladin," said Liang. "It blew me away. I was amazed by the characters.

"I started the website because my husband said there wasn't any website with updates on Chinese shows," she said.

Liang admits it is not easy to spread the genre across cultures. The lack of promotion and basic knowledge of wuxia are among the reasons why the genre spreads slowly in the West.

Thanks to the Internet, she has been able to meet many people who share her interests. She even found someone who translates Chinese shows.

Chris Dayton, who lives in the US, and is one of the founders of the wuxia translation group Jiang Hu Fansubs, said his site has received an overwhelming response.

Jiang Hu Fansubs takes its name from the Chinese term jianghu, which means the underworld of Chinese martial arts. Fansubs is a combination of the words "fan" and "subtitle", as in fans who subtitle a series.

Wuxia: Number of viewers on increase

With a rotating group of about 10 members, Jiang Hu Fansubs started in 2007 after a forum discussion between wuxia fans. Many of the translators are college students or young professionals. Dayton said the general idea is to help those who want to learn Chinese and to spread their love of wuxia.

"After about two years of 'fansubbing', my Chinese proficiency improved considerably," Dayton said. "Others do it because they love wuxia dramas."

While there is no quantifiable method to track how far wuxia has penetrated the West, Liang said she has seen a growth in viewership. Based on YouTube hits, she said viewership of certain wuxia series has increased from 3,000 to 8,000 views in a little over a year.

She is optimistic about wuxia in the West and is always looking for new ways to promote the genre.

"I think wuxia is spreading much faster now than a year ago," she said. "In the past, I've used word of mouth to promote it, and through Google ads when they give out free vouchers. I've also spread it via Facebook, Twitter, and (online community) deviantART. I want to share it with as many people as possible."


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