Knight fall in Zhejiang

By Xing BAO


Shanghai Star. 2005-01-13

WHO is the best selling modern author in China? Although no official statistics are available, most people would agree that Jin Yong the undisputed master of the kungfu novel is the winner.

In the preface to the English edition of Jin's novel "The Book and the sword", translator Graham Earnshaw describes the author as "by far" the most popular Chinese novelist in the world.

According to Simon Aligen, an experienced editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, more than 1 billion copies of Jin Yong's books, including pirated copies, have been sold. And it is believed that probably double that number of people may have read Jin Yong's books.

"Jin Yong" - the pen name of Cha

Leung-yung or Louis Cha - was born in Zhejiang Province and now lives in Hong Kong, his name often appearing in the media. The recent story about him to be widely covered in the news was his resignation from the position of president of the College of Humanities at Zhejiang University.

"I am 80 years old now. Generally speaking, professors retire once they are 60 years old," Jin said, confirming his decision to quit to local media this week. "But I will direct my three graduate students until they complete their research."

Echoing a parallel dispute when he accepted the position in 1999, his departure has stimulated a huge dispute over his academic credentials. Is a popular novelist qualified to hold a senior academic position?

"The reason for his departure was related to my protest against his educational methods. I hope I can be reconciled with him," said Zhu Xiaozheng, Jin's student, speaking to The Bund newspaper. She and two other students major in ancient history under Jin's direction.

According to this newspaper, an insider said Jin Yong had scarcely any academic contact with his students, even though he was responsible for their supervision. Although he would sometimes take students with him to attend various seminars, the teacher would only meet with students once a term when he would chat for hours. There were never any formal classes.

Another of Jin's students, Lu Dunji, said it was hard to tell what he had learned from his supervisor.

Criticism from the history department in the college was rather serious. One student reported that Jin had once spoken of the emperor sitting together with ministers to discuss matters of State during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). "But the historical record clearly states that this system of sitting together was terminated in the Song Dynasty," he said.

Fu Guoyong, who wrote the book "Biography of Jin Yong", said Jin's problem is that he wants to be recognized as a scholar of history instead of a kungfu novel writer. "His 15 kungfu novels are enough to justify his position. He has no need to work hard to make his reputation," he told The Bund.

Uncertain status

Chinese literary circles have not traditionally held martial arts novels in high regard, considering them to be a comparatively degraded genre of fiction.

Kungfu stories, a unique form of Chinese literature, originated during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). These stories generally depict a band of heroes as the embodiment of justice. The heroes always punish villains and encourage people to do good. The books place Chinese kungfu in the central position, with violent fighting playing a prominent role.

So when Jin Yong was judged one of the top 10 literary models of the 20th century by popular vote, (the vote was organized by dozens of major domestic media) second only to the great writer Lu Xun (1881-1936), a storm of criticism arose. Outraged commentators expressed their shock about the result, arguing that Jin - a lowly writer of kungfu novels - did not belong on the same list with a literary genius such as Lu Xun.

But Jin's popularity with readers was an indisputable fact. People called Jin a "knight" and noted that his novels are studied by many people, including scholars. Seminars about Jin's novels have been held around the country.

China Central Television (CCTV) made a number of expensive TV series, based on kungfu novels by Jin Yong. The books have been re-published many times, in a number of different Asian languages including Japanese and Vietnamese. They have also been published in both pirated and official Chinese versions in Taiwan and on the Chinese mainland.

Jin Yong is actually a journalist, editor and publisher. He started work for the Ta Kung Pao (newspaper) in Hong Kong in 1948.

He first began writing and publishing kungfu novels in 1955, while working for the Hsin Wan Pao (newspaper). Between 1955 and 1974, he published 15 works under the pen name Jin Yong.

"It is very hard and painful work to write a novel especially designed to be serialized in a newspaper," he once said in a speech. "But it is very interesting that thousands of people can share a fantasy along with an author."

The former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) was one of the people enthralled by Jin's fantasies. On July 18, 1981, when Deng received Jin in Beijing, his first words were: "I have read your novels".

Spirit of Knight-errant

For adults, Jin's works are exciting escapist romances. The spirit of a knight-errant who is sincere in love, friendship and patriotism stands at the core of most of his stories. "The person with the highest level of kungfu is not necessarily the real knight in my novels. To me, the real spirit of the knight-errant is that of working for country and people, even if it brings no benefit - even if it brings death," Jin said in a speech.

"In a complicated modern society, the idea of such a pure spirit really moves me, even if I doubt its existence in reality," said Susan He, a woman in her 20s who has read all Jin's novels several times.

Women readers are moved by the young knight Yang Guo in the novel who waited for his lover faithfully for 16 years, believing she was still alive even though she had leapt from a mountain into a ravine.

Men are moved when powerful knight Xiao Feng treats his friends with sincere affection, ready to die for the peace of his homeland.

In Jin's novels, there are many beautiful love stories and tragedies. His true life is almost as theatrical as his novels. Jin married three times, according to the biography written by Fu, with all his wives being beauties.

During the interview with CCTV, Jin said he had not been successful as a husband, as was shown by his divorces. "I always feel particularly guilty about one of my ex-wives. Now she has died, and I am terribly sad," he said.

The ex-wife he was talking about was his second. They divorced because of Jin's extramarital affairs. The woman's later life is described as lonely and poverty-stricken. In 1998, she died in a hospital in Hong Kong, with only medical staff around her.

In 1976, Jin's eldest son committed suicide in the United States. A few months later, Jin wrote in the postscript to his novel "The Heaven Sword and The Dragon Sabre": "Whatever the bitterness when Zhang Sanfeng saw Zhang Cuishan's committing suicide (Zhang Sanfeng is Zhang Cuishan's master in the novel), the sadness when Xie Xun heard of the death of Zhang Wuji (Xie is Zhang's godfather), what I was able to describe was too shallow - real life is not like that."

Copyright by Shanghai Star.