The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber

by Jin Yong

Set in the late Yuan dynasty, the story revolves around a pair of mysterious and allegedly unrivaled weapons, the Heaven-Reliant Sword () The origins of this poem are not known at the beginning of the novel.

The protagonist, Zhang Wuji(张无忌), is of mixed heritage. His father, Zhang Cuishan(张翠山), is an apprentice of Zhang Sanfeng(张三丰, the highly revered leader of the respected Wudang Sect(武当派); his mother, Yin Susu (殷素素, is the daughter of Yin Tianzheng , the chief of the nefarious Heavenly Eagle Cult. He was born on a reclusive arctic volcanic island known as the ice-fire island (冰火岛), where he spent his childhood with only his parents and his godfather Xie Xun (谢逊), aka the Golden Haired Lion King (金毛狮王). When he is about 10 years old, his parents brought him back to the Chinese mainland. They soon find themselves the target of every martial artist in the jianghu world, who all try to coerce them to reveal the whereabouts of Xie Xun, who is in possession of the Dragon Slaying Saber. His parents refuse and commit suicide. At the same time, Zhang Wuji is abducted and wounded by the Xuanming Elders (玄冥二老)'s toxic chill, but he survives after seeking medical treatment from Hu Qingniu, an eccentric physician.

After ending up in an isolated valley by chance, Zhang Wuji discovers the long-lost Nine Yang Manual (九阳真经), masters the inner energy (内功) skills described in the book, and becomes a formidable martial artist. Later on, he helps to resolve the conflict between the Ming Cult and the six major orthodox sects, which are bent on destroying the cult. He earns the respect of the cult's members and becomes its leader after mastering the skill 'Heaven and Earth Great Shift' (乾坤大挪移). He reforms the cult and helps to improve its relations with other sects. He becomes a key figure in leading the rebel forces to overthrow the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty.

Throughout his adventures, Zhang Wuji finds himself entangled in a complex web of love relationships with four maidens. The first, Zhu Er (蛛儿), is a horribly disfigured girl who is actually his maternal cousin. The second, Xiaozhao (小昭), is a Chinese-Persian servant girl who understands him very well. The third, Zhou Zhiruo (周芷若), is a childhood friend who previously saved his life when they were young. He develops a strong bond with her. The fourth, Min Min Temur (敏敏特穆尔),known to him as Zhao Min (赵敏), is a Mongol princess (princess Shao Min,绍敏) and his former arch-rival. In the middle of the novel, these four maidens are on an island to find Zhang Wuji's godfather. One day, when they wake, they find that they have been poisoned and Zhu Er is apparently killed due to her previous injury. The Dragon Slaying Sabre, previously in Xie Xun's possession, and the Heavenly Sword, previously in Zhao Min's possession, are missing. Zhao Min and their boat to get back to mainland China are also missing, leading Zhang Wuji to mistakenly perceive that she was the one who had poisoned them, unknowingly killed Zhu Er, and escaped to mainland China alone. Xiaozhao then 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 she made in front of her teacher 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 swears vengeance on him. Zhao Min was initially Zhang Wuji's rival as they were 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 plotting to betray him. He decides that Zhao Min is his true love and they leave to lead a reclusive life far away from society. (The second edition of the novel has an ambiguous ending about Zhang Wuji's relationship with Zhou Zhiruo.) Zhang Wuji gave up an opportunity to become a ruler when the Ming Cult on the verge to overthrew the Yuan dynasty. Ideally, Zhang would have become the new emperor, but instead, the general Zhu Yuanzhang seizes command of Ming Cult's military and unites most of China's rebel forces. After capturing the city of Nanjing, he enrobes himself in the Dragon Robe and establishes the Ming dynasty as the Hongwu Emperor. Four years later, the founding emperor's subordinate, Xu Da, leads an attack on the Yuan capital (present-day Beijing), where the Hongwu Emperor is finally legitimately enthroned under the Mandate of Heaven. The Yuan remnants retreat to the Eurasian Steppe after losing China, where they establish the Northern Yuan dynasty under the leadership of Toghon Temür. The Mongols continue their war with the Ming dynasty, scheme to reconquer China but ultimately failed to overpower the Han Chinese's now-strengthened forces under the Ming.

In 2005, Jin Yong published a third edition of the novel, which has a slightly different ending from the earlier versions. In this edition, Zhang Wuji feels disillusioned after failing to save a general's life and addressing Han Lin'er's death. He relinquishes his leadership of the Ming Cult to Yang Xiao and Fan Yao, and then leaves the Central Plain with Zhao Min.