Banned books to National Treasure, Jin Yong’s wuxia stories shaped a cultural identity

Huang Yaoshi
Huang Rong and Guo Jing
Ren Woxing
Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying
Zhang Wujiby
The Green-winged Bat King
Wanyan Honglie
The White-browed Eagle King Yin Tianzheng
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The Giant Eagle and its Companion

“The Year is 1205. For decades, the Song Empire has been fighting an invasion from the north by the Jurchen tribes of Manchuria.” So begins The Giant Eagle and its Companion, an epic story that is part of the collective memory of hundreds of millions of Chinese-speaking people from Hong Kong, China and the rest of the global Chinese diaspora. Yet, the stories and characters are unknown to those outside the Chinese community.

Ren Zhe

In celebration of the centennial of Hong Kong’s most famous writer’s birth, the government has commissioned Ren Zhe to sculpt thirty-two of Jin Yong characters now on display at the Heritage Museum in Shatin and Edinburgh Place in front of the City Hall building in Central. The exhibition is titled: A Path to Glory – Jin Yong’s Centennial Memorial, Sculpted by Ren Zhe.

Jin Yong

Jin Yong, the pen name of Dr Louis Cha Leung-yung (1924-2018), was one of the most widely-read 20th-century writers in the Chinese language. He was born into a prominent family in the coastal province of Zhejiang and was well-educated. When Japan invaded China during the Second World War, Louis Cha’s family was displaced, and his mother died while fleeing the Japanese. He planned to be a diplomat, but by the time he graduated from Soochow University’s law school in 1948, it was apparent the Communists would not welcome him. He began working as a journalist for a newspaper in Shanghai. Later that year, he moved with the newspaper to Hong Kong. The following year, his father was executed for being a counterrevolutionary.

Ming Pao Newspaper

Louis Cha continued working as a journalist in Hong Kong and began writing his novels. By 1959, with money earned from his books, he co-founded the Ming Pao newspaper and served as the first editor-in-chief. In the early years, he published serialised versions of his novels in a fiction supplement, which helped create demand for the newspaper. Between 1955 and 1972, Jin Yong wrote fifteen books.

In 1981, with China opening up, Louis Cha met Deng Xiaoping, the new leader after Mao. Deng surprised everyone by admitting he was a big fan of Jin Yong’s novels. Shortly after, China lifted the ban on his books. In 1985, Louis Cha was appointed to the political committee drafting Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

Luis Cha passed away in 2018, at 94, having led a long life and significantly impacted journalism and the structure of government in Hong Kong. But his legacy will be the stories that continue to engage people in print, films, TV series, comics and video games. These stories have unified the collective memory of Chinese people worldwide, encouraging them to feel proud of their national identity and reinforcing values like love, courage, skill, loyalty and honour.

Wuxia

The quality of Jin Yong’s writing and the success of his books legitimised a genre known as wuxia, which blends fantasy, history and action around the adventures of martial arts heroes. These heroes love well, are courageous, skilled and loyal to their friends and country. The villains are not. Magic and mythical creatures frequently intervene. Jin Yong infused his stories with Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist ideas. He positioned martial arts as an integral part of Chinese culture, on par with traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and calligraphy. Jin Yong’s books have been successful from day one with their captivating blend of history, philosophy, action and adventure.  

These stories have unified the collective memory of Chinese people around the world, encouraging them to feel proud of their national identity

Guo Jing & Huang Rong

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the lead character goes by the name of Guo Jing, who, when introduced, is a simple and honest orphan boy raised on the Mongolian steppe and mentored in martial arts by Genghis Khan. Guo Jing’s love interest is Huang Rong, a street-smart urchin, kung fu expert and master chief whose intellect helps them survive. The story is set at a pivotal moment in Chinese history when the Mongols defeated the Song dynasty, establishing the Yuan dynasty.

A Path to Glory – Jin Yong’s Centennial Memorial

This exhibition connects with the people who love Jin Yong’s stories and will likely introduce a new generation to these works. An elegant translation of the epic has recently been published in English under the title of Legends of the Condor Heroes.

Text Martin Wray / Photos Cammy Yiu & Martin Wray