Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Why Jin's Martial Arts Novels Are Adored Only by the Chinese

Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Why Jin's Martial Arts Novels Are Adored Only by the Chinese

Article excerpt

Yong Jin ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Liangyong Zha [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1929-) is a journalist and novelist based in Hong Kong. He is best known for his martial arts novels, a genre that enjoys popularity in China thanks to a number of talented authors. Starting his writing career in the 1950s, Jin soon became the most popular novelist in modern China, although his popularity did not win him unanimous acclaim among Chinese literati until the 1990s when he began to be widely esteemed as an important of Chinese writers next only to Lu Xun ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). There appear, occasionally, disagreement. For example, Shuo Wang--a novelist and screenplay writer--made the remark that the characters in Jin's novels are just too ready "to draw sword and kill in praise of morality" (5; unless indicated otherwise, all translations are mine). Whereas fighting and killing is part of the genre's requirement, Wang's remark leads us to think why the "morality" behind the killing is unavoidable for Jin, and more significantly, why his kind of "moral codes" appeal to Chinese readers.

For more than half a century since their publication from mid-1950s to the early 1970s, Jin's fourteen martial arts novels have been enjoying sustained popularity among Chinese readers wherever they are and of whichever age, class, or social group and it was estimated in 2004 that Jin's novels sold 300 million copies around the world (see Anonymous ). There have been almost 120 television drama and film adaptations of his novels, averaging eight adaptations of each novel, thus making Jin possibly the world record holder as the most filmed living novelist. The names of the heroes in his novels have entered everyday Chinese vernacular for computer games, toys, comics, songs, software, or even typhoons. What deserves scholarly attention is the fact that the translations of those novels into Western languages have failed, without a single exception. Up to the present day, only three out of Jin's texts have been translated to English: Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain (Trans. Olivia Mok, 1996), The Book and the Sword (Trans. Graham Earnshaw, 2001), and The Deer and the Cauldron (Trans. John Minford, 1997-2002). The problem with regard to the lack of the translation of Jin's novels does not rest on language or narrative style because their style could be domesticated in the target language and culture. Further, Jin's novels are read also by diaspora Chinese who cannot read Chinese fluently, but who share the same aesthetic and ethical expectations as native Mainland Chinese. Similar to the situation of translation, it is little surprise that there have been scant scholarly attention on Jin's work in the West. The only substantial scholarship on Jin's work is John Christopher Hamm's 2005 book Paper Swordsmen and the 2007 volume The Jin Yong Phenomenon, a collection of studies by Chinese diaspora scholars translated to or written in English (see Huss and Liu). There have been also a few doctoral dissertations on Jin's work, but all by Chinese students abroad (see, e.g., Lai; Li). At the same time, there is a rich corpus of both scholarship in English and other Western languages on martial arts (Kungfu) and martial arts enjoys popular appeal because of actors such as Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jacky Chan, and the like. Films in particular made Kungfu popular, for example by The Matrix Trilogy or by Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger. Peter Lorge, in his 2012 Chinese Martial Arts even tried to date Chinese martial arts back to the Stone Age (5). The only conclusion I can draw from this situation is that there must be a unique Chinese mentality and structure of cultural references in Jin's novels which appeal to Chinese readers only.

I argue that Jin's novels are read both as entertainment and as moral allegories (on this, see also Chen) and most of them are in fact Bildungsroman-s in which young heroes after learning martial arts walk into swordsmen's world. …

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