The ''xiá'' concept is the basis for the Wuxia genre of Chinese literature and , and is fundamental to the understanding of the genre. Liang Yusheng, a founder of the post-war "new school" wuxia literature, once asserted: "I'd rather write a wuxia story with no force or martial arts than one devoid of the spirit of xiá ".
''Xiá'' could be roughly compared to "chivalry" or 'heroes/heroines", and similar in part to the Western concept of knights and knighthood, but owing to differences in cultural contexts, there are both major and minor differences:
*The overtones of Charlemagne's or William the Conqueror's cavalry made up of by birth are wholly missing from the Chinese concept. Unlike a knight, the ''xiá'' need not serve a lord or hold any military power; neither are they required to be from an class. In comparison, the main identification of a ''xiá'' is a code of conduct and an ideology of honor and social justice dedicated to serving the good of the people. The philosophy's expectations of good character in teacher-student relationships is a fundamental feature of traditional Chinese martial arts training. Another difference from western knights is that considerable numbers of these ''xiá'' are women.
A well-known description comes from the historian Sima Qian's ''Records of the Grand Historian'':
The concept of ''xiá'' goes back to the Zhou dynasty, especially the Spring and Autumn period. Referring to a class of warriors whose social position is sandwiched between the commoners and the royalties, the ''xiá'' is originally the military counterpart of the more scholarly ''shi'' , who eventually developed into Confucian scholars. Both are highly prized by feudal princes and warlords, one becoming intellectual advisors who contribute to the governing of the state, and the other ending up as guest residents of their masters living by the blade. In ancient China, these warriors' preference to use force to resolve a conflict sometimes made them unpopular and inseparable from the common ruffians in the eyes of bureaucrats. The Han Feizi, for example, listed the ''xiá'' among the five vermins of society.
The concept of ''xiá'' however underwent many transformations through the centuries. By the end of the Qing dynasty it has come to represent an ideal hero who wielded power by force, but could withhold it if necessary, and more importantly, possesses a sense of moral justice.
Equivalence in Western Cultures
A close equivalence of ''xiá'' to the English world can be found in Robin Hood, frequently identified by the Chinese as a "''xiá''-robber" — one with his own morally justifiable code of conduct despite being a law-breaker. Cartoon superheroes such as Batman and Spider-Man are also called ''xiá'' in Chinese translation . Although not addressed as ''xiá'' in the Chinese translation, Johnston McCulley's legendary fictional hero Zorro is often regarded as a close resemblance to the Chinese stereotype of ''xiá''.