I’ve always been a big fan of wuxia, even before I realised that it was an actual genre of Chinese literature. When I was younger I just thought it was the general term for kungfu movies. My dad had raised us on a steady diet of martial arts films. We would rent them (in Betamax form, natch) from the rental store across the street.
So I was familiar with the Swordsman and the many variants of the Condor Heroes but it was only seven or so years ago that I realised these were actually drawn from serialised novels. My dad was a fan and so I got started on Louis Cha (Jin Yong) who was his favourite.
I’m slightly ashamed to say that I can’t read fast when the book is in Mandarin. It takes me a few days more than an English book would regularly take. This is why my copy (four books, actually) of The Smiling Proud Wanderer is gathering dust under my desk. I still haven’t finished reading the Chinese version.
What I did finish two days ago was the English version, painstakingly translated for free by a few kind enthusiasts. You won’t get a PDF copy as it’s not in ebook form. The translated chapters are in the Lannyland website and in an SPCnet forum.
On to the story itself. Smiling Proud Wanderer isn’t your regular wuxia in the sense that it’s pretty much an allegorical look at politics and all the oily and slimy creatures who call themselves politicians. Here we have martial artists all seeking to gain the highest position in jiang hu, also known as the world of martial arts.
In the middle of the power struggle is Linghu Chong, ironically the most powerful and talented swordsman because he simple does not give a fuck about power. He’d rather be a wanderer, playing music and drinking and living in peace with his wonderful wife.
The novel is rife with betrayal, anger, revenge, lecherous monks, and SO MUCH ACTION. It’s bloody wonderful. Without giving too much away, this is a rich, complicated story that reflects reality in a particularly painful way. Out and out schemers, hypocrites, monsters – we have these in our government in abundance.
As far as I’m concerned, though, the novel is an affirmation. A lot of well-meaning (if overbearing) people have made fun of my life choices. Becoming an academic is rarely seen as a practical choice. Sometimes it’s couched nicely as “well you’re so smart you could succeed in a more profitable field”. Other times it’s a straight “Asian Studies? Is that useful?”
[Someone actually said that to me in Filipino. Trust me, it hurts much worse in the vernacular.]
But I realise that there’s nothing wrong with not lusting after power or riches. It’s not that I don’t care about money. I like money. But to live my entire life running after it? I don’t want that. It’s more important to know what I want, live the way I want to, and understand that there’s nothing wrong with having simple aspirations, like crawling into bed and spending time with a good book.
Linghu Chong is my spirit animal.