Martial Arts Novelist Jin Yong R.I.P.
October 31, 2018 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Louis Cha (penname Jin Yong), famous for epic wuxia novels, has died. While few of his books have been translated into English, Cha is one of the world’s most-read Chinese authors, with fans across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and throughout the Chinese diaspora. His stories have been adapted into television shows, films, comic books, and video games. The first part of his most popular series, Legends of the Condor Heroes, was published in English earlier this year.
posted by MovableBookLady (14 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The Book and the Sword was an amazing read.

posted by griphus at 5:41 AM on October 31, 2018


So many Shaw Brothers films were based on Jin Yong novels: The Brave Archer series (based on the Condor Heroes books), Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, Legend of the Fox, Sword Stained with Royal Blood.

I think Ashes of Time of is the best known adaptation of his work (it uses Jin Yong characters but is not based on any novel, I think). And of course, you can't mention Ashes of Time without including Eagle Shooting Heroes, the comedy that uses the exact same cast.

There is also a manhua series based on Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre done by Ma Wing Shing (Chinese Hero, Fung Wan aka Storm Riders and so on).

I had seen a lot of those movies without knowing who Jin Yong was and I've been meaning to read his novels but for a while it was hard to get English adaptations. Hopefully the first Legend of the Condor Heroes book is popular enough to warrant more books in the future.
posted by LostInUbe at 6:07 AM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by destrius at 6:42 AM on October 31, 2018

posted by cendawanita at 6:54 AM on October 31, 2018

posted by filtergik at 8:43 AM on October 31, 2018

A lot of the reviews on Amazon for the English version of A Hero Born are... harsh. "Imagine being told the plot of a really complex kung fu movie by an eleven year old boy who's a bit too into Kung Fu." Some bilingual readers indicate that it's poorly translated -- as in missing passages, bizarre character name translations, and other egregious-sounding issues -- while yet others' comments indicate that the original text really does read like that "eleven year old boy." Seems to be a nostalgia item for many adults who originally read the series as teenagers?

I don't write this comment to drag a recently deceased celebrated author in his MeFi obit, it's just that I really was interested in reading his books until I read all those reviews, and now I don't know what to think. Maybe it really is a sub-par translation. Or, maybe he's a Chinese language Stephanie Meyer.

Any Chinese-reading MeFites have an opinion of the books and/or of the English translation?

Anyways, whatever the case is,

posted by wires at 9:41 AM on October 31, 2018


Legend of the Condor Heroes was the first wuxia novel I read. I still think of it as the best, despite several really good ones since. I know nothing about this official translation, though.
posted by Quasirandom at 10:00 AM on October 31, 2018

wires The Guardian article says he's regarded by many as "China's Tolkien," which should give an idea of his stature. Now, you may think Tolkien wrote kid's books (I do) or you may think of him as an eminent allegorist, and so you may apply the same standard to Cha. As to reviews, throw out all the nasty mean ones and the omg best thing evah ones, then read a few in the middle (not too many). Or ignore the reviews altogether and just give one a try. Hope you enjoy it.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:39 AM on October 31, 2018


wires: For a more accessible introduction to Jin Yong, I'd suggest starting with one of the many "flying people" movies based on his books. Personally, I'd recommend Swordsman II (starring Jet Li and Brigitte Lin, directed by Ching Siu-tung).

While few of his books have been translated into English -

There's actually a ton of fan translations available at the Wuxia Society website. They tend to be somewhat literal, but still readable.

TVTropes has a number of pages devoted to Jin Yong: Some of his novels have been adapted for television a large number of times. For example, according to Wikipedia, Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre had adaptations in 1978, 1984, 1986, twice in 1994, 2000, 2003, 2009, and 2018. (Personally I really liked the 1986 TVB adaptation, starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai; more recent productions may have impressive special effects, but I liked the acting in the 1986 version.) Compared to the movies and the novels, they won't be as easy to find, but some of them have shown up on YouTube.
posted by russilwvong at 3:05 PM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

The TV versions are a mixed bag; I generally liked the 2008 version of Eagle Shooting Heroes/Legend of the Condor Heroes, but they backed off on how much of a terrible person Yang Kang is, this messing up the plot of Return of the Condor Heroes.

Cha’s plotting is wild and eccentric. Most of the stories were written as newspaper serials, so they rocket along with s climax every 1000 words, which is thrilling and a little reorienting. Characters appear from nowhere, and plot elements get lost for 100sof pages, but they are crazy inventive.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:28 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I always find it fascinating how there are these huge worlds of culture that must exist just out of your view, no matter what culture you're in.
posted by praemunire at 7:38 PM on October 31, 2018

wires, I read a few sample pages from "A Hero Born". There were a couple of mistakes here or there, ("scores of trees" instead of "ten trees" in the first paragraph!) and some sections that touch upon historical background that got omitted (maybe for brevity), but overall it's serviceable. The problem is that it's hard to reproduce the style of Jin's language in English. It was traditional, learned, elegant, yet still accessible to the modern reader. Jin also quoted classical poems liberally, which doesn't help matters.

I first read Jin Yong in fifth grade, in late 80s, and the world he opened up in his novels were a revelation. Jin is often compared to Alexandre Dumas because he wrote historical adventure novels of the first water. In his books, I learned history that my textbooks never deigned to mention, I learned Buddhist and Taoist philosophy (which lent themselves surprisingly well to martial arts training), and I learned bits of classical literature. He not only wrote about heroes with fantastic martial skills who stood outside the traditional social hierarchy, but also heroines who have agency and intelligence and desire, and villains in all shades of gray.

I've often heard Chinese friends living overseas say that they want to make their kids learn Chinese so that they will be able to read Jin Yong. I can't think of a finer tribute to Jin as a writer than that.

posted by of strange foe at 7:40 PM on October 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Lessons on honour, courage and compassion from Jin Yong

What more can I say about Jin Yong after all the millions of words that have been said and written about this greatest of all writers of wuxia xiaoshuo (Chinese martial arts novels) both before and after his death?

That he was my best-ever Chinese teacher? That he made me understand values like honour, courage, integrity and compassion towards all men? And the wisdom to accept human frailty for what it is and not be too judgmental about it?

I first started reading him when I was about 11. I was then living in a one-room tenement above a coffee shop, which provided free Chinese newspapers for its patrons. Jin Yong's novels appeared in serialised instalments in these papers.
I have read every one of Jin Yong's 15 novels, most of them at least twice. One in particular, Tian Long Ba Bu, I reread five times over the past 40 years. So what is it about his novels that I find so captivating?

I am no literary critic and not at all qualified to delve into the finer points of his writing. All I can say is that I remain ever so enraptured to this day by the silky smooth flow of his prose, the twists and turns of complex but never convoluted plots, the exquisite way in which he brought each character to life, and his infusion of Chinese culture, from poetry to music, and the essence of Buddhism into his works.

But topping all that is his masterly depiction of values that all should imbibe and uphold. Let me try to explain it this way. Wuxia consists of two parts, wu and xia. Wu means martial but xia is much harder to translate into English. A xia is someone who is chivalrous, stands up fearlessly for what is right and just, and cares more about humanity than personal glory.
Much is lost in my quick translation and distillation of these concluding passages of the novel but when read in the evocative language in which they are penned, they can be profoundly moving. Tears still welled in my eyes each time I revisited this heroic moment when Xiao had to choose between loyalty to his king and keeping faith with humanity.

posted by infini at 5:28 AM on November 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

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