The Legend of the Condor Heroes – Afterword (Second edition)

The Legend of the Condor Heroes was serialised in the Hong Kong Commercial Daily between 1957 and 1959. I recall the editor of the Hong Kong Commercial Daily supplement Li Shawei’s love and encouragement for this novel over a decade ago. He’s no longer with us today, and I’m unable to personally hand him the first book of this Second Edition. The thought of his affable smile and slightly stuttering speech makes my heart ache.

The characters in The Legend of the Condor Heroes have simple personalities. Guo Jing is straightforward and generous. Huang Rong is quick-witted and cunning. They easily leave an impression on the readers. This is characteristic of traditional Chinese novels and dramas, but it invariably lacks the complex inner world of the characters. It is probably because of the simple characters and lively plot that makes the Legend of the Condor Heroes more popular. There are adaptations in Cantonese movies and a Chaozhou opera drama in Thailand, and a TV series is currently being filmed in Hong Kong. It has been translated into Thai, Vietnamese, and Bahasa Indonesia. There are also many books by others impersonating me, such as the Seven Heroes of Jiangnan and Nine-Fingered Divine Beggar. But personally, I feel that my later novels are better than The Legend of the Condor Heroes.

When I wrote The Legend of the Condor Heroes, I was a screenwriter and director at Great Wall Movie Enterprises Ltd. During that time, I mainly read Western dramas and dramaturgical theories. Thus, some parts of the plot in the novel were unconsciously treated as dramatic action. The part on the healing in the secret chamber at Niujia Village was completely managed as a stage production in terms of scene and characters. It was only after Liu Shaoming pointed this out that I realised it, but it wasn’t my intention when I wrote it. At that time, I only thought that such a method hasn’t been used in a novel, without realising that it’s been used by countless people in theatre.

I made many changes during the revision. I deleted some unnecessary storylines and characters, such as Little Red Bird, the battle of the frog and clam, the murder by Iron Palm Guild, and others. I removed Qin Nanqin and merged her role with Mu Nianci’s. I also added some new plots, such as the storytelling by Zhang Shiwu in the opening, Qu Lingfeng stealing the painting, Huang Rong forcing people to carry a sedan chair to face the rain, and the process of Huang Chang writing the *Nine Yin Manual”. Traditional Chinese novels have roots in storytelling, using storytelling as the opening is a way to show that I remember the roots.

The deeds of Genghis Khan are mainly based on a very strange book. This book far surpasses the Nine Yin Manual in the weirdness of its appearance. Its title Manghuolun Niucha Tuobichiyan1忙豁仑纽察脱必赤颜 – Mánghuòlún Niǔchá Tuōbìchìyán contains nine Han characters. The book has twelve chapters, with ten main chapters and two supplementary chapters. The twelve chapters consist of gibberish Han characters from the beginning to the end. You and I recognise the characters, but we don’t understand a single sentence. It is truly an illegible writing made up of words. Many scholars all over the world have spent their lifetime studying this book. They published countless academic papers, books, phonetic transcriptions, and even published a dictionary compiled specifically for this book. The original meaning of every word in the strange Han text can be found in the dictionary. Any scholars researching the world history of the past eight hundred years must read this book.

It is actually written in Mongolian language using Han characters in July 1240. Manghuolun means Mongol. Niucha means secret. Tuobichiyan means complete records. The nine Han characters combine to mean The Secret History of Mongols. The book was mostly likely written with Han phonetics because the Mongolians did not have a written language then. It was the secret ancient records of the Mongolian imperial family. It was strictly confidential and was kept in the Yuan Dynasty imperial palace. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty Emperor seized it. It was translated in the 15th year during the reign of the Hongwu Emperor2The Hongwu Emperor (21 October 1328–24 June 1398) Zhū Yuánzhāng (朱元璋), was the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1368 to 1398. See more on Wikipedia. from strange gibberish Han phonetics into meaningful Han text known as the The Secret History of the Mongols. It is unknown who translated the book. It could have been the two foreigners serving in the Hanlin Academy3翰林 – Haǹlín. The Hanlin Academy was an academic and administrative institution founded in the eighth-century Tang China by Emperor Xuanzong in Chang’an. See more on Wikipedia. during the Ming Dynasty, the Academy’s shijiang4侍讲 – Shìjiǎng. Scholastic title during the Ming and Qing dyansties. Fourth rank literary official. Huo Yuanjie,5火原杰 – Huǒ Yuánjié or xiuzhuan6 修撰 – Xiùzhuān. Scholastic title during the Ming and Qing dyansties. Sixth rank literary official. Mayi Yihei.7马懿亦黑 – Mǎyì YìhēiThe strange text (Mongolian language in Han characters) and the readable text (Han text translation) are both compiled in the Yongle Encyclopedia8永乐大典 – Yǒnglè Dàdiǎn. The Yongle Encyclopedia is a largely-lost Chinese leishu encyclopedia commissioned by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty in 1403 and completed by 1408. It comprised 22,937 manuscript rolls or chapters, in 11,095 volumes. Fewer than 400 volumes survive today, comprising about 800 chapters, or 3.5 percent of the original work. Most of it was lost in the 2nd half of the 19th century, in the midst of Western attacks and social unrests. Its sheer scope and size made it the world’s largest general encyclopedia until it was surpassed by Wikipedia in late 2007, nearly six centuries later. See more on Wikipedia. and hence passed down. There were many editions published between the Ming and Qing dyansties, with most of them omitting the strange original text.

The first line of The Secret History of the Mongols retains the strange title of the original book, Manghuolun Niucha Tuobichiyan. Initially, scholars organising the history of the Yuan Dynasty such as Li Wentian did not know what these nine strange characters meant, and mistakened it as the name of the original author. So, it’s no wonder that Ouyang Feng didn’t understand the weird text “Hahuwenbenying, hutuke’er” and others.

It was only later when the Strange Texts published by Ye Dehui spread overseas that sinologists from various countries started to study it enthusiastically. Among them, Frenchman Paul Pelliot, German Erich Haenisch, Soviet BI Pankratov, and Japanese Naka Michiyo contributed the most.

The edition of The Secret History of the Mongols I referred to is the one by Mongolian scholar Tsendiin Damdinsüren. He restored the strange Han text into ancient Mongolian language (the original book used 13th century Mongolian language, which is different from modern Mongolian language), before translating it into modern Mongolian. China’s Mongolian scholar Xie Zaishan then translated the text from Mongolian into modern Chinese.

The Secret History is the original material. Several revisions spread to the West and were developed into many books. The most important among them was the Altan Tobchi9黄金史 – Huángjīnshǐ by Persian Guush Luvsandanzan. Before Western scholars read China’s The Secret History of the Mongols, their works on Mongolian history were based on Altan Tobchi. Many deeds were removed from the revisions. Some examples are Yesügei snatching a man’s wife who bore Genghis Khan, Yesügei being poisoned, Genghis Khan being captured by the enemy, Genghis Khan’s wife Börte being captured by the enemy and later bore his eldest son Jochi, Genghis Khan killing his half-brother Behter with an arrow, and others. All told of disgraceful things about Genghis Khan.

Readers naturally know what inspired the strange text in the Nine Yin Manual.

The Mongols ruled the whole of China for 89 years, and ruled northern China for over a century. However, the lack of a clear cultural identity meant it left no significant impact on the Chinese way of life. Mongols rarely intermarried with the Han Chinese, so they weren’t assimilated by the Han Chinese either. According to Li Sichun in Yuan History Studies, the word dai10歹 – dǎi sums up the influence Mongolian language had on the Chinese language. Dai means bad, such as bad people, bad things. The word dai came from the Mongolian language. When writing a novel with a historical setting, it is impossible to research every word. Guo Xiaotian, Yang Tiexin, and others who have never had contact with Mongolians shouldn’t use the word dai when they talk, but I didn’t avoid it deliberately. What I tried to to avoid were words that were too modern, such as sikao (to think), dongji (motive), yingxiang (influence), mudi (goal), guangfan (broad) and the likes. I replaced suoyi (therefore) with shiyi (thus), putong (ordinary) with xunchang (usual), sudu (speed) with kuaiman (tempo), xianzai (now) with xianxia (at present), muxia (at the moment), yanxia (before your very eyes), chike (this moment), fangjin (today) and so on.

The illustration for the fourth volume (editor’s note: not in the maindland edition) is a painting of Buddha by painter Zhang Shengwen11张胜温 – Zhāng Shèngwēn of the Kingdom of Dali. It had a note by Ming Dynasty Hanlin Academy scholar Song Lian12宋濂 – Sòng Lián, saying:

“A scroll of the Brahma painting on the right by painter Zhang Shengwen of the Kingdom of Dali. Entitled on the left, ‘Painted for the Lizhen Emperor13利贞皇帝 – Lìzhēn Huángdì. The first era name of Duan Zhixing from 1172 to 1175. See more on Wikipedia (White on the left, painted on the right)’. Followed by Shi Miaoguang’s notes stating on the eleventh day of the first month in the fifth year of Gengzi14庚子 – Gēngzǐ. Geng is a Heavenly Stem. Zi is an Earthly Branch. Gengzi denotes a sexagenary year. See more on Wikipedia. during the reign of Shengde.15盛德 – Shèngdé. The second era name of Duan Zhixing from 1176 to 1180. See more on Wikipedia The colours are exquisite and the text written is not bad. The land of Dali was made up of the Han Dynasty’s Dieyu16楪榆 – Diéyú. Dieyu county of the Han Dynasty. and Tang Dynasty’s Nanzhao,17南诏 – Nánzhào. Kingdom of Nanzhao. See more on Wikipedia. and was inhabited by various barbarian tribes. Initially called Dameng18大蒙 – Dàméng and then renamed Dali19大礼 – Dàlǐ. Not to be confused with the current name Dali 大理., it later given its current name by Duan Siping.20段思平 – Duàn Sīpíng. A statesman who founded and became the First Emperor of the Kingdom of Dali in 937. See more on Wikipedia. Weak during the Song Dynasty, power was held by brothers Gao Xiang21高祥 – Gāo Xiáng and Gao He.22高和 – Gāo HéXianzong of Yuan23元宪宗 – Yuán Xiánzaong. Temple name of Möngke, the fourth khagan-emperor of the Mongol Empire. See more on Wikipedia. conquered the Kingdom and made it a vassal state. Gengzi was the fourth year of the reign of Emperor Lizong of Song.24宋理宗 – Sòng Lǐzōng. Emperor Lizong of Song (26 January 1205–16 November 1264) was the 14th emperor of the Song dynasty in China and the fifth emperor of the Southern Song dynasty. He reigned from 1224 to 1264. See more on Wikipedia. Lizhen Emperor was the descendant of the Duan clan. ”

The date is wrong. Song Lian believed that the Gengzi mentioned in the painting referred to the fourth year of Emperor Lizong of Song (1240), but he miscalculated by 60 years. It actually refers to the seventh year of Gengzi during the reign of Chunxi25淳熙 – Chúnxī. It is the third era name of Emperor Xiaozong of Song from 1174 to 1189. See more on Wikipedia. of Song (1180). Song Lian didn’t study the history of the Kingdom of Dali in detail, so he didn’t know that the fifth year of Gengzi during the reign of Shengde of Dali was 1180 instead of the Gengzi 60 years later. There is another piece of evidence. The painting mentioned Lizhen Emperor, who was Master Yideng Duan Zhixing (I made up both the Dharma name and story of Master Yideng). His six era names were Lizhen, Shengde, Jiahui, Yuanheng, Anding, and Hengshi (according to The Revised Chronicles by Luo Zheyu. The Hengshi era name is not mentioned in the Nanzhao Unofficial History.) During the Gengzi year (the fourth year of Emperor Lizong of Song) Song Lian referred to, the Kingdom of Dali was ruled by Emperor Xiaoyi26孝义帝 – Xiàoyìdì Duan Xiangxing27段祥兴 – Duàn Xiángxìng (grandsun of Duan Zhixing). It was the second year of Daolong28道隆 – Dàolóng. The era name of Emperor Xiaoyi.

The painting is now stored in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The description published by the museum is based on Song Lian’s research, and might be corrected in the future.

Song Lian was a famous scholar in the early Ming Dynasty. He was the tutor of Zhu Yuanzhang’s29朱元璋 – Zhū Yuánzhāng. The Hongwu Emperor (21 October 1328–24 June 1398) Zhu Yuanzhang was the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1368 to 1398. See more on Wikipedia. crown prince, and was known as the head of the founding civil servants of the Ming Dynasty. However, the Ming scholars were careless with their research. Song Lian was ordered by the Emperor to preside over the revision of Yuan History and the editing was completed in six months. When the Emperor received new materials and ordered him to make further revisions, it was sloppily completed in six months. Thus, the Yuan History has one of the worst qualities among the China’s official history. In comparison, the History of Ming30明史 – Míngshǐ. It is one of the official Chinese historical works known as the Twenty-Four Histories. It consists of 332 volumes and covers the history of the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644. It was written by a number of officials commissioned by the court of Qing Dynasty, with Zhang Tingyu as the lead editor. See more on Wikipedia. was revised from the 17th year during the reign of Kangxi31康熙 – Kāngxī. The Kangxi Emperor (5 February 1654–20 December 1722) was the third Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the second Qing emperor to rule over China proper. See more on Wikipedia. to the fourth year during the reign of Qianlong.32乾隆 – Qiánlóng. The Qianlong Emperor (25 September 1711–7 February 1799) was the fifth Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper, reigned from 1735 to 1796. See more on Wikipedia. The whole process took sixty years and is a far cry in terms of haste and accuracy. It’s no wonder that the later generations created the New History of Yuan as a replacement. The fact of Song Lian’s note on the painting casually missing the date by sixty years alone, one can imagine the History of Yuan is full of errors. However, Song Lian was a loyal and honest person. He never flattered Zhu Yuanzhang and was a person with high morals.

December 1975

This translation is by Jenxi for WuxiaSociety and appeared first on WuxiaSociety.


Jenxi is an avid wuxia fan and runs WuxiaSociety to bring the world of wuxia to the English-speaking world.