A Tribute to Jin Yong (1924-2018)

Imagine that J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, the founding editor-in-chief of one of the most important English-language newspapers, and George Lucas all died on the same day, at the same second, and how people in the English-speaking world would react. Because the equivalent of that happened in the Chinese-speaking world on October 30, 2018, when Louis Cha Leung-yung, known by the pen name ‘Jin Yong’, died.

One of the many illustrations which comes with Jin Yong’s stories.

But I’m not going to make this about Jin Yong’s impact on the culture of the Chinese-speaking world (and the cultures of much of Southeast Asia) because, if you are familiar with Chinese-speaking cultures or Southeast-Asian cultures, you already know, and if you aren’t familiar, you’ll think I’m exaggerating. Even the New York Times understates just how huge his cultural influence was (a couple of quibbles with the NYT article: I would actually credit Wang Dulu with raising wuxia to a literary level, and the new wave of wuxia stories which got started in the 1950s was launched by Liang Yusheng; both of these writers led the way for Jin Yong; however, I think Jin Yong was an excellent example of ‘qīng​ chū ​yú ​lán’). Instead, I’m going to talk about Jin Yong’s influence on me.

This pictures evoke a lot of nostalgia for me. They remind me of the experience of reading Jin Yong’s novels.

Most native Chinese speakers encounter the stories of Jin Yong at a young age, and, if they like reading, they start reading the novels as adolescents (or younger – I’ve seen 10-year-olds reading his novels). I was not exposed to his work until I was 22 years old, which feels really late. Furthermore, during that initial encounter, my Chinese was really, really bad, certainly not enough to follow the plot. And yet, even through that haze of bad Chinese (it was ~my~ Chinese which was bad, Jin Yong wrote better Chinese than the vast majority of educated native speakers), I could sense that there was a great story if only I could understand it.

There were two illustrators who made the in-book pictures for the official editions of the novels, but for some reason, only the work of this illustrator really stays with me and evokes the feelings of Jin Yong’s stories, the other illustrator’s pictures do nothing for me.

The very first book of solid prose I read in Chinese was Jin Yong’s Shè Diāo Yīngxióng Zhuàn (Legend of the Eagle-Shooting Heroes), though it usually referred to in English as Legend of the Condor Heroes (yes, I wrote about the new English translation). I was living in a second-tier city in Taiwan which, aside from the sex trade, Hollywood movies, and Southeast Asian movies, offered very few entertainment options for people who were not fluent in Chinese, so I found lots of time to study. I first read the comic book adaptation (it is so much easier to figure out what the heck is going on when there are pictures), and then, once I knew the story, I dared to read the actual novel. Reading my first book in Chinese was like opening a door – before, I could not read Chinese, or I could only ‘read’ Chinese in a limited sense, but after I finished that book, I really felt like I could read Chinese.

Imaging staring at this picture when taking a break from plodding through dense Chinese prose you barely understand.

The first book of solid prose I read in Chinese *without* knowing what was going to happen was the sequel, Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ, i.e. that novel I keep on mentioning in this blog. If Shè Diāo Yīngxióng Zhuàn is where I opened the door, then Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ is where I walked through the door.

And wow, what a door. I figured there would be a big reward for learning Chinese (otherwise I would not have put so much effort into studying), but I was not sure what that reward would actually be. I had no idea, before I started studying Chinese, that novels like the novels of Jin Yong existed. It was mind-blowing.

Actually, the illustrations were a useful preview for what might happen in the following chapter as I was improving my Chinese.

One could even say that, in a sense, Jin Yong was my Chinese teacher. I learned a lot of Chinese by reading his stories. For example, I probably learned the phrase ‘qīng​ chū ​yú ​lán’ from his books. They also taught me a lot about Chinese culture.

His novels have occupied more of my headspace than any other writer – than any other artist – during my 20s. I never expected that any single storyteller would so capture my fancy. Thru Jin Yong, I discovered the wuxia genre, and yes, I came to love the works of other wuxia novelists, but it all started with Jin Yong.

When I wrote a fanfic novel a couple of years ago, even though it was based on something which was totally not Jin Yong, I felt a lot of Jin Yong coming through in my writing. In fact, I felt such a strong Jin Yong influence in my fanfic novel, that I sometimes had to pinch myself, and ask myself whether I was actually writing a Jin Yong fanfic in disguise. I suspect that, if I ever write another novel, fanfic or original, in any genre, there is going to be a heavy Jin Yong influence.

Even when I was confident in my Chinese reading skills, I would still look ahead at the illustrations of future chapters for a taste of what lay ahead. For example, I was wondering quite a few chapters in advance what role a blond European woman was going to play in the story (she’s Princess Sophia Alekseyevna, the half-sister of Peter the Great of Russia).

If you’ve read my blog for a long time (or have gone on a binge-read of the archives), you can find plenty of evidence of how much my headspace the stories of Jin Yong have occupied. I even have tried to explain what makes his stories so wonderful, though that is, at best, a very incomplete explanation. When I started this blog, I did not think I would end up writing so many posts about his works, especially not 5+ years after I read them for the first time. In fact, before Jin Yong died, I had already been planning to write yet another blog post about one of his novels (that post will be posted in less than a week).

I don’t like all of Jin Yong’s stories, but his better novels are amazing.

I actually did not upload any of these illustrations specifically for this post, I simply looked through which of the illustrations I had already posted on this blog for other posts.

If you are not familiar with any of Jin Yong’s stories, but are interested in experiencing them, here are my suggestions. If you prefer reading, I will point you to the new English translation of Shè Diāo Yīngxióng Zhuàn. If you prefer to watch TV shows, I will point you to the Sword Stained with Royal Blood 2007. It’s not one of Jin Yong’s better stories, but it’s one of the best TV adaptations available with English subtitles (you can get it on DVD with English subs; it’s also easy to find online versions with English subs).

I’m actually envious of the people who get to experience the works of Jin Yong for the first time. I benefited from not growing up in a culture where Jin Yong’s stories were super-popular because that meant the plot twists were not spoiled for me, I got to have my first encounter with the plots when I was reading the original novels directly.

I love to watch music videos of Jin Yong songs (no, he was not a song composer, but his works have inspired many, many, many songs). They are an easy and quick way to give me the feels of reading his stories without sitting down and re-reading them. Even when I see MVs based on TV adaptations I have not seen, I can usually recognize most of the scenes because his stories stick out so vividly in the mind. I’ve even written an entire blog post about one of these songsObviously, these songs/videos aren’t going to evoke that type of nostalgia in people who don’t know the stories, but maybe something comes across anyways. Thus, I will end this post with links to a bunch of songs inspired by Jin Yong stories that I like.

“Jianghu Xiao” (The Jianghu Laughs) (Return of the Condor Heroes 2006) – One of the best Jin Yong songs, and with English subs!

“Up and Down a Challenging Road” (Demi-gods and Semi-devils 1982) (content note: depiction of suicide in video) – as I have said before, I feel this is one of the songs which best captures the spirit of Jin Yong’s stories.

“Cold Feelings, Hot Feelings” (Sword Stained with Royal Blood 1985) – I think this is an underrated Jin Yong theme song.

“A Laugh from the Blue Sea” (Swordsman 1990) – In The Smiling Proud Wanderer, there is a song called “The Smiling Proud Wanderer” which a) plays a pivotal role in the plot (which is why the novel takes its title from the song) and b) is the most beautiful song the characters have ever heard. This puts no pressure at all on the composers who have to write music for the many movie and TV adaptations of novwl (I also find it amusing to watch TV actors proclaim whatever the composer came up with to be the most beautiful music ever). This is generally considered to be the best attempt to compose the “Smiling Proud Wanderer” song (which is why it was recycled as the opening theme for the 2017 adaptation). I also like State of Divinity 1996’s version of the “Smiling Proud Wanderer” song.

“Ode to Gallantry” (Ode to Gallantry 2016). I really like this song, and of the recent Jin Yong TV shows, this is the one I like best.

“On What Day Shall We Meet Again” (Return of the Condor Heroes 1983). Even though “Jianghu Xiao” is a better song, I feel this is the song which best captures the spirit of the story.


“The Thousand Sorrows of Remembering Old Love” (song originally from Legend of the Condor Heroes 1983) – since this is a mourning song, it is the obvious choice for a tribute to the late Jin Yong (just as it is often used in tributes to Roman Tam and Barbara Yung). Indeed, this link goes to a video which was released days after Jin Yong’s death.

Though Jin Yong has died, this is not over. I am sure I will have many thoughts, and thus many things to say, about his stories for years to come.

It’s the 5-Year Anniversary of This Blog Already?

Yep, this blog is 5 years old.

For once, nothing important is happening in my life on January 4-6. It started in 2011, when I left the United States on January 4 and arrived in Taiwan on January 6 (crossing the international date line meant I never experienced January 5, 2011), and then on Janury 6th, 2012, I started this blog, and then on January 6th, 2014, I moved out of my apartment in Taiwan, and last year, I quit my job on January 6th, 2016. I guess nothing particularly interesting was happening in my life on January 6th, 2013 either. Or January 6, 2015. What will happen next year on January 6th?

For the first year of this blog, it was super obscure. Now it is, well, not in the first tier of ‘asexuality’ blogs in terms of prestige and popularity, but certainly in the second tier (at least among ‘asexuality’ hosted on WordPress/Blogspot). This blog has gotten as much attention as it has primarily because it’s been regularly updated for years, and I have posted close to 400 posts by now, and during all of that time and with all of those posts, there have been more opportunities for readers to stumble on something that interests them.

In fact, this is now one of the oldest continuously updated ‘asexuality’ blogs around now which hasn’t been rebranded/relocated (which I find incredible, since I still tend to think of this blog as being ‘new’). I’ve been to pull this off mainly because I’ve set up this blog in such a way that I do not need to put in too much effort to keep in consistently updated, which means I can keep it going even when I am busy or have unreliable internet access, and I don’t get burned out.

This blog is part of a cohort of ‘asexuality’ blogs which started in mid-2011 thru mid-2012 (the most famous of these blogs, of course, is The Asexual Agenda. One of the most prominent blogs of my cohort, A Life Unexamined, retired in 2016. Jo made a much deeper contribution to asexuality blogging than I ever did, and I pay my respects to her blog as I wish her good luck in her future endeavours.

Will this blog last another five years? If a) I am still alive five years from now and b) I continue to have a sufficient level of internet access and c) this blog doesn’t become too expensive (I have a free WordPress account, but under certain scenarios I would have to switch to a paid account, and though unlikely, it is not impossible that I might have to pay more than I am willing) I expect that this blog will be around for a 10th anniversary.

Farewell, Taoyuan City

I have been living in Taoyuan City for more than two years.

Last night was probably the last time I will ever sleep here. I had moved out of my apartment a few days ago (note: this blog has been on autopilot for a few months, so this will be published months after it’s written) and staying with a friend since then. Tonight I’m going to the airport.

The French comic book artist commented on all of the horrible, unpleasant things about Taipei, saying one could write a book ‘100 reasons to detest Taipei’ … and yet he loves Taipei.

Personally, I felt that Golo was describing, not Taipei, but Taoyuan City.

When I ask Taiwanese people ‘what is the most awful place in northern Taiwan’, ‘Taoyuan City’ is often one of the answers, though some people claim that Zhongli (which is right next to Taoyuan City) is even more awful. Taoyuan City is often near the top of ‘Worst Traffic in Taiwan’ lists, and some people refuse to visit me in my neighborhood because the traffic is too awful (I did not have a car or scooter, so traffic was usually not an issue for me). It’s dirty, the buildings are all kinds of concrete rectangular boxes (unless they are aging brick buildings), there’s poverty, recreational drug abuse, the gangs, the public transit system is not so great, there are all of those factories in Guishan right next door to pollute everything, and most people think the only redeeming quality is that it’s cheaper than Taipei.

To learn more about Taoyuan City, you can check out the blog The Taiwan Adventure.

People have often asked me why I live here. Why would anyone who had grown up in San Francisco choose to leave and live in Taoyuan City? Well, after spending most of my life in a famous city like San Francisco, it’s nice to live in a not-famous city. Downtown Taoyuan is actually pretty convenient once you know your way around, and the rent is shockingly low (compared to San Francisco, though even my friends in Taipei were impressed). The fact that much of it is bland, typical Taiwanese urban area actually had it’s own appeal, since I was interested in learning what a ‘bland Taiwanese urban area’ is like. There are plenty of weeds and wildlife – even the center of the concrete jungle has lots of birds, and once time a lizard crawled into my apartment. And the monotony of the city actually helped me focus on things such as the people, or learning the language, or other things. Sometimes over-stimulation is not so great.

Every single post in this blog up to now has been written in Taoyuan City, as well as every post I’ve written for other blogs (Manga Bookshelf and Hacking Chinese) up to now. This is the last one written (though I have a few more in the pipeline which I may publish later).

When I moved into my apartment, the first thing I did was clean everything. It was already reasonably clean, but the Grand Cleaning was my way of claiming the space.

The last thing I did in my apartment – right up to when the landlord’s representative came to return the deposit and collect the keys – was clean the apartment. I did not have to do it so zealously, but the same act had the opposite meaning – instead of claiming space, I was relinquishing space. Once I had cleaned a space, it was no longer mine.

Some Taiwanese people asked me what my favorite place in Taiwan is. I said the first thing which came to the top of my head – ‘Taoyuan City’. They asked ‘Why?’ I answered ‘Because Taoyuan City is the most wonderful place in Taiwan’. Well, nobody took that answer seriously. But Taoyuan City has been my home in Taiwan. It’s where I’ve felt secure and happy. It’s where I came to rest after my adventures across Taiwan, and it’s where I’ve had some of my happiest moments. So yes, I love Taoyuan City more than anywhere else in Taiwan.


Old Dreams Resemble Soft Smoke

I was considering making this week’s post about an early Fong Fei-fei Song “Old Dreams Resemble Soft Smoke” (Jiù Mèng Sì Qīngyān / 舊夢似輕煙). Then, just as I was thinking about what I would to say about the song, I heard the news. So I am turning this into a special post – there will be a regular post later this week.

Original Lyrics:
dàizhù gū’er lèi liánlián, tā láidào dī ànbiān
xīnlǐ shì suān ya yòu shì kǔ, yù kū wú shēng wèn cāngtiān
wǎngshì jiù mèng sì qīngyān, tā xīn suān yòu shéi lián
xīnlǐ shì suānya yòu shì kǔ, bù zhī liúlàng dào nǎ tiān
shōushi nà jiù chóu yǔ chánmián, láidào dī ànbiān
pāokāi le zuótiān yǔ qiántiān, qídǎo míngtiān
wǎngshì jiù mèng sì qīngyān, tā xīn suān yòu shéi lián
xīnlǐ shì suān ya yòu shì kǔ, bù zhī liúlàng dào nǎ tiān

Carrying an orphan, brimming with tears, she came down by the dike,
Her heart is sour as well as bitter, wishing to weep she silently pleads heaven,
Old dreams of things past resemble soft smoke, her heart is sour and who pities her?
Her heart is sour as well as bitter, she does not know how long she will roam.
To put aside her old, lingering cares, she came down by the dike.
She discarded yesterday and the day before, she prays for tomorrow.
Old dreams of things past resemble soft smoke, her heart is sour and who pities her?
Her heart is sour as well as bitter, she does not know how long she will roam.

I was originally thinking about this song because of Ily’s post on loneliness. Of course, one guesses that the subject of this song became lonely quite abruptly. Nonetheless, there is a sense that the loneliness is a part of a process. It touches me that the subject does not just want to get rid her past – she wants a future at the same time. But it is neither yesterday nor tomorrow, it is today. And today is sad.

One of the things which intrigues me about the Fong Fei-fei version is that she recorded it when she was young – and she sounds young. I always presumed that she was singing about a woman much older than herself. I have pondered what it means that a young woman is singing about an older woman whose “heart is sour as well as bitter” … and I keep on changing my mind about what it means. That’s why I can come back to this song again and again – even though it’s the same song, I hear something different when I hear it again.

I wish I had some penetrating insight to offer about the song. I do not. Fong Fei-fei is gone. She will be missed.