The Gripping Stories, and Political Allegories, of China's Best-Selling Author

作者:傅楠(Nick Frisch),耶鲁研究生院东亚研究博士生,同时也在耶鲁法学院担任研究员(resident fellow)




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.

      然而,金庸的书却一直难以译成英文。中国文学自古以来便重诗歌而轻小说,其情感力量多借重含蓄的用典,并且要从由许许多多人所共知的文化文本组成的深井之中汲取活水,金庸的作品亦不例外。今年2月,金庸最负盛名的射雕三部曲的第一部《射雕英雄传》(Legends of the Condor Heroes),由英国的Quercus出版社推出了郝玉青( Anna Holmwood )的英译本(美国版目前正在协商)。这是第一次有商业出版机构尝试翻译这一三部曲,这个三部曲时间设定起于1205年,正是蒙古征服中国的前夕,迄于一百五十年多后,篇幅将近两百八十六万汉字,相当于一百五十万个英文单词(是托尔金《魔戒》系列三倍有余)。郝玉青的译本为英语读者接触当世最受欢迎的这位作家提供了迄今为止最好的契机。而这位作家的深远影响和幽微意图仍未被世人充分领会。


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.

      值得为郝玉青记一功的是,在她的译文中,《射雕》这部小说里错综复杂的历史名词,绚丽耀眼的武功招式,枝蔓横生的叙事分岔并没有盖过金庸说故事的神采。该书最初是旷日持久的报纸连载,开篇形式散漫,但几十页后,劈头盖脸的人名和年代日期不再那么烦人,读者就能够开始与一个个人物同悲同喜,对他们的抉择和磨难感同身受。欣赏金庸那种略带古风却又灵动徐舒的文体的人,恐怕很难想象能有令人满意的英文翻译可以兼顾他小说的丰富性和叙事的速度。各种专有名称用中文来念总是铿锵流转,但在英语中就显得滞涩呆板,有时就必须牺牲一定忠实度,予以缩减,给行文留有余裕(如果没有这样的调整,像"落英神剑掌"这样的武功招式,中文里就是五个字,英文就变成冗长的"Wilting Blossom Sacred Sword Fist")。而郝玉青在意译和音译之间巧妙的来回穿插将金庸标志性的叙事节奏最大程度保留了下来。而且她的译本留有足够的暗示广度,以激起爱好者的兴趣,自行探索(就像有些忠实拥趸会通过学习精灵语来深入托尔金的世界),同时并没有牺牲原著让人欲罢不能的魅力。


For Cha, using the past as a mirror for the present was more than an academic exercise. He was born, in 1924, in a prosperous town along the Yangtze River delta, the second of seven siblings, to a family that had a history of service to the throne. In 1727, after one ancestor offended the Emperor with a poorly chosen poetic couplet, his severed head was displayed on a pike. Two centuries later, when Japan invaded China during the Second World War, Cha's family was displaced, and his mother, ill with exhaustion, died while fleeing Japanese bombs. After the Communist Revolution, in 1949, Cha's father was deemed a class enemy and executed, and the family estate was seized. By then, Cha was living in the safety of Hong Kong, a British crown colony. He hoped to be a diplomat, but, with no options in the new Communist government, he worked as a screenwriter, film critic, and journalist. He began writing wuxia serials in 1955, to immediate acclaim.


The success of "Condors," his third novel, allowed him to found his own newspaper, Ming Pao Daily News, in 1959. In the paper's early years, Cha wrote many of its front-page stories and editorials himself, decrying Maoist excesses during the Great Leap Forward famine and the Cultural Revolution. At first, Ming Pao hovered near bankruptcy, but it was kept afloat by its must-read fiction supplement, which serialized other people's novels as well as Cha's own, in genres ranging from dime-store noir to Lovecraftian horror. Cha staffed the newsroom of Ming Pao with classically trained historians and poets, mostly refugees from mainland China, and this gave his newspaper, along with his novels, a classical texture that Communist cultural reforms starched out of much post-revolutionary literature (including most contemporary Chinese books translated into English today). Cha's stridently anti-Maoist editorials earned him credible death threats from Hong Kong's Communist underground, and, in 1967, he briefly left Hong Kong for the safety of Singapore. When he returned, his reputation as a political journalist who risked his life for the cause of his fatherland had grown.



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. Then, as the 1997 termination of Britain's colonial lease of Hong Kong approached, Cha was appointed to a prestigious political committee charged with implementing Beijing's vague promises of political "autonomy," the price extracted by London in exchange for a peaceful handover. Hong Kong, a city full of refugees from the regime, watched nervously as Cha staked out conservative positions on democratic representation. Supporters of his anti-Communist editorializing felt betrayed, finding his new positions too accommodating to Beijing; others wondered if his desire to participate in the politics of his fatherland, and his newfound coziness with the Communist Party, had an ulterior, authorial motive: to be read. Deng, by lifting the Communist Party's censorship ban on "decadent" and "feudal" wuxia novels, uncorked a reading craze. The timing was good: after Mao's vandalisms, many Chinese sought to xungen, or return to their roots. Cha's novels offered narrative pleasures steeped in the splendors of China's past.


For decades, Cha brushed aside claims that his fiction allegorized modern politics. For many readers, this stretched credulity: as Ming Pao was documenting the horrors of the Mao period in its news and opinion pieces, Cha's daily wuxia installments featured an androgynous kung-fu master whose followers worship with cultish devotion. Another novel's antagonist was a sinister sect leader who, with his shrill and domineering wife, seeks to establish supremacy over the jianghu. The parallels to Chairman Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, and their Red Guard followers, were not hard to see. Yet, Cha has always been coy about whether his books were meant to yingshe, or "shoot from the shadows," to indirectly critique current politics through a narrative of the past.


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.) I asked him about the political meaning of his work, and he made a surprising acknowledgment. "Master Hong of the Mystic Dragon Sect?" he said, referencing the antagonist of his final novel, "The Deer and the Cauldron." "Yes, yes—that means the Communist Party." Cha acknowledged that several of his later novels were, indeed, allegories for events of the Cultural Revolution.


"Condors," written in the late fifties, captures the trauma of the Communist takeover, through the ancestral memory of the nomad invasions from the north. Its characters face the same challenges as Cha's generation: deciding whether to join the new northern regime or flee to the south as a patriotic refugee, and the anguish of losing the rivers and mountains of one's ancestral land. Though it's a work of kung-fu fiction, the book evokes the central Chinese metaphor of writing history: the mirror, an edifice of the past that we gaze at, seeking glimmers of the present.