Pun Yiu-Ming: The role of Jin Yong’s novel and Hong Kong literature in cross-cultural communication
Jin Yong’s novels are the pride of Hong Kong literature and the peak of Chinese wuxia (martial arts) novel. It occupies a unique position among overseas Chinese and even foreigners due to its immense and profound social influence. How do we evaluate the impact of Jin Yong’s novel in China and abroad, and its role in communication between China and overseas? What is Hong Kong’s special role and status in China and foreign literary exchanges? Why do people say Hong Kong needs a museum of literature?
Pun Yiu Ming, the president of the Federation of Hong Kong Writers, who was recognized and appointed as the general editor and general manager of Ming Pao Monthly by Jin Yong, recently accepted the exclusive interview from China News Service’s East Meets West Program, providing deeper analysis on those questions.
China News Service Reporter: As an old friend of Jin Yong, what do you think of the influence of Jin Yong’s novel from China and abroad. What role does Jin Yong’s novel play in cross-cultural exchanges?
Pun Yiu Ming: Jin Yong’s novels have a wide range of readers at different ages and social status including ordinary citizens, high-level officials and intellectuals. Yang Zhenning is also the fan of Jin Yong’s novels.
Many third generation overseas Chinese can’t read Chinese. They even don’t want to learn Chinese as they have strong barriers and even rejections to Chinese language. However, there are many people in this group want to read the original work and become interested in Chinese after reading Jin Yong’s novel in foreign language. The plot and content of his Wuxia novel are attractive. It serves as an important carrier for Chinese language learning and plays an essential role in promoting the Chinese language.
In 2018, a bookstore in Shenyang held the exhibition of Jin Yong’s work including The Legend of the Condor Heroes, The Return of the Condor Heroes and other classics to attract readers. Photo by Yu Haiyang.
I used to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair every year when I was managing the Property Rights Department at Joint Publishing. One day, I was surprised to find a study group in Jin Yong in Munich, and they even published a simple journal. It can be said that Jin Yong’s novels were so widespread that readers come from every corner of the places where overseas Chinese lived.
I believe that no literary work by Chinese writers or even foreign writers enjoys such great popularity as Jin Yong. I attended a symposium on Jin Yong a decade ago. A preliminary statistic showed that there were 200 million readers of Jin Yong’s work. In 1995, I visited Japan with Jin Yong. Some publishing houses translated all his work into Japanese with great sales at that time.
I have another story to prove it. Jin Yong has his own company after selling Ming Pao. He expected me to leave Ming Pao and plan the History and Culture Magazine, which he prepared for his historical novel and published. He wanted me to visit South Korea at first. One of the professors told me that more than 60% of university students in South Korea read Jin Yong’s Wuxia novel. However, it was promoted by ordinary citizens instead of government officials.
Audience visiting the Jin Yong Exhibition in Shanghai Library. The 1,000 -square –meter exhibition areas display Jin Yong’s manuscripts, personal belongings, comics, paintings, and many versions of novels, etc., with nearly 300 exhibits. Photo By Zhou Dongchao.
China News Service Reporter: What inspiration does Jin Yong’s work have for Hong Kong writers or Chinese writers? What can Hong Kong literature learn from the dissemination of Jin Yong’s novel?
Pun Yiu Ming: Jin Yong said that Wuxia novel was his work in his spare time. He had to consider the positioning of the reader’s market since he was the manager of the newspaper. However, his novel should not simply be considered popular literature. The Four Great Classics have all been classified as popular literature in the past. For example, parents were not allowed to read ‘A Dream of Red Mansions’, and they even called it a book of porn. Thus, an excellent literary work is not necessarily serious. Excellent popular literature will become classics after being tested overtime. Many Jin Yong’s popular literature can become the classic and pass on.
Nowadays, we are discussing about ‘telling Hong Kong stories. We used to talk more about foreign elements including shopping, cuisine and even Disney Park. When it comes to the story of Hong Kong, Jin Yong was a great example. I used to call for a theme park about Jin Yong. Many years ago, Jin Yong told me that an entrepreneur was interested in this project but recently gave up. Huang Zhan and Ni Kuang were also born in Hong Kong. Therefore, if we need to tell Hong Kong stories, it is important to recognize the local culture and literature. You must first appreciate Hong Kong culture before promoting it. I have strong feelings that borrowed culture never belonged to us. It is also an issue Hong Kong cultural policymakers should face.
In 2016, the wuxia Acrobatic Drama Swordsman based on Jin Yong’s work was first performed in Guangzhou Friendship Theatre. Photo by Chen Jimin.
Most of Jin Yong’s content style came from short novels in Ming and even Qing Dynasty. He used standard Chinese without any overly literal translation. You can’t see any borrowed language in every paragraph. Therefore, Jin Yong’s article plays a role in establishing the Chinese criterion.
Jin Yong’s Wuxia novels reflect its history. We can read the historical development in his novel. A postgraduate from CUHK even creates a map based on Jin Yong’s Wuxia novel since his novel showcases different places in China such as beautiful mountains, rivers, and landscapes. This subtle effect is a lot better than hard selling. It is impossible to use hard selling to tell Hong Kong stories. Instead, we have to use the best literary or artwork to demonstrate and influence others.
In Wuliang Mountain, Pu'er City, Yunnan, waterfall pours down from the top of the mountain and forms a lake. Due to the widespread popularity of Jin Yong's novel "The Eight Parts of the Dragon" and the fact that the real-life scenes are very similar to the novel, locals call this place "Sword Lake". According to local legend, the ravines on the waterfall rocks are "sword marks". Photo by Ren Dong.
China News Service Reporter: As Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area proposes joint development of cultural Bay Area, what can Hong Kong literature contribute against this backdrop? What do you think of Hong Kong’s special role and status in China and foreign literary exchanges?
Pun Yiu Ming: Hong Kong enjoys great opportunities after the concept of the Greater Bay Area proposed. The Greater Bay Area concentrates economic, business, and cultural resources from many cities in the region. Previously, there were frequent cultural exchanges among ordinary citizens in the Greater Bay Area. For example, we have been exchanging frequently with cities near Hong Kong including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, even Zhuhai and Zhongshan for over 35 years since the founding of the Hong Kong Writer Association
Hong Kong is a gateway to international culture. This gateway is wide open so that people from all over the world can communicate. At the beginning of the PRC, many literary works, including Lu Xun, Ba Jin and Qian Zhongshu, were not allowed to sell in Taiwan, but were brought to Taiwan through Hong Kong as a bridge. Many literary works from Taiwan were brought to the Chinese mainland. The Taiwan United Daily News published Hualing Nieh's ‘Mulberry and Peach’ series. It was rejected because it touched on sensitive issues in Taiwan politics. The full article was later published in Hong Kong's Ming Pao Monthly. Before China’s Mainland reform and opening up, Hong Kong was a bridge for cultural exchanges, a role that no place can compare.
After the reform and opening, Hong Kong still had its special status. Because Hong Kong is an international gateway, information on culture, economy and business circulated quickly. In the new era, the Chinese government has positioned Hong Kong as a center for art and cultural exchanges, helping Hong Kong's development.
Hong Kong literature is part of Chinese literature. It should retain its local characteristics while integrating into the reality of the Greater Bay Area and Chinese literature. Since the reform and opening, a group of important writers emerged in China’s mainland including Mo Yan, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I met a lot of mainland writers; their situation is much better than that of Hong Kong writers. These writers enjoyed an international reputation.
In 2019, the 27th Taipei International Book Fair established a dedicated gallery called ‘Jinyong’s Teahouse’, exhibiting handwriting scripts, ink, different versions of ‘The Condor Trilogy’ and ‘Heaven Dragon the Eighth Episode’. Forty retrospective drawings from selected books are also enlarged for display. Photo by Chen Xiaoyuan.
China News Service Reporter: You have been calling for the establishment of a Hong Kong Museum of Literature. Why does Hong Kong need such a dedicated museum? What is the purpose of such a museum? What’s your view on the ideal Hong Kong Museum of Literature?
Pun Yiu Ming: Hong Kong literature is rooted into everyday people. I used to work as a consultant in the Hong Kong Art Development Council. Among its HK$250 million annual budget, only HK$ 4 million was allocated to literature initially, and then has been increased to 7 million, and now 10 million. Given the allocation of the budget of the Art Development Council, literature accounted for very little while performing arts received more government budget. In fact, even though film belonged to the performing art, film script belonged to the literary work. So I think the budget allocation has been disproportionate in the past.
Hong Kong desperately needs a Museum of Literature. Beijing was the first to establish a modern Museum of Literature, as were Shanghai, Guangzhou, Macao and Taipei. But Hong Kong didn’t. I always said that Hong Kong was not a cultural desert. But the situation in Hong Kong is like a desert for literature. Led by the Federation of Hong Kong Writers 18 years ago, more than 30 prominent cultural figures signed and proposed the establishment of a Hong Kong Museum of Literature in the West Kowloon Cultural District. Then, 14 signatories, including Professor Rao Zongyi, Liu Yichang, Zeng Minzhi, passed away. At present, the Museum of Literature has finally been prepared for construction with the support of Chief Executive Officer, Li Jiachao and the sponsorship of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. It was a relief for us and an inspiration for Hong Kong literature.
First, the Museum is used for collection. It is then built for research and communication. Thirdly, it is a place for the exchange of literature from all over the world, and it should include exhibitions to showcase the achievements of Hong Kong literature.
At that time, the Chinese Writer’s Association asked me to visit some older generations of writers in Hong Kong and take oral history notes. It is a great pity that we did not retain the voice and script of Liu Yichang and Jin Yong. Oral history, as I have argued in the past before Ni Kuang passed away, was the walking dictionary of Hong Kong literature. I even found oral history from overseas Chinese in Chinatown when I was studying at New York University. However, Hong Kong has not paid much attention to collecting, keeping, and storing these scripts, making them difficult to find today. Because their living space is limited, they themselves and their relatives have not kept it as well, and neither have their relatives. I have to say, it is a great regret. It is very important that we have such Museum of Literature in Hong Kong where we can keep their scripts, book, and even oral history.
One day, Japan invited me to bring a group of literary representatives, including mainland writers, to visit. I was surprised that almost every county and township in Japan has its own Museum of Literature, where children can cultivate their interest in literary works. Therefore, another important purpose of Hong Kong Museum of Literature is to train children and young people, so that they will be interested in literature and practice.
Literature is the soul of culture and art. Culture is meaningless without literature. As many performing arts rely on adapting literary works, I hope that the HKSAR government will pay more attention to literature, so that Hong Kong is not only an international business metropolis, but a global cultural metropolis and the center for China and foreign exchanges in art and culture.
General Editor of Ming Pao Monthly, the president of the Federation of Hong Kong Writers accepted exclusive interview with the East meets West Program from the China News Service. Photo By Chen Yongnuo.
Pun Yiu Ming, under the pseudonym Yan Huo, is the general editor and the general manager of Ming Pao Monthly, the President of the web version of Hong Kong Writer, the president, and the general editor of Wenzong. The honorary member of the Chinese Writers’ Association National Affairs Committee, advisor of the State Council Overseas Affairs Office Advisory Committee, the president of the Federation of Hong Kong Writers, Chinese Writers’ Association Hong Kong, International Association of Travel Literature in Chinese, The Hong Kong World Associations for Studies of World Literatures and Arts in Chinese, the member of International Writing Program, The University of Iowa. He is the advisor in Literature Committee of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, member of the Liberal Arts Education Advisory Committee in CUHK
He wrote 26 reviews and proses, published in the China’s Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas. In 2009, he was awarded the ‘Seikyo Culture Award’ by Seikyo Shimbum, Hong Kong SGI by Soka Gakkai International of Hong Kong. In 2019, he was praised as a "model student with overflowing literary talent" by the Asian Knowledge Management Institute and awarded the 2019 "Asian Chinese Leadership Award."
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