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The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber

The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber is a wuxia novel by Jin Yong, and the third installment in the Condor Trilogy. It was first serialized in Ming Pao from July 6, 1961 to September 2, 1963.[1]Jin Yong revised the novel in 1979 with a number of amendments and additions. A second revision was published in early 2005, incorporating later thoughts and a lengthier conclusion. It also introduced many changes to the plot and cleared up some ambiguities in the second edition, such as the origin of the Nine Yang Manual.

As is typical of many of his other wuxia novels, Jin Yong implemented elements of history in the story, including characters such as Zhu Yuanzhang, Chen Youliang, Chang Yuchun, Zhang Sanfeng and factual organizations such as the Ming Cult. The political clash between the Han Chinese and the Mongols is also prominently featured in the plot.


Set in the late Yuan Dynasty, the story revolves around a pair of priceless and extremely powerful weapons, known respectively as the Heaven-reliant Sword (倚天劍) and Dragon-slaying Saber (屠龍刀), which many pugilists covet. Either or both of them are thought to allow their wielder to rule the wulin (martial artists’ community), according to a widely circulating rumour in a repeated mantra, “Honoured by the wulin, the precious saber slays the dragon, it commands the world, who dares to disobey? If the Heaven-reliant does not appear, who can challenge it?” (武林至尊,寶刀屠龍,號令天下,莫敢不從!倚天不出,誰與爭鋒?). The reason for that is lost at the beginning of the story.

The protagonist, Zhang Wuji, is of mixed heritage: his father, Zhang Cuishan, hails from the reputable Wudang Sect under the master Zhang Sanfeng, while his mother, Yin Susu, is from the unorthodox Heavenly Eagle Cult. As a boy, he lives with them and his godfather, Xie Xun, on the isolated northern island where he was born. He returns to the Chinese mainland and loses his parents after they are cornered on Mount Wudang by several pugilists coveting the Dragon-slaying Saber. At the same time, he is wounded by the Xuanming Elders and survives after seeking medical treatment from Hu Qingniu, a master physician.

His adventures further lead him to discover the long-lost Nine Yang Manual and he masters the inner energy skills within, becoming a formidable pugilist. Subsequently, he resolves the conflict between the Ming Cult and the six major orthodox sects, who are intent on destroying the cult. He earns the respect of the cult’s members and becomes its leader after mastering the powerful skill “Heaven and Earth Great Shift”. He reforms the cult and helps to improve its relations with the other sects. He becomes a key figure in leading the rebel forces to overthrow the Yuan Dynasty.

Throughout his adventures, Zhang Wuji finds himself entangled in a complex web of love relationships with four maidens. The first, Yin Li, is a horribly disfigured girl, who is actually his cousin. The second, Xiaozhao, is a Chinese-Persian servant girl who understands him very well. The third, Zhou Zhiruo, is a childhood friend whom he develops a strong bond with. The fourth, Zhao Min, is a Mongol princess and his former arch-rival. Yin Li is apparently killed in the middle of the story while Xiaozhao returns to Persia after it is revealed that she is destined to lead the Persian Ming Cult.

Zhou Zhiruo soon falls in love with Zhang Wuji, but has to turn against him as she is bound by an oath to her teacher Abbess Miejue (who hates and distrusts Zhang Wuji and anyone related to the Ming Cult). Miejue devises a vicious scheme for Zhou Zhiruo to seize the two weapons by exploiting Zhang Wuji’s love for Zhou. Zhou Zhiruo also turns vicious after Zhang Wuji reneges his promise to marry her and she swears vengeance on him. Zhao Min is initially Zhang Wuji’s rival as they are on opposing sides. However, Zhao Min gradually falls in love with Zhang Wuji after their various encounters and she even turns against her clan to help him.

At the end of the novel, Zhang Wuji decides to retire from the jianghu after he mistakenly believes that the Ming Cult’s members are intending to turn against him. He decides that Zhao Min is his true love and they leave for a reclusive life far away from society (the endings to the two revised editions, however, are ambiguous about his relationship with Zhou Zhiruo). Zhang Wuji gives up an opportunity to become the emperor, as the Ming Cult eventually overthrows the Yuan Dynasty, and ideally he will become the new sovereign. Instead, Zhu Yuanzhang becomes the emperor and founds the Ming Dynasty.

The two weapons

The origins

The two weapons, the Heaven-reliant Sword (倚天劍) and the Dragon-slaying Saber (屠龍刀), are reforged from a single sword, the Heavy Iron Sword (玄鐵重劍), which Yang Guo wielded in The Return of the Condor Heroes.

The Heavy Iron Sword belonged to Dugu Qiubai, a great swordsman whose skills were unmatched in his lifetime. Yang Guo chanced upon the Heavy Iron Sword while he was recovering from the Love Flower’s poison and the loss of his right arm. When Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü depart from Xiangyang, they left the sword with the couple Guo Jing and Huang Rong. The sword was melted and special steel material was added and it was reforged to become two weapons; the Heaven Sword and the Dragon Saber.

In the third revised edition of the novel, the Heaven Sword was reforged from Yang Guo’s Gentleman Sword (君子劍) and Xiaolongnü’s Lady Sword (淑女劍) while the Dragon Saber’s origin remained unchanged.

The secret

Hidden within the blade of the Dragon Saber is a military treatise titled Book of Wumu (武穆遺書), authored by Yue Fei. Similarly, concealed in the blade of the Heaven Sword are two scrolls detailing the Nine Yin Manual and Guo Jing’s “Eighteen Dragon-subduing Palms”.

The Dragon Saber was given to Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s son, Guo Polu, while their younger daughter, Guo Xiang, inherited the Heaven Sword.

The content of the hidden book and scrolls, in addition to the fact that the weapons can only be damaged and broken when used against each other, was the source of the claim that whoever possesses the Dragon Saber will rule the world and yet only the one who possesses the Heaven Sword can stand against the wielder of the Saber.

The secret of the weapons was passed down only from the leader of each generation of the Emei Sect to her successor. Miejue is succeeded by Zhou Zhiruo as leader of Emei and the secret is passed on to her. In the novel, she gains possession of both weapons through her cunning and deception and she breaks them to obtain the contents.

In the latest revision, two halves of an iron-plated map are hidden within the weapons instead of manuals. Once pieced together, the map points out to locations on Peach Blossom Island, where the manuals are hidden. Jin Yong reasoned that the change was due to the possibility that the dissection of the weapons would cause the manuals to be burnt, hence two pieces of an iron-plated map would be better substitutes.[citation needed]


In Chinese culture, the dragon is the symbol of the emperor or sovereign ruler. The full translated name of the Saber is “Dragon-slaying Saber” (屠龍刀), which implies that it is used to “slay the emperor”. The “emperor” refers to the Mongol Emperor Huizong of Yuan in this case.

Throughout Chinese history, several monarchs have become tyrants just like in legend, when the Dragon goes out of control and becomes a menace. The Heaven Sword’s full translated name is “Heaven-reliant Sword” (倚天劍) as it embodies Heaven. In Chinese culture, the emperor is respectfully called the “Son of Heaven”, which implies that Heaven is the ultimate authority in determining who is the sovereign ruler of China.

In other words, the secret within the Dragon-slaying Saber can be used to “kill” (dethrone) the (Mongol) emperor and replace him with another (Han Chinese) ruler. Ideally, a brilliant military leader can utilise the textbook to its full potential by staging a rebellion to overthrow the Yuan Dynasty and restore Han Chinese rule. However, if the new emperor turns out to be another incompetent monarch or tyrant, a righteous pugilist can master the skills from the manuals in the Heaven-reliant Sword and assassinate the emperor and replace him with a wise and benevolent ruler.


  • Zhang Wuji (張無忌) (born c. 1337) – protagonist of the novel. He is the son of Zhang Cuishan and Yin Susu, and godson of Xie Xun. His adventures lead him to becoming a skilled physician, powerful pugilist, and the 34th leader of the Ming Cult. He eventually gives up his status and enters seclusion with his lover Zhao Min.
  • Zhao Min (趙敏) (born c. 1340) – the daughter of Chaghan Temür and younger sister of Köke Temür. Cunning and mischievous by nature, she is responsible for stirring up conflict among the various sects. She also gains some knowledge about the martial arts of the various sects through torturing some of the leaders, who were caught by her after the battle at Bright Peak. She encounters Zhang Wuji, whom she falls in love with and her feelings remain true for him.[original research?] She decides to leave her family and give up her status as a princess to be with Zhang Wuji forever.
  • Zhou Zhiruo (周芷若) – the daughter of a boatman from the Han River. She is accepted into Emei as a child and becomes Miejue’s disciple. She succeeds Miejue as the leader of Emei. She is told the secret behind the two titular weapons and eventually obtains the Nine Yin Manual and Book of Wumu. She turns vicious after being forced by Miejue to accept a series of missions for the sake of their sect’s reputation, doing several things against her conscience. She sees Zhang Wuji as a sworn enemy after he reneges his promise to marry her and she repents after encountering Yin Li, whom she had apparently murdered earlier.

New Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre

The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (2000 TV series)

The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (2009 TV series)


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