By Gang Wu, for Jour 607, Journalistic Writing, November 29, 2004
I’m really grateful that you have given us this assignment, because it gives me a chance to look back on what I have read and who have sifted through to leave signs in my memory over the years. Actually it is not only one writer who has impressed me so. Often it is one book attracted me at one moment and a piece of article touched me at another time. Last night when I browsed through those once-familiar names of the writers and their works on the Internet, I felt the beauty of the words again and was strongly tempted to read them word for word again. I had to force myself to ressist that temptation, while assuring myself I will do that when I have time.
If the number of a writer’s books that I have read can be considered a measure for my most-favorite-writer category, I do have one candidate, Jinyong. With his less-known real name as Louis Cha, he is a Hong Kong martial arts novelist, and founder of Ming Pao Daily, one of the biggest newspapers in the former British colony. Born in 1924, he wrote his first book in 1955 and his last in 1972. It is interesting that the first word of each of his 14 books combined makes two lines of a poem: shooting a white deer in snow that flies over the sky, writing mythical heroes with smile while leaning on a green bird. The poem describes a scene mixing himself and the romantic themes in his books (飞雪连天射白鹿，笑书神侠倚碧鸢).（<strong>Teacher's note: wow!</strong>）
There is a saying that where there are Chinese people, there are enthusiastic readers of Jinyong. In mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Southeastern Asian countries like South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Chinese communities in United States, he is a household name. Almost all of his works have been adjusted into movies or TV series multiple times in multiple versions.
My own experience also proves his popularity. As I went through middle school and college, I found almost every boys I met had read at least a couple of Jinyong’s books. Some finished all his 14 books before college. I read Jinyong’s works not because everybody likes it. It is his stories that combine hero-vs-villain, mythical martial art, love and hate, Chinese traditional philosophy and some history that attracted my innocent mind when I was in my early teens.
When I was young, I did not find much stuff to read at home, because my father is an engineer who was interested not in literature but electronics. On my father’s shelf I saw only books of electronic theories and DIYers’ magazines about radio, TV, stereo and other home appliances. However, I found there were always one or two martial arts novels in Uncle Wang’s home. He borrowed the books from somewhere. When he finished, he would return them and borrow some else. So when my family visited Uncle Wang once or twice a week, I would stay in his room reading a few chapters of the martial arts books. Among a number of a few martial arts novelists, Jinyong was certainly the one who gave me the best time in exploring the fictional world of Jianghu.
The term Jianghu, which literally means rivers and lakes, actually describes the martial world where sword-bearing men and women embark on their self-quests for honor, power, and respect. These incredible people are an entity wholly different than their countrymen. They have their own rules, fights, disputes, and ideology. They may go into seclusion for many years simply to learn a more powerful martial art, so that they can challenge another. Defeating a worthy opponent would lead to respect, and a name for themselves to be remembered throughout history.
It is a world of full of wonders beyond imagination. People who practice years of kungfu and breathing method will easily overcome a wall of several meters or race like a bird sweeping over the ground. With shapeless energy coming from the center of the body, a person can crash a rock in a distance or make a segment of tree branch an unbreakable sword for fight. It looks like a fairy tale in which the gods have surreal power. But it is completely different with fairy tales in which the gods are born immortal. In the martial arts novels the heroes are often ordinary young men. They learn martial arts from some big-shots or a mythical script of the most advanced martial art in the world. At last they become unbeatable and lead the warriors to do good to society – like killing the vicious rich, support the poor, defend their country.
Jinyong’s books are great because the stories are often neatly knit and contain innumerous twists and figures with a half fictional, half historical backdrop. There are hopes and despairs, traps and lucks, greed and great loves that transcend ages and nationalities. His command in Chinese traditional culture and philosophy make his novels read like pieces of jade. In his novels, the more a martial artist’s skill improves, the less robust he will appear physically. The best martial artist will seldom move wildly. But if he moves, it must be as fast as lightning, and at the same time simple and graceful. That is the beauty of Chinese culture, like the Chinese water color paintings.
Jinyong is still around now. Retired from the newspaper as chief editor in 1989, he has been doing research and invited to lectures around the world. With the 14 unparalleled works stilled loved by hundreds of millions of Chinese, he is definitely the best martial arts writer in history.
Gang, my best students have always taught me something. I've learned a number of very interesting things from you this semester, and this paper is a great example. You do a very nice job of describing Jinyong's power, and why he is such an effective writer. I want to find some of his books and read them for myself - they sound great!</strong>