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Promotional material for the 2017 TV series Legends of the Condor Heroes Photo: VCG
Six decades after the debut of Jin Yong’s popular Chinese martial arts novel Legends of the Condor Heroes, English speakers will finally have a chance to explore for themselves the exotic world of swords and sabers in ancient China that has fascinated Chinese readers for generations.
The English version of the novel is being divided into four books. Hero Born, the first volume translated by British-Swedish translator Anna Holmwood and priced at 14.99 pounds ($19.60), will be published by the UK’s Maclehose Press in February, 2018.
One of the Chinese martial arts literature master’s best-known and most-adapted novels, Legends of the Condor Heroes focuses on the adventures of heroic grassroots couple Guo Jing and Huang Rong (Lotus Huang in Holmwood’s version). It is set during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), a time when the weakened Song empire was under constant threat from the northern Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and, later on, invasions from the Mongols.
The English edition of Legends of the Condor Heroes Photo: Courtesy of Maclehose Press
An epic story
From Jin aristocrats to Mongol rulers and Song swordsmen, the novel makes use of hundreds of characters to create an epic world of martial arts and entangled human stories, not just about familial bonds and romance, but also brotherhood and patriotism.
“Jin Yong flips the metaphorical significance of north and south, the northern government is the object of criticism, while it is the anti-establishment southerners who become the righteous patriots who will save the empire,” Holmwood, a professional translator of Chinese and Swedish literature for the past seven years, told the Global Times on November 3 via e-mail.
When talking about Chinese martial arts novels, jianghu is a concept that cannot be ignored.
“I tackled it [jianghu] as a constellation of terms that includes wulin [the world of martial arts] and xia [a core spirit of martial arts that promotes actions of integrity to stand up for the weak against bullies],” wrote Holmwood. “On the one hand, jianghu [rivers and lakes] refers to a concrete place, the landscape of southern China, where historically the instruments of the Chinese imperial government haven’t been able to penetrate as deeply.”
“The sheer complexity and difficulty of Jin Yong’s work means that something like this [English translation of the novel] takes a lot of time,” wrote Holmwood.
Anna Holmwood Photo: Courtesy of Anna Holmwood
A five-year effort, the book is the first in the press house’s twelve-volume translation project that includes two other masterworks from Jin Yong – Shendiao Xialü (lit. The Condor Couple) and Yitian Tulongji (lit. Heaven Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber).
A week ago, news about the English edition sparked discussion on Chinese social media platforms, where netizens expressed their concern and curiosity about how Holmwood would deal with the culturally specific martial arts terms in the novel that don’t have equivalent counterparts in English – many are concepts borrowed from traditional Chinese culture.
“Everything has been thought about, every word on every page balanced and considered,” wrote Holmwood about the book, but refused to go into detail about her translation due to the fact that she is still finalizing the book.
The difficulty in translating the book is easy to imagine as there have been only a few English-language adaptations of the story – the latest being a 1998 comic of the same name by Hong Kong illustrator Lee Chiching. Referencing Jin Yong’s other work is also problematic as only three of Jin Yong’s 15 works have been translated into English.
“I greatly respect the translators who worked on these books, but I made a conscious choice not to read their translations before embarking on my work,” Holmwood told the Global Times when asked if she had gone through those English editions for reference.
“I wanted to find my own way of dealing with the complexity of recreating the richness of Jin Yong’s writing in another language and context,” she wrote.
With the help of martial arts films and Chinese fantasy and martial arts literature translation websites such as wuxiaworld.com, Chinese martial arts is becoming less of a mystery in the West. Abstruse martial arts terms such as yinyang, neigong and qi are already familiar to veteran foreign readers of the genre.
“Knowledge is getting deeper all the time, so I think now is the perfect moment to translate Legends of the Condor Heroes,” Holmwood told the Global Times.
Moreover, “there are martial arts clubs in small towns all across Europe and America and further afield, so in fact there is a big interest in the West not only in watching and reading about martial arts, but also practicing it,” she wrote.
“Chinese martial arts celebrates the power of the individual to do good in much the same way as Western stories of heroism do, this is the essential connection that makes Jin Yong’s stories universal across cultures,” she noted.
But while the market potential for Chinese martial arts is growing, “in terms of book publishing this is relatively new thing,” Holmwood wrote. “Therefore, all involved are determined to do our best. We are all hopeful that it will strike a chord with readers.”
Aside from Holmwood, who will continue with the series with her fellow translator Gigi Chang, who is working on the second volume, they’re also planning to bring on another translator to the project.
“This is to ensure the 12 volumes reach the readers as fast as possible,” Holmwood explained.
Newspaper headline: World of Martial Arts
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