Louis Cha ‘Jin Yong’, the man who united Chinese in name of chivalry
- Tributes pour in from all over the world for the author whose life was as legendary as the characters he created
- Writer will continue to inspire readers for generations to come
No one arguably has had such an extensive and profound impact on the Chinese-speaking world as Louis Cha Leung-yung, known by his nom de plume Jin Yong. From popular culture to academic studies, from the press to politics, Cha has influenced generations in different spheres. That is why tributes continue to pour in after the 94-year-old died in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
To say that Cha was the most prominent contemporary Chinese writer is by no means an overstatement. Not only did he epitomise the literary genre of wuxia, an imaginary world of ancient Chinese heroes well-versed in martial arts, his novels were read by both the man in the street and state leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, with hundreds of millions of copies sold. They transcend all boundaries, uniting both local and overseas Chinese communities. Starting as a modest serial in a local evening newspaper in the 1950s, Cha’s novels became immensely popular, so much so that they spawned films, TV and radio dramas, comics, stamps and video games. They even earned a place in the city’s heritage museum and became a subject of study. Admittedly, his stories may not have been readily appreciated by non-Chinese as they were often in a classical literary style intertwined with complex historical, cultural and religious references, but that did not deter keen publishers from translating some titles into English.
Cha’s personal life was just as legendary as the protagonists he created. Born into a prominent family in Hangzhou, he became a journalist and was dispatched to Hong Kong, where he co-founded the local Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao Daily News. He temporarily left the city following attacks during the 1967 riots. His three marriages, degrees, literary awards and political appointments made him a much talked about figure.
He was a key member of the body tasked to map out the city’s post-handover blueprint, but the proposal he co-authored with another Basic Law drafter – which called for a referendum on the pace of universal suffrage some 15 years after 1997 – was criticised as too conservative. However, his fair and inclusive approach towards politics did earn him wide respect. Thanks to the opening up of the mainland in the 1980s, his novels became widely available across the border. Steeped in virtues such as chivalry, integrity, love and friendship, they were credited for filling moral gaps in the wake of the Cultural Revolution.
The bestselling author once said he would be pleased if his books were still read for the sake of posterity. Given his popularity and influence, this is a foregone conclusion. As the saying goes, “when there are Chinese people, there will be Jin Yong”.