Zhou Zhiruo is one of the two female lead characters in the wuxia novel The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber by Jin Yong. Jin Yong describes Zhou's physical appearance as "beautiful, pure and free of worldly traits".
Role in the novel
Zhou Zhiruo is the daughter of a boatman from the Han River. Her name "Zhiruo" is derived from her birthplace, Zhejiang. Her mother died when she was very young. When she was 10, her father was killed by Yuan soldiers but she was saved by Zhang Sanfeng. She meets the young Zhang Wuji, who was travelling with Zhang Sanfeng, and they develop a friendship. Zhang Wuji leaves them later and follows Chang Yuchun to Butterfly Valley to seek treatment from Hu Qingniu. Zhang Sanfeng brings Zhou Zhiruo back to Wudang and recommends her to join the Emei Sect. She becomes an apprentice of Abbess Miejue, the leader of Emei.
Zhou Zhiruo meets Zhang Wuji several years later and falls in love with him. However, Miejue dislikes Zhang Wuji because of his affiliation with the "evil" Ming Cult. She forces Zhou Zhiruo to swear that she must not marry Zhang Wuji or have any romantic feelings for him. The oath is as follows:
Miejue names Zhou Zhiruo the new leader of Emei and tells her the secret behind the Heaven Reliant Sword and the Dragon Slaying Saber. She tells Zhou Zhiruo to extract the martial arts manuals and the Book of Wumu concealed in the weapons' blades and master those skills, and use them to glorify Emei. Zhou Zhiruo is unwilling to harm Zhang Wuji, but is bound by her oath to do so. On Divine Serpent Island, she steals the weapons and breaks them by clashing them together, obtaining the secret items hidden inside. She accidentally murders Yin Li and frames Zhao Min for the deed.
Zhou Zhiruo practices the skills detailed in the Nine Yin Manual, mastering a quick-learning, unorthodox and "evil" version of the skill, known as the 'Nine Yin White Bone Claw', as well as the 'Heart-Shattering Palm' and 'White Boa Whip Skill'. As the story progresses, she develops a closer relationship with Zhang Wuji, until she decides to break her oath and marry him. However, Zhao Min shows up and disrupts the wedding. Zhou Zhiruo attacks Zhao Min in anger but Zhang Wuji intervenes and stops her. Zhou Zhiruo feels that Zhang Wuji has betrayed her love, and begins to see him and Zhao Min as her sworn enemies. She pretends to marry Song Qingshu of the Wudang Sect, who has a crush on her, and passes him the Nine Yin Manual, telling him to learn 'Nine Yin Skeleton Claw′ and use it to defeat Zhang Wuji.
During the Lion Slaying Ceremony held at Shaolin Monastery, Zhou Zhiruo defeats all martial artists who attended and emerges as champion of the wulin (martial artists' community). However, she eventually loses to the Yellow Dress Maiden, who uses an orthodox version of the skills in the Nine Yin Manual to overcome her 'Nine Yin White Bone Claw'. The Xuaming Elders attempt to steal the manual from Zhou Zhiruo after seeing how her martial arts have improved from learning it. They injure her with their 'Xuanming Divine Palm', but Zhang Wuji saves her and heals her with his 'Nine Yang Divine Skill', which inadvertently negates her "Yin" inner energy and restores her back to her original state. Zhou Zhiruo feels guilty for her sins, especially when she encounters the "ghost" of Yin Li and admits to Zhang Wuji her past deeds and her love towards him. Towards the end of the story, Zhang Wuji tells her that he has decided that Zhao Min is his true love, making her give up on him. Zhou Zhiruo also discovers that Yin Li has survived her attack; Yin Li forgives her for trying to murder her. Zhou Zhiruo visits Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min in another version and makes some cheeky remarks when Zhang is about to help Zhao paint her eyebrows.
Martial arts and skills
- Nine Yin Manual (九陰真經) skills:
- 'Nine Yin Inner Energy' (九陰內功)
- 'Nine Yin Skeleton Claw' (九陰白骨爪) is an unorthodox derivation of the skills detailed in the manual for close quarters combat. The combatant usually pierces the victim's skull with his/her fingers and causes a gruesome death to the victim.
- 'White Boa Whip Skill' (白蟒鞭法) is an armed combat skill detailed in the manual for long range combat.
- 'Heart-Shattering Palm' (摧心掌) is an alternative to the 'Nine Yin White Bone Claw' for short range combat. It causes severe internal bleeding near the victim's heart once the palm hits the victim's chest, but causes no visible wounds.
- 'Emei Nine Yang Skill' (峨嵋九陽功)
- 'Emei Swordplay' (峨嵋劍法)
- 'Soft Palm of the Golden Peak' (金頂綿掌)