A modern Chinese literary giant left us on Tuesday. Louis Cha Leung-yung, better known by his pen name Jin Yong, was one of the greatest modern authors of Chinese fiction and revered by fans around the world as the father of the many of the kung fu heroes that they have come to love.
Through his timeless portrayals of various heroes in dynastic China's wuxia, or martial arts, world — and their depiction in many popular movies, TV and radio series, video games and comic books — he became a household name among Chinese. It has been said he is the world's most read Chinese author, and certainly his books have taught generations of readers about the importance of values, such as compassion, honesty, perseverance, righteousness and patriotism.
Some people say his passing marks the end of an era in Chinese martial arts fiction, but countless more believe the heroes he created will live forever.
A journalist by trade in the early years of his literary career, Cha became deputy editor of New Evening Post in Hong Kong, where he met Chen Wentong, who wrote wuxia novels under the pseudonym Liang Yusheng. With Chen's encouragement, Cha began work on his first serialized martial arts novel The Book and the Sword in 1955. It was an instant hit.
Cha went on to write 14 more wuxia novels and distinguished himself in the relatively small circle of Chinese martial arts writers with an unmatched penchant for realism in his period settings. His style of storytelling incorporated fictional characters and plots with historical figures and events. That is what makes the stories resonate so much more than other works of this genre, along with the fact that the characters he created are so relatable to readers regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, education and life experience.
All the memorable characters in his martial arts hero novels, from great kung fu masters to accidental disciples of the Art of War, no matter how intelligent and strong they appear, are flawed in some way and make mistakes every now and then, just like all of us in real life.
Ultimately what makes someone a hero in his works is that they have the will and capability to make decisions and do things that serve the best interest of their communities when it matters. Something Cha did in his own way, not only through his novels, but also in the editorials he wrote for the Hong Kong daily newspaper Ming Pao, which he co-founded in 1959.
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