(悼念金庸)Louis Cha: China’s Best-Selling Author


作者:Nick Frisch



  金庸因闵福德(John Minford)、郝玉青(Anna Holmwood)等海外译(学)者的努力,在西方世界也刮起了一股金庸热。本文节选自耶鲁大学博士生傅楠(Nick Frisch)之文。


  Nick Frisch is an Asian-studies doctoral student at Yale’s graduate school and a resident fellow at Yale Law School.

  Louis Cha, who is ninety-four years old and lives in luxurious seclusion atop the jungled peak of Hong Kong Island, is one of the best-selling authors alive. Widely known by his pen name, Jin Yong, his work, in the Chinese-speaking world, has a cultural currency roughly equal to that of “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” combined. Cha began publishing wuxia epics—swashbuckling kung-fu fantasias—as newspaper serials, in the nineteen-fifties. Ever since, his fiction has kept children, and their parents, up past their bedtimes, reading about knights who test their martial-arts mettle with sparring matches in roadside ale-houses and princesses with dark secrets who moonlight as assassins. These characters travel through the jianghu, which literally translates as “rivers and lakes,” but metaphorically refers to an alluvial underworld of hucksters and heroes beyond the reach of the imperial government. Cha weaves the jianghu into Chinese history—it’s as if J. R. R. Tolkien had unleashed his creations into Charlemagne’s Europe.


  Jin Yong novels are now largely known through their many TV, film, comic-book, and video-game adaptations. But the original books retain a powerful hold on China’s popular imagination. At one point, Jack Ma, the chairman of Alibaba, turned Jin Yong into a corporate ethos, asking each of his employees to choose one of Cha’s characters as an avatar reflecting his or her personality, and to follow the “Six Vein Spirit Sword,” a wuxia-styled company credo: put the customer first, rely on teamwork, embrace change, and so on. Cha has more female fans than any other wuxia writer, perhaps, in part, because the books have an emotional complexity that is rare in the genre. “There are some remarkable love stories in Jin Yong,” Regina Ip, a senior Hong Kong politician and Cha superfan, told me. With his combination of erudition, sentiment, propulsive plotting, and vivid prose, he is widely regarded as the genre’s finest writer. “Of course, there were other wuxia writers, and there was kung-fu fiction before Jin Yong,” the publisher and novelist Chan Koonchung said. “Just as there was folk music before Bob Dylan.”


  But Cha’s books have resisted translation into Western languages. Chinese literature, which traditionally prizes poetry over fiction, derives much of its emotional force from oblique allusions, drawing on a deep well of shared cultural texts, and Cha’s work is no exception. In February, the first installment of Cha’s most revered trilogy, “Legends of the Condor Heroes,” was published in English translation by Anna Holmwood by the U.K. publishing house Quercus. (An American edition is currently under negotiation.) It is the first time a trade publisher has attempted a translation of the trilogy, which begins in the year 1205, just before the Mongol conquest of China, and ends more than a hundred and fifty years later, after approximately two million eight hundred and sixty thousand Chinese characters—the equivalent of one and a half million English words. (Over three times the length of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series.) Holmwood’s translation offers the best opportunity yet for English-language readers to encounter one of the world’s most beloved writers—one whose influence and intentions remain incompletely understood.

  Guo Jing, the hero of “Condors,” is a simpleton with a hero’s destiny, who perseveres through hard work and basic decency. As a child, he is protected by Genghis Khan, spending his boyhood honing martial-arts skills on the Mongolian grasslands, mentored by a tight circle of kung-fu adepts. A roving Taoist monk finds him practicing his moves on the steppe and offers him secret meditation lessons, atop a cliff, to improve his technique—on the condition that he not tell his other masters. This is a classic premise in Chinese literature: dueling loyalties, to one’s elders and one’s own ambitions, compounded by a clashing reverence for different teachers. Many of Cha’s plot points hinge on such conflicts, tucked between flashier punch-’em-up scenes. Later in “Condors,” when the adopted son of a nomadic-tribe aristocrat learns that he is ethnically Han Chinese, readers reared on stories of millennia-old conflicts between the Chinese and nomads from the north will register the tension between filial piety and patriotism. But the scenario may bewilder those approaching wuxia for the first time. (Readers wishing for a visual aid, and who have thirty-odd hours to spare, can consult an English-subtitled television adaptation of “Condors,” from 2003.)



  It’s a credit to Holmwood that, in her translation, the novel’s thicket of historical names, florid kung-fu moves, and branching narratives do not obscure Cha’s storytelling verve. The book began as a meandering newspaper serial, and its form is digressive, but, after a few dozen pages, the blizzard of names and ancient dates becomes less daunting, and the reader can begin rooting for individual characters, fretting over their choices and their trials. For traditionalists, who admire Cha’s slightly antique Chinese style—classically inflected, densely kinetic—it is hard to imagine a satisfactory English register that would preserve both its richness and its narrative speed. Proper names, which read smoothly in snappy Chinese syllables but become cumbersome in English, must sometimes be diluted, sacrificing strict fidelity to keep the text breathing. (Without these adjustments, a kung-fu maneuver like luo ying shen jian zhang, a fleeting five syllables in Chinese, becomes the clunkier “Wilting Blossom Sacred Sword Fist.”) But Holmwood’s deft maneuvering between translation and transliteration keeps Cha’s signature pacing mostly intact. And her version maintains enough allusive breadth to pique the interest of the sort of fan who might learn Elvish to dive deeper into Tolkien’s universe, without sacrificing the original’s page-turning appeal.



  In 1981, Cha’s prominence in Hong Kong earned him an invitation to Beijing, to meet Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s pragmatist successor. Deng treated Cha’s family to a private dinner and professed himself an avid fan. Cha returned the compliment, telling reporters that Deng had a noble bearing,“like a heroic character in one of my books; I admire his fenggu,” the wind in his bones. 


  Four years ago, I met Cha at the Shangri-La Hotel, which sits at the foot of the rain-forested mountain that dominates Hong Kong Island, for an interview about his literary legacy. Cha has been frail since suffering a stroke, in 1997; he is unable to walk or write, and speaks with difficulty, relying on a retinue: his third wife, his secretary, his publisher, a nurse, a personal assistant, and a rotating cast of protégés. The meeting, one aide told me, would likely be the last interview of Cha’s life. We had lunch in a private dining room, and he sat facing the door, the feng shui seat of honor. His voice, thick with home-town dialect, was weak and hoary, but he managed a few answers in a mix of Mandarin, Shanghainese, and Cantonese. (His English and French have left him.)