Beginning September 1, 2015, I will be embarking on a one year read of some of wuxia author Yun Zhongyue’s (雲中岳) work. Thirteen books in twelve months, twelve novels and one short story collection. The novels I have chosen to read for this project range from his early work to his late period work, and feature some of his most critically and popularly acclaimed novels. The works chosen are as follows:
- Swords Shriek in the Wilderness (08/1964) – This is the earliest-published Yun Zhongyue novel I have, that’s why I’m starting with this one. I’ve also read some fans enjoying it.
- Song of the Exile (08/1965) – One of his most popular works, one fan wrote that if you haven’t read this then you haven’t read Yun Zhongyue. So I had to include this one.
- Ancient Sword Confesses Love (01/1966) – I have seen very little mention of this novel among fans, but this was the first Yun Zhongyue novel I ever bought, several years ago, and started reading it. But my Chinese wasn’t good enough at the time. I liked what I did read, though, and since this was one of the first wuxia novels I ever bought, I had to include it here.
- Peerless Heroes (06/1966) – Another popular novel among fans, this novel also features two main storylines, each following one of two brothers whose fate takes them down different paths. A rare wuxia novel where a villain is the protagonist.
- Hero from the Remote Regions (10/1968) – Considered by some to be his masterpiece, this novel places a heavy emphasis on history, as well as ethnic cultures. A must-read.
- Hidden Sword, Frost (04/1969) – Another novel showcasing Yun Zhongyue’s excellent use of history in his novels, the protagonist, Ai Wenci, is a fan favorite.
- The Assassin (01/1978) – One of his most popular novels, this one takes us into Yun Zhongyue’s so-called “middle period”. Some have said the protagonist exhibits the true character of a xia.
- Magic Sword, Sentimental Flower (10/1981) – Another work from his middle period, I included this one because I happen to already own it. I’ve also read a couple chapters and it seems interesting. Apparently it features the most powerful martial artist in Yun Zhongyue’s oeuvre.
- Shadow of the Wandering Xia (11/1981) – A short story collection, featuring three short stories (or perhaps better termed “novellas”). According to fans, Yun’s short stories are some of his best work, so I had to include one of his collections. I picked this one because it’s the only one I own.
- Fire Phoenix (01/1983) – This novel marks our entry into Yun Zhongyue’s late period, considered by some to be his best period of work. This novel features a woman protagonist, different from most of his work, so this is a must-read.
- Red Dust, Green Jade (08/1986) – With so many late-period novels to choose from, how to decide? I picked this one because it is Yun Zhongyue’s shortest novel, at only two volumes (most are three to four, some six).
- The Tiger Roars in Jinling (01/1991) – I picked this one because it is a fan-favorite, plus I have already read the first volume. I didn’t care much for it at the time, but a lot of people like this one, so I should continue on and finish it to see what all the fuss is about.
- Greenwood Hero (07/1992) – The last entry in out journey, this one is another fan favorite, that’s why I picked it. Also has some focus on history.
Yun Zhongyue’s last novel was published in 1998. He wrote 80 novels in all. I have only chosen 13 for this project, because of time, which is still a small sample when you consider there are 67 other books in his oeuvre I am leaving out. Still, these 13 should give us a good idea of what Yun Zhongyue’s wuxia novels are like, what his concept of the jianghu is like, and how he includes history and martial arts in his stories. There are several novels I wanted to include but could not because of the time limitation (I can only read so fast. These 13 will push my ability to the limit already), but the ones I have chosen are all either critical or popular favorites. Reading begins September 1, and in October I will post my first review of the first novel, Swords Shriek in the Wilderness. A review of the next novel will continue the following month, and so on until we are finished. There is one extra book, so one month will have two reviews. Below is a short synopsis of each novel, which I have cobbled together and translated from various sources on the internet. These should give you some idea of what to expect in each novel. If you can read Chinese, I invite you to read along with me.
1. Swords Shriek in the Wilderness (劍嘯荒原)
On a deserted snowfield in Shuozhou, Ice Soul Divine Sword Lin Hong and Lady Flying Guard Lu Wei fall victim to a hidden attack from a former rival lover, and they die in each others’ arms.
Flower Plucking Lad Flying Rainbow Swordsman Hu Chen spends his days in Purple Sun Village philandering, causing trouble, and running amok among the rivers and lakes. The way of the world is unfathomable, life takes unexpected turns, and the eminent Young Xia Zhu Zhongyuan makes his way among the rivers and lakes, dealing with struggles among good and bad sects of the martial grove, parsing good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly, casting him into an outwardly yielding but inwardly firm stalwart, quick-witted and capricious, with a strong sense of justice and a hatred for evil.
Young Xia Zhu Zhongyuan from a man becomes a ghost, from a ghost changes into a man, tugging at one’s heart strings in thrilling fashion.
Lady Demon Phoenix follows him closely with her evil gaze, giving him not one day of peace.
The beggar Ge Haiwen is liberal with his money, extremely odd.
This is a story overflowing with danger, tangled romance, and blood-dripping scenes of battle, and ups and downs, fascinating the reader.
2. Song of the Exile (亡命之歌)
Cai Wenchang is at once a xia and a bandit making his living among the rivers and lakes, yet he also exhibits and awe-inspiring righteousness. Punishing the rich and heartless, victimizes the oppressive local village despots, and beats to death countless unjust scum of the martial grove. His enemies among the rivers and lakes are many. He becomes enemies with thirteen martial arts experts after being dragged into the struggle for the Autumn Mountain Misty Rain Map. The various personages of the martial grove rally against him, wanting to deal him a swift death. He flees to the far corners of the earth seeking refuge, where he rebuilds his martial arts to perfection before returning to fight the various experts for supremacy. On Nine Temple Mountain, among thunder crashes and lightning flashes, blood and flesh fly in all directions and after the world-shaking, moving fight, Cai Wenchang emerges victorious. But he regards the throne of Martial Grove Alliance Chief as if it were dung and dirt, and quietly leaves.
This book depicts the vicissitudes of life of Cai Wenchang and his bosom friend Fang Xiaoshan, Black Pagoda, and the White-Clad Dragon Girl Lady Xia, the Fang daughter of Purgatory Valley, and the rich and influential Lady Shi, their gratitude and enmity, very lively and moving. There are trials of strength and fights to the death between justice and evil, as well as tender feelings between heroes and maidens.
3. Ancient Sword Confesses Love (古劍懺情記)
Fierce stalwart of the rivers and lakes Demon Lord of the Netherworld colludes with a heretical cult to wantonly destroy the sects of the martial grove, seeking hegemony over all under heaven. The Ge family brothers of Guangxin Prefecture are influential among the martial grove, and are killed by the Demon Lord of the Netherworld and his henchmen. Second Master Ge, in order to eliminate this evil and save the people, diligently practices martial arts and has a fight to the death with the Demon Lord and various of personages with his Green Tip Sword. Two ladies’ hearts are given to the hero, unexpectedly falling in love with enemy of her parents. Can they live happily together to a ripe old age? The skillful capture of the fleet sword of wisdom, is it a happy encounter and not the fate of heaven? The bonds of love and affection make one ponder deeply.
4. Peerless Heroes (絕代梟雄)
Qiu Lan and Qiu Lei are brothers, tall, stalwart, they resemble each other about seventy percent. But Qiu Lan has a 八-shaped mustache, and though he has slanting brows and tiger eyes, yet his eyes do not possess the fierce intimidation that Qiu Lei’s does, but he looks kind and amiable with a constant smile on his face. Qiu Lei is different. Not only are his eyes fierce, with an arrogant expression on his face, the corners of his mouth often appear to look down on the world, betraying his bearing of insufferable arrogance. In short, these two brothers who’ve had completely different upbringing, one amiable, the other aggressive, have temperaments that are wildly different.
Although they are brothers, they are disciples or different masters. Qiu Lan is a disciples at a temple in Sichuan, every day worshiping the Buddha and occasionally helping out those in need. Qiu Lei is the disciple of the Southern Bohemian, whose detest of the world and its ways has considerable influence on Qiu Lei. He doesn’t listen to his brother’s advice, entering along the world of the rivers and lakes with the intention of making a name for himself and wielding control over all.
According to most wuxia novels, the main character should be the elder brother who upholds justice, Qiu Lan. But in this novel, the plot centers on the villain Qiu Lei, describing his gradual descent toward becoming a demon, toward the road of no return, hypocritical and malicious, to the point where he will stop at nothing. On the contrary, Qiu Lan seems to serve only as Qiu Lei’s foil.
The treacherous villain as protagonist is a rarity among wuxia novels. Aside from this one, there is also Liang Yusheng’s villain Ye Lingfeng from Wind and Thunder Shake the Nine Provinces.
5. Hero from the Remote Regions (八荒龍蛇)
Thunderclap Sword’s grandson, Chai Zhe obtained influence from childhood. At ten years old, thanks to Yan Song’s henchmen’s tyranny, Chai Zhe’s family was wiped out. The Black Hawk Society’s Deputy Chief, Misty Divine Dragon kidnapped him and took him to the Great Heavenly Star Fortress, where he studied martial arts for six years and learned the language of the Miao, Mongols, and other peoples of the Western Regions. Later he was forced to become a member of a hitman group. He was hired to work for Yan Song. The Black Hawk Society Chief Duanmu Yingyang planned to send men to the Western Regions to go after and kill loyal officials and betray the righteous. Chai Zhe perceived something was up, and was dissatisfied, but because the situation had not come out in the open yet, and because of his debt to past kindness, which he wished to repay to the sect, he went with them to the Western Regions. The local people there helped him through the tough winters and other dangerous situations, and the son of the Black Hawk Society’s Chief, Duanmu Changfeng, became jealous of Chai Zhe.
Surprise attacks were made on the locals and other people of the Greenwood, and there was fighting between the Three Devils of Mt, Huang and other top fighters. Different groups were set against each other, and Non-Action Scholar and the Twin Holies of Kunlun went from enemies to friends. During the journey, Chai Zhe received instruction from a friend of his grandfather, Idle Cloud, as well as help from others along the way.
During his travel westward, Chai Zhe’s experienced made clear the demarcation between good and evil. Black Hawk Society Chief Duanmu Yingyang personally led a group of killers to pursue the hungry, cold, injured, and worn out loyal officials. Once Chai Zhe learned the true situation, that Yan Song was using the Black Hawk Society for this purpose, he made a prompt decision and returned to Wulanmangnai Mountain. Under the attentive care of the Miss Yun Sheng, Chai Zhe recuperated from his injuries. He was then taught by the girl’s paternal grandfather, the White-Clad Scholar, and other masters, who guided him in more martial arts training. After improving, he assumed an alias and went with Yun Sheng back to the Central Plains to visit relatives and ferret out the violent traitors.
At Poyang Lake, Chai Zhe and Yun Sheng discover bribes: gold and other three treasures from the imperial palace, sent back under escort. Yan Song had already sent people to rob the escort, and fighter gathered from all around. The novel deals a lot with the historical Yan Song and his eventual fate.
The novel’s plot and writing is straightforward, yet without losing it’s depth or entanglements; battles, fighting in close quarters, dashing heroism, deadly poisons, zipping hidden weapons, unexpected changes, climax piled on climax, tight suspense, this novel is not only lively, but very interesting. It explores the local conditions and customs of the region beyond the Great Wall, and the historical course of change and development. This novel is considered by some to be Yun Zhongyue’s masterpiece.
6. Hidden Sword, Frost (匣劍凝霜)
This novel takes place during the time of Liu the Sixth and Liu the Seventh invading Hebei during the reign of Ming emperor Zhengde, a time when government officials and bandits were hard to distinguish, when the people were tormented and suffered greatly. Ai Wenci’s family during this time is wiped out, his entire village butchered. He vows revenge but is constantly wrangling with and being pursued by officials and bandits alike. The book describes his roaming, disguising himself in various ways, such as as an herbal doctor, a horse dealer, and a street peddler in his quest for revenge, revealing in the process the stark reality of poor government administration during the Ming dynasty.
7. The Assassin (大刺客)
During the reign of Ming emperor Wanli, there emerged among the martial grove the chivalrous young swordsman Lin Yan, whose wugong was not only strong, he also also possessed the xia’s fortitude and sense of justice. When he saw the imperial court’s imperial envoy “Skin-peeler Liang” grooming flunkies, oppressing the people, tormenting the territories, he burned with anger and resolved to mete out justice impartially, swearing to kill the traitor Liang.
The rivers and lakes is dangerous, fierce struggles abound. Regarding love and passion, a xia must not be dissolute. Public indignation and personal rancor intertwine, good and evil are hard to distinguish, at night assassinate a personal grudge then disappear like a ghost. The Assassin held the Cold Rainbow Sword. At a performance of acrobatic fighting, a scene of “only ridding the world of injustice can reveal a real man”, there remained tender feelings, and a romantic affair without complain or regret.
8. Magic Sword, Sentimental Flower (幻劍情花)
In the waning days of the Ming dynasty the world is in chaos, outlaws and scoundrels corrupt the government and run roughshod over the martial grove. “Heaven and Earth Sword” father and sun raise a false banner of justice in a bid to round up the righteous and dispose of them! One man, the “Wandering Soul Wild Ghost” Magic Sword master, along with “Divine”, “Strange”, “Calm”, and “Overlord”, dubbed the “Four Swords of Heaven and Earth”, strive to come to the rescue and save the martial grove.
One man, refined and charming, seeking hegemony, takes a woman by force, using his beautiful manly charms to seduce the Magic Sword‘s lover, in order to use her as bait to ensnare the Magic Sword in numerous deathtraps…
Our hero, sentimental by nature, because of love suffers countless eternal regrets, but also leads many infatuated girls to pledge marriage: a girl who at once loves and hates him, chases him closely without giving up, while another girl’s fool heart never changes; she would sacrifice her life to save him…
9. Shadow of the Wandering Xia (俠影萍蹤)
This is a collection of three short stories written during Yun Zhongyue’s “middle period”. The stories include: “Shadow of the Wandering Xia”, “Retribution is Manifest”, and “Small Town Xia Recluse”. Yun Zhongyue’s short stories are generally considered by fans to be some of his best work.
10. Fire Phoenix (火鳳凰)
This novel is set during the reign of the Zhengde emperor of the Ming dynasty, a time rife with banditry. A bandit chief uses murder, coercion, framing, inciting rebellion, and other schemes to force many heroes of the martial grove to join his ranks. They must go south to Shandong’s northeast section and admit the local outstanding Graceful Beauty Sword Qiu Maoyan. Using strategies for sowing dissension, the Graceful Beauty Sword is forced to extremes, to the point where here family must flee and she is killed. The novel’s protagonist is Qiu Suhua, Graceful Beauty Sword’s daughter, who is deceived and ends up becoming a first-rate killer Fire Phoenix, a subordinate of the bandit gang. The first half of the novel deals with Song Shuyan and his resisting the bandits and Fire Phoenix. The second half of the book deals with Qiu Suhua learning the truth and launching her revenge.
11. Red Dust, Green Jade (紅塵碧玉)
This novel takes place at the beginning of the Qing dynasty, after Wu Sangui was pacified and the empire was still in chaos, with despots popping up all over.
Anti-Qing patriot Li Guangyu, aside from laying down his life for his country, his hometown village is also massacred by roving bandits. Heavenly Demon Lin Feng receives Li Guangyu’s final words to raise the soon-to-be orphan Li Hongda until he becomes an adult. Li Hongda vows revenge against the bandits who massacred his village…
12. The Tiger Roars in Jinling (虎嘯金陵)
The Patrol Battalion got its name seizing smuggled salt by hook or by crook, amassing wealth by any means necessary, brazenly killing and wiping out families, searching their homes and confiscating their property, stopping at no evil, these soldiers were more like bandits. The people of the Nine Glories Sword Garden mistook them for water thieves and killed one of them, causing great trouble for themselves. The local authorities then enlisted heterodox, evil martial arts experts to arrest and kill them. The Nine Glories Sword Garden was destroyed, and the Superb Sword Bohemian and his family disappeared to places unknown.
The Nanjing Patrol Battalion sent strong men led by the cruel and merciless Crazy Dragon, who subsequently kidnapped Liu Si, worker at a cart-hiring company, and made him help seek out the Superb Sword Bohemian’s whereabouts. Who knew that Liu Si was a person bent on eliminating traitors, in possession of consummate martial arts, but he didn’t reveal his true skill, allowing people to beat and scold him, portraying himself as pitiful creature resigned to enduring adversity.
But he has principles, and he plots a game to drive out the tigers and swallow the wolves by hook or by crook, through overt and cover attacks, killing them as he sees them, dealing with these well-known martial arts experts like a cat plays with a mouse, secretly helping the Superb Sword Bohemian.
Disguising himself as the “Cold-Faced Swordsman”, he comes into heated conflict with Crazy Dragon, as well as others in his bid to save his lover, the Moonlight Goddess.
This novel features many twists and turns to keep the reader dazzled.
13. Greenwood Hero (草莽英雄)
Traitor to the country Jiang Bin is an accomplice to evil. From Huai’an to Jiangxi he wantonly robs families of their precious beautiful women to send them to please the emperor, causing thousands families in Jiangnan to suffer hardship and causing thousands of women to be violated.
Young pupil of the martial grove, Huo Ran, is a brave chivalrous stalwart, raising waves in the Tai Hu region by rescuing the kidnapped Li Qiuyan. The government’s secret agents suffer heavy casualties, and the water thieves, the righteous and the unrighteous all get drawn into the matter. Security in Suzhou is in bad shape, and yamen officials and frontier inspectors have become a laughingstock among the people. Those among the rivers and lakes band together to save each other, and Huo Ran as he gets stronger gets more bold, and after saving Li Qiuyan turns to working with a notorious bandit, charges into a mountain temple and punishes corrupt officials, turning the capital of Nanjing upside down.