Before you go on, I warn thee: This is going to be long, very looooong. And this article is FULL of spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Known as Xiao Ao Jiang Hu (Chinese). In Korean, it is called, 소오강호 (So-o-kang-ho), is an ancient Hong Kong novel that was serialized between 1967 to 1969 in newspaper.
In English, it’s known as The Smiling, Proud Wanderer.
The books you see up there is my books which I’ve kept in relatively good condition for about 30 years.
This novel is considered timeless in Korea. It looks like it is timeless in Hong Kong as well, given a fact that there have been 6+ iterations.
1984, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2013, 2018 …. And I am not including Taiwan releases here.
In this article, I am going to talk about 2001 version because that one is my favorite. More on this later.
Before I begin though, a little bit about how I came to this novel.
Back in 1980s, before I was exposed to Japanese anime/culture, I was told to read this novel by my teacher. This and the romance of three kingdoms were always recommended by teachers or peers. I believe the same still holds true even in 2020 as well.
There are reasons for this. Reading the romance of three kingdoms teaches you honor and dignity.
And reading Xiao Ao Jiang Hu teaches you something different: sublimity.
What makes this novel timeless is its uniqueness. In most of stories, its protagonist is set out to achieve something. For an example, in America, stories typically evolve around defeating bad guys.
In other words, there is always a goal of some sort.
In The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, however, the protagonist, Linghu Chong, is set out to achieve absolutely nothing. He desires no fame. He desires no wealth and powers. What he desires is a woman of his choice and a good, steady, source of nice liquor. Basically, what he wants to do is drink liquor with a woman he loves in middle of a bamboo forest.
That is his dream which he doesn’t actively seek out to achieve actually. He just casually wanders around from places to places, seeking good liquor.
It’s important to note that he behaves very well even if he is utterly drunk. He is a gentleman to his core and will react to injustice while clapping approvingly to righteous actions.
He also refuses to use violence unless he has to. He’d rather use trickery.
He belongs to Mount Hua sect which is one of five major sects and he is one of the most senior members in the sect in terms of seniority as well as skills. He was raised in the sect and has a very close relationship with Yue Lingshan who is the only child and a daughter of the leader of the sect, Yue Buqun.
What this means is that, even if he does not seek powers, fame, and such, by marrying Lingshan, he would likely inherit Mount Hua sect. This possibility is helped by a fact that Lingshan’s mother, Ning Zhongze approves of their possible marriage wholeheartedly.
Besides, Lingshan herself also likes him because they were raised together by Zhongze.
It also means that Linghu Chong doesn’t have to do anything extraordinary to achieve his dream of becoming the ultimate slacker of China.
But it is life, and life never paves a straightforward path.
Yue Buqun, the leader of Mount Hua sect, is a very ambitious man. While he acts like a good honorable man on surface, deep inside he is a narcissistic schemer. He has even fooled his wife, Ning Zhongze, about his gentlemanship.
It does not surprise me because he has put up with his honorable act for decades. He was waiting for a chance, and such a chance comes.
A forbidden scroll, Bixie swordplay manual, is found and maybe scoped up by someone. This rather secretive news spreads quickly which Yue Buqun quickly catches. Many are not actually interested in the scroll because it is a forbidden scroll.
When something gets branded as “forbidden”, generally no good can come out of it is common sense. However, for ambitious folks, “forbidden” translates to powers.
Those who seek powers scramble to obtain the scroll. Yue Buqun is one of such players on the field, and his most senior apprentice, Linghu Chong, is the one who unintentionally gets caught in the heat of it.
Because he acts very carefree to a point of being a dumbass and his tendency to mindlessly wander which makes him very hard to track down, he becomes a pretty easy scapegoat to place blame on the theft of the forbidden scroll.
His master, Yue Buqun, does just that. Falsely accusing that his apprentice has apparently stolen the scroll as well as a murder of one of his fellow students to keep him from speaking up. Thus, he expels him from the sect while welcoming Lin Pingzhi whose family is the rightful owner of the forbidden scroll.
You see, Lin Pingzhi’s family was murdered when a gang of some sort invaded his home and killed his parents. His parents did not reveal the location of the forbidden scroll even in extreme torture. Lin Pingzhi is the only one, alive, who’d know the location of the scroll.
Yue Buqun is very well aware and has come up with a plot. He’d let Lin Pingzhi get closer to his daughter and he’d eventually let them marry. Before that could happen though, Linghu Chong needs to be removed for a good reason so that his daughter would forget about him.
Making him a scapegoat about stealing the forbidden scroll is the plan he has come up with. To his credit, it works wonderfully.
Being expelled from his sect, Linghu Chong is heavily disgraced, and his daughter Lingshan slowly distances herself away from him.
Linghu Chong, now disgraced and homeless, has become a true wanderer. He claims innocence but only few believes him.
It is important to mention that he is mortally wounded at this point. He has no inner fire at all due to the wound.
Inner fire is …, well, it can be called Chakra (Hello, Naruto fans), can be called Ki (or Gi). It is basically aura within you that you can control to an extent.
For a swordsman to be really powerful, not only do you need blade skills, you also need inner fire. Linghu Chong without his inner fire is literally a bum at this point. He may be able to swing a sword but his swing won’t carry much weight if any.
Even so, even at his lowest of low, he grabs a grass out of a ground, puts in his mouth, and starts to hum as he begins to walk forward on a dirt road to nowhere. He may be angry. He may be frustrated. He may be dying due to lack of inner fire.
But it does not matter. In the end, it is what it is. He just wants good liquor and perhaps a woman to drink with. That’s all he wants.
This extremely carefree behaviors of his nets him three very important skills.
The first is Nine Swords of Dugu from Feng Qingyang.
The second is Chakra absorbing skill from Ren Woxing.
The third is Yijin Jing from Shaolin Sect.
The first skill is exclusive to the novel. The second, the absorb skill, is well-known if you are a fan of this sort of drama.
Now, the third skill, Yijin Jing, is very well known in martial arts movie world (AKA wuxia). It is the ultimate inner fire control skill for monks. It is also one of few skills that can prevent one’s inner fire to be sucked away by the absorb skill.
And Linghu Chong has learned both of them, making him virtually invincible. It’s important to note that he did not mean to learn them. He happened to learn the absorb skill while freeing Ren Woxing without knowing who he really was.
As for Yijin Jing, Shaolin Sect chose to teach him because they felt that Linghu Chong is needed for the world. His lack of ambitions would bring peace to the world, they believed. They did not wish him to die.
They do not teach Yijin Jing to anyone other than a sect leader and his future replacement. A fact that they were willing to hand the knowledge over to a complete outsider means a lot.
At this point, nothing other than natural death can kill him.
Even so, even after becoming very powerful, he keeps on making attempts to reconcile with his former master which is brutally rejected numerous times. This also breaks Ning Zhongze’s heart, and she begins to see her husband in a different light.
She begins to feel that perhaps her husband is not the kind of man she thought he was.
Alas, when she finally sees the true face of Yue Buqun, it is too late. Linshang is already married to Lin Pingzhi who later murders his wife.
In her own words, Ning Zhongze tells Linghu Chong while wailing in front of Linshang’s crudely made tomb stick that her biggest mistake in life was not letting Linshan marry him.
She begs him to exact revenge for her death to which he replies that Linshan begged him to let Lin Pingzhi go in her dying breath and that he had to grant her (last) wish.
…… Long story short, Ning Zhongze commits suicide later in front of Linghu Chong and Yue Buqun, telling Linghu Chong in her last breath to take her body away from the monster which ruined everyone’s life.
After this point, even Linghu Chong has had enough. Reconciling would no longer be an option.
It is no longer fucking an option… Almost everyone he has cared for have died because of him. In fact, there is only one person left, Ren Yingying.
Now, the reason Bixie swordplay manual is “forbidden” is simple. This skill was created by an eunuch and was intended used only by eunuchs, meaning in order for any male to learn the manual, they must perform castration.
Meaning Yue Buqun as well as Lin Pingzhi had removed their own … balls. Then you may ask: Is it possible for women to learn the scroll?
My short answer is I don’t know.
My long answer is probably not. The skill was designed for eunuchs, only eunuchs can learn it. Women are not eunuchs. That is my take on it.
Generally, full skill scrolls like Sunflower and Bixie swordplay manuals tend to have two parts in it. The first is re-training of how one would control inner fire. The second part would be actual physical skill.
One simply cannot learn the physical skill only when it comes to skill scrolls that require one to re-learn inner fire control. If you do, you get paralyzed for life.
To extend on that, let’s talk about the three skills Linghu Chong learned.
- Nine Swords of Dugu from Feng Qingyang.
- Chakra absorbing skill from Ren Woxing.
- Yijin Jing from Shaolin Sect.
None of them is full skills. The first is a swordplay which anyone can learn and apply their own inner fire controls.
The second is inner fire ability and so is the third.
Finally, the reason I say I favor 2001 version over others is the cast. Let me explain.
In the novel, it makes clear that Linghu Chong is not a handsome man. He’s neither tall nor short. He is not muscular. He is described as perfectly average in everything. His charm is his extreme likability. He is also portrayed as very easy to hang out with.
In 2001 iteration, Li Yapeng was cast as Linghu Chong. I feel he is the perfect fit. In other iterations, Linghu Chong looks too refined and often their acting is cringe.
Li Yapeng has been the only actor who has played the carefree act masterfully.
It is pretty much my only reason.
I also like Xu Qing as Ren Yingying (Above). She and Li Yapeng bounce off each other quite well in the series, especially in flirting scenes which almost always Ren Yinying leads.
Li Yapeng’s general likability, coupled with nice chemistry with Xu Qing is what makes this 2001 version superior compared to other iterations. This is lacking from all other iterations.
In the end, you can see why the title of this story is The smiling, proud wanderer because he is indeed a proud and smiling wanderer.
The last scene of this drama is Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying playing music together on top of a mountain.
A fitting end to the series.
Finally, while there are a lot of spoilers, do note that I’ve covered mostly Linghu Chong only. This drama has other arcs such as Ren Woxing and Ren Yingying, not to mention Lin Pingzhi’s.
In other words, you are not really spoiled by this article. I’ve spoiled only about 25% of the whole.
But allow me to spoil more because I’d like to talk about a rather interesting sect in the series.
North Mount Heng sect which are basically a large group of swordsmanship capable nuns. Being nuns (women), they know that they are at a disadvantage if it is one versus one in swordsmanship. Therefore, except a few skilled nuns, they all fight in groups and are trained specifically fight in harmony.
The sect is run by three elder nuns but only one is left alive in late plot. Dingxian, the last remaining elder nun, originally despises Linghu Chong’s extreme carefree behaviors.
However, as he saves her life more than a few times as well as rescuing the entire sect on more than one occasion, she has a change of heart and become his very unlikely ally in his darkest times.
Now, the reason North Mount Heng sect is threatened is because the sect has steadfastly refused the unification talk of five sects. Therefore, it is decided that the sect should be wiped out instead.
Dingxian has come to a realization that, despite bad gossips about Linghu Chong, he has a clear code of conducts that he follows no matter what. What is more surprising that, even after it is discovered that Linghu Chong has mastered the Chakra absorb skill which is highly frowned upon by all all sects, she still stands on Linghu Chong’s side, boldly stating that while other sects are trying to get rid of her and her students, only Linghu Chong has come to her aid.
Sadly, odds are firmly stacked against Dingxian, and she is eventually murdered. You can even see on her face that she knows her end is near as her sect keeps on getting assaulted no matter where they escape to.
In her dying breath, she hands North Mount Heng Sect over to Linghu Chong which is huge.
Remember, the sect is consisted of nuns. There is no men. Well, was.
Dingxian’s arc is an interesting one and I had to spoil it. She really desperately fought against odds until the end. It is very likely that she knew her doom but she had to fight. Her seemingly odd choice of handing the sect over to Linghu Chong proves to be wise as he saves the sect and blossoms it.
Well, I will cover Dongfang Bubai a bit as well. Dongfang Bubai means “Invincible east”. It basically means I am super strong. It is not an actual name but rather an alias people tend to take over when they master Sunflower manual which is very similar to Bixie swordplay manual.
Both manuals were created by an eunuch in the imperial court, meaning in order to master it, you must give up being a male. This creates an interesting situation where some of those who master them turn homosexual. The Dongfang Bubai in Xiao Ao Jiang Hu is such a case.
Bixie manual was branded forbidden and was kept away from others in a secret location. Sunflower manual, though, has been circulating. I believe a few copies remain.
There are several movies about Dongfang Bubai where a female is cast as a main character. Such characters may be portrayed by females, but lore wise, they are supposed to be castrated men.
It’s worthwhile to note that anyone mastering Sunflower manual tends to become feminine over time, not just in voices and body shape but even their minds, and they ironically tend to seek men’s warmth which they have willing cut off, literally, in pursue for powers.
It’s very likely that Bixie swordplay manual has the same side effect.
Dongfang Bubai in Xiao Ao Jiang Hu is very jealous of Ren Yingying because Yingying is a young and beautiful female which Dongfang Bubai simply cannot become no matter how powerful he comes. He bemoans this as he is defeated by a trio of Linghu Chong, Ren Woxing, and Ren Yingying to take back Sun moon holy cult.
Do remember that this concept was created in 1967 where homosexuality wasn’t as accepted as it is now. It was a pretty shocking thing back then. This novel was way ahead of its time.
Other arcs are interesting on their own as well.
- Tian Boguang’s story. He is a bandit who attempts to rape Yilin in very early part of the story. He later becomes Linghu Chong’s ally. He is very good with scimitars.
- Ren Woxing and Sun Moonm holy cult arc which includes the ever famous Dongfang Bubai.
- Ren Yingying’s arc
- Yue Buqun’s arc (Covered in this article, partially.)
- Yue Lingshan’s arc
- Ning Zhongze’s arc (Covered in this article, partially.)
- Sect unification arc which is initially led by Mount Song sect but Yue Buqun takes over.
- Yilin’s arc, a nun from North mount Heng sect who falls in love with Linghu Chong madly. She turns out to have pretty damn good connections later.
- Finally, Shaolin Sect’s story. They are monks who try to stay neutral.
In the end, if you can find English subtitles for this 40 episode drama, absolutely go for it.
There are mindblowlingly many stuff to talk about this series. I’ve only covered only a small portion. Despite looking like I’ve endlessly spoiled the story, I have really not. As seen above with other arcs, I’ve barely covered it.
I guess it is a timeless novel for a reason. As far as I am aware, there is nothing like this now. There are, however, deviated stories from this which are far lesser known.
Only Dongfang Bubai series has made to the Western audience.
Phew, this article took a while to make.