Louis Cha, co-founder of Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao and author of wildly popular martial arts novels (aka wuxia novels) like “The Book and the Sword” and “Legends of the Condor Heroes,” died in Hong Kong last week. Better known as Jin Yong, Cha finally succumbed to a years-long illness at the age of 94.
It was only recently that English translations of his works have been commissioned, with the release earlier this year of “A Hero Born.” The first book in Cha’s “Legends of the Condor Heroes” series was published in February 2018 for the first time. British publishing house MacLehose bought the rights to the books several years ago, and took its time to craft a professional translation that stayed true to the work.
Cha’s novel-writing career spanned some 20 years, between the 1950s and 1970s, and resulted in a total of 15 sweeping fictional works that delved into Chinese history, culture — and of course, martial arts. More than 100 million copies of his books have been sold to date. Cha’s works have been so profoundly influential that they are frequently cited as a source of inspiration, and have also resulted in more than 90 film and TV adaptations, and dozens of video games.
Over the years, Cha’s novels have been translated into many languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malay, Burmese, and Vietnamese. English translations, however, have remained elusive. There are some, of course, but they have somehow never experienced the popularity of the originals. In fact, years ago, the Nobel Prize committee declined to consider Cha for the Nobel Prize in literature, despite his obvious and wide-reaching impact in the Chinese world.
Graham Ernshaw translated “The Book and the Sword” into English in the 1970s, though it was never published. He suggests that the reason Cha’s novels haven’t been popular in English is that they are so firmly entrenched in Chinese culture — the history, the language, and traditions — which means they perhaps don’t resonate as well with foreign audiences who have little understanding of Chinese heritage.
But perhaps with new English translations reaching a wider audience, Cha will finally gain the worldwide readership that eluded him in death.
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