Jin Yong is the most popular Wuxia author to combine martial arts and romance in his novels.
Jin Yong’s wuxia novels have a widespread following in Chinese communities worldwide. His 15 works written between 1955 and 1972 earned him a reputation as one of the greatest and most popular wuxia writers ever. By the time of his death he was the best-selling Chinese author, and over 100 million copies of his works have been sold worldwide.
Jin Yong weaved historical events into his fictional narratives and was really good at describing fight scenes, making it so that the reader always knows what’s at stake through each stage of the fight.
Martial Arts and Romance of Martial Heroes
The bold pursuit of love by these strange men and women still has a charming charm even in modern martial arts novels. Of course, such a theme idea has improved the ideological level of martial arts novels, making popular literature play the role of “elegant literature” in the ideological sense.
This romance involves the transformation of “elegant” and “vulgar” literature, and martial arts novels, as a special literary form, also have the problem of “elegant” and “vulgar” in themselves.
When we compare Tang legends, Song and Yuan texts, and contemporary vernacular martial arts, how should we distinguish between “elegant” and “vulgar”? If the creation of intellectuals is taken as the distinguishing point, then the Tang legend is “elegant” literature, while the creation of artists in the Song dialect is “vulgar” literature.
In fact, martial stories in the form of military romance made a turning point in the Greater Tang dynasty and returned in the form of legendary tales. Nie Yinniang, The Kunlun Slave, Thirteenth Madame Jing, Red String, and The Bearded Warrior served as prototypes for modern wuxia stories. They featured fantasies and isolated protagonists – usually loners – who performed daring heroic deeds.
In the Ming dynasty, martial art novels were popular. Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Shi Nai’an’s Outlaws of the Marsh were among the Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. The portrayal of the 108 heroes by Mr. Shi, and their code of honor and willingness to become outlaws rather than serve a corrupt government, played an influential role in the development of Jianghu (literary rivers and lakes) or Wuxia World culture in later centuries.
In the Qing dynasty, further developments were the public cases and related detective novels, where wuxia heroes, in collaboration with a judge or magistrate, solved crimes and battled injustice.
The Justice Bao stories from Sanxia Wuyi and novels such as Shi Gong’an Qiwen and The Legend of Heroic Boys and Girls were cited as the clearest nascent wuxia novels. During this period, the wuxia culture also took found its soil for development in Japan and Korea, such as the Japanese samurai bushidō.
The heroes in wuxia fiction typically do not serve a lord, wield military power, or belong to the aristocratic class. They often originate from the lower social classes of ancient Chinese society. A code of chivalry usually requires wuxia heroes to right and redress wrongs, fight for righteousness, remove oppressors, and bring retribution for past misdeeds.
The departure from mainstream literature meant that patronage of this genre was limited to the masses and not to the literati, which led to the stifling of the development of the wuxia genre. Nonetheless, the wuxia genre remained enormously popular with the common people.
The modern wuxia genre rose to prominence in the early 20th century after the May Fourth Movement of 1919. A new form of literature evolved, calling for a break with Confucian values, and wuxia emerged as a symbol of personal freedom, defiance of the Confucian tradition, and rejection of the traditional family system.
Xiang Kairan (pen name Pingjiang Buxiaosheng) became the first notable wuxia writer, with his debut novel being The Peculiar Knights-Errant of the Jianghu. Zhao Huanting, who wrote Chronicles of the Loyal Knights-Errant, was another well-known writer based in Shanghai.
Starting from the 1930s, wuxia works proliferated and its center shifted to Beijing and Tianjin in northern China. The most prolific writers were the Five Great Masters of the Northern School: Huanzhulouzhu, who wrote The Swordspeople from Shu Mountains; Gong Baiyu, who wrote Twelve Coin Darts; Wang Dulu, who wrote The Crane-Iron Pentalogy; Zheng Zhengyin, who wrote The King of Eagle Claws; Zhu Zhenmu, who wrote The Seven ‘Kill’ Stele.
Wuxia fiction was banned at various times in the mainland during the Communist Republican era and these restrictions stifled the growth of the genre.
In the 50s of the 20th century, martial arts were formed in the trend of commercialization and popularization in Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is a literary genre represented by Liang Yusheng and Jin Yong to write fictional historical martial arts stories, referring to a new literary style after the new cultural movement, martial arts novels began to be created in vernacular under the influence of new literature. There are many famous artists in this era, Liang Yusheng led at the beginning, Jin Yong at the climax, and Wen Ruian at the second climax.
Jin Yong introduced Western literary techniques and film techniques to blend them, making martial arts novels a bestseller in the era of political repression in Hong Kong and Taiwan at that time. And he raised martial arts novels to the height of literature and art.
In spite of the ban on the mainland, wuxia writing prevailed in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Between the 1960s and 1980s, the genre entered a golden age. Writers such as Liang Yusheng and Louis Cha (Jin Yong) spearheaded the founding of a “new school”. They wrote serials for newspapers and magazines. They also incorporated history into fictional themes such as mystery and romance from other cultures. In Taiwan, Wolong Sheng, Sima Ling, Zhuge Qingyun, Shiao Yi and Gu Long became the region’s best-known writers. After them, writers such as Woon Swee Oan and Huang Yi rose to prominence in a later period. Chen Yu-hui is a contemporary female wuxia novelist who made her debut with the novel The Tian-Guan Duo Heroes. Yu Hua, one of the more notable writers in the 1980s, published a counter-genre short story titled Blood and Plum Blossoms, in which the protagonist goes on a quest to avenge his murdered father.
In the 1990s, Huang Yi was a noted writer. Huang Yi’s works are often directly integrated into a large historical era, rather than using history as the background. This is his merit, but the idea is also limited by history.
In the twenty-first century, martial arts novels have gradually been snubbed by people, and after being snubbed by people, and in the rise of immortals, the authors have found a new way of development, that is, the work that integrates immortals and xia.
Many martial arts writers in modern times have been deeply influenced by the works of Huanzhu Louzhu, who successfully combined martial arts and fairies; in that sense, there is a strong character of romance.
Jin Yong’s Words on Martial Arts & Romance in His Writings
This is the preface that accompanies the third edition of Jin Yong’s novels. This version of the novels is often published as the New Revised Edition.
This novel is written for humans to read. The novel is about humans.
Novels are about the character and feelings of a person, a few persons, a group of people, or tens of thousands of people. Their personalities and emotions are revealed laterally through the environment, medially through encounters, and through the interaction and relationships between people. Among long novels, it appears that only Robinson Crusoe is about a single person, depicting his relationship with nature. However, later in the story, the servant Friday finally appeared. There are more short novels that are written about only one person, especially in modern and contemporary novels. Through a person’s contact with the surroundings, these novels describe both the external world around him and his inner self, especially the world in the heart. Some novels are about animals, celestial beings, ghosts, and demons, but they are portrayed as persons.
Traditional Western theory of novels differentiated three aspects of setting, characters, and plot to analyse a literary work. Due to the difference in the personalities and talents of the authors, there are often different emphasis on the three aspects.
Basically, wuxia novels are like other novels. They are also written by a person, just that they have ancient settings, the protagonists have martial arts abilities, and the plot emphasises intense battles. Any novel would have a particular area of special focus. Romance novels are about the sexual relationship between man and woman. Realistic novels depict the setting and characters in a particular era. Novels such as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin relate the struggles of a large group of characters. Contemporary novels often place the emphasis on the mental process of the characters.
Martial art and Human Relations
Novels are a type of art. The basic content of art is human emotions and life, with the primary form being beauty, both beauty in the broad sense and in aesthetics. For novels, that would be beauty in the writing and structuring. The key is expressing the inner selves of the characters through certain ways. This is possible with any kind of ways, be it through the subjective analysis by the author, or objectively through the narrative. It could also be expressed objectively through the characters’ actions and speech.
When a reader reads a novel, they combine the contents of the novel with the state of their minds. For the same novel, some people might feel strongly shaken, while others might find it boring and tiring. When the readers’ personalities and emotions come into contact with the personalities and emotions portrayed in the novel, a “chemical reaction” is produced.
Wuxia novels are just a special way of expressing human relationships. Composers or musicians want to express a kind of mood through pianos, violins, symphonies or singing. Painters can choose between oil painting, watercolours, ink or engraving. The question lies not within the use of which form, but rather whether the expression technique is good; whether it can communicate with the hearts of the reader, listener, or audience; whether it resonates with their hearts. Novels are a form of art. There is good art and there is also bad art.
Good or bad, art belongs in the domain of beauty, not the domain of truth or goodness. Beauty is judged against beauty and feelings, not whether it is scientifically true (whether martial arts is possible in terms of physiology or science), whether it is good or not in terms of morals, whether it is valuable or not in terms of economics, or whether it is beneficial or harmful to a ruler politically. Of course, any art work can have an effect on society. Thus it can also be assessed by the value of its influence on society. However, that is another kind of appraisal.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, the power of Christianity was unsurpassed. Hence, when we visit European and American museums, all the paintings from the Middle Ages have the biblical story as their theme, and they have to portray females through the image of the Virgin Mary. It was only after the High Renaissance that the image of mortals were expressed in paintings and literature. The High Renaissance was the resurgence of Greek and Roman depiction of humans in arts and literature, rather than focussing on portraying god and saints.
The Chinese perception of arts and literature has long been “teaching Confucianism through writing”. This is the same as the ideology of arts and literature during the Dark Ages of the Middle Ages in Europe, where “good or evil” was the standard used to judge arts and literature. The love songs in the Classic of Poetry were forcibly interpreted as criticising the emperor or singing the praises of the empress. Tao Yanming’s Leisure Ode, the chi poetry of yearning and love by Sima Guang, Ouyang Xiu, and Yan Shu, or the sympathising appraisal of the flaw in a piece of jade, or the kindly explanation of another meaning. They don’t believe that the arts and literature portray emotions, but instead believe that the only usage of words is to serve political or society values.
I write wuxia novels just to create some characters, describe their tribulations in a specific wuxia setting (one that is set in ancient China, where there is no rule of law, in an unreasonable world that resolve disputes with violence). The world back then and the modern world is very different, but people’s characters and feelings have not changed much. The vicissitudes of life, and the pleasure, anger, sorrow and joy experienced by ancient people can still stir similar emotions in the hearts of modern readers.
Of course, the readers might feel that the execution is sloppy, the technique is lacking, and the descriptions extremely shallow. Thus, from an aesthetics point of view, the novels are inferior works of art. Regardless, I don’t wish to express any particular ideology. While I was writing wuxia novels, I also wrote articles related to history, philosophy, and religion. These are completely different from wuxia novels. Writing that involves thinking relies on the readers’ intellect. Only then would they be able to differentiate right from wrong and real from fake in the writing, leading them to agree with, partially agree with, or totally oppose it.
I wish readers would only say if they like or dislike the novel, and whether they were touched or bored by it. I’m happiest when readers love or hate certain characters in my novels. Such emotions show that the characters in my novels have already connected with the readers spiritually. An author’s greatest desire is none other than to create some characters, making them come to life in the hearts of the readers.
Art is creation. Music is the creation of beautiful sounds. Drawing is the creation of beautiful visual images. Novels aim to create characters, stories, and people’s inner self. If we only seek a realistic reflection of the external world, why would we need music and drawings when there are audio recorders and cameras? Why would we need novels when are newspapers, history books, documentary films, social survey statistics, doctor’s medical records, and the personnel files in political parties and police posts?
While wuxia novels are considered mainstream works that emphasise popularity and entertainment value, they inevitably have an influence over many readers. The main thing I hope to convey is: Love and respect your fellow countrymen, and respect the countrymen of others. Maintain peace and friendship, and help each other. Value justice and righteousness, and oppose making gains at the expense of others. Emphasise good faith, and praise genuine love and friendship. Praise the selfless fight for justice. Despise the struggle for power, and selfish and despicable thoughts and behaviours.
Wuxia novels do not just make the reader day dream while reading, but immerse them in the fantasy of great success. And hope that while the readers fantasise, they think of themselves as good people that strive to do all sorts of good deeds, and think of themselves as patriotic, community-loving, and helping others to be happy. Through their good deeds and enthusiastic contribution, they receive the deep admiration of their love interest.
Wuxia novels are not works of realism. Many critics firmly believe that literary realism is the only acceptable school of thought, and all other movements should be rejected. This is akin to saying: Shaolin’s martial arts are great, and all others such as Wudang, Kongtong, Taiji Fist, Bagua Palm, Springing Legs, White Crane style, Karate do, Taekwondo, Judo, boxing, Muay Thai and others should all be abandoned. We advocate pluralism. Since we value Shaolin’s martial arts as the pinnacle in the study of martial arts, we see no harm in other minor schools coexisting. They might not be better than the Shaolin Order, but each has its own way of thinking and constructing.
A person who loves Cantonese dishes need not abstain from Beijing, Sichuan, Shandong, Anhui, Hunan, Weiyang, Hangzhou, French, Italian and other different types of cuisines. As the saying goes, “Radish and vegetables, each has its own lover”. There is no need to regard wuxia novels more highly than they deserve, and there is no need to reject them completely. Everything should be apt, that’s all.
I wrote the set of thirty-six books, Collection of Works, between 1955-72, spanning a period of thirteen to fourteen years from start to end. The set of books included twelve novels, two novellas, one novelette, a critical biography of a historical figure, and several historical textual criticism pieces. The publishing process was very strange. Whether it was in Hong Kong, Taiwan, overseas regions, or mainland China, all sorts of copies and unofficial editions were published before the release of the authentic edition, which was verified and authorised by me.
About the Third Edition
Before the publication of this Joint Publishing edition, only the Baihua Literature And Art Publishing House was authorised by me to release The Book and the Sword in mainland China. They were meticulous in the printing process, and paid the royalties agreed upon in the contract. I paid income tax to comply with laws, and donated the balance to several literary institutions and funded weiqi activities. This was a pleasant experience. All others were unauthorised.
Then, there was the issue of not paying royalties. Many versions were crudely put together with tons of errors. Some borrowed the name Jin Yong to publish wuxia novels. I dare not claim credit for those that were well written. As for those filled with boring fights and obscene descriptions, they inevitably made my unhappy. There were also some publishers that reproduced the works of other Hong Kong or Taiwanese authors under my pen name. I received countless letters from readers to expose the fakes and to express their indignation. I believe once the Joint Publishing edition has gained widespread distribution, it would put a stop to all these immoral acts.
The message of wuxia novels is to know right from wrong, and to be moral and just. They should not go overboard.
Some versions of the copies even claimed that Gu Long, Ni Kuang and I jointly issued a couplet matching challenge with the line, “Ice is colder than iced water”. What a joke. Chinese couplets to adhere to set rules. The final character of the first line of a couplet usually has an oblique tone, so that the second line end with a level tone. However, the word bing has a rising tone, which is a level tone. We would not have come up with such a first line in a couplet match. Many readers from the mainland mailed in their answers to the couplet matching challenge. It was a waste of their time an effort.
To make it easy for readers to differentiate them, I used the first character of my fourteen novels and novellas to form a couplet: “Shooting white deer in the endless drifting snow; Smiling while writing about the divine and chivalrous who leaned on a beautiful lover.”
When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea whether I would write a second novel. When I wrote the second novel, I did not think about what theme the third novel would have, not to mention the book title. Hence, this couplet definitely cannot be considered elegant. “Drifting snow” cannot be matched with “smiling while writing” and “white” and “beautiful” both have oblique tones. However, if I were to issue a couplet matching challenge, there would be complete freedom over the choice of characters, so I would have chosen characters that were meaningful and followed the rules.
Many readers wrote in with the same question: “Among your novels, which do you consider is the best? Which is your favourite?” I cannot answer this question. When I wrote these novels, I had a wish: “Do not repeat characters, plot, emotions, and even details that have been written before.” Limited by my abilities, this wish did not seem like it was achievable, but I always strived towards this direction.
Generally speaking, this fifteen novels are all different, each infused with my emotions, thoughts, and most importantly, emotions, that I had when I wrote them. I love the good characters in every novel. Their encounters make me feel happy or sad, sometimes very sorrowful. As for my writing technique, I improved in the later years. However, writing skills are not the most crucial. The important elements are the personality and emotions of the writer.
These novels have all been adapted into films and television series in Hong Kong and Taiwan, with some even having three or four different adaptations. Besides these, there were also plays, Beijing operas, Cantonese operas and other types of shows. Hence, the second question from readers: “Which film or television series adaptation do you consider the most successful? Which protagonists in the shows are the most accurate portrayal of the original character?”
The presentation of films and television is completely different from novels, so it is very difficult to make a comparison. Television series are longer and thus easier to develop the story, whereas films are greatly restricted. Moreover, reading a novel involves the process of visualising characters by both the author and the reader.
For people who read the same the same novel, the protagonists that appear in their minds might not be the same. This is because aside from the words in the books, readers draw from their personal experiences, personalities, emotions, and preferences. In your heart, you will meld the protagonist with your lover, and the lover of others is surely different from yours. However, film and television fix the appearances of the characters and leave the audience with no room for imagination.
Wuxia novels succeeded the long tradition of Chinese classical novels. The earliest wuxia novels in China were probably the brilliant literary works among Tang legends, such as The Legend of Qiu Ranke, Red String, Nieyinniang, and The Slave of Kunlun. These were followed by Water Margin, The Three Heroes and Five Gallants, Legend of the Heroic Sons and Daughters, and others. The more serious modern wuxia novels place greater emphasis on the themes of justice, integrity, self-sacrificing, eradicating the powerful and protecting the weak, national spirit, and traditional Chinese concept of ethics.
Readers do not need to excessively question and analyse the exaggerated descriptions of martial arts in the novels. Some things are impossible in reality, and are merely traditions of Chinese wuxia novels. Nieyinniang shrunk her body to sneak into another person’s guts, then she leapt out from his mouth. No one would believe this is real, yet the story of Nieyinniang has been enjoyed by people in the past millennium or so.
My early novels held a very strong sense of legitimacy of the Han people’s imperial dynasties. In the later years, the equality of all the races of the Chinese nation became the main theme. That was due to the progress in my perception of history. This was especially apparent in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, White Horse Neighing in the West Wind, and The Deer and the Cauldron. Wei Xiaobao’s father could have been a Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui, or Tibetan. Even in my first novel The Book and the Sword, the protagonist Chen Jialuo eventually converted to Islam.
Good and bad people exist in every ethnicity, religion, or profession. There were bad emperors, and there were good ones. There were dreadful officials, and there were good officials that really cared for the people. The Han people, Manchu people, Khitan people, Tibetans in the novels… there were good and bad people. Among monks, priests, lamas, scholars, and warriors, there were also all sorts of personalities and moral values.
Some readers liked to divide people into two categories to differentiate the good from bad, and at the same time made deductions about a whole based on an individual. That is definitely not the author’s intention.
Historical events and characters need to be viewed based on the circumstances back then. There had been fierce battles along the borders between Song and Liao, Yuan and Ming, Ming and Qing, Han and other ethnicities such as Khitan, Mongol, and Manchu. The Mongols and Manchu people used religion as a political tool. The novels depicted the views and mentalities of people back then, so they cannot be judged from the perspective of later generations or modern people.
My purpose in writing novels is to depict characters and write about human emotions. The novels do not allude to anything. If there were any rebuke, it would be directed at the foul and dark nature of humanity. Popular ideologies in society are always changing, but humanity hardly changes.
There had been many changes, additions and deletions since the novels were completed, but numerous errors and inadequacies inevitably remain. I treat every reader as a friend. Comments from friends are naturally always welcomed.
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