It was to the genre of martial arts what JRR Tolkien was to fantasy. So improbable and so popular in his plots and with as much popular pull in China as Corín Tellado. So famous and admired there as Gabriel García Márquez. And in terms of sales success, he left J.K. Rowling and his Harry Potter saga in disguise. The death this week in Hong Kong of the writer Louis Cha, better known by his pseudonym Jin Yong, at age 94 and a long illness, has left orphans to tens of millions of Chinese readers of all generations, for whom his works were part of the indispensable canon of the modern chinese literature.
There is no other writer, with the exception of a giant like Lu Xun (1881-1936) -the father of modern literature in Mandarin and the author who has best described the Chinese soul-, who has influenced so much the popular culture of this country in the twentieth century. The Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post he described him in one of the news about his death as "the greatest contemporary epic writer who embodied the spirit of martial arts."
With its intricate webs of kung-fu masters of justice, enigmatic princesses, tavern fights, secret societies and exotic places in ancient China, Jin Yong became synonymous with the Chinese genre of wuxia, the literature of martial arts and chivalry. His 15 novels have sold more than 300 million copies. Some novels that have been adapted numerous times to movies, television series or even videogames.
Chinese leaders like Deng Xiaoping or Jiang Zemin – who, according to Jin Yong himself, came to ask the Swedish committee for the Nobel Prize -, or entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, president of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, were among his admirers . When they introduced him, Deng, the father of the Chinese reform and opening process, greeted him with a "we are old friends, I have read his books". For a time, Alibaba employees adopted the habit of greeting each other by nicknames derived from Jin's novels.
His books are set in a historical and fantastic China, they present customs and knowledge rooted in tradition. Their characters fight against injustice and defend independent thinking, something that grants them an amazing present in contemporary Chinese society. And written in the most tumultuous era of Maoism, its plots of heroes and princesses do not stop containing more or less cryptic allusions to the Cultural Revolution – which he harshly criticized as a threat to the traditional culture of the country – and the chaos of those years . In an interview, in 1994, he considered his novels "traditional in their themes, morality or philosophy". The martial arts represented "an instrument, a way to attract, I can use them as a way of expressing my artistic ideas".
But if in the sinister world there was no more famous contemporary writer, in the Western world it was a perfect unknown outside the niches of scholars or devotees of the wuxia. Their historical and cultural references -Evident for the Chinese public, but that escape to an uninitiated western reader- they represented an obstacle for their works to sink among the great public abroad. Only a handful of his novels are translated into English or other languages. He himself recognized the difficulty of getting his works to be appreciated far from their culture. "The reader may need some training in Chinese thinking to understand them," he said in that 1994 interview.
Born in 1924, in Hangzhou (eastern China), Louis Cha or Zha Liangyong studied law before becoming a journalist. He began writing his first book in 1955, after leaving the Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao. The book and the sword It was published by chapters, in the best tradition of the nineteenth-century serials, in the newspaper New Evening Post and it became an immediate success. It would be followed by another fourteen, with titles like The legend of the condor heroes, or the last one, The deer and the cauldron, published in 1972.
Parallel to his success as a novelist, and installed in Hong KongCha continued his journalistic career. In 1959, he founded the newspaper Ming Pao, that it would end up becoming an influential medium of neutral line in a territory then British colony, always very polarized between the supporters of mainland China and Western systems. His criticism of the Cultural Revolution brought him threats from radical leftist groups in Hong Kong. Until the seventies, he needed special protection from the British government in the colony
He wanted to enter politics in the eighties and was one of the members of the Committee responsible for drafting the Basic Law, the constitution that should govern Hong Kong after his return in 1997 to Chinese sovereignty. But in 1989 he resigned, protesting the imposition of martial law in response to growing student protests in Tiananmen Square, which would end bloody on June 4 of that year.
Since then, Jin lived a discrete existence, far from the public's eyes at his Hong Kong residence. The autonomous territory granted him in 2000 its highest distinction, the Bauhinia Order, in recognition of its services to society.