It is remarkable that you, who are in short supply of books, were compelled to read the whole set of Jin Yong’s martial arts fiction “The Demi-Gods and Semi-Demons” in one go! There is a good reason why Jin Yong was known as the “Western scholar” when he wrote the column “Random Writings of the Three Swordsman” for Ta Kung Pao in the 1950s. Despite his novels being based on a Chinese historical background, the layout and techniques are actually quite similar to those of Western movies and classical literature. The most interesting aspect of “The Demi-Gods and Semi-Demons” is that the story was written on two levels: “heaven” and “mortals.” Many of the things that happen to the male and female characters were already determined by what took place a generation ago in some other parts of the world. Therefore, in his letter to Jin Yong that is enclosed in the prologue of the novel, Chinese literary critic Chen Shih-hsiang wrote, “No one escapes from injustice, and every relationship suffers the wicked play of karma.” It appears to follow the Buddhist ideology, but to me it resembles the Trojan War in Greek mythology. The battle of the heroes on earth is actually a contest between the gods atop the clouds, and whichever god is defeated, the hero he or she favors takes the fall.
Many things have happened in Hong Kong in the past few years. We often hear people say, “This is fate, it is predestined and there is no use doing anything.” The concept of “fate” seems to be shared by all cultures, but how to cope with it varies from one to another. Have you read Mu Xin’s “Memoirs of Literature”? It is worth re-reading from time to time, but unfortunately it is not available in paperback, and I cannot tear off the hardcover to give it to you. In any case, Mu Xin finds the Greeks impressive because Greek tragedies acknowledge fate and know that nothing can defy it, and yet “the ancient Greeks not only admitted fate but also thought about how to revolt against fate.” Mu Xin said: “Every sound and noble person would regard a tragedy with pride and humility, and think: This is the way to go, so be it. All great ideas come from pessimism. The truly great minds all start out pessimistic and with a sense of hopelessness, then they triumph over them.” Very special, isn’t it?
I myself think that the law of karma and the transcendence of Buddhism have always been somewhat superlative. As a person who saw through the illusion of the mortal world and took pity on the sufferings of all beings, the old monk stayed in the Buddhist scripture pavilion to redeem the deeply sinful and obsessed souls of Xiao Yuanshan and Murong Bo. There are many variations of similar scenes in Jin Yong’s novels.
Greek mythologies and tragedies are not as exceptionally beautiful. Their response to fate was not to accept or overcome, but to confront, as in the case of one of the Titans, Prometheus, who defied the gods by stealing fire and giving it to mankind. As his punishment, Prometheus was sentenced to eternal torment, chained to a rock on the Caucasus mountains and his liver was eaten by an eagle every day, only to grow back every night and be eaten again the next day. Greek epic poets transformed his wrathful accusations into timeless poetry, representing the greatness of mortal beings suffering from the challenges of destiny.
Even Shakespeare derived his five major tragedies from Greek tragedies. For ages, it is not the story of success but the ultimate failure that inspires. What matters is not the final result but the struggle in the process that shows the glory of human nature. Not even the glory of mankind but only the tenacity of life, therefore the greatness is the struggle itself.
In the past, in this small place under the Lion Rock, what warmed the hearts of people were the success stories of people who fought hard. We were proud of our city as every cloud has a silver lining. Nowadays, the battle is on a different level, and with a different script, but we are still proud of our city, don’t you think it is strange?
Next time you cannot find something to read, you can check out “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer.” I once said that, one should read “The Deer and the Cauldron” when life is good, and “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” when it is bad. Read it and you will understand.
Click here for Chinese version
(Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee is a barrister, writer and columnist in Hong Kong. She was a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong from 1995-1997; 1998-2012.)
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