Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils – Afterword

Translation by Jenxi Seow.

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.

October 1978

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[foot]The Dapeng(大鵬) is a legendary giant bird that is likened to the Roc.[/foot] migrated south “spread its wing and with a few wingbeats it soared upwards by ninety thousand [foot]Lǐ(里) is a Chinese unit of measurement that is equivalent to 500 metres.[/foot], 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 (45,000 kilometres).

I believe botanists would also criticise Zhuangzi for saying that “the ancient Dàchūn[foot]大椿 is the tree of heaven.[/foot] 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 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

[foot]He is referring to the novella The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.[/foot]

to find out if it is possible in human physiology or entomology.

Some literary critics require any novels to conform with realism. Mainland authors have to abide by the principles of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art after the Cultural Revolution. Since then, the rules have been relaxed and one has the freedom whether to follow them. From ancient times, our nation’s literary and artistic creations emphasised unbridled imagination. People nowadays are tied down by reality and take things too literally. Once, a pedant criticised Li Bai’s poems. “White hair that is three thousand feet long” is too long. In “morning passed as though black hair turned snowy white”, the hair became white too quickly. In “the peach blossom lake is is thousand feet deep”[foot]This phrase is referring to deep friendship.[/foot], the lake is too deep. “The monkeys along both banks have yet to stopped chattering, but my boat has already passed ten thousand mountains” depicts too many mountains. It is a hundred times or a thousand times more than the mountains that actually exist between Baidicheng to Jiangling.

Another pedant, actually Shen Kuo is not a pedant, criticised Bai Juyi‘s Song of Everlasting Regret saying, “It stated, ‘Few people travel along the foot of Mount Emei, the banners had no luster and the sky was bleak’, but Mount Emei is in the state of Jia. Tang Xuanzong did not have to pass by Mount Emei when he travelled from Chang’an to Sichuan.” Actually, poems and songs are not travelogues. This poem simply used Mount Emei to represent Sichuan. He also criticised Du Fu‘s Ancient cypress in the Wuhou Temple saying, “The poem stated, ‘The girth of the tree’s bark is as long wide as forty wéi[foot]A unit of measurement where measuring from shoulder to shoulder.[/foot], and the dark green canopy rose two thousand feet into the sky.’ Forty wéi is only seven feet, yet the tree is two thousand feet tall. Isn’t this cypress too tall and thin?”

Some critics said that Wu Song did not have to pass through Jingyang County when he travelled from Yanggu County, Shandong to Qinghe County to visit his brother Wu Dalang. However, Jingyang Ridge was the location of the remarkable story of Wu Song slaying a tiger. If he did not pass through Jinyang Ridge, he would not have slain the ferocious tiger. Everyone would have found it a pity, except for endangered species activists.

Water Margin is a remarkable novel, yet there are many bizarre scenes. For example when Li Kui went to find Gongsun Sheng, he was stopped by Luo zhenren.[foot]真人 (zhēnrén) is a a Daoist spiritual master.[/foot] Li Kui killed Luo zhenren, who bled white blood, and the latter’s child servant. However, the murdered duo did not die. Luo zhenren had used gourds to make decoys. During the journey, Magic Traveller Daizong tied two magic talismans to Li Kui’s legs, and read an incantation. Li Kui immediately ran without stopping, travelling 800 (400 kilometres) in a day. If they took part in a marathon in the World Games, they could have sprinted non-stop for 400,000 chǐ (133 kilometres). If Daizong brought another person, the trio would have a clean sweep of the medals.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, after Lü Meng killed Guan Gong, Guan Gong’s spirit appeared on Yuquan Hill and cried, “Return my head!” He also possessed Lü Meng to attack Sun Quan, and then Lü Meng collapsed and died. In the section Cursing Wang Lang to death in Wuxiang, Zhuge Liang viciously scolded the enemy commander Marquis Wang Lang during a clash of battle formations. “After Wang Lang heard it, his chest was filled with anger, and with a despairing cry, he fell and died at the feet of his horse.” It is unbelievable that when two armies clashed, Zhuge Liang killed the enemy commander by scolding him. However, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a great novel since ancient times and cannot be judged by the validity of facts.

Mr Wang Guowei agreed to the expression, “The west wind withered the green tree last night, standing atop a tall tower, gazing at the whole road to the end of the world.” Yet, the road to the end of the world stretches thousands or tens of thousands , how can one view the whole of it by standing on a tall tower? As a famous physicist, Mr He Zuoxiu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences often used an academic point of view to criticise the supernatural powers preached by Falun Gong as unscientific. This is rather admirable.

The author had a chat with Mr He in Beijing the year before last. Mr He first said that he was a fan of Jin Yong’s Novels, and then immediately pointed out that, “There is only one force in physics. The force exerted by a human should not be separated into internal and external. But wuxia novels have been around for a long time, and readers have become used to it and accept it. Readers do not protest when qigong is used to exert internal force to strike an opponent externally. This is because in arts, the conventional rule things can be fabricated and they it is not a concern about their authenticity.” I agree with Mr He’s eloquent opinion.

Wuxia novels has many habitual fabrications that are commonly used. It is like modern artists of the National People’s Congress painting Mount Hua, exaggerating the magnificent peaks with many inaccessible cliffs. In fact, there are usually hundreds of people going up the mountain every day. Although the painting is exaggerated and far from reality, it is still a good painting (it’s not a map) and no one can deny that. Su Dongpo once painting a bamboo with a red-inked brush in a carefree manner. Someone criticised him, saying, “Is there such a thing as a red bamboo?” Su asked instead, “Yet there’s black-inked bamboo?” Experts often drew bamboo with black ink, so people are used to it and do not find it strange. I do not dare to claim that this book can be compared to a work of art, but I know that art does not need to conform to reality.

November 2002