The martial arts fiction author known by every Chinese person across the world, Jin Yong, is in the Heritage Museum in Tai Wai right now, a museum that is about half an hour down the road from my flat.
If you don’t know this guy, it’s not surprising. Only a few of his novels have been translated into English, though I saw at the exhibition some Spanish + French extracts of his work, so maybe French and Spanish people know about him.
It’s weird, one of the translated novels I read [The Book and the Sword] lost about 750 pages in the move from Chinese to English, and the only reason I can get from anyone for this loss is that Jin Yong’s work is very dense in terms of history and kung fu methodology.
i.e. just like Chinese food in the UK, they tried to adapt it for the market they were translating into, instead of keeping the parts that made it unique in the first place and trusting that people would still be able to follow despite not knowing any of the names. Or trusting them to look those names up. Strange plan overall, as I would’ve thought most people bothering to chase down translations would be doing it to read something different, not something that’s been altered to try and cater for their own culture.
People in HK seem okay with this as they believe Western people would be lost when reading Jin Yong. I asked them if they’d ever seen a Robin Hood film. Or a film about Ancient Egypt. Or Throne of Blood. Did they feel lost watching them?
Maybe it’s also down to Chinese martial arts novels having over 100 characters in each book? That does get a bit confusing at times, but not fatally so, and most of them are not really characters, just people with a gimmick: like axe throwing guy or three spinning wheel clan. It’s not really vital to remember who they are, just whether or not they want to hurt the good guys.
Anyway, one day someone will do a decent translation of Jin Yong’s eagle books and on that day China might actually start to get somewhere with its soft power strategy. I still prefer Japanese fiction at the moment as they tend to look towards the future more, as well as meshing with the past, but maybe this is changing with sci-fi doing quite well in China. I hope so.
For info on the exhibition, try here
Note: It’s mostly pics inspired by connected to his novels, some of them quite beautiful, some of them manga style, and there’s also a run through of his life and work, including little screens showing clips from the TV shows adapted from his novels. Some of them are very famous, with early roles for Louis Koo, Tong Leung and Andy Lau.