Friday, September 19, 2008

The Book and the Sword

The Book and the Sword is the first wuxia novel by Jinyong, first published on February 8 1955 in ''The New Evening Post'' and ran for about one year. Set in early Qing China during the rule of the Qianlong emperor, ''The Book and the Sword'' details the quest of the Red Flower Society , an organisation aiming to overturn the ruling Manchu government, and their entanglements with an Islamic tribe--the book in the title refers to a Qu'ran stolen from this tribe.

The debut novel quickly establishes Cha as one of the new masters of the genre. He would go on to write thirteen more novels.

Alternate English titles of the novel are ''Book and Sword: Gratitude and Revenge'' and ''The Romance of the Book and Sword''.

The third edition of the book contains 20 chapters.

Summary



The first character introduced to the reader is Li Yuanzhi , the young daughter of a middle-ranking Qing official, Li Keshou. Headstrong and physically adept, she learns the art of kungfu from her master, Lu Fei Qing , a Wudang pugilist disguised as a private house teacher. The young lady starts an incredible journey from the borders to the Central Plains as her father is transferred. Along the way, she meets a group of , led by the beautiful and fierce princess Huo Qintong, who are trying to recover their sacred Qur'an, and some members of the Red Flower Society.

The Red Flower Society, currently led by their new Helmsman Chen Jialou, is in direct opposition to the designs of Qianlong. The Society wishes to overthrow the Qing dynasty and restore the Ming. They find themselves the natural allies of the Uyghur tribe, who is also under attack from the Emperor's armies. A chance meeting brings the Emperor, under disguise as a wealthy commoner, into direct contact with Chen Jialuo, with whom he strikes up an unlikely friendship. The two men share a bond that will not be explained until a terrible secret is revealed. Chen also starts a love triangle relationship between Huo Qingtong and her sister Princess Fragrance.

Qianlong Analysis



The Emperor wishes to be remembered as a great leader, like Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty or the acclaimed Emperor Taizong. These are, technically, estimable pursuits for a Chinese emperor. The weight given to the manner in which history appraises an emperor's rule dates back to Sima Qian; Qianlong's own valuation of emperors Wu and Taizong matches the conventional Chinese interpretation.

To become great, Qianlong starves his own people and oppresses the morally upright, such as the Red Flower Society. He follows the letter of Chinese ideology while ignoring its spirit. Qianlong, like many of the major villains of the novel, is skilful but not wise. Throughout the novel, the antagonists' skill at music, calligraphy or, especially, kungfu, is not enough to overcome their failure to understand the difference between what is important and what people say is important.

Strong Female Protagonists


Li Yuanzhi is only one of several young, female warriors who appears prominently in this novel. Zhou Qi is another headstrong daughter whose mother, Lady Zhou, embodies a more mature ideal as a stubborn, loving, and strong wife and mother. At one point, Zhou Qi points out that she cannot embroider, much to her mother's displeasure, who claims that no man would want a woman without such a necessary skill. Quickly, though, it is revealed that Lady Zhou never learned herself, and in that moment Cha provides a classic, and pan-cultural, moment between parent and child hearkening back to Jane Austen's ''Pride and Prejudice''. Luo Bing, a wife of a brother in the Red Flower Society, is both beautiful and brave. Her martial skills are shown when she defends her injured husband and steals from the Imperial Horde. Huo Qintong, daughter of the Muslim tribe leader, is a wise military strategist and a formidable fighter. She is highly respected by her people, so much so that her father seeks her advice on most matters. With her intelligence and skills, she saves her people by inflicting a crushing defeat on the Imperial army. Indeed, Huo Qintong sees more action in the novel than the hero, Chen Jialuo himself.

Ethical Claims


There are often found within the novel light-hearted reminders of the universality of people's ideals and their acknowledgment that ideals are often unmet. The monolithic nature of Chinese culture, with its strict guidelines—Confucian, Communist and otherwise—seems in this light not nearly so monolithic. Like Zhou Qi and her embroidery, people don't always live up to them, and it's no great tragedy, not even to your mother. Instead, these supposedly important standards are treated as secondary to what would be considered in the West as more transcendent—the most common example being friendship despite religious, cultural or political differences.

If any kind of classical delineation could be made, it would seem that Cha believes in two kinds of people: those of naturally low and those of high character. The former can have moments of clarity, and sometimes within the story a seemingly one-sided villain will recognize the truly valuable. The latter are only subject to the failings associated with heroes; whether it be Lord Zhou's pride preventing him from apologizing for the accidental murder of his son or the Kungfu Mastermind's inability to acknowledge being in love with Zhou Qi.

This natural dichotomy is most evident in battle—-as should be expected from an adventure novel. Scoundrels may inflict some wounds, but only if they vastly outmatch their opponent or, more likely, overwhelm them with numbers or treachery. Even then, the Red Flower Society tend to cut their way through great swathes of enemies. Bravery and skill do not only exist on the side of the heroes, but it is in much greater quantity, indicating that the morally superior side will naturally attract the superior person.

Still, there is a certain disconnect present in The Book & The Sword that is not so evident in Western popular fiction, and that is between skill and ethics. Stereotypically, the Western hero would respect the intelligence and skill of his nemesis except that it's used for evil. The heroes in Cha's novel, however, respect their enemies' intelligence and skill but hold that the respect does not somehow conflict with a condemnation of their ethical stance. This separation lends plausibility to scenes such as the one where Chen, the leader of the Red Flower Society, meets with the Qianlong emperor and treats him in a cordial manner.

The question left unanswered is where this ethical stance originated. To claim that ideas of meritocracy are Western is to ignore the inspiration behind the bureaucratic reforms epitomized by the Chinese civil service exam. To claim that accepting the limitations of a human being, especially in regard to the strict ideals which society tends to place on that human being, is somehow foreign to China would mean ignoring its long Daoist tradition. Instead, it seems that the ethical system espoused within The Book & The Sword is simply the modern iteration of a long history of Chinese ideals.

Characters



Protagonists


*Chen Jialuo - Leader of the Red Flower Society, who has a relationship with the emperor Qianlong.
*''Huo Qingtong'' - A brilliant and beautiful leader of the Uyghur, sister to Princess Frangrance.
*Princess Fragrance - A peerlessly beautiful Uyghur princess, sister to Huo Qingtong and love interest of Chen.
*''Li Yuanzhi''
*''Zhou Qi''
*''Xu Tianhong''/''The Kungfu Mastermind''

Antagonists


*''Fire Hand Zhou''
*''Qianlong Emperor''

Adaptions


As with all of Jinyong's work there are multiple adaptions of "The Book and the Sword".

Film


There are three film versions of the book with six films overall, a 1960 version filmed as a trilogy, a standalone 1981 version and a 1987 version told over two films.

Television


Hong Kong's have made the novel into television series twice: once in 1976 and in 1987. There are also two Taiwanese versions from 1986 (the TTV version under the title in Chinese as "Shu Jian Jiang Shan " and 1992 and a PRC one from 1994. A joint Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland Chinese version was made in 2002.

1976 TVB version


*Adam Cheng as Chen Jialuo
*Liza Wang as Huo Qingtong

1992 CTS version


*Kenny Ho as Chen Jialuo

2002 version


*Vincent Zhao as Chen Jialuo
*Esther Kwan as Huo Qingtong

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