Friday 16 November 2018

Obituary for Louis Cha, by John Minford

Louis Cha, or Zha Liangyong, (查良鏞), pen-name Jin Yong (金庸), OBE, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, novelist, journalist, entrepreneur and public figure, was born 10th March 1924, Haining County, Zhejiang Province, China, and died 30th October 2018, Hong Kong.

Between 1997 and 2002, John Minford, now Emeritus Professor of Chinese at the Australian National University, brought out a three-volume translation of Cha's The Deer and the Cauldron, with Oxford University Press Hong Kong (OUP HK). Now OUP UK has published it in the UK.  John here provides an obituary for Louis Cha.

Louis Cha is best known as the creator of a series of enormously popular Martial Arts novels, which were originally written for serialization in the Hong Kong daily press. He was born into a prominent scholarly family, boasting several distinguished men of letters in its history. His father, Zha Shuqing, was arrested and executed by the Communists as a counter-revolutionary member of the landlord class during a political campaign in 1951, but was later posthumously declared innocent in the 1980s.

Louis Cha grew up first in China, studying foreign languages at Chungking (Congqing) Central University and international law at Dongwu (Soochow) University, before moving to Hong Kong in 1948, to work as a copy-editor for the leftist newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

He produced his first Martial Arts novel 書劍恩仇錄 in 1955. He quickly established a devoted following, his readers admiring him for his fluent traditional baihua 白話 prose style, and his ability to work up historical themes, into grand-style picaresque romances, enlivened with colourful elements of the supernatural and spun out with ingenious and complicated plot structures. After working in the film industry for a while, in 1959 he went on to found his own newspaper Ming Pao 明報, serving as its chief editor for many years, and writing many much admired editorials, in addition to serializing his many novels in its pages.

His last novel The Deer and the Cauldron 鹿鼎記 appeared in 1972, and was seen as his farewell to the genre. In many ways it spoofs his previous work. Other titles include The Sword Stained with Royal Blood 碧血劍,The Condor Heroes 射雕英雄傳, Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain 雪山飛虎 , Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre 依天屠龍記, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils 天龍八部, and The Smiling, Proud Wanderer 笑傲江湖.

After the 1970s he was mainly engaged in editing and republishing his collected works. His novels have also been adapted numerous times as drama, opera, TV series and movies, in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Mainland.

In addition to his renown as a novelist, Louis Cha has also been a prominent public figure, taking a leading role in the drafting of Hong Kong’s post-1997 mini-constitution, the ‘Basic Law’. In 1989 he resigned from the drafting committee in protest at the Tiananmen Square massacre, appearing on television and openly weeping at the brutality. In 1993 he sold his shares in Ming Pao and announced his retirement from public life. But he later recently resumed his public appearances, and was made a member of the committee that elected Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive, C. H. Tung. In his later years, he was perceived by most Hong Kong citizens as a moderate spokesman for the Peking government line.

He is the recipient of many academic honours, including honorary professorships and degrees from Peking University, Zhejiang University, Hong Kong University, and Cambridge University. In 2010 he completed a doctoral dissertation on Chinese history at Cambridge University.

Some of his novels have already appeared in English translation, including The Book and the Sword (tr. Graham Earnshaw) and The Deer and the Cauldron (tr. John Minford), both published by Oxford University Press. Numerous books about him have been published in Chinese, and in 2005 the University of Hawai’i Press brought out a major study in English by John Christopher Hamm, Paper Swordsmen: Jin Yong and the Modern Chinese Martial Arts Novel.

Louis Cha died in Hong Kong on the 30th October 2018 after a long illness.