Louis Cha ‘Jin Yong’: From masses to bosses, his sway over China was complete
- Better known by his pen name Jin Yong, Cha’s novels inspired movies, TV series and video games for decades
- Recognising Cha’s contribution to Chinese culture, Communist Party leaders also sought out the author
Li Jun started reading the works of Louis Cha Leung-yung when he was in the sixth grade. He borrowed the first one from a friend and he was hooked. He read Louis Cha books in class, instead of doing homework, and sometimes he would read them when he was supposed to be eating or sleeping.
Back then, wuxia novels about martial arts heroes in ancient China were regarded as “poison” on the mainland.
Parents and teachers thought they might interfere with schoolwork, or worse, turn children violent. Li had to hide the books at home – and tuck himself away somewhere to read them.
From that first novel he read as a boy until he was in his 20s, Li would reread Cha’s novels every year. Today, as an accomplished writer himself, Li gushes about the influence Cha had on him.
“He has greatly influenced the post-1970s and ’80s generation,” he said. “His stories were interesting and his characters strong. It was hard to stop reading. His characters had difficulties in their lives that were relatable – they could help you grow, think and overcome your own issues.”
Cha, better known by his pen name Jin Yong, was a phenomenon in China. The famous wuxia writer died in Hong Kong on Tuesday at the age of 94, but his legacy and imprint will live on.
Ma Boyong, another popular Chinese writer, said apart from his novels, Cha’s biggest achievement was opening rich possibilities for modern popular culture in China.
“His creativity affected culture and entertainment in every way – from Hong Kong films to mainland internet novels and games, every generation of content creator can draw inspiration from him and see a vast, deep new world worth digging,” he said.
Cha’s novels are largely known through the movies, TV series, video games, stage dramas and various cultural and creative products they inspired over the past decades.
In China, he also inspired young people to get invo
lved in discussions about his work, and in creative pursuits.
“Everyone was talking about the novels on forums and other communities, and they weren’t just casually chatting – they seriously analysed them,” Li said.
Some could accurately rank the kung fu levels of the characters by listing their battles in the story and creating a computer model to calculate their skills, he said.
Online forums became popular gathering places for Cha aficionados, who made hundreds of thousands of posts every day.
Games and literature related to Cha’s novels also started to emerge. In 1996, a company in Taiwan created a game adaptation called Heroes of Jin Yong, which fast became popular among mainlanders.
Young people wrote analyses of Cha’s novels, some of which were published.
In 2007, Li started writing his first book, an analysis of Cha’s The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre.
Inspired by Cha’s work, a new generation of wuxia stories also surfaced on the mainland in the 2000s, including Kunlun – a novel reminiscent of The Legend of the Condor Heroes in terms of style.
Recognising Cha’s vast influence and contribution to Chinese culture, several mainland officials also sought out the author.
Deng Xiaoping met Cha in 1981, reportedly telling him he had read many of his novels. He met Hu Yaobang in 1984, writing a poem about the former Communist Party general secretary after he died.
Another former leader, Jiang Zemin, apparently began their meeting in 1993 by discussing Cha’s novels. Jiang reportedly said the books had “many fans on the Chinese mainland, as well as among officials”.
He admitted he had not read any himself, but said he had skimmed through them and was aware of their rich historical and cultural content. They moved on to Hong Kong, Tibet and economic issues after that.
Cha was also respected in academia, awarded professor emeritus status by many prestigious universities in China, including Peking University, and he was dean of the Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities at Zhejiang University between 1999 and 2005.