Chinese Chivalrous Novels by Jinyong

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The person who started off the new wave of Chinese Chivalrous novels is Jinyong (金庸). He is presently the most influential member, though retired, of the Min Pao Daily in Hong Kong, which he founded. After a total of 14 novels, he has put down his pen.

With these 14 novels, he has bodly created another form of literary expression in Chinese literature. He has pioneered the path to another world of skilful pugilists and martial arts exponents, vividly portraying the complex interplay of human characters within the established framework of Chinese ancient society. Later many talented writers of Wu Xia (武侠) novels, have drawn from the world of Jinyong’s 14 novels. Some of the expressions and techniques used are even further enhanced by the rich imagination of later writers.

I have read many reputed materpieces written by internationally acclaimed authors. But, after reading 9 of Jinyong’s 14 novels, I have come to the realisation that they are far more powerful and real. The created characters are so passionately well written that they seem immortal. The poorly printed Chinese characters (words) on cheap low quality paper tend to stand and project themselves out with the protagonists in the prescribed actions and sequences.

I never knew that novels could be written with such beauty and truth that my inner feelings are driven to wild, frenzied heights of delight and at times, blissful ecstasy. The beats of my heart, the pulsation of my palm and moods of my mind are ever shifting and swaying with the rhythm of the enchanting scenic descriptions and the contrasting characters in diverse situations.

My spiritual self, imprisoned in this weary body whose sole occupation is daily routine work, transcends from within me to experience unsurpassable joy and pleasure in this ever widening universe of chivalrous novels that knows no frontier to an ardent explorer.

Different kinds of readers harbour different reactions after reading a given novel. Moralists, educationists, legalists, politicians etc give different interpretations to a given novel. I belong to the masses. Therefore, I harbour sentiments prevailing in their hearts.

Chivalrous novels are a world of human beings and martial arts. The ancient Chinese society which is Confucian in nature, provides the foundation and structure upon which those morals, values, customs and other forms of social behaviour in the novels are distinctly Chinese, without any infiltration of outside elements.

Within this basic structure of a closed Confucian society, logic is the guiding principle in the writing of a chivalrous novel whose protagonists display unbelievable skills in the martial arts and perform amazing kung fu feats as their characters dramatically unfold.

Though the characters in the novels perform many seemingly impossible and fantastic feats, they are as real as in our modern existence. They are like us, subject to universal pressures of greed, power, evil, envy, love, wealth, pleasure, despair.

In fact, the martial arts aspect is what we call special licence. It can only be found in this Chinese literary form of expression. The martial arts aspect has the main function to effectively highlight those universal pressures that all humans irrespective of creed experience.

The hero from a novice to a martial arts expert suffers a long, difficult and painful development. Since he needs the skills to discharge his obligations to his clan and uphold righteousness, he has to overcome the multitude of formidable obstacles. Endurance and the drive of perserverance are highlighted here.

The fact that Jinyong novels were written more than 30 yrs ago, yet still command a large following in the television, cinema, radio and books testifies my assertion. Any Chinese stream student will tell you who is Jinyong.

At present Jinyong’s novels have yet to be translated into other languages which further proves that they are distinctly Chinese. As a result of those characteristics, I have fallen ardently in love with Jinyong’s chivalrous novels.

Here I should like to add that the Japnese Samurai and the French 3 Musketeers are not like those Chinese chivalrous novels. They belong to another form of literary expression for they do not have the Wu(武), though they undoubtedly have the Xia(侠). In Chinese chivalrous novels, the Wu is just as important as the Xia. Without the Wu, they would lose their unique flavour.

Jinyong’s early novels are less successful. This is because the Wu is so emphasised that the equilibrium between Wu and Xia is upset. That results in super human characters, losing some of their authencity. But as he matured, so did his novels. The later novels are mainly drawn from the diverse personalities found in the long, glorious dynastic history of China. For this reason, they are called historical novels.

It’s by no accident that his best novels are very long with about 1,600 pages. Perhaps in this way, his characters and settings can be narrated with detail and precision.

His best novel and last – Lu Ding Ji (鹿鼎记), the 14th novel is over 2,000 pages. It is in this novel that Jinyong attains his height as a chivalrous novelist. To borrow an expression from Jinyong’s friend and critic, this novel is not a chivalrous novel but is within the confine of chivalrous novels.

This statement is well said because Jinyong with his matured skills is able to strike a balance between the two opposing forces of Yin and Yang or realism and fantasy. The novel is brought down to earth by the main character from the illusory and fantasy world of super human martial arts and kungful experts.

The protagonist, Wei Xiabao (伟小宝) is a normal 14-yr old boy without any martial arts but is surrounded by skillful and deadly pugilists. The long novel traces the young commoner (son of a prostitute & unknown father) to manhood. The setting is in the early years of the Qing or Manchu dynasty. Wei Xiaobao’s story centres around the palace and the rebellious pugilists of Heaven and Earth (天地会) secret society bent on overthrowing the Manchus and restoring the previous Ming dynasty. ( 反清复明!)

Wei Xiaobao is in a dilemma because the emperor, Kung Hsi is his childhood friend (Wei sneaked into the palace and became friend with the boy emperor) and he is a Chinese. Being a Chinese (not Manchu), the son of Han, he is forced to join the Heaven and Earth secret society to rid China of the Manchus with the given task of assassinating the benevolent emperor.

This novel encompasses the whole of China for there are chapters where diplomatic relations with Czarist Russia are described and Wei is sent as an envoy of the emperor.

I find the part when Wei and the Russians negotiating the common border hilarious with Wei insisting that they should start from Moscow and Beijing in order to have a fair and equal territorial border.

The part where Wei – after translation into Russian – “I want to marry your mother (Czar’s mother) and sleep with your mother”. The Russians replied that they felt honoured that he is interested. They didn’t realise their mother attracted his attention!

When Wei slept with the Russian princess he remarked that he didn’t like it cuz she got so much hair on her body!

If you have not already read them, why don’t you buy or borrow a chivalrous novel by Jinyong from the library? I assure you will be in for a stimulating read and you will learn more about China’s past in the bargain.

After Jinyong completed all his titles, it was discovered that the first characters of the first 14 titles can be joined together to form a couplet with 7 characters on each line:

飞雪连天射白鹿
笑书神侠倚碧鸳

Loose translation…
Shooting a white deer, snow flutters around the skies;
Smiling, [one] writes about the divine chivalrous one, leaning against bluish lovebirds (or lover).

PS: This article was published on my school’s newsletter “Newsville” on 21/7/1982. I have done some editing before it is re-produced here.

Read related article here.

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About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends. At least they know I'm still alive and well. It's a free country. No one is forcing you to read if you don't like what I write. I'm entitled to my own opinions. Having said that, there are still retards, morons and losers out there hiding behind anonymity hurling all kinds of insults and wicked remarks on my blog. I guess we'll just have to live with these cowardly mangy dogs found in any society. Sigh!
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12 Responses to Chinese Chivalrous Novels by Jinyong

  1. Mike Loh says:

    Ok I’m convinced; I too would like my spiritual self, imprisoned in this weary body to transcend from within me to experience unsurpassable joy and pleasure. I would like to drive my inner feelings to wild, frenzied heights of delight and at times, blissful ecstasy – without resorting to either whisky or women. Where can I buy a new copy of Lu Ding Ji?

    • Hahahaha! Dr Mike, you must remember that this article was written in 1982 when I was a young innocent student. I will pass you a copy – 5 books 400 pages each book. There are many great literary works besides this.

  2. Mike Loh says:

    Lu Ding Ji is five books?

  3. Yes. 5 books. 400 pages each. Total is 2,000 pages. The print and paper are so much better now. Jinyong has been revising all his novels. Lu Dingji is the 3rd revised edition. It is written in the simplified Chinese. If u come across an unknown Chinese character just write the character strokes on your iphone and the English translation with pronounciation will appear. So much easy now. Those days, I had to manually check each character using a Ch/Eng dict. [http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php?page=worddict&wdrst=0&wdqb=乾隆] Learning Ch is now a breeze. It need only a little effort and you will get there. Its not as if you are learning ancient Sanskrit or Tibetan languages where we are totally unfamiliar with. If u intend to relish the succulent fruit of ecstasy I promise you, you need to make the effort. It is not an impossible task.

  4. Or if you prefer to listen to Jinyong’s novels being read and recited with gusto, pls tune in to FM 95.8 on weekdays at 3.30pm. Jinyong’s “Return of the Condor hero” is being broadcast. It is now running at 100 over instalments.
    I just heard it yesterday. The hero Yang Guo is now at a mysterious valley known as “Heartless” valley. There are so many variants of the most beautiful flowers in the valley. But they are poisonous – if the thorns broke your skin and the poison got into your body. The more u think of your lover the worst will be the pain – extreme pain. No cure. That is why it is named as “Heartless” valley. You must not have feelings here. Interesting logic. That reader is a guy from China. Can imitate all the characters. Worth listening.

  5. Mike Loh says:

    Hmmm, I’m not sure if I am ready to embark on reading five Chinese books, each with 400 pages, not having read a Chinese book for years – though I read Chinese papers and magazines. Maybe I’ll start with the first book of Du Ling Ji first, what say you?

    • Yes. It is always the 1st step that counts. It could lead you to a lifetime passion. Tens of millions of Chinese having read Jinyong’s novels can’t be wrong. I tried Liang Yusheng, Gu Long and other Taiwanese WuXia writers. Jinyong still the best even though Liang Yusheng is more senior. I will pass it to u. No prob.

      PS: When Liang Yusheng’s “Kuangxia Tianjiao Monü” (狂俠天驕魔女) was broadcast over Hong Kong Redifusion in the early 70s in Cantonese in story telling form on a daily scheduled time; the whole Hong Kong stood still just to get a daily dose of its story development.

      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liang_Yusheng

      I ever asked Tess. She said she loved it. She was crazy over it at one time.

  6. cy says:

    Correction, his books have been translated into Bahasa Indonesian and loved by Indonesians too.

  7. Mike Loh says:

    I wonder where if English versions are on sale here?

  8. Dr Mike,
    Gd morn. Thks for dropping by. You always made my day when I see u here paying a visit to my humble abode.

    To answer ur question. I tried looking in Sg but yet to find a fully translated WuXia novel by Jinyong or any others. I believe u could try Amazon or Ebay. I know for sure Oxford press did publish some of Jinyong’s novels in translated English.

    You may wish to read “The Three Tests” which is a short extract of the English translation. The link is on my post above. U could get a gist or flavour of the translated version.

    Unless u can’t read Ch or not a Ch, then u got no choice but to settle for 2nd best. If u do have a basic grasp of Ch just like me, it is best tt u struggle thru the original works. Note tt the writer who did the translation is an Englishman Earshaw or something. I always draw my inspiration fr Kevin Rudd – ex Aussie PM whose mastery of Ch put us ethnic Ch to shame. Imagine him addressing the creme of the creme in Beijing Uni in Mandarin quoting Ch confucian analects and idioms! We have Ch stream ministers in govt ie Mr Zorro, ex DPM WKS or even SHT. They cant even compare with CSM who is fr English stream! The only creditable MIWs minister who had a fluent mastery of Ch is none other than our late OTC.

    Remember I ever told u tt if I retire I would devote my time to delve deeper in Ch language and its rich heritage? When it comes to Buddhisim, Zen, Taoism or other philosophy, the Chinese got a rich store of them. In Jinyong’s novels, u can find all these in bits n pieces as the story is narrated and explained. That is why I say those novels are not only abt fighting and martial arts.

    China’s late paramount leader Deng XP was also an ardent admirer of Jinyong. The latter met up with him few times. I prefer Jinyong’s novels than Liang Yusheng cuz the former writes in a more simple Ch whilst the latter a bit of old fashion Ch. Liang is much older than Jinyong.

    Take a look at the 14 character couplets – 7 characters in 2 lines. Each character is the 1st character of the title of a novel. His best fren and critic also a novelist Ni Kung ( he writes thrillers and fantasy novels ) composed tt couplet based on his 14 novels for Jinyong. The English translation ie could be this and got to add “one” etc really lost its true flavour.

    The 14 characters are so beautifully written with its meaning, rhythm and contrast that they seem immortal and permanent. The scenery of the cold snowing background with deer and love birds. A proud scholar in such a beautiful scene shooting at the graceful deer conveys a sense of power, control and nature. No unnecessary waste. Man living in harmony and dependent on nature.

    I can go on analysing and pen a crtical appreciation if we look longer and deeper like a piece of majestic canvass! I am lucky to learn both languages albeit Ch at 2nd lang so tt I can see the same with 2 eyes instead of 1 eye. With 2 windows open to me, I can conclude which offers a better view – of course depending on what I am looking at!

    Cheers !

  9. Read some of the translated Jinyong’s novels into English. http://www.spcnet.tv/readingrooms/default.php

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