A New Appreciation for Guo Fu

Annie Liu as Guo Fu in Return of the Condor Heroes 1983

Guo Fu is the Hate Sink in Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ. She’s not a villain – she’s loyal to her country and her family, she never actually murders anybody innocent (though she tries), and she never sexually assaults anybody. However, she is just about the most unlikeable character who is not a villain. She’s a spoiled brat, she has no humility, and she’s a bully.

Even though I’ve written a lot of other posts about Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ, I think I have hardly written anything about Guo Fu before (have I even mentioned her before on this blog?) That’s because I never had much to say. She’s not a total two-dimensional character in the original novel – there are nuances which suggest that Guo Fu is a complex human being (more so than, for example, Dolores Umbridge) – but there are so many other things going on in the novel which are so much more interesting that my attention never centered on Guo Fu’s character.

This is the most famous scene in the novel featuring Guo Fu (yes, she is the young woman with the sword). If you are okay with watching violence and spoiling the outcome of this scene, you can watch how the 1983 TV adaptation handles this scene.

The 1983 TV adaptation of Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ helped me see Guo Fu in a new light.

First of all, the scriptwriters gave Guo Fu a lot more screentime than she has pagetime (?) in the novel. They even added a whole new subplot to further develop her character. She actually grows and become less of a self-centered brat. Of course, just as in almost every other case where a female Jin Yong character experiences character growth, she does it so she can impress a man she has romantic feelings for, but it still makes her a more complex character.

And that brings me to another point – the scriptwriters make her a little more likeable than in the novel. She’s still spoiled, she’s still a bully, she still does all of the bad things which makes her a Hate Sink character, but she also has more in the way of redeeming qualities. In the novel, it makes sense that multiple men want to marry her because she’s beautiful and comes from a prestigious family, but in the TV show, it seems plausible that men may also want to marry her because they sincerely like her as a person. She even comes off as more charming than her sister Guo Xiang (partially because the Guo Xiang in this TV adaptation is lacking in warmth), which is the total opposite of the novel.

Guo Fu is on the left and her sister, Guo Xiang, is on the right.

There is one instance where, instead of adding to what is in the novel, the scriptwriters made an outright change. That is with regards to Guo Fu and Yang Guo’s relationship. In the novel, Guo Fu and Yang Guo were always in 100% agreement that they did not want to marry each other. When her father offers her hand in marriage, her reaction is much like her reaction in the 2006 TV adaptation, which you can see here.

Compare that to how Guo Fu reacts to Yang Guo refusal of the marriage proposal in the 1983 TV adaptation. She’s really upset. The scriptwriters built up to this moment by showing Guo Fu and Yang Guo having fun together, and showing Guo Fu really warm up to him. Here is an example of such a scene.

Though I like both the way this is done in the original novel and the way it’s done in the 1983 adaptation, I think I prefer the change made by the 1983 adaptation because a) it makes Yang Guo’s refusing Guo Fu’s hand in marriage more dramatic and b) it adds complexity to Guo Fu’s character and c) in some ways in makes more sense (though it other ways the novel makes more sense).

Guo Fu as seen in the opening theme song.

I think the scriptwriters did a lot to flesh out Guo Fu’s character – and then Annie Liu, the actress, took it and ran. She was a live wire. I’m surprised some reviewers consider Annie Liu to be a disappointing Guo Fu, since her performance is one of my favorite performances in the show. Apparently, some people do not like her because she’s not pretty enough. True, she’s not as physically beautiful as some of the other actresses who have played Guo Fu, and based on what’s I’ve seen of the 1995 adaptation, Gigi Fu also did a great job playing Guo Fu, but a) Annie Liu is pretty enough and b) beauty is far from the most important aspect of Guo Fu’s character and c) Annie Liu really brought Guo Fu to life, at least for me.

I never imagined that Guo Fu would be one of the highlights of a TV adaptation Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ, but it is so. And this is one of the reasons I watch adaptations instead of simply re-reading the novel – a good adaptations bring out aspects of the story I had not appreciated before.

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Why I Find the Fight Scenes in Return of the Condor Heroes 1983 Disappointing

I recently saw the entire 1983 TV adaptation of Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ (or rather San Diu Haap Leoi since it’s in Cantonese), a.k.a. Return of the Condor Heroes, starring Andy Lau as Yang Guo (or rather Yeung Kuo, since it’s in Cantonese – you know what, I’m not going to try to keep track of the Cantonese names, I’m sticking with Mandarin).

In the Hong Kong wuxia TV shows of the early 1980s, they clearly put a lot of effort into fight choreography, and make it really seem like the characters are making lots of physical contact with each other. Additionally, unlike 21st century wuxia TV shows, there was no CGI in the 1980s, which makes the fights look more ‘real’. A lot of people really like the early 1980s wuxia fights, and I can see why.

So what are my problems with the fight scenes?

The first problem is that it is monotonous. After a while, all of the fight scenes just seem to be the same. Though I have my own criticisms of the fight scenes in newer wuxia TV shows, at least they have more ~variety~ so I do not feel like I am watching the same fight over and over again. For example, in the 2006 TV adaptation of there is the fight scene with umbrellas (is there an umbrella fight in the original novel? No. Do I care? Not really).

My favorite fight scene in the 1983 adaptation specifically is when Guo Jing is taking Yang Guo to the Quanzhen monastery. One of the reasons it is my favorite is that it displays more creativity than most of the other fights.

Another problem is, well, notice that my favorite fight scene in is Episode 3. Out of 50 episodes. Having the most satisfying fight so early in a TV show is not so great.

Take a look at this fight scene in the final episode where they are trying to rescue Guo Xiang. Aside from the weird lighting, there is nothing special about this fight scene. It’s just a bunch of characters using standard fight moves that the viewer has already seen a zillion times by this point. It is as if the fight choreographer was tired at this point and was just phoning it in.

Yet another problem with the fight scenes is that the emphasis placed on them is sometimes out of proportion to how important they are to the story. For example, while I really liked Guo Jing fighting the Quanzhen monks in Episode 3, that is a fight with relatively low plot value. So it is jarring when key fights which have very high plot value are cut short. For example, when Xiaolongnü fights Golden Wheel Monk the first time, it’s a big deal. There has been a lot of plot build-up to this specific fight, and the outcome changes the direction of the story. In the original novel, this fight scene is about 10 pages long. Yet in this TV adaptation, the fight is only about a minute long. It was a let down for me.

I also do not like the 2014 version of this fight. I definitely prefer the 2006 version of this fight over both the 1983 and 2014 versions because at least if feels epic. I also prefer the 1995 version because a) Gordon Liu is the best Golden Wheel Monk and b) it feels like Xiaolongnü is in greater peril in this version than in other versions, which makes the fight feel more exciting.

An additional problem is that sometimes a character is totally beating everyone up in one scene, and then in the next scene they are concerned that their fighting skills aren’t good enough. Or the reverse, in which a character is totally losing against a relatively weak opponent, and then in the very same episode they are winning against a stronger opponent. For example, just before Xiaolongnü gets into that fight with Golden Wheel Monk (which she wins), she gets into a fight with Huo Du, which she loses (by the way, this Xiaolongnü vs. Huo Du fight does not happen in the novel – the 1983 TV show made it up). She has no improvement in her skills between the fight with Huo Du and the fight with Golden Wheel Monk, and it is clear that Huo Duo < Golden Wheel Monk, so this makes no sense. The novel does not have this kind of inconsistency – if a character beats an opponent they were previously unable to beat, it explains how that happened.

Speaking of which, not explaining how the characters get better at fighting is another problem. Okay, there is ~some~ explanation in the TV series, but not enough for the viewer to appreciate the logic of how the characters are developing their fighting skills. In the novel, there is enough explanation that it is interesting for the reader. In the TV show, the explanation is so minimal that it fails to be interesting.

But what I miss most about the fight scenes in the novel which do not come through in the 1983 TV adaptation is the metaphorical meaning and how it is woven into the overall story.

For example, Lin Chaoying and Wang Chongyang were in love with each other, however their romance did not work out, so Wang Chongyang founded the Quanzhen sect created the Quanzhen swordplay, while Lin Chaoying founded the Ancient Tomb sect and created the Jade Maiden Swordplay. The Quanzhen sect and the Ancient Tomb sect continue to have a love-hate relationship with each other, and the relationship gets even worse when Yang Guo leaves the Quanzhen sect and joins the Ancient Tomb sect. There is a whole subplot around Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü studying the Jade Maiden Heart Sutra so they can learn the Jade Maiden Swordplay. It seems at first that the Jade Maiden Swordplay was designed specifically to counter the Quanzhen swordplay, and they believe that Lin Chaoying did it in order to spite her ex-lover Wang Chongyang.

Then there is this fight scene:

Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü fight Golden Wheel Monk to rescue Huang Rong, Guo Fu, and the Wu brothers.

In this fight, Yang Guo uses the Quanzhen swordplay, and Xiaolongnü uses the Jade Maiden Swordplay. This is how they discover that the Jade Maiden Swordplay is not meant to counter the Quanzhen swordplay, it is meant to complement it by covering all of the weak points of the Quanzhen swordplay. Thus, when one person is using the Quanzhen swordplay, and another person uses the Jade Maiden Swordplay, and they love each other (just as Wang Chongyang and Lin Chaoying loved each other), they are invincible. I think the metaphor here is really obvious, and I think it adds depth to this scene. It also helps develop the relationship between Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü.

Does any of this come through in the 1983 TV adaptation? No, it does not. The TV show takes one of the most memorable fights from the novel, and makes it seem like it is no more consequential than a couple dozen other fights in the series.

And this metaphor continues to build. Zhou Botong teaches Xiaolongnü how to have one hand fight the other (a technique which Yang Guo could never learn because he is too smart. Intelligent people can never master the technique, and the stupider one is, the faster one can learn. Xiaolongnü has an average level of intelligence, which is apparently low enough to learn the technique). Once Xiaolongnü has mastered the technique of one hand fighting the other, she is able to have one her hands represent Yang Guo and use the Quanzhen Swordplay, and have her other hand represent herself and use the Jade Maiden Swordplay, so she is an invincible fighter even if Yang Guo is not there. This explains how she can hold out in a fight in which she is badly outnumbered.

Xiaolongnü fights using a combination of One Hand Fighting the Other, Quanzhen Sworplay, and Jade Maiden Swordplay.

It also has a very rich metaphorical meaning, especially in the context that Xiaolongnü believes that she will never see Yang Guo again and is suicidal. She is growing further apart from him in that she is pursuing a way of fighting he could never join, yet the very way she is fighting is a testament to her love for him. She is also becoming emotionally more self-sufficient in the sense that she can experience his love without his physical presence.

The 1983 TV adaptation explains parts of this, but not enough for the viewer to put the pieces together (unless the viewer has already read the novel).

If you’re curious what this fight is like in the novel but cannot read Chinese, you can read this fight scene here (note: I’ve only skimmed a little bit of this translation, so I cannot tell you how good/bad it is).

Is this the kind of thing which is better suited for novels than TV shows? Maybe. Or maybe not. Most TV adaptations of Jin Yong novels don’t delve into the narrative meaning of the fighting techniques. The exception is State of Divinity (笑傲江湖) 1996, which most people who watch wuxia TV shows agree was the best wuxia TV show of the 1990s. During the fights which are key to story development, there is narration of what is happening in the fight, and what that means (sadly, I could not find a clip online to show this). The scriptwriters made sure that, when it is important, the audience would understand what is going in the fight and the intended meaning. The fight choreography in State of Divinity 1996 is nothing special, and it does not need to be special because the script takes care of the most important points.

Am I saying ‘tell not show’? No, I’m not. The 1983 version of Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ neither shows nor tells the logic of the fighting techniques and their metaphorical/narrative meaning. Telling would have been an improvement.

Even though it was stripped of its metaphors, the 1983 version of the big fight at the Quanzhen monastery was not bad. In fact, it is one of the best fight scenes in the series. It takes up much of episode 38, which is appropriate, since it is IMO the most important fight scene in the entire novel. It breaks up the fights with little scenes which are meant to GIVE THE FEELS. I think this is good, since non-stop fighting devoid of logic, creativity, or metaphorical meaning would be boring. I dislike some of the mini-scenes the TV show made up (which were not in the novel) to flesh out the fight, and I like some of them. For example, I like this moment. I also like this part of the fight because it was slow enough that the viewer could actually follow the moves and understand the logic of how they were happening.

Still, without the metaphors, I don’t feel the 1983 version lives up to the novel. I do think it is at least better than the 2006 version of this fight. The 2006 version is more faithful to the novel in that it does not add a bunch of new material and follows the novel’s sequence of events more closely, it still lacks the metaphors, and it also fails to have the feeling of the 1983 adaptation.

All in all, while the fights in the 1983 TV adaptation have some good points, they were overall a disappointment for me. They lack many of the things which make the fight scenes so compelling in the original novel.

Sixth Year Anniversary Post

As of today, this blog is six years old. To quote the very first paragraph of my very first post on this blog:

I had been thinking about starting a blog for years. However, I never had ‘enough time’ to maintain a proper blog. Finally, I realized that I will never have ‘enough time’ to blog, so if I am going to blog, I have to do it now, when I don’t have ‘enough time’.

Six years later, not having ‘enough time’ still has not stopped this blog. Huzzah!

While I was writing and posting that very first blog post, I was reading the novel Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ for the very first time. Since it was only the second book I had ever read in Chinese, my reading speed was very slow, and since it is more than 1500 pages long, it took a lot of time to read. I spent about 2-3 hours per day reading, and it took me several weeks. On top of that, I was also spending about two hours a day studying Chinese in other ways, such as watching the classic Taiwanese TV show Meteor Garden, so that I would develop my listening and speaking skills, not just my reading skills.

The first time I read this novel, this was the edition I read. I preferred the editions which came in smaller sizes and only about 250 pages per volume rather than the editions with thicker books and fewer volumes because a) the smaller volumes were easier to carry around b) I was not confident in my Chinese reading skills at the time, so being able to complete a volume faster (because it was much shorter) gave me an extra motivation boost.

The fact that I was reading Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ and studying Chinese (as well as working at my job, sleeping, taking care of chores and errands, etc.) was one of the main reasons I did not have ‘enough time’ to start a blog. Somehow, I started this blog anyway.

At the time, I would not have predicted that I would be referencing Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ so often in this blog, even six years later. Heck, the post which was published yesterday mentions Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ. Meanwhile, I rarely (or even never?) reference Meteor Garden in this blog, even though that was the TV show I was watching when this blog started.

Do I reference Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ so much because of the Jin Yong Jolt? Partially, perhaps, but if that were the case, I would probably be referencing The Deer and the Cauldron, which is without question the most WTF???!!!! of Jin Yong’s novels, even more often. Yet I rarely mention The Deer and the Cauldron in this blog.

Do I reference Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ so much because I headcanon the protagonist as ace? That definitely has a lot to do with it, but I also have brought up Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ in a lot of posts which aren’t about asexuality.

Something about this specific novel really stays with me in a way that few novels do, and it’s been reflected in this blog for six years.

Oh, and I recently watched the 1983 TV adaptation of Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ. That means there are going to be even more blog posts referencing Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ in the near future.

Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 2

The simplest of all beds is the ground. But what is ‘the ground’? That depends on where you are. ‘The ground’ could be soil covered with dry grass, a sandy beach, a slab of flat rock, etc.

While there is no doubt that ‘the ground’ is the cheapest, simplest, and lowest tech bed of them all, there are three main problems. The first problem is cleanliness, though that is going to depend on what ‘ground’ we are talking about, as well as how much one cares about ‘cleanliness’. The second problem is that the ground may be hard and apply a lot of pressure to certain points of the body, which can especially be a problem for side sleepers (and even ground which is initially soft may compact over time). The third problem – and this is the doozy – is that the ‘ground’ is a heat sink. In warm temperatures, that’s not a problem. In cooler temperatures, it’s very uncomfortable, and in cold temperatures, lying directly on the ground can cause hypothermia and death.

This is a photo of the corner of the bedroom where I roll out my goza mats and mattress right before I cleaned the walls (the walls look whiter now than they do in this picture)

The floor of my bedroom is not exactly the ground. It is made of hardwood, is above a basement room full of (unheated) air, which is on top of the foundation, which is on the ground. However, even though it’s removed from the ground, the floor of my bedroom is still enough of a heat sink that sleeping directly on it in cool/cold weather is not going to happen.

Unless one lives in a climate where it is always warm at night, one has to sleep on a surface which is not a heat sink. There are basically only two ways to do this: heating, and insulation.

There are of course multiple ways to heat a sleeping surface. One could heat the air around the sleeping surface. However, it is generally most efficient just to directly heat the sleeping surface, such as in the traditional kang bed-stoves of Northern China and Manchuria (which are typically made of brick or clay) or traditional ondol floors in Korea. When the sleeping surface is heated, one wants a surface which can retain heat for an entire night, hence the preference for brick/clay/stone/etc.

Yang Guo lies on the cold jade bed, and Xiaolongnü prepares to sleep on a rope.

In a novel I sometimes mention in this blog, there is a ‘cold jade bed’ which, though very uncomfortable, will develop one’s nèigōng (inner power). I’m no expert of traditional Chinese medicine or martial arts, but my guess is that the body is learning to resist the heat sink effect of sleeping on a cold stone bed and thus building nèigōng. This is, of course, fiction; in real life this is a recipe for hypothermia.

Jade beds are real. I’ve lain on a jade bed in Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, though that was in a heated bathhouse. There are also heated kang beds made of jade (which I am sure are extremely expensive).

So that’s heated surfaces. What about insulation instead of (or complemented with) heating?

I know that some people who camp in forests create ‘beds’ out of duff (fallen leaves, pine needles, cones, etc.) which is a very low-tech type of insulation. A higher-tech type of insulation commonly used in camping are portable sleeping pads, which may be made of foam, or inflatable air pockets (essential a small air mattress), or polyester, or any other lightweight insulating material which will insulate even under the weight of human being. If one does not need great portability, and has a wider choice of materials than forest duff, then there are a lot more possibilities for insulating material.

This is the only place I’ve ever done ‘cowboy camping’ (so far). ‘Cowboy camping’ is sleeping outside without a shelter. The white thing in the center-left is my groundsheet, and the silver-yellow thing in the center of the picture is my foam sleeping pad. The sleeping pad was the main insulation I had from the ground this night.

Another thing one can do is to lift the bed up so that there is air between the sleeping surface and the floor. Air is an insulator, so this helps, but if the air flows it’s also going carry heat away as it flows. Thus one either needs to trap the air (this is what an air mattress does, and foam with air pockets does this too) or use an insulator which is not going to flow away.

My new mattress is an excellent insulator. It provides all of the insulation I need to avoid losing my body heat to the floor of my bedroom, and it also does not flow away and take my body heat with it.

That leaves the problems of hardness and cleanliness. And a bed needs to provide something else – support. Most types of ground provide excellent support, but if one is not sleeping directly on the ground, then support may become an issue. While the rope which Xiaolongnü in the picture up there sleeps on is an extremely simple bed, it does not provide nearly enough support, unless one has superhuman qīnggōng like Xiaolongnü (wuxia fiction is not known for having realistic depictions of sleeping technology, okay? Pity, I’d be curious to try out the addictively comfortable bed in Happy Heroes, though it’s probably a good thing that best does not exist since I might never want to leave.)

Generally, firmer surfaces provide better support, and softer surfaces provide worse support. Furthermore, a surface which contours to the body provides more even (and thus better) support, and a surface which does not contour to the body provides less even (and thus worse) support. Ideally, one would sleep on a firm surface which contours to the body.

My new mattress provides a lot of support (which ultimately comes from my bedroom floor) while contouring to my body better than the floor would. However, while I think it strikes a good balance, it’s not perfect.

And as I mentioned in the previous post, because it’s easy to roll up and only about 30 lb (14 kg), it is a very portable mattress.

Why is portability an important feature to me? What disgusting discoveries did I make when I removed the five mattresses which formed my old ‘bed’? What will I do to keep my new mattress usable for years? The answers to these questions will be in Part 3.

Life-Alienating Communication in Two Fictional Dialogues

Right now, I’m going through the Nonviolent Communication Companion Workbook by Lucy Leu because I am trying to better understand the ideas of ‘Nonviolent Communication’ and try them out in my own life to see if they are beneficial. One of the exercises is:

Write down a dialogue (of about 6-8 lines) between two people that isn’t going well … After you have completed writing down the lines, re-read them and determine if either person has communicated using on of the Four D’s

What are the ‘Four D’s’? According to the, workbook, they are:

Think of the forms of life-alienating communication as the “Four D’s of Disconnection”

1. Diagnosis, judgement, analysis, criticism, comparison
2. Denial of responsibility
3. Demand
4. “Deserve”-oriented language

There is more detailed description of these concepts in the books Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. I think one of the key ideas from this chapter is:

[When using life-alienating communication] Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others are needing and not getting.

Nothing in the workbook suggests that only dialogues taken from real life are beneficial for this exercise, so I decided to take a dialogue from fiction for fun. And I picked one of the most famous scenes from Shén Diāo ​Xiá​ Lǚ​ for this exercise. First, the original dialogue in Chinese (pulled from the novel):

小龍女: 你怎麼仍是叫我姑姑?難道你沒真心待我麼?你到底當我是什麼人?
楊過: 你是我師父,你憐我教我,我發過誓,要一生一世敬你重你,聽你的話。
小龍女: 難道你不當我是你妻子?
楊過: 不,不!你不能是我妻子,我怎麼配?你是我師父,是我姑姑。
小龍女: 哇
楊過: 姑姑,姑姑!
小龍女: 既是這樣,以後你別再見我。

This is a screenshot from this scene in the 1995 TV adaptation.

And here is my translation into English (I think translating the dialogues from Chinese to English helps me by making me more conscious of the nuances in the language):

Xiaolongnü: How are you still calling me ‘auntie’? Does that mean you weren’t sincere in the way you treated me? Who do you think I am?
Yang Guo: You are my teacher, you love me, you teach me, I’ve taken a vow, I will respect you for the rest of my life, and obey you.
Xiaolongnü: Does that mean you do not consider me to be your wife?
Yang Guo: No, no! You can’t be my wife, how could I be worthy? You are my teacher, my auntie.
Xiaolongnü: Agh!
Yang Guo: Auntie, auntie!
Xiaolongnü: If that’s how it is, never see me again.

One can see how the actors performed this scene in the 2006 adaptation here, the 1983 TV adaptation here, and in the English dub of the anime adaptation here (note: if one chooses to watch the full episode rather than just this specific scene, be aware that this episode contains a sexual assault scene).

So, are there any of the D’s of Disconnection in there?

1. Diagnosis, judgement, analysis, criticism, comparison: Xiaolongnü judges Yang Guo for possibly not being sincere. Yang Guo also compares himself to the ideal of who he imagines may be worthy of marrying Xiaolongnü, and judges that he himself is not worthy.

2. Denial of responsibility: Yang Guo does not say ‘I do not want to be your husband’ or ‘I choose not to be your husband’ instead he just says its not possible. Thus he is denying his responsibility for his choice not to marry Xiaolongnü (for the record, I think it is always okay for someone to choose not to marry anyone they do not want to marry, and if Yang Guo does not want to marry Xiaolongnü I would highly recommend that he choose not to marry her, I am just pointing out that he is framing it as something which is beyond his control rather than a choice he is making).

3. Demand: Xiaolongnü is demanding Yang Guo to stop calling her ‘auntie’ (she demands this repeatedly, I just cut out the earlier part of this dialogue where she makes this demand again and again). In the end, Xiaolongnü also demands Yang Guo to never see her again.

4. “Deserve”-oriented language: I’m not sure this is present in this dialogue. At most, Yang Guo’s claim that he is not worthy of being Xiaolongnü’s husband is ‘deserve’ language in the sense that he claims that he does not deserve a wife like Xiaolongnü (though I translated the word 配 as ‘be worthy’, an alternative translation is ‘deserve’).

The scene where Xiaolongnü threatens to kill Yang Guo with her sword, as shown in the 1995 TV adaptation.

The workbook suggests taking this a step further and guessing what the speakers’ unmet need are. Here are my guesses (of course I am using the context in the story, not just this specific slice of dialogue, to make my guesses).

Xiaolongnü’s unmet needs: appreciation (this does not think Yang Guo appreciates the sacrifice she has made), consideration (she does not think Yang Guo is considering her needs/preferences), harmony and order (she thinks that, due to a prior event, it would no longer fit her sense of harmony and order for her and Yang Guo to continue their relationship as teacher and student; she thinks harmony can be restored by changing to a wife-and-husband relationship), interpersonal security (she does not trust that Yang Guo will continue to fulfil her needs for connection, closeness, and intimacy)
Yang Guo’s unmet need: physical security (up until this point in the story, everyone – with the exception of his mother and Granny Sun, who are both dead – ends up threatening to physically hurt him or actually physically hurts him, so he does not feel secure, and he tried to protect himself by professing humility – i.e. ‘how can I be worthy?’), interpersonal security (he is afraid that, if he is not sufficiently obedient, Xiaolongnü will stop meeting his emotional needs)

There’s another famous scene in Shén Diāo ​Xiá​ Lǚ​ where two people have a dialogue which isn’t going well. I’m using it for this exercise too. Here is the Chinese dialogue pulled from the novel:

楊過: 我做了什麼事礙著你們了?我又害了誰啦?姑姑教過我武功,可是我偏要她做我妻子。你們斬我一千刀、一萬刀,我還是要她做妻子。
郭靖: 小畜生,你膽敢出此大逆不道之言?
楊過: 姑姑全心全意的愛我,我對她也是這般。郭伯伯,你要殺我便下手,我這主意是永生永世不改的。
郭靖: 我當你是我親生兒子一般,決不許你做了錯事,卻不悔改。
楊過: 我沒錯!我沒做壞事!我沒害人!
郭靖: 過兒,我心裡好疼,你明白麼?我寧可你死了,也不願你做壞事,你明白麼?
楊過: 我知道自己沒錯,你不信就打死我好啦。
郭靖: 你好好的想想去罷。

My translation:

Yang Guo: What have I done which has hindered you? Who have I harmed? Auntie taught me marital arts, but I want her to be my wife. If you cut me with a thousand knives, ten thousand knives, I will still want her to be my wife.
Guo Jing: Beast, you dare say something so disrespectful?
Yang Guo: Auntie loves me with all of her heart, and I feel the same way towards her. Uncle Guo, if you want to kill me, just do it, I will never change my mind.
Guo Jing: I consider you to be just like a son, I will never let you do wrong without repentance.
Yang Guo: I am not wrong! I haven’t done anything bad! I haven’t harmed anybody!
Guo Jing: My heart is in pain, do you understand? I would rather have you die than have you do anything bad, do you understand?
Yang Guo: I know that I have done no wrong, if you don’t believe that then kill me.
Guo Jing: [almost kills Yang Guo, then pulls back at the last moment, sparing Yang Guo] Reflect carefully on this.

Guo Jing yells at Yang Guo in the 1995 TV adaptation.

One can see how the actors performed this scene in the 2006 TV adaptation here, the 1983 TV adaptation here, and the English dub of the anime adaptation here.

Hmmm, I wonder if there is any ‘life-alienating communication’ in that dialogue?

1. Diagnosis, judgement, analysis, criticism, comparison: Guo Jing diagnoses Yang Guo as being a ‘beast’ and criticizes him for being ‘disrespectful’. He is also makes a moralistic judgement of Yang Guo wanting to marry Xiaolongnü. Yang Guo also says that he is ‘not wrong’ (it mirrors Guo Jing’s language, and is also a measurement/classification of degree of wrongness).

2. Denial of responsibility: I don’t think either of them are denying responsibility for anything in this specific dialogue.

3. Demand: Guo Jing is demanding Yang Guo to stop saying he wants to marry Xiaolongnü, or as Guo Jing phrases it, to never do anything which is ‘wrong’. He also demands that Yang Guo reflect carefully on. Does Yang Guo saying ‘if you don’t believe that then kill me’ count as a demand? I’m not sure, but my inclination is to say that it is not a demand.

4. “Deserve”-oriented language: Though ‘deserve’ language does not directly appear, Guo Jing is obviously threatening to punish Yang Guo with death if Yang Guo does not submit to Guo Jing’s demands, which may be a way of communicating that Yang Guo would ‘deserve’ death if he chooses to marry Xiaolongnü.

Here are my guesses about their unmet needs…

Yang Guo: physical security (Guo Jing is literally threatening to kill him right now)
Guo Jing: Hoo boy. Where to begin?
– interpseronal security (he is worried that Yang Guo might damange his reputation, which may mean that his needs for appreciation, inclusion, and respect may not be met in the future if Yang Guo does not repent wanting to marry Xiaolongnü)
– harmony and order (from Guo Jing’s perspective, Yang Guo’s actions are not harmonious with his values)
– integrity (according to Guo Jing’s Confucian values, because Yang Kang was his sworn brother, and Yang Kang is dead, he is responsible for Yang Kang’s son i.e. Yang Guo. In particular, Guo Jing feels guilty because Yang Kang did so much harm to so many people, and Guo Jing believes that if Yang Guo grows up with good Confucian moral characters, it will help amend for Yang Kang’s moral failings and Guo Jing’s failure to prevent Yang Kang’s moral failings.)

***

I remember the first time I read the novel, I thought that Guo Jing’s actions in this particular scene were SO WRONG. And when I look at it through the lens of measuring degrees of wrongness, it still reads as ‘SO WRONG’ to me. Trying to think about this scene from a totally non-judgemental point of view, without measuring rightness or wrongness, feels weird. I’ve also done this exercise with a YouTube video where people were engaged in a dialogue that was not going well (but I’m not going to write in detail about that on this blog because, unlike these fictional characters, the people in that video are real), and it also felt very weird to watch that video from a non-judgemental perspective.

I am becoming more aware of how much of my interpretation of the world is based on measuring the level of ‘wrongness’ in others and myself. I am not going to completely forswear that way of understanding the world – at times, it might be the most useful approach – but if I am going to use the lens of measuring degrees of wrongness, I want to do it on purpose, not out of habit. I am hoping that going through the Nonviolent Communication Workbook will help me learn how put NVC into practice so that I will have the choice of using NVC.

AAWFC 2017: Musings on Headcanon Ace Characters in Wuxia Novels

This is for Asexual Awareness Week Fandom Challenge 2017 (even though I am not on Tumblr – if you are on Tumblr, feel free to share a link to this post under the #AAWFC tag).

Sun 22nd, Day 1: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in books and comics.

In the past year – since a I read a bunch of ace fiction for Asexual Awareness Week last year in fact – I’ve written plenty about canon ace characters in books. So I’m going to talk about headcanon ace characters instead.

Yes, you guessed it (if you read my blog in a regular basis). I’m going to write about Yang Guo and Guo Jing from the Condor Trilogy (or more accurately, the Eagle-Shooting Trilogy, but whatever).

There is Yang Guo with Xiaolongnü, the most beautiful woman in the world. He is naked, she is naked, they sit together like this for a long time, yet he never thinks about sex at all (according to the novel – I don’t know how they would convey this in the TV adaptation).

I’ve already written plenty about these headcanons – in fact, my very first submission to the Carnival of Aces was a series about how I headcanon Yang Guo as being ace, and years later I wrote about how I headcanon Guo Jing as demisexual.

Actually, while I am talking about headcanons and wuxia, I might as well mention that I headcanon Fei Ruoran in The Valley of Life and Death as being an *aromantic ace* (finding a female protagonist from wuxia who I can headcanon as aromantic is incredible). And yes, even though I have read a lot of novels in 2017, so far, The Valley of Life and Death is still my favorite.

So, what more do I have to say about these headcanons that I have not already said in previous posts? Let’s see…

If Yang Guo were explicitly a canon ace, then he would be the best example of the kind of ace character I want in fiction. Of course, he’s not a canon ace character, and I have to deduct a heck of a lot of points for that. However, while I have found much goodness during this past year as I’ve binged on fiction with canon ace characters, I still feel like I have not quite found what am I looking for. If I found a canon ace character who has all of the qualities which makes me like Yang Guo so much as a headcanon!ace character, would I then finally be satisfied? Probably not, because I would still want more aromantic representation, and Yang Guo very much is not aromantic.

Or is he? Okay, obviously, he’s not aromantic aromantic, but a case could be made that he is demiromantic. He only falls in love once in his life, and only after he had a close relationship with that person for years. That seems pretty demiromantic, and while Jin Yong rarely has characters fall in love with each other at first sight (unless they are supporting/minor characters, especially female characters), it generally takes something significantly less than living with a particular person for years to get a Jin Yong character to fall in love.

And there is Guo Jing who, at this point, feels to me that he is at the border between headcanon and canon demisexual. The way he is described in the novel fits the dictionary definition (or at least the wiktionary definition) perfectly. Is that enough to make him a canon demisexual, without writer confirmation or explicitly saying that he demisexual? How explicit is explicit enough? I feel that he is just one notch shy of being the kind of representation I could call ‘canon’ rather than ‘headcanon’.

And then there is Fei Ruoran, who is not from the Condor Trilogy at all, or even a Jin Yong novel. There is actually even less substantial evidence in the text that she is ace than for Yang Guo or Guo Jing. It’s mostly the total absence of any sign that she has sexual feelings. There is actually a tiny bit of evidence that she is aromantic – namely, the scene where she says that she does not even know what romance is. However, the mere fact that she is a female protagonist in a wuxia novel who doesn’t fall in love with anybody is enough to suggest aromanticism to me.

If you got this far, thank you for bearing with my meandering thoughts, and happy Ace Awareness Week!

The Jin Yong Jolt

In my experience, reading a Jin Yong novel often involves dropping the book and blubbering “what – what – what was THAT???!!!”

WHAT IS THIS??? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE???

Recently, I watched Zhang Jizhong’s adaptation of Ode to Gallantry. Even though that is the Jin Yong novel I have the least memory of, I could tell that the adaptation had a bunch of stuff which was not from the novel, but that was okay – anyway, since it’s on my mind, I’m taking my first example from this story.

There are these two martial artists from the Isle of Gallantry who, to put it mildly, scare the shit out of everybody, even the leaders of the most powerful martial arts sects. That’s because they travel around China every ten years, invite sect leaders to their island. Nobody who goes to the island has ever returned, and if the sect leader refuses, then the martial artists from Isle of Gallantry kill the entire sect, and nobody can stop them,

The story builds up the suspense by explaining that these two martial artists come from the Isle of Gallantry every decade, oh and it’s been ten years since they last came around, and many martial artists are desperately scrambling with various strategies to avoid being taken to the Isle of Gallantry and/or killed, and so forth. There is even an alliance being formed to create a united front against the martial artists from the Isle of Gallantry.

The guys from the Isle of Gallantry encounter the protagonist.

Naturally, the martial artists from the Isle of Gallantry eventually appear, and just as naturally, the protagonist – who of course is going to be mistaken for the leader of a major sect because plot – runs into them. What do you think happens next?

Jin Yong is very good at building the suspense, but so are a zillion other competent writers. This is not what sets Jin Yong apart – it is the way he delivers on the buildup which is special. If you haven’t guessed already what the protagonist – who often gets mistaken for a sect leader – does when he meets the Guys from the Isle of Gallantry, guess now.

You win if you guessed … that he becomes friends with them and sworn brothers, and drinks wine with them. Wait – what the heck??!!!

Becoming friends with the men from the Isle of Gallantry means that the protagonist is possibly safe from them, but once it gets known that he’s their sworn brother, well, that alliance against the Isle of Gallantry is going to target him.

Yes, Jin Yong will build up the suspense, getting the readers to anticipate whether A or B will happen, and finally, it’s neither A or B – it’s C. And option C is frequently ridiculous, but Jin Yong is talented at getting the reader to accept C without breaking the suspension of disbelief.

In my Rambling Series about Sexism in Jin Yong Stories, I mention the example of the protagonist killing his sweetheart as being misogynist. I am fairly certain that is intentionally there to shock readers. Generally, a sympathetic and righteous protagonist is not supposed to kill his sweet and loving romantic interest. However, though it is a shocking (and misogynist) plot twist, I bought into it as a reader – in other words, my suspension of disbelief remained intact.

Here are more examples of suspenseful buildups leading to surprising plot twists from various Jin Yong novels (I’m not citing the specific novels because these are very spoilery)

Example 1:

Buildup: To make a very, very, very long story short, there is a group which wants an order of Buddhist nuns to submit to them. The abbesses refuse on principle. Therefore, this group attacks the nuns to force them to submit. Out of all of the nuns’ “allies” the only one who helps them is the male and non-Buddhist protagonist with a reputation for being a lowlife (i.e. he loves drinking alcohol, which is forbidden by strict Buddhists, he enjoys having lustful thoughts about women, etc.)

Question: Will a) the abbesses, with the protagonist’s help, be able to survive and protect their order of nuns, or b) will they all be murdered, leaving the younger nuns without effective leadership and thus defenceless?

Answer: C. The last abbesses are murdered, and with their dying breath declare the male, lowlife, non-Buddhist protagonist as the leader of their order. The plot twist is actually more complicated than this, but I don’t think I can describe it succinctly. Suffice to say, having a lowlife male protagonist suddenly become the leader of a sect of nuns is a very WTF plot twist even without the extra details.

Example 2: (warning for sexual violence)

Buildup: Heroine secretly overhears Villain 1 giving Villain 2 a date rape drug so that he can rape her, and Villain 2 happily accepts it. When Villain 1 leaves, Heroine ambushes him, and then goes to the room where Villain 2 is to confront him. (And in an earlier scene in the novel, Villain 2 had beat Heroine in combat, so he is clearly a better martial artist)

Question: Will a) the Heroine succeed in confronting Villain 2 or b) will Villain 2 overpower her?

Answer: C. Villain 2 told Heroine that Villain 1 had given him the drug so that he could rape her, but that he would never use it that way. He lets Heroine throw the drug out the window, and she decides to trust him. (The reader knows that this guy is not trustworthy).

Example 3:

Buildup: Character 1 wants to kill Character 2.

Question: Will a) Character 1 succeed or b) fail, and possibly be killed by Character 2?

Answer: C
Character 1: I am going to kill you because you are [X].
Character 2: No, I’m not [X].
Character 1: You’re lying.
Character 2: No, I kidnapped [X], and I’ve been impersonating her for years.
Character 1: You’re a really bad liar.
Character 2: No, I’ll prove it to you.
[Character 2 shows Character 1 where she is keeping X in captivity]
Character 1: Wow, you weren’t lying. I’m not going to kill you.

(Coincidently, since all of the characters in this scene are female, it passes the Bechdel test.)

I actually began this post with a particularly elaborate and constructed technique Jin Yong uses to give readers their shocks. He also uses simpler techniques.

One technique is to simply have striking imagery, without any buildup. A villain demonstrates the potency of his poison by poisoning a shark and releasing it to the sea. The shark writes with pain before it finally dies. Other sharks come in and eat the dead shark, and then die of poison, and the sharks which eat those sharks get poisoned too, until the sea is filled with the floating corpses of dead sharks. Of course, though this image did not come with much build up, it is used as buildup for a later scene: when a character falls victim to this same poison, the reader knows just how much trouble he is in. His death is extremely painful. And when the crows descend to eat they flesh of his corpse, they all die too, thus he is reduced to being a skeleton amidst a flock of dead crows. (I think this is one of the most gruesomely spectacular death scenes I have found in fiction).

There is HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! (in Chinese) written across the sky.

Not that all of the bold imagery is violent. Someone prepares a birthday gift for a teenage girl – he arranges a series of fireworks to go up to write across the sky “Happy Birthday [name of teenager]!” And those fireworks also destroyed some of the fortifications of the birthday girl’s enemies – okay, a lot of the imagery is violent.

Of course, Jin Yong steals borrows a lot of this imagery from other sources. For example, the image of a man whose face is so handsome that he goes around wearing a mask to hide his handsomeness is clearly taken from the story of the Prince of Lanling.

As you can see, a theme in this striking imagery is hyperbole. It works.

However, it’s often not purely striking imagery – the context adds to the vividness of the scene. For example, one of the most famous moments in all of Jin Yong’s novel is when a woman plunges a sword into a man’s chest. While that is an interesting image in itself, what makes it memorable is that the man is the protagonist, and that he is in love with the woman and had not tried to defend himself because he had trusted her not to hurt him.

This is a *different* famous scene with a young woman menacing the protagonist with a sword. In this case, the protagonist does think the woman might actually hurt him because she is clearly super angry at him. Jin Yong ends this scene on a cliffhanger, so the reader does not find out what the young woman does with the sword until a later chapter.

Another example is when a protagonist is hidden under a layer of frost, so he looks like a snowman. Other sets of characters come in and say things they would not want the protagonist to here, unaware that he is right there. Finally, when a fight scene happens, he finally bursts out of the frost, so those characters realize that he was there the whole time *and* he overheard them.

Jin Yong is also extremely fond of relationship/identity-based reveals. He uses “Luke, I Am Your Father” many times, as well as ‘this person is actually the incognito emperor of China’ ‘this person is actually your sibling’ ‘this person is actually the incognito emperor of China AND your sibling’ (yes, Jin Yong has used that last trope).

There are some shock tropes which Jin Yong overuses – for example, I think there are too many mothers who commit suicide in front of their sons (quite a few fathers do it too, but the mother is more likely to do it because, in the Jin Yong universe, female life is not as valuable as male life). However, considering how long his novels are, the variety is still impressive.

This is one of the most famous scenes in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (w/ Eng subs) (rated R for violence) because it stacks an unusually high number of shock tropes, even by Jin Yong standards. When I was reading the novel, I felt that this scene was so over the top that I was laughing out loud. Nonetheless, because it packs in so many shock tropes, it is a good example of many of the things I discuss in this post.

Last year, I wrote this crossover fanfic about Emperor Kangxi (Jin Yong) and Emperor Gregor (Vorkosigan Saga). Even though the Vorkosigan Saga has plenty of shock tropes itself, one thing I noticed while writing the fic that it was easier for Kangxi to shock Gregor than vice versa because Kangxi is from a fictional universe with a higher level of what-the-f**kery going on.

To wrap things up, Jin Yong’s shock tropes push the readers closer to the edge of suspension of disbelief without (usually) pushing them over the edge (the characters go in a boat all the way to the Arctic Circle, and land at Fire-Ice Island, and stay there for ten years without any contact with the outside world, etc.) Because it is a region of the imagination which most storytellers will not send the readers, full of surprises, it feels fresh and new. And there are all the feels. And because it is so fresh, and surprising, and there are so many feels, it helps the reader feel more alive.

One of my favorite Jin Yong TV theme songs is “Up and Down a Challenging Road” (no, it’s not the most literal translation of the song title) from the 1982 adaptation of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. Out of all the Jin Yong theme songs, I thing it best captures the spirit of the Jin Yong universe as a whole – reading a Jin Yong novel puts me on a ride full of jolts.