Travel & Life - November 5, 2018 | 03:15 am PT

A Chinese author who won generations of Vietnamese hearts

Jin Yong and his legacy will live on forever in the hearts of many Vietnamese readers.

Famous Chinese author Louis Cha Jing-Yong, better known as Jin Yong, passed away on October 30 at age 94.

His legacy spans over half a century of writing fiction novels, especially as a pioneer of wuxia (martial heroes), a genre of Chinese fantasy literature featuring fantastic adventures of magically gifted martial artists in ancient China.

His 15 works between 1955 and 1972 set him apart as one of the greatest wuxia writers ever. He was also the best-selling Chinese author of all time, selling over 100 million copies worldwide.

The novelist Jin Yong in 2002 with his book Book and Sword, Gratitude and Revenge at his office in Hong Kong. He was broadly popular with generations of Chinese readers. Photo by Reuters/Bobby Yip

Uncanny appeal

According to The Oxford Guide to Contemporary World Literature, Jin Yong's novels have the rare quality of appealing to both highbrow and lowbrow tastes, as well as the ability to transcend geographical and ideological barriers.

This gave him success few contemporary writers could achieve.

The 2018 English version of Legends of the Condor Heroes 1: A Hero Born by Jin Yong.

In Vietnamese popular culture, Jin Yong’s works have had a tremendous influence among the Vietnamese literati as well as common readers.

Many of his novels has been translated into Vietnamese and published, including the The Wandering Swordsman, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, The Legend of the Condor Heroes; and republished through decades.

Many experts, critics and writers in Vietnam consider Jin Yong one of the most popular Chinese authors in the country.

The 67th issue of Vietnamese magazine Today’s Knowledge, published in 1991, noted that Jin Yong’s novels have been popular in Vietnam since the 1960s.

Poet Le Minh Quoc said that daily newspapers in the south then serialized Jin Yong novels in their feuilletons.

Vietnamese authors like Hieu Chan and Nguyen Viet Khanh have written about the Jin Yong wuxia fever in Vietnam.

Wuxia novels by Jin Yong attracted a large number of readers in the books and publishing scene between 1965 to 1973. Everybody read wuxia novels then, students, workers, officials and even Vietnamese citizens educated in Europe,” Hieu Chan wrote.

The Saigonese loved Jin Yong so much that they named their children and their shops after characters in his novels.

“Monks love wuxia. Women love wuxia. Professors debate with students about wuxia. Children fight each other in the street over wuxia,” Nguyen Viet Khanh wrote in a 1968 newspaper.

In Vietnamese literary circles, Jin Yong was the hottest topic for long. Authors and writers of the time, like Bui Giang and Buu Y wrote reviews and articles about his novels. Many authors even used characters from his books for their pennames.

Literature critic Pham Xuan Nguyen said Jin Yong’s novels became popular in the north after 1975, when the Vietnam War ended.

“Jin Yong elevated and improved wuxia to a whole new level with the addition of chivalry in his novels. His works not only depicted conflicts between clans but also carried messages of morality, goodness and belief in the beauty of life,” Nguyen said.

A brief break

Associate Professor Tran Le Hoa Tranh said in one of her articles that after 1975 (Vietnam's post-war reconstruction period), Jin Yong’s works did receive some negative responses over factors like cynicism, individualism, violence, and overly romantic, unrealistic love. For some time, they were banned, even.

But in the 90s, after the country's introduction of Doi moi reform policy in 1986, Jin Yong’s works were once again in vogue. In 1999, Phuong Nam Publications became the first to buy the rights to bring out revised translations of Jin Yong’s novels.

From left to right: The Vietnamese version of The Legend of the Condor Heroes, The Deer and the Cauldron, The Giant Eagle and Its Companion are three among Jin Yong's most popular works in Vietnam that were translated and revised by Phuong Nam Publishing. Photo courtesy by Phuong Nam Publishing.

Translator Quang Huy believes the value of Jin Yong’s works lies in the way he depicted a world that nourished people’s goodness.

Woven into the dramatic and interesting storylines were lessons about brotherhood, friendship, fatherhood and mentorship. Readers could see the author’s perspective on people and life. The romance in his novels was also moving and inspiring, Huy said.

Many fans and readers in Vietnam mourned Jin Yong with moving tributes.

Jin Yong and author Nguyen Dong Thuc on June 22, 2002. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

Simple man

Author Nguyen Dong Thuc was one of the few Vietnamese people who met Jin Yong in person.

He recalled the meeting that happened in June 2002.

“He’s a very simple man, from the way he dresses to the way he talks. It’s surprising a person like that is the creator of such fascinating characters,” Thuc said.

“The charm of Jin Yong’s works not only comes from great storylines and transcendent imagination but also unique characters that get deeply rooted in readers’ memories,” he added.

Scholar Tran Le Hoa Tranh was named after a character in the novel, The Legend of the Condor Heroes. She said that Jin Yong paved the way for many other Chinese wuxia novelists, and many authors in Vietnam are also influenced by him.

“He will always be the grandmaster of wuxia world...” famous film director Nguyen Quang Dung said.

Major influence

Director Nam Cito of the Apartment 69 sitcom fame cited Jin Yong as one of his influences.

“His works inspired me in the process of creating smart and funny characters. Our generation, born in the 80s, loved Jin Yong’s novels. There used to be a book rental service near my house and I used to read his novels day and night every summer. His works are a part of my youth and that of others,” Nam said.

Yen Nhi, a banker and a big fan of Jin Yong, went to the book store and bought all of his novels right after his death.

“This is the least I could do to show my respect to my childhood hero,” she said.

Nguyen Khac Giang, a researcher, grew up watching a lot of cinematic adaptations of Jin Yong’s novel. He said they were a big part of his childhood.

A scene in the 1996 adaptation of Jin Yong's The Smiling, Proud Wanderer.

“In the 90s, there was only one family with a video player in my neighborhood. I used to sneak out to go there and watch movies like The Legend of the Condor Heroes and Ode to Gallantry. I used to get into fights with other kids, pretending to be the head of the clan, like in the movies. I can still remember everything, from the low video quality to the thick southern accented narration,” Giang said.

“Jin Yong’s legacy in this world will last forever...”

Story by Tuan Hoang and Nhat Thu Dung