Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My Historical Epic, Jin Yong's Novels & Chinese History

As an eleven-year-old kid, I found the world a depressing place. Always wearing blue-rimmed glasses and a less-than-bright expression, I was never a teacher’s favorite. Nor was I ever the apple of any adult’s eye, being the glum mute I was among children. Awkward might have been an apt description of my disposition. The thing is, in my juvenile mind, the adults were equally boring and dull. They all seemed to wear masks and never spoke from their hearts. Or else they spent their time bickering over trivialities. At home, my only defense was to play deaf and dumb. That summer though, to my absolute delight, I finally found my way of escape.

Like in previous years, my mother took me and my siblings to my maternal uncle’s home to spend our month-long summer vacation. It was something that I always eagerly looked forward to, as I loved spending time with my five cousins, especially Fatty and Big Eyes, who were about my age. Fatty is a natural sketcher and Big Eyes is a great storyteller. Before we arrived, they had discovered a second-hand book hawker just across the street, who had a large collection of Jin Yong’s martial arts and chivalry novels that he would lend to kids for a pittance.

For the rest of my summer holidays and the following summer, characters like Chen Jialuo (陳家洛), Fragrant Princess (香香公主), Guo Jing (郭靖), Huang Rong (黄蓉), Yang Guo (楊過), Xiaolongnu (小龍女) etc., together with their heartrending romances, thrilling ventures and moral values, found their way to my heart and were imprinted on my memory. Fatty, Big Eyes, my sister and I would often turn ourselves into those characters when we engaged in our favorite game: role-playing. Strangely, life became more bearable after those two summers, as I let the fantasyland in the novels become my soothing sanctum. Even as of this day, it still lurks in my literary consciousness and stands ready to stoke the fire of my imagination in my own creative writing.

To digress, I find it a pity that presently only two of Jin Yong’s novels are available in quality English translation on Amazon, and they are: “The Book and the Sword” (書劍恩仇錄) and “The Deer and the Cauldron” (鹿鼎記). Unfortunately no digital versions are listed; otherwise the books could’ve reached a wider audience.

Through reading novels like “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” (射雕英雄傳)+ “Return of the Condor Heroes” (神雕俠侶)+ “The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber” (倚天屠龍劍) (this trilogy is set in the Southern Song and Jin Dynasty - 12th & 13th century), “The Book and the Sword” (書劍恩仇錄) (set in Qianlong Emperor’s era - 18th century) and “The Deer and the Cauldron” (鹿鼎記) (set in Kangxi Emperor’s era - 17th century), I was accidentally initiated into Chinese dynastic history in my primary school days. In my high school years, Chinese History continued to fascinate me and became one of my favorite subjects.

In the last couple of years, while writing my first historical epic, which is set in the epoch straddling end-of-Ming and start-of-Qing (17th century), research work has rekindled my passion in Chinese History. This period is interesting in that it is branded by some of the most critical and vicious battles fought near the Great Wall of China and inside China proper, and defined by some of the most riveting love stories in and around the Qing Imperial Court.

Now that the last round of rewriting and editing is finally finished and the script is awaiting its publishing fate, I am thinking that re-reading Jin Yong’s novels may be a good way to let ideas spawn for my next historical novel.

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