Jīn Yōng 金庸, author of 15 martial arts novels, and editor and publisher of the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao (明报 míng bào), died today at the age of 94 in Hong Kong.
- Jin Yong was the pen name of Louis Cha (查良镛 Chá Liángyōng). Born in Zhejiang in 1924, he ended up as a newspaper editor in Hong Kong and, in 1955, began writing his first serialized martial arts novel, The Book and the Sword (the link is to the English translation by Graham Earnshaw).
- He wrote 15 major martial arts novels (武侠小说 wǔxiá xiǎoshuō), of which only a handful have been translated into English. You can see a list of the novels here. The first Chinese character of the title of each novel forms a Chinese couplet of poetry (Jin Yong always denied this was intentional, but his fans see it as evidence of his meticulous genius):
Shooting a white deer, snow flutters around the skies
Smiling, I write about the divine gentleman, leaning against his lover
- It’s difficult to overstate how popular Jin Yong is in the Chinese-language world.
- Li Yuan of the New York Times tweeted: “Everyone, I mean everyone, on my WeChat timeline has something to say about Jin Yong. We all read and reread his novels in our teens, 20s, 30s until today. His novels took us to a magical place that justice always prevails. Wuxia = martial arts + chivalry.”
- Li linked to this obituary, Tributes pour in for Chinese literary giant Louis Cha, the ‘greatest epic writer of our time who embodied the martial arts spirit,’ in the South China Morning Post.
- A recent New Yorker article on Jin Yong by Nick Frisch begins like this:
Louis Cha, who is ninety-four years old and lives in luxurious seclusion atop the jungled peak of Hong Kong Island, is one of the best-selling authors alive. Widely known by his pen name, Jin Yong, his work, in the Chinese-speaking world, has a cultural currency roughly equal to that of “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” combined. Cha began publishing wuxia epics — swashbuckling kung-fu fantasias — as newspaper serials, in the nineteen-fifties.
Ever since, his fiction has kept children, and their parents, up past their bedtimes, reading about knights who test their martial-arts mettle with sparring matches in roadside ale-houses and princesses with dark secrets who moonlight as assassins. These characters travel through the jiānghú 江湖, which literally translates as “rivers and lakes,” but metaphorically refers to an alluvial underworld of hucksters and heroes beyond the reach of the imperial government. Cha weaves the jianghu into Chinese history — it’s as if J. R. R. Tolkien had unleashed his creations into Charlemagne’s Europe.
- In 1959, Jin Yong co-founded the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao with a high school classmate. He served as its editor-in-chief for many years, writing editorials as well as his serialized martial arts novels, often publishing more than 10,000 Chinese characters per day.
- Jin Yong met then leader Dèng Xiǎopíng 邓小平 in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Deng was a Jin Yong fan. Jin Yong was a member of the Hong Kong Basic Law drafting committee but resigned in protest after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. Yet he did not reject establishment politics and was a member of the Preparatory Committee set up in 1996 by the Chinese government to monitor the 1997 transfer of sovereignty.
- In 1993, Jin Yong sold all his shares in Ming Pao, and retired from editorial work.