Sword of the Yue Maiden
Introductory text by Zihan Wang
This painting, and also the other two illustrations, is dedicated as the bookplate and drawn by myself years ago, using traditional techniques (ink on rice paper) imitating the famous set of paintings of thirty-three swordsmen by Ren in Qing Dynasty.
Martial art novel is a dream deeply rooted in the memories of every Chinese kid. It stood for the evanescence of every dream: getting out of piles of homework and being someone that one can not be, falling in love with a untouchable lover, befriend with the most chivalrous people, and live as a swordsman, Childhood memories kept flashing back when I am writing these words, of the time when I used to read about them in bed after bed time, vigilant of the sound of my parents footsteps, holding a flashlight, soundlessly flipping through the pages of their adventure and finally get caught next morning falling asleep on the book and ended with shortsightedness and the greatest memories.
Martial art novels, or Wu Xia novels, is a broad genre of Chinese fiction literature of the adventurous journey of martial artists. “Wu” means martial art, power; while “Xia” means chivalrous, honorable. This broad definition included literature that dates back to over 500 years BC., where people documented the most jaw-dropping plots from storytellers and spread them across the countries. The genre usually features martial artists with spectacular techniques, most whimsical/chivalrous/admirable/degrading personalities. There was a traveler that helped the armless civilians defeat local tyrants; there was a eunuch that used all his life’s practice and reached a level that others could not imagine and finally to reclaim his family pride; there was a monk defeated all the elites so that he could only see his loved woman one last time before the sweet release of death; and there was an “hero” that deceived and then ruled the world with his lies but finally found it was his own deeds buried himself to the grave. Through the stories, centuries after centuries, monarchs after monarchs, generations after generations, there is a cultural value that was passed on. It is a deeply meaningful but extremely hard to be characterized tradition. One that shaped our personalities in sub-conscience.
After the WWII, discussions occurred among the Chinese literature about where should we go. Wuxia, as one of the most long-lived genre, were also undergoing serious changes.
The modern wuxia genre rose to prominence in the early 20th century after the May Fourth Movement of 1919. A new literature evolved, calling for a break with Confucian values, and the xia emerged as a symbol of personal freedom, defiance to Confucian tradition, and rejection of the Chinese family system. Wuxia fiction was banned at various times during the Republican era and these restrictions stifled the growth of the genre.
In spite of this, wuxia writing prevailed in other Chinese-speaking regions, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Writers such as Liang Yusheng and Louis Cha (Jin Yong) spearheaded the founding of a “new school” of the wuxia genre that differed largely from its predecessors. They wrote serials for newspapers and magazines. They also incorporated several fictional themes such as mystery and romance from other cultures. In Taiwan, Wolong Sheng, Sima Ling, Zhuge Qingyun (诸葛青云), Xiao Yi (萧逸) and Gu Long became the region’s most famous wuxia writers. After them, other writers such as Wen Rui’an and Huang Yi rose to prominence in a later period. Chen Yu-hui is a contemporary female wuxia novelist who made her debut with the novel The Tian-Guan Duo Heroes (天觀雙俠).
There have also been works created after the 1980s which attempt to create a post-wuxia genre. Yu Hua, one of the more notable writers from this period, published a counter-genre short story titled Blood and Plum Blossoms, in which the protagonist goes on a quest to avenge his murdered father.
Louis Jin, or more often known as Jin Yong to his readers, is probably the most famous Wuxia writer after WWII. He started writing in the 50s, published in serials on a newspaper he co-founded and later managed by his old high school friend in Hong Kong. His fourteen novels all shared a unprecedented fame among all Chinese-speaking cultures for its achievements.
During his career as a novelist, Jin Yong managed to compose 14 masterpieces each had fascinating story. He was always truing to focus on one humanism topic and bury it deep in the characters. Though different greatly in terms of their length and style, the 14 novels shed light on the development of martial art novels and became his own genre.
In martial art novels, the description of the finest movements or gestures were paramount. Jin Yong mastered the language of modern Chinese and more importantly also the historical dialects, which were more rhythmic, simple but straightforward. The language itself is a display of Minimalism writings. The telling of ones of finest facial expressions were all alive in his writing. His words does not use fancy words or deliberately draw the reader’s attention on the words themselves, but tried to bury the magic of storytelling in the words. Upon first reading of his works, knew hardly realizes how he revealed the plot but more often drawn to the story itself. However, he often uses traditional poetry and rhythmic prose as sparkles during the climax.
The sword of the Yue maiden is the shortest piece of novel written in his career and also the last one. It was based on one of the most famous branch of Chinese culture. Overall, it was a 10000 words story, originally inspired by a series of paintings of 33 famous swordsmen in the history. Jin Yong intended to write a short piece of novel for each of them but only did for the first one.
Sword of the Yue Maiden
This story dates back to 2500 years ago. In the southern lands of China, there was two monarchs: the Wu and the Yue. The two countries shared the times of war and peace between themselves through generations. Lead by Goujian during the times of our story, the Yue tasted the most devastating defeat at the Mount of Kuaiji, where Goujian bowed to Fuchai, the monarch of Wu, after the rest of his 18 out of over 10000 men died defending their country. Goujian then decided lived on the Mount Kuaiji, where he tasted the bitterness of losin everything but ambition, for ten years sleeping on a straw bed and eating rough rice like a peasant, with nothing like an emperor, swore to claim his revenge. One of the main character, Fanli, was the prime advisor of Goujian, suggested nine strategies to weaken the opponent including giving him a most beautiful woman that Fanli found, called Xishi as the fourth strategy. All of them worked out. Fuchai became a tyrant that weaken hi country. The lands were barren, civilians were dying of hunger, but the army, lost its spirit, still had the best swordsmen in the world. All but the last one, they needed to train their swordsman to become the best ones across the land. But the smartest Fanli never know, Xishi and himself fell in love with each other when he was delivering Xishi to Fuchai’s palace, even Fanli picked herself for Fuchai in the first place.
The Wu, famous for his sword making technique and swordsmen, were undefeated at the time. The best eight of them can face enemies eight times outnumbered them and win even without a sweat.
One time, they won a diplomatic match against dozens of Yue’s best swordsmen. After drinking up the cellar, they were singing on the street, humiliating the entire country of Yue had no brave warrior. Fanli was depressed by the failure of his country and dying of losing his love, but more helpless than ever. Just then, a shepherd girl, looking aged around 16, with her sheep came passing them by. A drunk Wu swordsman cut one of her sheep in half as a drunken joke. The upset shepherd girl then acted so fast with her bamboo pole, beaten his sword on the ground and blinded his left eye. The other seven jumped out tempting to rip the girl into pieces, were all blinded one eye within seconds by the girl’s bamboo pole.
Fanli literally felt that the savior of the country and the love of his life was shown, asked the naïve shepherd girl where she learned such powerful techniques. The girl felt warm being treated most respectfully by Fanli, told him that an “old Bai” always play and fight with her with a bamboo pole and she was not aware that this was martial art. Bai come and goes by himself and there is no way to meet him except that Fanli waits with her on the prairie where she feeds her sheep. He agreed and came to the prairie. While waiting, they talked and talked. Fanli told her about his love to Xishi and how beautiful the woman was. The girl, named A-Qing, waited with him with the biggest smile of her life. Days and nights he waited with her, only finally to find out that “old Bai” is not an old man, but a huge, intelligential white gorilla with the magnificent swords technique. A-Qing defended Fanli and broke the gorilla’s arms, and she lost her great teacher and playmate forever.
With the girl as the only possible teacher, the monarch Goujian asked her to teach his army the finest swords technique and gave her the honorary title of “the Yue Maiden”.
Three years later, Goujian avenged his country with the best swordsmen the world has ever seen. He defeated Fuchai and attacked all the way to his palace, the Guanwa Palace, truly the single magnificent architecture in the era. Fanli, leading the two thousand best men of the army, rushed in to see Xishi in that palace. Then there is the excerpt that I chose and translated in English.
Author: Jin Yong. Year: 1970. On newspaper serial. Hong Kong.
Translation: Zihan Wang
As he ran past a long corridor, his footsteps echoed clearly, the corridor was hollow underneath. Xī Shī walked lightly, the rhythm of her steps was more enchanting than any music. Fū Chā built this palace, and this corridor in particular, in order to listen to the melody of her footsteps.
At the other end of the corridor, music came, like the sound of a happy mandolin and the clear sound of a zither. The soft voice said, “Shǎo Bó(Fanli), is that really you?”
Fàn Lí felt blood rushing upward from his chest and shouted, “It’s I! It’s I! I’ve come for you!” His own voice seemed like the voice of a stranger, speaking from far away. He ran forward with uneven steps.
The music came down the corridor; a soft body entered his embrace.
The spring night was meltingly warm. Flower fragrance floated through the curtains, entering the chambers of the resort palace. Fàn Lí and Xī Shī talked about their longing for each other.
They suddenly became aware of the sound of a goat.
Fàn Lí smiled. “You couldn’t forget you homeland? You have goats here?”
Xī Shī shook her head no. She wondered about the noise, but she couldn’t concentrate on anything else in the presence of the man she loved. She held Fàn Lí’s hand, and their hearts immediately beat faster.
Suddenly, the voice of a woman echoed the halls. “Fàn Lí! Bring out Xī Shī! I’ll kill her!”
Fàn Lí stood up. Xī Shī felt his palm suddenly turn cold. Fàn Lí recognized A’Qīng’s voice. Her voice came from outside of the resort palace.
Fàn Lí was scared and confused. “Why does she want to kill Yí Guāng (Xishi)? Yí Guāng (Xishi) had never wronged her.” Then he understood. “She’s not such a simple village girl after all. She liked me from the beginning.” The understanding only made him more fearful.
He had gone through many, many difficult decisions as well as dangerous situations. The fear he felt when he was trapped with Gōu Jiàn in a Wú siege was far less than what he felt now. Xī Shī felt his palm trembling and covered with cold sweat.
Fàn Lí was not afraid of his own death, he feared for Xī Shī.
Fàn Lí pulled himself under control and said, “I need to go see her.” He released Xī Shī’s hand and walked out of the palace.
Eighteen swordsmen followed him. They all heard A’Qīng’s cry. They were baffled and curious. Fàn Lí only saw the clear moonlight outside, but no one was visible. He cried out loudly, “Lady A’Qīng, please come here. We have things to talk about.” But he heard no reply. He waited, but A’Qīng did not come. He ordered one thousand armored soldiers and one thousand elite swordsmen to be moved to the resort palace.
He returned to Xī Shī and held her hands again. He didn’t say anything. He was scheming like he never schemed before. “Should I let one of the servant maids pretend to be Xī Shī and let A’Qīng kill her? Should I commit suicide before A’Qīng so she’ll spare Xī Shī? Should I order two thousand archers surrounding this place and shoot A’Qīng full of arrows if she tries to force her way in?” Every plan he had was flawed. He didn’t want to kill A’Qīng, who had made the destruction of Wú possible. He stared at Xī Shī. He felt warmth in his heart. “It’s good that we’ll die this way. At least we were able to spend some time together before we died. And we’ll get to die together.”
Hours passed. Xī Shī felt that Fàn’s hand became warmer. He gradually lost his fear and began to smile.
The rising sun cast its rays through the window.
Suddenly the sound of a fight came from outside the palace door. Then the incessant sound of weapons dropping to the ground. The sound drew closer and closer, like a giant serpent worming its way into the palace. Soon the sound of dropping weapons came from the walkways just outside the room they were in. Two thousand warriors were not enough to stop A’Qīng.
A’Qīng’s voice clearly asked, “Fàn Lí, where are you?”
Fàn Lí calmly answered, “A’Qīng, I’m here.”
Before he even finished the word “here”, the curtain parted and a green shadow came flying in. A’Qīng, dressed in her usual green, stood before them. She pointed her bamboo stick at Xī Shī. As she stared intently at the face of Xī Shī, the killing rage on her face gradually disappeared. It was replaced with disappointment and self-pity, then with surprise and admiration, and finally, with worship. She whispered, “There… there really is such beauty under heaven! Fàn Lí, she is even more… more beautiful than you described.” Her slender waist turned. With a cry, she flew up through the window. The cry became more and more distant until only its reverberation was left.
The surviving guards ran inside the room. One of them bowed. “Minister, are you all right?” Fàn Lí merely dismissed them with a wave of his hand. Then he held Xī Shī’s hand and said, “Let’s change into commoner’s clothes. We’ll row a boat upon Lake Tai and will never return to this place.”
Happiness shone from Xī Shī’s eyes. Suddenly she frowned and she reached toward her heart. A’Qīng’s bamboo stick didn’t touch her, but the sharp wind from the stick had reached into her body and did her harm.
Over the next two thousand years, everyone knew that the most beautiful sight in the history of the world was that of Xī Shī holding her hands in front of her bosom.