The last time a fiction-themed Carnival of Aces rolled around, I wrote quite a few posts about an uber-popular wuxia novel with a protagonist I read as being asexual. (Question: What is an wuxia novel? Short Answer: A Chinese martial arts novel.) This time, I want to talk about an wuxia novel with a protagonist I read as being aromantic…
… but I have not read such a novel.
So much for that idea.
Plan B: I am going talk about what an aromantic reader (moi) gets out of wuxia fiction.
First of all, an aromantic person being a wuxia fan is almost as counter-intuitive as an aromantic being a fan of romance novels because, well, romance is a central element in 95% of wuxia novels. Indeed, the only wuxia novel I can think of in which romance is *not* a central part of the story is The Fantastic Theft of the World.
And yet, even though in practice romance is almost always a central part of the story, I do not think romance is essential to wuxia novels.
Many people consider The Laughing Proud Wanderer to be one of the greatest, if not *the* greatest, wuxia novels ever. It has plenty of romance. Yet when people talk about what makes it great or memorable, they generally don’t focus on the romance. It’s not a great novel because of the romance any more than 1984 is a great novel because of the romance between Winston and Julia.
One thing that is really, really important is that wuxia novels come from Chinese-speaking societies. And a big difference between Sinophone and Anglophone societies is that, in the Sinophonia, romantic-sexual relationships are not at the top of the relationship hierarchy. Parent-child and sibling-sibling relationships trump romantic relationships. Even in contemporary Taiwan, where most people don’t care what Confucius says, romantic relationships are not at the top of hierarchy. Yes, I am aware of Taiwan’s kitchy love culture, but it’s described as ‘cute’ precisely because it’s not considered serious. Even among young Taiwanese people, I often hear things like ‘I want to live with my parents for the rest of my life’.
This applies to all Chinese-language fiction, not just wuxia. One thing I like about Chiung Yao’s work is that, even though she is the most popular Chinese-language ‘romance’ novelist ever, her novels are often more about family relationships than they are about romance. However, it’s more true in fiction focused on Chinese traditions, such as wuxia (even though wuxia often criticizes Chinese traditions, criticism is still focusing on something).
Thus, wuxia novels are set in a world where romance is not at the top of the hierarchy. Indeed, romance often inspire characters to resist the hierarchy imposed on them (such as disobeying their elders). I can relate to people who use romance to challenge social boundaries in a society where romance does not top the hierarchy because, as an aromantic, I want to use non-romantic relationships to challenge the social boundaries in a society where romantic-sexual relationships do top the hierarchy. Ironic, isn’t it?
The fact that these stories are set in a society where parent-child and sibling-sibling relationships are supposed to trump romance (even if in practice the protagonists often choose romance over parents/siblings) means that there are lots of interesting, deep, close, emotionally-charged relationships which are not romance, for example, the brothers in Datang Shuanglong Zhuan.
And I think this comes to the crux of why wuxia resonates with me as an aromantic person. There is a common notion that aromantic people must lack passion, and lack the ability to have passionate relationships. Though romance is as prevalent in wuxia as fish in a lake, there are also plenty of examples of people experiencing passion – especially passion in relationships – without romance. This is something I generally find lacking in English-language genre fiction. Indeed, in all of the English-language novels I’ve read in Taiwan (which, to be fair, is a very small sample), the only ones which show deep passion in non-romantic relationships were Westerns – the Anglophone genre which I think is closest to Sinophone wuxia.