Jin Yong dies: Chinese martial arts author and cultural icon dies aged 94

The death of Cha – better known by his pseudonym Jin Yong – is mourned across the Chinese-speaking world, where generations have come to regard his repertoire as essential reading.

Filled with noble heroes and pitched battles, Cha’s stories were epic, featuring not only fantastic kung fu swordsmen able to fly and walk on water, but also intricate characters and storylines woven into them. dramatic historical events.

Originally a journalist, his 15 novels have been adapted into more than 150 popular films and television series, featuring many of the most famous Chinese actors.

Although he wrote only in his native language and only a fraction of the works have been translated into English, his loyal fans dot the world, earning him a reputation as the most widely read Chinese writer of times. modern.

Praise has long been pouring in for his contribution to the literary arts not only of China but also of the British and French governments – there is even an asteroid named after him.

Chinese state media, generally tightly controlled, provided extensive coverage of Cha’s death on Wednesday, the topic being trending on the country’s social media platforms.

Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam called Cha “a learned man and acclaimed writer” in a statement, adding that his works “inherit the tradition of Chinese classics with the integration of history and Culture”.

Journalist to bestselling author

Cha was born in 1924 in eastern China but had lived in Hong Kong since 1948, shortly before the Communist takeover of mainland China.

He started his career as a journalist, becoming an author of martial arts stories almost accidentally.

Originally written in serial form for the Hong Kong newspaper which employed it in 1955, his first novel “The Book and the Sword” became an instant success, prompting him to write 14 more in the genre. over the next decade and a half.

Her last martial arts novel, a short story titled “The Sword of the Maiden Yue”, was published in 1970.

Despite his success as a novelist, Cha remained a journalist his entire life. In 1959, he founded the Ming Pao newspaper in Hong Kong, which grew from an outlet for its martial arts stories to an influential – and profitable – publication known for its neutral coverage in politically divided territory.

His involvement in politics has proven to be more controversial, however. He was a member of the committee tasked with drafting Hong Kong’s future mini-constitution in the 1980s, as China prepared to regain sovereignty over the long-standing British colony.

He resigned his position on the committee in 1989 after Communist leaders declared martial law in Beijing amid growing pro-democracy protests, which were then brutally crushed in the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre. .

Historical influences

Ostensibly set in antiquity, Cha’s novels nonetheless seem timeless, reflecting philosophies and practices that still permeate contemporary Chinese society, and the consequences of which may seem far too real, even to recent readers.

Written during one of the most tumultuous periods in modern Chinese history, Cha was unable to avoid certain events unfolding in mainland China influencing his works.

The author later admitted in interviews that two of his most famous titles – “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” and “The Deer and the Cauldron” – drew a partial parallel between the ancient evil cults with manic rulers of the world. power and madness of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.

Despite the veiled criticisms of the Chinese Communist rulers, Cha’s works have transcended ideological, geographic or even linguistic and cultural barriers, and have captivated millions of readers of all tastes around the world.

China’s late Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping, himself a victim of the purges of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution, was a fan of Cha’s novels and met the author in Beijing in 1981.

Other known admirers of Cha include Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba, as well as a myriad of Chinese celebrities from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan who quickly responded online to his passing, paying tribute to the giant. literary and cultural icon. .

Cha spent his last years out of the public eye. Despite his numerous chairs and honorary degrees from universities around the world, he was determined to become a full-time student again, eventually obtaining a doctorate in Chinese history in 2010 from the University of Cambridge.

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