Jin Yong, 94, Lionized Author of Chinese Martial Arts Epics, Dies
HONG KONG – Jin Yong, a literary giant of the Chinese-speaking world whose epic fantasy novels have inspired countless film, television and video game adaptations and have been read by generations of ethnic Chinese, died on October 30 in Hong Kong. He was 94 years old.
His death, at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, was confirmed by Ming Pao, the prominent Hong Kong newspaper that Jin Yong helped establish and run for decades. Chip Tsao, writer and friend, said the cause of death was organ failure.
Jin Yong, Louis Cha’s pen name, was one of the most widely read Chinese writers of the 20th century. The panoramic expanse and depth of the fictional universes he created has been compared to JRR Tolkien’s âLord of the Ringsâ and has been studied as a subject known as âJinologyâ.
Jin Yong made his debut as a novelist in the mid-1950s while working as a film critic and editor for The New Evening Post in Hong Kong, then a British crown colony. He had moved there in 1948 and had lived there most of his life.
From 1955 to 1972, Jin Yong wrote 14 novels and short stories and one short story in the popular genre known as wuxia, which consisted mainly of swashbuckling martial arts adventures.
His first wuxia novel, “The Book and the Sword” (1955), was inspired by a legend that the Manchu Emperor Qianlong was in fact a Han Chinese who had been changed at birth. The novel was serialized in The New Evening Post and became an instant hit.
By the time he started writing, the Chinese Communist Party had banned Wuxia literature, calling it “decadent” and “feudal”. The ban reflected an age-old view of wuxia as a marginal genre in Chinese literary tradition.
But in Hong Kong and other parts of the Chinese diaspora, Jin Yong’s novels helped start a new wave of martial arts fiction in the 1950s and 1960s.
Jin Yong elevated what was a rather stereotypical genre by mixing poetry, history and fantasy to create hundreds of living characters who travel through a mirrored underworld that operates by its own laws and code of ethics.
In stories of love, chivalry, friendship and filial piety, its characters are imperfect, with complex emotional stories, which makes them all the more appealing.
âWriting about heroes was very easy,â Jin Yong said in an interview in 2012. âBut as I got older, I learned that these great heroes actually had another more despicable side, one that wasn’t shown. to others.”
Translated into many languages, his books have sold tens of millions of copies, fueling a sprawling industry of film, television and video game adaptations.
Jin Yong used martial arts fiction as a vehicle to talk about Chinese history and traditional culture, forging his own fictional vernacular that drew heavily on classical expressions. Its stories often take place at pivotal moments in Chinese history, such as the rise and fall of dynasties. They referred to Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist ideas and positioned martial arts as an integral part of Chinese culture, alongside traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and calligraphy.
Jin Yong has taken a “marginal, if not unsavory, form of popular fiction and has made it both a vehicle for serious literary expression and something that has attracted Chinese readers around the world,” John Christopher Hamm, Associate Professor of Asian Languages ââand Literature at University of Washington, said in a telephone interview.
After the early success of his novels, Jin Yong established his own newspaper, Ming Pao Daily News, in Hong Kong in 1959. Soon he published episodes of his novels while writing daily social commentaries on the horrors of China. by Mao Zedong.
It was a subject he knew intimately: in 1951, his father had been called a “class enemy” and had been executed by the Communists.
In 1981, as China began to open up economically and politically, Jin Yong traveled to Beijing to meet Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor. Deng confessed that he was a big fan of Jin Yong’s books.
Soon after, China lifted its ban on Jin Yong novels. At the time, many young Chinese were eager to read something other than the socialist propaganda to which they had become accustomed under Mao.
“Reading his novels opened our vision,” Liu Jianmei, professor of contemporary Chinese literature at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said in a telephone interview. âHis way of thinking was so different from what was cultivated in mainland China at the time. He helped us think beyond good and evil, good and evil.
In 1985, Jin Yong was appointed a member of a political committee tasked with drafting Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution that would rule this semi-autonomous city once Britain ceded to it, ending the colonial rule. He drew criticism for supporting a conservative proposal to select the city’s leader without universal suffrage.
Jin Yong’s initial optimism about China’s political openness was dashed by the government’s bloody crackdown on the student-led democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
He resigned from the committee in protest. In a tearful interview, he said: âPeaceful student petitions should never be suppressed by military force.
Cha Leung-yung was born the second of seven children on March 10, 1924 in Haining, in the central coastal province of Zhejiang. Her father, Zha Shuqing, was an educated landlord. Her mother, Xu Lu, came from a wealthy business family.
Jin Yong graduated from the Law School of Soochow University in 1948. He then started working as a journalist and translator for the Ta Kung Pao newspaper in Shanghai. In 1948, he moved with the newspaper to Hong Kong, which would become his home for the next seven decades.
He retired from writing novels in 1972. He resigned as chairman of the Ming Pao Enterprise Corporation in 1993.
Jin Yong is survived by his third wife, Lam Lok Yi, and his children from his second marriage: a son, Andrew, and two daughters, Grace and Edna.
This year, the first installment of Jin Yong’s popular trilogy, âLegends of the Condor Heroes,â was translated into English by Anna Holmwood.
Among the readers of the original Chinese versions, Jin Yong had no shortage of prominent fans. They include Jack Ma, the chairman of Alibaba, who at one point gave employees nicknames taken from the characters in the novels.