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The Xianxia Fantasy Drama World in My Eyes

The Xianxia Fantasy Drama World in My Eyes

People say that in the heart of every Chinese, there's a Xianxia(Chinese fantasy) dream. My perspective on Xianxia dramas might be a bit different from most fans. I approach Xianxia stories with the mindset of observing a parallel world's history. In my view, they are like the 'Records of the Grand Historian' for the Xianxia worlds, transformed into popular entertainment.

Xianxia is a genre of Chinese fantasy heavily inspired by Chinese mythology and influenced by philosophies of Taoism, Buddhism, Chinese martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese folk religion, Chinese alchemy, other traditional elements of Chinese culture, and the wuxia genre.

The Origins of Xianxia

I believe that there must be a reason behind the current popularity of Xianxia phenomenon.

The foundational aesthetic and artistic theory in Western civilization is Aristotle's "Poetics," which has had a profound impact on the development of literature and dramatic creation in subsequent generations. It mentions that art is a form of "imitation," and this is a crucial concept. In my understanding, it's a reinterpretation and representation of the world created by the Creator, and, of course, it goes beyond the material world we can currently perceive. In my view, the worlds in these Xianxia stories may be just that: a reshaping and representation of the civilizations and life that once existed in parallel worlds, although they may have been transformed beyond recognition under the influence of clichés, entertainment, and various factors.

I'm a fan of getting immersed in a story because the clichéd romantic drama of the "three lifetimes of love" doesn't hold much appeal for me. Overusing clichés can fatigue the audience.

I'm also a fan of getting lost in a story, where I'm moved by the actors' performances because acting is art, not cliché. When actors are shaping a character, they need to infuse it with real emotions, their own values, and their understanding of that world and character. The sincerity and dedication displayed by a talented actor in their performance can be truly moving.

I believe that in this world, there are no accidents, and there are no chance encounters without reason. Our affinity for or fondness of a Xianxia story may be due to a connection we have with the world related to that story. Perhaps we were once travelers in that world, or we were sentient beings in that world, and maybe, just maybe, we were even deities in that world.

It's possible that you were truly a deity in some world, even if you may dismiss the existence of gods as fiction and illusion.

Xianxia and the Great Moral Duty

Among these trending xianxia dramas, there are two primary commonalities: the formulaic trope of 'Three Lives, Three Worlds' and the overarching theme of great moral duty. While 'Three Lives, Three Worlds' serves as a narrative tool to engage the audience and gradually unveil the story's core message, it may not necessarily reflect the actual historical context of xianxia worlds. In my perspective, the true essence and enduring theme of xianxia dramas lie in the concept of great moral duty.

In 'Immortal Samsara,' Ying Yuan, burdened with the responsibility of being the Emperor of the Heavenly Realm, willingly endures a lifetime of suffering and regrets, all while suppressing his feelings for the heavenly fairy Yan Dan. Yan Dan initially held her affection for Ying Yuan above her own life, lingering by the Forgotten Night River for eight centuries without release. However, she ultimately severs their mortal connection with her own hands to enable Ying Yuan to return to the Heavenly Realm and fulfill his mission. Upon his return, even though Ying Yuan yearns to be with Yan Dan, he chooses to reconstruct the divine realm's barrier at the cost of his divine life, preventing the invasion of the demon tribe and safeguarding all beings in the Three Realms. This profound sacrifice and the intricate choices made in this dual pursuit are profoundly moving.

In 'Love between fairy and devil,' the goddess Orchid, also known as Little Orchid, showcases her unwavering belief and compassion for Dongfang Qing Cang, the moon clan leader labeled as a demon by her own celestial clan. Even during the fierce conflict between the celestial and lunar clans, her innate compassion as a goddess compels her to sacrifice herself to save both factions' people. Originally, Dongfang Qing Cang severed his emotions and embraced dark magic to oppose the celestial clan. However, his interactions with Little Orchid, experiencing the trials of love and compassion, transform him profoundly. In the end, despite the war between the two clans, they unite to assist the goddess Orchid in confronting the malevolent god, Tai Sui. Dongfang Qing Cang opts not to employ dark magic but instead wields the potent Heavenly Glass Fire, a force only harnessed by those filled with love and compassion. These plotlines resonate more deeply than their tales of parting and lost love.

In 'Till The End Of The Moon,' Celestial Disciple Li Su Su, determined to prevent the birth of the world-ending demon god, journeys five centuries into the past to find Tantai Jin, a mortal destined to become the vessel of the demon god. To fulfill her divine mission entrusted by the gods, she must let go of her deep-seated hatred and profound love for him. She willingly sacrifices her life to ensure Tantai Jin doesn't succumb to the path of darkness, gaining an opportunity to enter the celestial sect. Similarly, Tantai Jin , who initially turned to the dark arts to defy the celestial clan, endures the world's misunderstandings and resentment, including that of his beloved, all while orchestrating his own demise as the harbinger of the demon god's arrival. The celestial sect members solely perceive immediate love and hatred, believing that eliminating the demon vessel is the sole path to vanquishing the demon god. However, the gods understand the intricacies of destiny and karma. Even though they sacrifice themselves to protect the world, they never abandon their mission to redeem Tantai Jin. The War God, Ming Ye, transforms his most profound pain and regrets into an eternal cycle of Samsara dreams, allowing Li Su Su to experience the agonizing struggle of succumbing to darkness, and the demon vessel to feel the selfless sacrifice of the gods. Ultimately, he guides the demon vessel to ascend as a true god, altering the fate of destruction.

These unforgettable lives, within their respective worlds, made selfless sacrifices and monumental decisions to protect all living beings. Perhaps it is because of these immense sacrifices for the greater moral duty that they have earned the right to leave their mark in our world, in this era.

Xianxia and Cultivation Culture

In the heart of every Chinese person lies a dream of Xianxia. The heavenly scenes depicted in these stories evoke a deep sense of longing and enchantment, perhaps because of the inherent nostalgia for one's homeland. In Chinese cultivation culture, there has always been a belief in the unity of heaven and humanity, where life is believed to originate from the heavens, and death is referred to as "returning to the heavens."

However, do contemporary Xianxia stories truly represent cultivation culture? My answer is both yes and no.

Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism represent the essence of ancient Chinese cultivation culture, and their scriptures all advocate for transcending worldly desires. Whether one aspires to be a Confucian gentleman, a Daoist immortal, or a Buddhist enlightened being, they all emphasize the need to detach oneself from worldly fame and fortune. In cultivation culture, the mortal realm is seen as a temporary abode, not the true origin of life.

The themes of karma, reincarnation, compassion, and redemption found in Xianxia stories are undoubtedly influenced by cultivation culture. However, the aspects where characters reject celestial honors and instead choose to stay in the mortal world for love seem to contradict the essence of cultivation culture. Phrases like "it's better to be human" or "the heavens are so cold and lonely" come across as self-consolation, suggesting that the mortal world is superior. But if life as a human is so desirable, why have countless individuals throughout history sought to attain immortality through cultivation? If mortal life is truly enviable, why haven't divine beings abandoned their celestial realms to enjoy it?

After I began cultivation, reading a book called "Zhuan Falun" significantly altered my understanding of the world we inhabit, the relationship between gods and humans, and the transmission of culture and civilization. It provided me with a completely different perspective from before cultivation. If you find these views intriguing, you might discover even more thought-provoking insights and inspiration in "Zhuan Falun" than what I've shared here.