The first thing I learned this morning was that the legendary martial arts (wuxia) novelist Jin Yong passed away in Hong Kong at age 94. Here is an Obituary titled “Jin Yong fused martial arts fantasy, history and romance into must-read novels.”
Must-read they were! My generation more or less grew up with his novels. Everybody was so familiar with the vivid characters and stories that it became a cultural phenomenon. His books spawned many movies, TV dramas, video games over the years. Even here in US, I was once pleasantly surprised when I was chatting with a Vietnamese coworker and found out that she was a big fan as well!
Jin Yong published 15 martial arts titles from 1955 to 1972, then he announced that he would write no more. I ended up reading them all, several of which multiple times. During my forming teenage years, I learned honor, love, loyalty, courage, history, and many other things from these precious books.
I forgot when they first became available in mainland China – probably in the mid-1980s. My father bought “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” and a few others and locked them in a cabinet. My sister and I were not allowed to read them because it would take up too much of our study time. One thing my parents didn’t know was that we found out where they hid the keys!
So, when we were home alone during school breaks, we took the keys (after memorizing how each key was laid out), opened the cabinet, noted how the books were laid out, grabbed a book, locked the cabinet, put back the keys as we found them, and read greedily. We were equally careful and meticulous while returning the books shortly before parents were due to come home. This way my sister and I read all the martial arts books in that cabinet without our parents’ detection. To this day my mother still marvels at our ability to accomplish such a feat.
Just two weeks ago I considered re-reading some Chinese books that I read when I was young, including a few novels by Jin Yong. Now I want to do it even more. I am sure I will have whole new feelings and insights after decades of life experience.
Today’s WeChat updates were filled with news and tributes; my friends both in China and US were talking about Jin Yong with sadness. Given that he stopped writing novels in 1972, it was not a sentiment as in “too bad we can’t read any more new novels now that he is gone”. It is quite amazing, really, that we still feel such a deep loss after so many years. I think my sister got it right – we are paying tribute to our own youths.