|Wuxia novelist Louis Cha or Jin Yong has died in Hong Kong at 94 years old|
But before I continue writing about my trip to Italy and Spain, there's sad news in Hong Kong that Chinese martial arts novelist and journalist Louis Cha Leung-yung has passed away at the age of 94 after a long illness.
Tributes have been pouring in from the likes of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to Alibaba chairman Jack Ma Yun.
I only knew Cha as a wuxia novelist who used the pen name Jin Yong and lots of people loved reading his stories about kung fu masters in ancient China that combined Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. His novels -- over 100 million copies sold worldwide -- were transposed onto the big screen and even made into video games and graphic novels.
Only now did I know that he was the founder of the Ming Pao newspaper, after having made money from serializing his novels in the New Evening Post. Ming Pao was apparently started by four people in 1957, including Cha, who was its editor-in-chief and the paper was mainly a vehicle to serialize his stories.
Cha was born in Hangzhou in 1924 and graduated from the Law School of Suzhou in 1948 in international law with the intention of becoming diplomat. To make some money as a student, he began working as a journalist and translator for Ta Kung Pao newspaper in Shanghai and then a year later continued working for the same paper in Hong Kong.
He then left Ta Kung Pao in 1955 and published his first martial novel, The Book and the Sword in the New Evening Post that became an instant success, which spurred him to write 14 other very popular martial arts novels, the last one called The Deer and the Cauldron in 1972.
On appreciating his novels, Cha admitted readers would need "some training in Chinese thinking to understand", describing his books as "traditional Chinese novels in their themes, morals or philosophies".
Cha's 15 novels have been translated into English, French, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Malay and Indonesian.
"Martial arts for me are just an instrument, a sugar coating. They can be used as a way of expressing my artistic ideas," Cha said. Those ideas, according to him, were distinctly anti-feudal and liberal.
When it comes to his political stance it seems it was not so straight forward.
His editorials in 1966 were critical of China's Cultural Revolution, writing that it threatened the destruction of Chinese culture and tradition. He was said to be on a list of prominent people targeted for assassination that was published in left-wing newspapers during the 1967 riots in Hong Kong because of his critical stance against Beijing.
However, when China and Britain reached an agreement on Hong Kong's handover in 1997, Cha was appointed by Beijing in 1985 to be a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, Hong Kong's mini constitution. But after the Tiananmen Square massacre, he resigned in protest in 1989.
He later was part of the Preparatory Committee set up by the Chinese government in 1996 to monitor the transfer of sovereignty. Perhaps it was because then leader Deng Xiaoping was a fan of Cha's novels; Cha was the first non-Communist member from Hong Kong to meet Deng.
But others felt the best-selling author was a sell-out for agreeing to Beijing's proposal of that the first three Hong Kong chief executives should be elected by a "broadly representative" committee, a move that hindered the timetable for universal suffrage.
Nevertheless, Cha will be remembered more for his novels that transported readers into a chivalrous fantasy past and his massive contribution to Hong Kong and China's contemporary literary culture.