The best-selling author of the Chinese-speaking world has died

Literary giant.
Literary giant.
Image: Reuter/Bobby Yip
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Louis Cha, whose martial-arts fantasies about heroes who triumphed over the corrupt forces of society won him legions of lifelong fans, died on Tuesday at the age of 94 in Hong Kong.

Cha originally studied law and wanted to be a diplomat, taking up work as a journalist to pay his way. As fighters led by Mao Zedong were establishing a Communist Party-ruled China, Cha moved to Hong Kong with the newspaper he worked for. Seven years later he published The Book and the Sword, his first work of martial-arts fiction, or wuxia, as a serial in the paper, under the name Jin Yong. The Condor trilogy, possibly his most celebrated work, was published in 1957. He continued working as a journalist, co-founding Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao in 1959.

Cha’s works, set in China’s own history and shaped by his worries about the fate of the individual in Maoist China, were only allowed in the mainland after 1984 under Deng Xiaoping, reportedly a fan of the novels. Over time, the books inspired movies, TV shows, radio programs, stamps, and video games, and many across the Chinese diaspora credit his books as the reason they kept in touch with the language.

Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, loved the books so much he adopted the nickname Feng Qingyang, a swordsman from one of Cha’s books, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (1967). Alibaba’s values are also dubbed “Six Vein Spirit Sword,” after another Cha novel.

But Cha is little known in the English-speaking world. A professional English translation of the Condor trilogy is only underway now, with the first book, A Hero Born, having been published in February.

Tributes to Cha flew across Chinese social media platforms and on Twitter.

“Everyone, I mean everyone, on my WeChat timeline has something to say about Jin Yong,” wrote New York Times tech columnist Li Yuan. “We all read and reread his novels in our teens, 20s, 30s until today. His novels took us to a magical place that justice always prevails.”