Got these two novels today! Adding to my already large pile of books to read and review @_@…
【無題】 金蘭枯瓣落，累雪被清空。 舊愛凝成恨，冰心豈可融。
Mighty Dragon Crosses the River (hereafter Mighty Dragon) was published in 1984. It’s a pretty typical novel for Yun Zhongyue, as it is set in the Ming dynasty and features historical figures and/or organizations. Yun Zhongyue is known for his acute attention to historical detail. Thus, his novels are more “realistic” than most. He even pays attention to the travel permits required during the Ming dynasty to move from one place to another. The lack of such a permit often becomes a source of conflit his characters have to overcome. Because Yun Zhongyue’s characters are not supernaturally powerful; they can’t take out swathes of men by themselves. A mass of government troops is still formidable than even the strongest single martial arts expert.
And Yun Zhongyue’s protagonists are often not part of the martial fraternity or the jianghu at all at the beginning, but get drawn into that world for one reason or another. Mighty Dragon is a bit different in this regard because the main characters are already martial arts experts of the martial fraternity. But many of his novels feature regular people struggling to get by and survive the world they’ve been thrust into. And needing a job is something his characters have to deal with. His novels are not like most where characters wonder around without any money or belongings, yet somehow never find it difficult to pay for things or otherwise survive. Mighty Dragon is also the only one of Yun Zhongyue’s eighty novels (yes, you read that right, and he wrote every one himself without the help of a ghostwriter–by hand) to feature a group of main characters: The Retribution Gods of the Four Seas. His other novels feature a single protagonist.
The excerpt below is a small portion of the first chapter, starting from the beginning. I will post more about Yun Zhongyue in future releases. He’s one of my favorite wuxia authors, and unfortunately he is grossly underrated. But if you want good, detailed historical wuxia, no one does it better.
Kung Fu《功夫》by Giddens Ko 九把刀. 2004 Gaea Books edition. My particular volume is the 24th printing, 2008. A junior high school student who loves wuxia novels is taught martial arts by a mysterious old man. There is a fan translation of this, by Deathblade, on spcnet.tv. I also scanned the illustrations in the book.
The Bandit was written by Dugu Hong and published by Spring and Autumn Publishing in 1970 in Taiwan. Dugu Hong’s novels are often set in the Qing dynasty, and he also uses a lot of Beijing dialect in his prose. I called the novel The Bandit, but the Chinese characters 響馬 actually mean whistling/screaming horse. It refers to mounted bandits who would shoot whistling arrows to announce their arrival before they robbed you. The protagonist of this novel, Fei Mushu, was one of these mounted bandits.
In this novel, Fei Mushu is broken out of jail on condition he complete an assignment. If he does then his rescuers will help clear him of all charges. Along with the mystery of his mission, which entangles him in Qing court intrigue, we also get to see the morals and behavior of a bandit working for a good cause. Below is a short excerpt I had translated previously. It’s the full prologue and a bit of Chapter 1. The synopsis below does contain spoilers.
I’m not sure when Gan Shijiumei was originally published, but the reprint I have pictured is from 1981. The novel has been adapted into TV dramas, twice: once in 1996 and again in 2015 (under the name Sister Gan Nineteen, a literal translation of the character’s name). The author, Xiao Yi, had two “primes” you could say. He originally rose to fame in 1960 with his first novel, Iron Goose, Frost Feathers, and then in the 1970s he changed his style and became popular all over again. His new style, Gan Shijiumei being the most famous, focused more on romance, making them good candidates for TV serial adaptations.
The novel follows Yin Jianping, whose sect has been wiped out, on his path of revenge against the Phoenix Sect, to which Gan Shijiumei belongs. Gan Shijiumei had been ordered to wipe out Yin Jianping’s sect to redress a wrong done to her teacher, Shui Hongshao, some forty years previous. Problem is, Yin Jianping is operating under an assumed name, Yin Xin, so Gan Shijiumei doesn’t know who he is when she falls for him…
The excerpt below is part of the first chapter of the novel. Before that though, for those interested in knowing the whole story, here is a translation of a full synopsis of the novel. SPOILER ALERT: This synopsis reveals the major plot points for the entire novel, so don’t read if you don’t want to be spoiled. But let’s face it, this novel will likely never be translated (hope I’m wrong about that), so some of you might want to know the full story. Here it is.
Wolong Sheng was, during the golden age of wuxia (1960s), the premier author in Taiwan. He was a pioneer in the genre of wuxia, being the first to formulate the “Nine Schools of the Martial Fraternity”, establishing the basic organization of the martial world that would become one of the most used tropes in wuxia. At his best, Wolong Sheng was unsurpassed, but his quality is very uneven, and his works suffer the same failings as other wuxia novels serialized in newspapers at the time: too much filler, fight scenes that go on and on but end up nowhere, and his stories tend to start out great but end poorly (tiger head, snake tail as the saying goes). But he was good at coming up with exciting plots, and the women in his novels, though usually not the protagonist, tended to be more capable than the rather passive male MC.
He also deconstructed the genre even as he was helping to define it, by having the sects normally associated as good guys show a more sinister side, while his “bad guys” often acted in the right more than one would expect. In this way, Wolong Sheng showed his characters to be more realistic, exposing hypocrisy of the self-righteous, as well as so called “honor among thieves”. Unfortunately he was always in it for the money only, and he lent his name out to other writers to capitalize on his popularity. As a result, there are hundreds of novels bearing his name, but he only wrote about thirty or so himself. Armed Escort Banner is supposedly one he wrote himself, though there has been one scholar at least who has raised doubts. Later in this series I will come back to Wolong Sheng and talk more about what is one of my favorite wuxia novels.
The excerpt below is from chapter two of Armed Escort Banner. It’s about half of the chapter, which I translated and published on a wuxia forum I used to run back in 2012.
Well. They can’t all be lookers. Not the most exciting cover, is it? Its content is much different, though. Broken Blade《斷刃》was written by Liu Canyang 柳殘陽 and published in 1968 by Spring and Autumn Publishing in Taiwan. Liu Canyang developed a unique writing style that was ultra-violent compared to other authors of his day. He preferred characters that were morally complicated, not the righteous heroes common to wuxia. Grimdark before grimdark, you might say. Broken Blade is about Li Jueling, a hitman contracted to retrieve some jade treasure. But along the way he gets involved with a girl, Huang Junzhi, who gradually changes him away from his violent lifestyle. But there is a ruthless organization out to get him…
The excerpt is part of the first chapter of the novel. The action starts right away. One problem with this novel overall is also noticeable in the excerpt: sometimes the dialogue can go on too long. This is a common problem in old wuxia novels, likely the result of padding for word count to meet serialization quotas. But at least the dialogue here is lively. It’s written in a more modern style as well, there are no ancient vibes here. Like most wuxia novels, it doesn’t specify a specific time period. For those who can read Chinese, this novel is available in only one location I am aware of: the oldrain forums. Elsewhere you will find Broken Blade listed as one of Liu Canyang’s novels, but the novel posted under that name is not Broken Blade. I have yet to find out what novel it actually is. You’ll know you found the right one if the main character is Li Jueling. You can compare to my translation below. This novel is pretty good for what it is, but after reading the first half of it you can pretty much guess how it will end.
【無題】 玫花鳥吵林，葉落遠微音。 豈可樊籠制，飛騰未有擒。