Caixin
Nov 01, 2018 11:53 AM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Martial Arts Novelist Who Inspired a Generation, Including Jack Ma, Dies at 94

Novelist Louis Cha, who wrote under the name Jin Yong, holds his book
Novelist Louis Cha, who wrote under the name Jin Yong, holds his book "Book and Sword, Gratitude and Revenge" at his office in Hong Kong on July 29, 2002. Photo: VCG

“If there was no Jin Yong, I am very certain that Alibaba wouldn’t have reached its scale of today, where thousands of people work together to create the impossible,” Jack Ma wrote on his Twitter-like Weibo account on Wednesday, as tributes poured in from all over the Chinese-speaking world one day after the death of the Chinese novelist.

Louis Cha, widely known by his pen name Jin Yong, died Tuesday afternoon at a Hong Kong hospital at the age of 94. No cause of death was reported, but the New York-based New Yorker magazine in April said he had “been frail since suffering a stroke in 1997.” The South China Morning Post said Cha had been suffering from liver cancer and dementia in his twilight years.

A former journalist and the founder of a Hong Kong newspaper, Cha has been regarded as one of the three greatest “wuxia” (martial arts) writers, along with Gu Long and Liang Yusheng, both of whom have also died.

Born in 1924 in the city of Haining in East China’s Zhejiang province, Cha moved to Hong Kong in the 1940s. In 1955, he published his first novel, “The Book and the Sword,” in the New Evening Post, under the pen name Jin Yong. The novel was an instant success, and he went on to create 14 extremely popular martial arts novels, ending with “The Deer and the Cauldron” in 1972.

While there are no official tallies, it’s estimated that more than 300 million copies of his work have been sold in the Chinese-speaking world, and many were adapted to films, TV series, comics, radio dramas and video games.

Cha’s works were largely set in the world of the “jianghu,” a pugilistic society in which martial arts practitioners travel China trading blows, teaching skills and upholding a strict code of honor.

Outside his life as one of China’s top-selling authors, Cha was also a prominent figure in the press, social politics and study of history. He co-founded Hong Kong’s daily Ming Pao newspaper in 1959 and was its first editor-in-chief. During his roughly 20 years at the newspaper, he also wrote editorials and reviewed films and plays.

The author might be not familiar to Western readers due to a lack of English translations of his works. In February, however, the first installment of “Condor Heroes” was published in English, and Waterstones, one of Britain’s largest chains of bookstores, described the book on its website: “If you are a fan of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and are looking for the next best thing, ‘A Hero Born’ is definitely the book for you.”

Ma has said the teachings of honor, integrity and justice in Cha’s fiction formed the corporate values of Alibaba. “His works are full of imagination, dashed with a bit of romanticism,” the billionaire recalled in a video interview in 2016. “The chivalry, which encourages people to fight to eradicate social injustice, has a profound impact on me personally.”

According to Shen Jian, a history professor at Zhejiang University, Cha was straightforward and amiable but didn’t like to socialize much. “He didn’t value fame and disliked bureaucracy,” said the professor, who worked with the author when Cha was dean of the school of humanities at the turn of the millennium.

Another top Chinese entrepreneur, founder of handset-maker Xiaomi Corp. Lei Jun, was also a fan. He wrote on his Weibo account on Wednesday: “There will be ‘jianghu’ no more.”

Tributes also poured in from world of politics.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Cha’s works inherited the tradition of Chinese classics with the integration of history and culture, and have been very popular among Chinese in various parts of the world, contributing significantly to the promotion of Chinese culture, local media reports said.

According to the newspaper Straits Times, Singapore’s Education Minister Ong Ye Kung posted on Facebook: “I loved his novels as a kid. Grandma would read them first, followed by my brother, and then me. The books taught me a lot about Chinese history, although you need to differentiate fact and fiction.”

Liu Jiefei contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jason Tan (jasontan@caixin.com)

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