While editing and revising Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, the kind and graceful face of Mr Chen Shixiang often appeared in my mind, reminding me of the manner in which he held his pipe as he spoke fervently and assuredly about his knowledge.
When writing a book, the Chinese do not have a habit of dedicating it to certain mentors and friends. However, I earnestly want to add in the afterword that: “This book is dedicated to a friend I respect and love—Mr Chen Shixiang.” He is unfortunately no longer with us. I hope that he will somehow know of this small gesture.
Mr Chen and I have only met twice, so I cannot say we have a deep friendship. He wrote two letters to me and what he said about Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils made me feel very ashamed. With his knowledge, accomplishments, and his academic status, the level of acclamation was too much. It might have stemmed from his bias towards traditional Chinese-style novels, or perhaps there were similarities in our world view.
His appraisal was nevertheless more than what I deserved. My gratitude and joy was not just because I received the approval of such a famous literary critic, and thus boosted my confidence, but also because he pointed out that wuxia novels were not purely pointless works for entertainment purposes. They could also describe the joys and sorrows of the world, and express a more vivid picture of human conditions.
Back then, I decided that when Demi-gods and Semi-devils was eventually compiled into a single book, I must invite Mr Chen to write the preface. Now, I can only attach the two letters from Mr Chen at the back of the book to commemorate this friend.
Of course, the readers will understand that this is also to display the positive review by a famous expert. All writers yearn for a favourable review of their works. If the reader does not enjoy the writing, the author’s job will become utterly meaningless. It makes me very happy that there are people who enjoy reading my novels. I cried for a long time upon hearing about Mr Chen’s untimely death.
There was a line from Mr Chen’s letter: “Still searching for the Four Evils Christmas card, no sign of it.” There is a story behind that. Mr Chen told me that Mr Xia Ji’an from Taiwan also likes my wuxia novels. Once, he saw a Christmas card with four persons on the cover in a bookshop. Mr Xia felt that their appearances and expressions resembled the Four Evils from Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, so he bought it. He wrote my name on it along with a few lines of praise, and he wanted to mail it to me. We had never met before, so he entrusted it to Mr Chen to forward it to me. Mr Chen left it among his things and could not find it later.
Mr Xia Ji’an mentioned my wuxia novels in his articles several times, with rather excessive praise. Although I had a pretty good friendship with his brother Mr Xia Zhiqing, fate did not bring us together. I never had the chance to meet him and I did not even receive this Chirstmas card. Whenever I read The Diary of Xia Ji’an and his other works, I often regret that I never had the chance to meet such a warm and sincere talent.
Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils was first serialised in the Ming Pao and Singapore’s Nanyang Siang Pau in 1963 and lasted for four years. When I was overseas during that period, I invited brother Ni Kuang to take over the writing for over forty thousand words. The part that brother Ni Kuang wrote was an independent plot depicting the battle between Murong Fu and Ding Chunqiu in an inn. Although it was a remarkable scene, it was unrelated to the rest of the novel. In this revision, I have brother Ni Kuang’s consent to delete it, leaving only the part where Ding Chunqiu blinded A’zi, which cannot be removed.
Serials in the newspapers could not be stopped for long periods of time, hence I invited brother Ni Kuang to take over the writing. However, there is no reason to appropriate another person’s work when publishing a compilation book. All the text in the Anthology of Jin Yong’s works, no matter if they are good or bad, are hundred percent written by Jin Yong himself without the contribution of anyone else. I would like to express my gratitude to brother Ni Kuang for his kindness in taking over the writing back then.
When the Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils reprinted edition was published in October 1978, I made significant changes. I revised, added and deleted many parts in this third edition. The whole process took three years and six modifications Some of the additions might be unnecessary. For example, the relationship between Wuyazi, Ding Chunqiu and Li Qiushui, the friendship between Murong Bo and Jiumozhi, Shaolin Sect’s attitude towards Xiao Feng, Duan Yu finally being freed from his obsession with Wang Yuyan, and other scenes.
The original story left a lot of room for the readers to fill with their imagination, but that also left gaps and made things ambiguous. Chinese readers have a reading habit where they dislike relying on their own imagination, instead they want the author to spell everything out so that they can have a peace of the mind: “So that’s how it is, that’s better!” This is especially so for many young readers who are insistent about such absolutes. This might be the virtue of us Chinese people: emphasise on solid reasoning and distrust the intangible imagination of baseless romanticism. Therefore, I filled the blanks that I initially left with vivid details. Perhaps those of you who prefer the intangible might feel that this kind of writing is clumsy. I can only ask for your forgiveness. This is because my personality if made up of a larger portion of clumsy and real than intelligent and intangible.
The character, skills and abilities of the cast of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils are often exaggerated or even impossible, such as “Spirit Blade of Six Pulses”, “Flaming Sabre”, “Beiming Powers”, Wuyazi transferring his skills, Child Granny transforming back into a child, and so on. Think about the extreme realism and symbolism trend in modern painting, for example a painting of a two-headed woman or the likes. In arts, it is acceptable to use expressions that deviate from reality.
Till now, no geophysicists has ever criticised Carefree Roaming by Zhuangzi for being unscientific. Zhuangzi wrote that the Dapeng migrated south “spread its wing and with a few wingbeats it soared upwards by ninety thousand lǐ, but according to geophysics, seventeen kilometres above Earth’s surface is the tropopause where it is colder, and beyond that is the stratosphere. It is extremely cold and the air only allows lateral movement. It would be very difficult to rise further upwards because when warmer hair rise, the cold air below cannot rise up to replace it, leaving a gap in between. The upper boundary of this layer is about fifty kilometres from the surface. Even air can hardly rise beyond fifty kilometre. It would be a tall task for Zhuangzi’s Dapeng to rise above 90,000 lǐ (45,000 kilometres).
I believe botanists would also criticise Zhuangzi for saying that “the ancient Dàchūn blooms for eight thousand years and withers for eight thousand years”, because I am afraid such there are no plants with such long lives. Likewise, a Dapeng or an anchovy with a back that is thousands of lǐ wide probably do not exist as well. There are natural scientists in China who insisted on researching the possibility of the “Spirit Blade of Six Pulses”. I wonder if foreign entomologists researched about the transformation of a man into giant beetle to find out if it is possible in human physiology or entomology.