Jiang Hu (Simplified Chinese: 江湖) refers to the world and setting for Wuxia (武俠) characters. It literally means "Rivers and Lakes" realm. It was specifically taken from the description of the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang, simplified Chinese: 長江, lit. Long River) and Lake DongTing (DongTing Hu). Jiang Hu folks include swordsmen and others who form their community such as peddlers, medicine-men, beggars, monks and peasants. They exist outside the rule of law. The courts of law or courts of jurisdiction are dysfunctional and they are simply powerless to mandate the Jiang Hu. But Jiang Hu has its own unspoken code of honor. The inhabitants can belong to a sect or martial school or even monastery, but loyalty and honor remains the main values.
The word was originally referred to places where hermits lived away from the Imperial Court, but eventually came to designate what has been termed as the Underworld or the World of Vagrants. It's a place for anyone who doesn't fit in the strict mainstream culture. It's a shared world or an alternate universe consisted of martial artists and pugilists gathered in Wulin (武林). A world inhabited by wandering knights and princes, thieves and beggars, priests and healers, merchants and craftspeople. Law and order is maintained by the alliance of Wulin or Wulin mengzhu, the society of martial artists. Differences can only be resolved by way of force, predicating the need for Xia (俠) and their chivalrous ways. Thieves and bandits have their own alliance in Wulin; their world of outlaw is called Lulin (綠林).
In the universe of Jiang Hu where the law doesn't exist, each person has their own morals and code of honor that keeps them alive. The code of brotherhood is important in Jiang Hu as chivalrous people would be loyal to their friends, families, sect or martial schools. They adhere to the five basic codes.
Five basic codes of Jiang Hu are:
- Xia (chivalry)
- Hao (gallantry)
- Li (virtue)
- Yi (righteousness)
- Zhong (loyalty)
A retirement for a martial artist in Wulin is also referred to as "leaving the Jiang Hu" (退出江湖). In Wulin, when a reputable pugilist decided to retire from the Jiang Hu, he or she will do so in a ceremony known as "washing hands in the golden basin" (金盆洗手). He or she washes his hands in the golden basin filled with water, signifying that he or she will no longer be involved in the affairs of the Jiang Hu. When a reclusive pugilist who had apparently retired from the Jiang Hu reappears, his or her reappearance in Wulin is described as "re-entering the Jiang Hu" (重出江湖).