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Kungfu Novels Full of Vitality

BEIJING, August 15 --The success of "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and its achievement in winning three Oscars this year, have kindled many people's interest in Chinese kungfu, according to today's China Daily.

For many Chinese, the heroine seen flying across the light-green bamboo forest is nothing new. Often more interesting scenes have been created in TV drama series shown to TV audiences across China, including Taiwan and Hong Kong. And Kungfu fanatics everywhere will be pleased to learn that China Central Television is trying to select a cast for a new kungfu TV series, "Shediao Yingxiong Zhuan, " which is based on a kungfu novel by Jin Yong.

Wang Dulu (1909-77), who wrote "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and published the novel in the 1930s, could not have predicted that his book, a little obscure back then, would be loved by film-goers all over the world.

The kungfu novel writer who has attained the most fame is Jin Yong, who is based in Hong Kong.

"Once I read several pages of Jin Yong's book, I cannot put it down, " said Wang Dandan, a middle-school student from Nanjing.

Jin Yong is the pen name of Cha Liang Yong (Louis Cha ), who was born in 1924 in Haining County of Zhejiang Province. He claims that he was very much influenced by Chinese folk literature during his childhood.

A journalist, editor and publisher by profession, he started to write and publish kungfu novels in 1955. Between 1955 and 1974, Cha published 15 works under the pen name of Jin Yong. He transformed the artistic form and content of the old type of Chinese kungfu stories into novels reflecting the modern spirit.

In the past 20 years since China opened-up to the outside world, countless Chinese people have read Jin Yong's books. According to Simon Aligen, an experienced editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, more than one billion copies of Jin Yong's books, including pirate copies, have been sold. And it is believed that probably double the amount of people may have read Jin Yong's books.

Jin Yong's kungfu novels have arguably appealed to people from university professors to farmers. Film companies have taken advantage of the public's love of Jin Yong's novels. In past decades, TV drama series and films adapted from Jin Yong's kungfu stories have regularly be seen on the screen.

"I can even recite some detailed plots of Jin Yong's novels, " said Yu Chi, a post-graduate student from Tongji University in Shanghai, "and many of my teachers often cited figures created by Jin Yong as examples to illustrate social problems."

Yuan Liangjun, a researcher with the Literature Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), once said, "The long history of Chinese kungfu stories provides plentiful inspiration and source materials for Jin Yong."

Kungfu stories, a unique form in Chinese literature, originated from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). These stories generally depict a band of heroes as the embodiment of justice. The heroes always punish villains and encourage people to do good things. These books highlight Chinese Kungfu, although violence is frequently seen in these types of novels.

Chinese kungfu stories have gone through three major phases. The first is "Classical Kungfu Stories." "Hong Xian Steals the Box" and "San Xia Wu Yi" are two representative works from this period.

The second phase is known as the "Old School of the Republic of China (1912-49 ), " The novels of Huanzhu Louzhu, Wang Dulu and Gong Baiyu marked the maturity of Chinese kungfu stories.

The third phase, starting from the 1950's is called "Hong Kong's New Type kungfu Stories, " typified by stories of Gu Long, Wo Longsheng, Liang Yusheng and Jin Yong. This phase pushed the kungfu story creation to the limit.

But no matter how popular these novels are, kungfu stories have been traditionally deemed as pop literature.

Only Jin Yong's novels seem to be an exception.

In 1994, Jin Yong was appointed honorary professor of the Chinese department of Peking University. In 1999, he was invited to serve as the dean of the College of Arts of Zhejiang University.

In May 1998, an "Academic Symposium of Jin Yong's Kungfu Novels and Chinese Literature in the 20th Century" was held in the University of Colorado in the United States. Many renowned Chinese scholars attended the meeting.

In October 2000, an "International Academic Symposium on Jin Yong's Novels" was held in Peking University.

Yan Jiayan, a renowned professor with the university's Chinese department, thinks highly of Jin Yong's kungfu novels.

"Jin Yong's novels have profound connotations. It's worthwhile to dig out the rich significance and to indulge our thinking in his creations, " Yan wrote in one of his articles.

But the tide of enthusiasm in academic circles for Jin Yong's novels also aroused much dissatisfaction.

Yuan Liangjun, an intimate friend of Yan Jiayan, clashes with Yan on the issue of Jin Yong's novel.

"Jin's novels are greatly responsible for the vulgar trend of Chinese literature, " said Yuan Liangjun.

The different understandings of Jin Yong's kungfu stories lead to the debates over the merits or demerits of his works.

The form of expression is one issue for their disagreements.

Zheng Qingsheng, a free-lance writer in Beijing, believes that Jin's stories tend to blend fiction and history together, which will confuse people. "This is not a serious attitude toward history and novel writing, " he said.

Yuan Liangjun points out that Jin's writing inherited the old pattern from traditional kungfu stories. It is a kind of "joking history, " and therefore valueless.

But Chen Mo, a researcher with the Research Centre of Chinese Film Art in Beijing, contends that Jin Yong successfully blends the traditional form of Chinese kungfu stories with western modern literature and "we can draw lessons from it."

When it comes to the content of his novels, the two groups are tangled over the definition of "refined" and "vulgar."

The pro-Jin group believe that Jin's novels not only fulfill traditional kungfu novels' tasks of upholding justice, they also present the broad vision of the author, which distinguishs them from vulgar novels.

"The attitude towards ethnic groups' relationship is for the first time correctly narrated in Jin's books, " wrote Yan Jiayan in his article, "Discussing the modern spirit in Jin Yong's novels."

According to Chi Huisheng, the deputy president of Peking University, Chinese traditional civilization is frequently reflected in Jin's novels, including music, poetry, books, chess, medicine, Chinese painting and religion.

What's more, Jin's marvelous sense of history cannot be underestimated. Chen Pingyuan, a professor with the Chinese department of Peking University, believes that Jin Yong has the ability of "mastering the overall situation of history."

But the anti-Jin group focuses their eyes more on other fields.

Zheng Qingsheng believes that sorcery and witchcraft in traditional kungfu novels are still too common in Jin's books, where they are laudatorily called Qigong. Killings were also dominant.

In view of the different standpoints of the two groups, the influence Jin's stories may have is predictably differently.

Pro-Jin groups believe that Jin Yong's books can exert an edifying influence on people's spirit. They help people understand the philosophy of life and impart the Chinese traditional civilization.

But Yuan Liangjun is worried that the young generation may be adversely affected by Jin's books.

"Eighty years ago, Lu Xun cried out 'Please help children,' now it's the time to cry out the words again, " said he.

Anyway, loved by so many Chinese people, the charm of Jin Yong and some other writers' kungfu stories can demonstrate that they cater to the taste of the public, according to Yao Xiaolei, a writer.

Famous Chinese writer Lu Xun once said that only the creation loved by a nation can be loved by the whole world.

The success of "Crouching Tiger Hidden Gragon" may sufficiently illustrate that Chinese kungfu novels are full of vitality.

-- source: Xinhua News Agency

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