There are many eulogies for Louis Cha, but this one is mine

It was 4:30am in Sylvania, Ohio, in the summer of 1998. A quiet night in a quiet town in middle America. Flashlight in hand, I listened intently from under the covers for any sign that my mom knew I was still awake. I couldn’t let anything keep me from finishing my newly acquired copy of The Legend of the Condor Heroes.

The Legend of the Condor Heroes

That was just one night of many in which I would stay awake til the wee hours of the morning, voraciously devouring all of the works of Louis Cha. For the uninitiated, Cha is generally considered the J.R.R Tolkien of China. He is better known by his nom de plume “Jin Yong” (金庸). That pen name is the most famous name in Wuxia novels, a Chinese fantasy genre of chivalrous tales of martial arts heroes and their exploits in a fictionalized dynastic China.

As soon as I read the first few pages of Condor Heroes, I was hooked. It was the story of an orphaned young boy who, through hard work and determination, became the greatest martial artist in all of China and saved an entire country from the invading Mongol horde. And when I finished that novel, I knew I couldn’t just stop there. I read, again and again, the entire Condor Trilogy. I grieved for Qiao Feng in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. I cheered for Linghu Chong in The Smiling Proud Wanderer . And I laughed at Wei Xiaobao and his seven wives in The Deer and the Cauldron. Jin Yong’s works was a time machine that transported me from the 6th Century BCE to the mid-18th Century Qing Dynasty. He masterfully combined entirely fictional heroes with real historical events, famous emperors, and dynastic upheaval that tore apart the whole of China. Jin Yong wasn’t just my Tolkien, he was also my Dr. Who.

A couplet formed by arranging the first characters of each of Jin Yong’s fourteen major works

Jin Yong was much more than just the author of some books I liked. In a time before Google and WeChat, Jin Yong was my connection to my native culture. He was a tenuous life-line of the mind that took me back to a childhood lost and a grandmother that I had loved dearly. Most importantly, the protagonists in his novels showed me how to face my own adolescent struggles with courage, confidence, and maybe just a little bit of tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.

Louis Cha passed away on 2018–10–30 at the age of 94 in Happy Valley, Hong Kong. His contributions to Chinese literature earned him many accolades. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire and Legion of Honor. He has received honorary PhD’s from 7 universities and honorary professorships at 9.
But he would probably consider his crowning achievement to be the fact that he captured the imagination of Chinese readers all across the world. As for me, I believe his works will become timeless classics for generations to come. Whenever a young boy or girl find themselves feeling lost, Jin Yong’s tales of courage, skill, and adventure will be there to regale them and give them strength.

The spirit of wuxia

Twitter: @changhiskhan

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