Paper Swordsmen: Jin Yong and the Modern Chinese Martial Arts Novel by John Christopher Hamm

I have been wanting to read this book for ages! This book is most excellent! There are so few scholarly sources in English about novels published by Chinese writers featuring wuxia heroes.  Hamm focuses on one of the most prolific authors, Jin Yong (also known as Louis Cha).  I’m drawn to it because Jin Yong’s novels are the basis for many Chinese wuxia television series, including Eagle Shooting Heroes, Return of the Condor Heroes, Book and Sword: Gratitude and Revenge, Laughing in the Wing (Smiling Proud Wanderer; also the basis for Tsui Hark’s Swordsman film series), Deer and the Cauldron, and Sword Stained with Royal Blood.

For my purposes, he does a lot of exposition of the plots of these novels, as many of them have not been translated into English.  This really helps me out because it gives me an idea of where many of the wuxia series engage in creative retelling.  Anyone who has committed to watching one knows that it might closely follow the novel, or it might make some…..changes.  I’m less concerned about authenticity and more interested in how those changes alter the meaning of the series.

Hamm also does crucial work on locating these novels within a Chinese historical context. I’ve always thought it mattered that you had a heroic story about the Song despite their occupation by the Jin in Eagle Shooting Heroes.  Hamm makes this make sense!

I have to say my favorite quote is actually a quote he takes from Wang Shuo’s essay on Jin Yong:  “The only reason Wang Shuo can imagine for this stuff’s popularity is the possibility that it serves as a kind of ‘head massage’ for the overstimulated victims of modern life. Jin Yong’s fiction belongs, in sum, together with the ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ of Canto-pop music, Jacky Chan’s action films, and Qiong Yao-inspired television soap operas, as the ‘four great vulgarities’ (si da su) of our time.” (251).  I love this, because he hits three of my greatest interests in Asian popular culture! Of course I don’t agree; I find the debate about whether or not these novels are literature not very interesting or productive.

Love this book!

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