Jin Yong and Chinese Wuxia Novels

I watched all of TVB’s Jin Yong series in the 90s: The Legend of Condor Heroes 94, The Return of Condor Heroes 1995, Demi God and Semi Devil 1996, Duke of Mountain Deeer 1998, Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain 1996, State of Divinity 1996, Crimson Sabre 2000, and Heavenly Sword and Dragon Saber 2000. Jin Yong was a creative Chinese writer, all his characters have special names. I found this interesting article summarizing his books.

Jin Yong and Chinese Wuxia Novels

The Chinese have always referred to a place within their history as “Jiang Hu” (Gong wu – in Cantonese). This age is a part of China’s mythical past, and is the time when heroes, anti-heroes, and villains feature prominently.

The term, “Jiang Hu”, which literally means “rivers and lakes”, but actually describe the martial world, is where sword-bearing men and women embark on their self-quests for honour, power, and respect. These incredible people are an entity wholly different than their national countrymen. They have their own rules, fights, disputes, and ideology. They may go into seclusion for many years simply to learn a more powerful martial art, so that they can challenge another. Defeating a worthy opponent would lead to respect, and a name for themselves to be remembered throughout history.

Wuxia xiaoshao (martial arts novels) is consumed eagerly by the readers in Asia, thrilling the young and old alike with their stories of powerful romantic swordsmen, and their adventures to rid evil. It is a phenomenon that is comparable to the popularity of science fiction and fantasy novels read by Westerners.

In fact, there are a lot of similarities between sci-fi / fantasy and wuxia xiaoshao: Chinese heroes usually have unimaginable power, learnt by ancient scrolls of text, and utilised through their inner energy. This is comparable to the powers learnt by magicians, wizards and sorcerers; and of which only talented people can learn them.

What differs between the two is the way both of the worlds are viewed. There is more of a grand epic feeling in fantasy worlds, woven into a rich tapestry of characters, political intrigue, and save the world quests. Wuxia novels are more about individual characters in their own quests for revenge, honour and respect. Taking revenge for a wrongdoing is often a recurring feature in wuxia novels, and is mostly the basis of a whole novel.

The most famous writer of wuxia novels is undoubtedly Jin Yong, whose dozen of novels have become the all-time bestsellers of Chinese novels around the world, and have inspired many television series and films.

Jin Yong, real name Louis Cha Liang Yong, was born in 1924 in Zhejian, China. He trained as a diplomat but pursued a career in journalism instead. He took a job as a writer for the Ta Kung Pao newspaper situated in Shanghai, but was later sent to the Hong Kong office. Bored with reporting, he went on to reviewing films, and later to screen-writing, but it is his dabble into writing novels that later become his forte.

In 1955, Louis Cha wrote his first feature length novel that would later become the Book and Sword. It serialised in the Xin Wan Bao newspaper in Hong Kong and became immensely popular, and Cha went on to write a dozen more novels over the next 13 years. He made an ingenious move by founding his own newspaper Ming Pao Daily, and made sure his works only featured in his paper. Many people bought the paper just to read the serialisation.

His last novel was in 1972, and he vowed not to write another novel again. His vow still stands, but his name lives on.

Jin Yong’s novels:

Book and Sword: Gratitude and Revenge
(Shi Gim Yan So Luk)

Jin Yong’s first published novel. The story revolves around the Red Flower Society, led by its leader Chan Kar-lok, in its battle to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty. They are forced to rethink their mission after it is revealed that the current Manchu emperor, Qian Long (Chien Lung), is actually of Han birth, and is the older brother of Chan Kar-lok.

Sword Stained with Royal Blood
(Bik Huet Gim)

Set in the final years of the Ming Dynasty. The story revolves around Yuen Sing-chi, the son of a Ming general who was wrongfully accused of treason by the Emperor Chong Zhen. Yuen grows up to be a master martial artist, who wants nothing more than to avenge his father, and clear his name. Complications arise when Yuen falls for the emperor’s daughter.

Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain
(Zhit Zan Fei Wu)

Not a feature length novel, but a short novel based on the exploits of the Flying Fox Wu Fei. The story is about Wu Fei’s mission to avenge his parents, but Jin Yong uses Fei to bring out his parents’ history and the reason they died.

The Young Flying Fox
(Fei Hu Wai Chuan)

As the title suggests, this is a short novel about the early years of the Flying Fox, and his relationship with difficult girls. His love for justice and fighting for the good is counter-balanced by his cold-heartedness, and his inability to hold down friends.

The Eagle-Shooting Heroes
(Ser Dil Ying Hung Juen)

The first part of a trilogy. Set in the Sung Dynasty (12th Century AD China) at a time when the Mongols were threatening to invade, the story is centred around a young man named Kwok Jing. Kwok grows up in Mongolia but is of Han descent. He becomes a staunch supporter of the Sung emperor, and vows to stop the Mongol invasion. Kwok falls in love with Wong Yung, the daughter of Wong Shin-yeung, one of the five greatest martial artists of the time. The others are: Wong Yat-si (The Sinister East); Ou Yeung-fung (The Evil West); Hung Chat-gung (Northern Beggar); and Duen Zhi-shing (Southern emperor).

The Return of the Eagle heroes
(San Dil Hap Lui)

The second part of the trilogy. Set around twenty years after the first book, the Mongol hordes are invading China; Kwok Jing and his wife, Wong Yung, are desperately trying to save the city of Seung Yeung from falling to the Mongols. Although Kwok and his wife are featured prominently in the novel, the real hero of the book is Yeung Gor, the orphaned son of Yeung Hong (friend/enemy of Kwok Jing). Yeung has had a troubled upbringing, and is more of a rebel of the traditional themes. He meets a beautiful young woman called Little Dragon Girl, who teaches him martial arts. Later they fall in love, but due to fateful circumstances, they have to wait another sixteen years to be finally together.

Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre
(Yee Ting Tung Lung Gey)

Final part of the trilogy. Set around a hundred years after part two, the story revolves around the two greatest weapons on earth: the Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, said to be forged by Kwok Jing and Wong Yung. If combined together, the weapons would give the bearer ultimate power, so that he/she could rid China of the Mongols. The hero of the story is an orphan boy called Cheung Mo-kei, who gained great power from the Nine Sacred Scrolls. He becomes leader of the Ming Sect, and by the end of the novel, enables one of his commanders, Zhu Yuan Zhuang, to become the founder of the new Ming Dynasty; while Mo-kei runs off into the sunset with a Mongol princess.

Demi Gods and Semi Devils
(Ting Lung Bak Bo)

Regarded as one of Jin Yong’s greatest pieces of work. Demi Gods and Semi Devils is a very long story about the different behaviour aspects of people turned good/bad. The three heroes of the book are: Qill Fung, the leader of the Beggar society. Brought up by a Han couple, he believed himself to be of Han descent, but when it is revealed that he is actually a Khitan, his fellow members forces him out; Duen Yuet, a prince of Dali, is a young happy-go-lucky man whose good luck gets him the best of everything; and finally, Zhu, the cowardly monk, whose inability to fight becomes much a farce. But he overcomes his fears and becomes a master martial artist.

Way of the Heroes
(Hap Hak Hang)

Story about twins, whose separation at birth leads them to have very different personalities. One is a serious goody-two-shoes, while the other is a mischievous brawler, whose obsession with good looking girls net him half a dozen wives.

Requiem of Ling Sing
(Ling Sing Kuet)

One of the most depressing stories ever written by Jin Yong. Yun has had a poor upbringing, but his friendship with a girl gives him hope. However, she goes off with another bloke, which leaves poor Yun heartbroken. He learns some damn good martial arts, but is betrayed by people he thought to be friends.

The Proud Smiling Wanderer
(Sill Ou Gong Wu)

One of the most famous of his works, this was different in respect that there were a number of anti-traditional themes within the story. Main hero Ling Wu Chung loses his girlfriend to another bloke; is betrayed by his master, and later faces Asia the Invincible.

Deer and the Cauldron aka Duke of Mount Deer
(Luk Ding Gey)

Another one of Jin Yong’s classics, and the last one he ever wrote. This is more of a comedy than a serious outlook on the jiang hu world. The hero Wai Siu Bo is more of an anti-hero, whose characteristics are certainly the very opposite of a traditional hero. He doesn’t know any martial arts at all, and his crude womanising ways is certainly something a true hero would frown upon. However, his endearing qualities mean that he is quick to make friends, even turn enemies into friends, and he remains one of the best loved characters created by Jin Yong.

credit HKfilms

4 thoughts on “Jin Yong and Chinese Wuxia Novels

  1. Thanks for the explanation, I am not that up to speed about wu xia. So, any sort of martial arts story that is not within the Jiang Hu would not be considered a wu xia, right?

    1. I found this article and thought it was good. Jin Yong is a good Wuxia author. I never read the novels but my parents read it. TVB State of Dvinity 1996 and Legend of Condor Heroes 94 was really good.

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