Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Love of Jin Yong - Translated by April Vo

If you ever take a sightseeing tour of Hong Kong, the bus will stop besides an imposing villa half way up Peace Mountain, the place where Hong Kong billionaires have their homes. In a voice full of admiration, the tour guide will intone: “This awesome villa is where the famous writer Jin Yong lives.
Jin Yong's Home in Hong Kong
As the tourist takes in the sight, the question inevitably arises: “Does Jin Yong live happily ever after there with someone he loves? Does the ancient adage: “successful person in business, a failure in love” apply to him?  Let’s try to find out by going back in time...

It was 1957, and Jin Yong got himself hired as a playwright working for the Great Wall film production company. He was just 33 years old, but was already famous as one of the “four great artists of Hong Kong.”  So, why would a man of his exalted stature want to be a mere playwright for a film company? The reason was utterly simple. Great Wall had a star so bright that she filled up the entire the sky. That star was Miss “Summer’s Dream,” Xie Meng in Chinese, as in Shakespeare’s “A Mid-Summer’s Dream.”

So, who was Xie Meng?

Her real name was Wang Meng. Born in 1834 in Suzhou, she grew up in Shanghai, and then resettled in Hong Kong in 1947. At age 15, she played the lead role in an English play called Joan of Arc” and performed so well that the newspapers hailed her as “not only a beauty, but also a very fine actress.” Standing at 1.70 meters tall (around 5 feet 7 inches) she was a very tall for a woman in those years, and given her excellent education, she quickly rose to become the top star at Great Wall.

Xie Meng when she was a high school student
Xie Meng was so beautiful that the folks at Great Wall gave her a nickname: the Great Wall Princess. And the princess was all Jin Yong could think of. Years later, he wrote: “In real life, her beauty blinded me; on the silver screen, she was even more blindingly beautiful. One look at her and my heart starts beating wildly, while my soul is forever held captive by her gaze.” He even compared her to one of the four great classical beauties of China, Xi Shi: “No one knows how beautiful Xi Shi was, but surely she couldn’t have been prettier than Xie Meng!”

Xie Meng’s beauty was the real reason why Jin Yong got himself hired at Great Wall. In his old age, he would remind people the ancient Chinese folklore, whereby a famous poet would pretend to be a servant so as to be close to the beauty that he coveted, and that he, Jin Yong, did the same, except that he didn’t succeed while the famous poet did.

For Xie Meng, he toiled long and hard at Great Wall. He wrote six plays, all for Wang Men to star in: “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”, "Please Don’t Leave Me”, “Midnight Music” and so on. He also learned to become a director. He successfully directed two movies starring Xie Meng: “Nurturing Spring Love” and “The Abducted Bride”. Working with Xie Meng on these movies gave him many chances to be close to her. There were longing looks and barely veiled words, but her responses were reserved. She appreciated his multi-faceted talents, and his attention, but she also said: “Our relationship is a little above friendship, but a little below love.” This response was like a dagger thrust into Jin Yong’s heart, but he couldn’t bring himself to go beyond what was allowed by the mores of the time.

That was because she was married. In 1954, she married a businessman who loved the movies. As an Asian movie star, she couldn’t lead the carefree life of a Western movie star, and thus betray her husband. And so, to the innumerable men who pursued her without any considerations of her marital status, she was as cold as ice and rejected them outright and mercilessly. But for Jin Yong, she reserved for him a special friendship, one that is steeped in the utmost respect.

She accepted a first – which turned out to be also the last - dinner date with him at a café one evening. Amidst the soft light and melodious background music, they drank, they looked deep into each other eyes and Jin Yong was emboldened enough to blurt out to her what was on his mind. As tears streamed down her cheeks, she softly told him that, yes, she respected his upright personality, his immense talent, but he was just one step too late. “If only you had met me before I got married!” she told him. She then asked him to forgive her, and promised that, since they couldn’t be together in this life, they would be together in the next one.

Xie Meng (left) and Jin Yong (Right). Even when seated, you can see how tall she was.

Jin Yong left Great Wall and his newfound career as a director and screenwriter shortly after that dinner, in 1959. He then founded the journal Ming Pao, and focused on writing wuxia novels.

However, even as he suppressed off all thoughts of love for Xie Meng, she never ever really left his mind. He penned a 10-part series called “The Travels of Xie Meng” in Ming Pao when she left for a tour of Europe. And, in the “Return of the Condor Heroes”, Xie Meng reappeared as Xiao Long Nu (Little Dragon Girl), a woman who was so pretty, so pure, and so natural. Xie Men’s intelligence and sharp tongue also came back in Huang Rong, the lead heroine of the "Legend of the Condor Heroes” novel, and her ineffable beauty reappeared in the young maiden Wang Yuyan in  “Demi-Gods ans Semi-Devils” (Tian Long Ba Bu).

The late Taiwanese female writer San Mao once wrote: “The way the novels of Jin Yong treats the subject of love will take one to the highest heaven, or plunge one to deepest hell, and leave one with no better understanding of what love is. If we don’t know about the love he had for Xia Meng, we will never be able to understand what love means in his novels.”
After 26 years as a movie star, in 1976 Xie Meng left the silver screen, bid farewell to her fans in Hong Kong, and immigrated to Canada. By then, Ming Pao had become a major newspaper in Hong Kong, and reporting the news of Xie Meng’s departure for Canada is the normal thing that all newspapers do. But Jin Yong did a lot more than just reporting the news. He wrote an editorial entitled “The Spring Dream of Xie Meng.” To those who didn’t know anything about him and Xie Meng, the editorial was unprecedented and in some way, really odd and pedantic. But to those who do, the editorial was like Jin Yong saying in the tenderest and noblest way possible, a long farewell to the one who once was, and is, forever, his only true love.

(To be Continued)

Note: This story is a translation and adaptation of an article published in Vietnamese here


Heaven and Earth said...

Thanks April so much for this article. I have always wondered where JY get his inspiration for my favorite actress "Little Dragon Girl". I hope you will write the sequel to this article too.

RobinD said...

really nice article. you rock!