YellowBridge Chinese Language & Culture
Chinese Language Center

Chinese Literature Chinese Martial Arts Novels (Wuxia)

Early martial art novels were written during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The best known such novel of that era is Water Margin. Most popular martial art novels, however, were written in the Republican era (1911+). One of the popular writers in the 1930s was Wang Dulu, one of whose novels became the basis for the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" movie. The most popular writer, by far, is Jin Yong [金庸] , who is known in the West as Louis Cha. Most of Cha's novels were originally serialized and printed in his own Hong Kong newspaper and in Chinese newspapers throughout the world.

Until fairly recently, the pleasure of reading a wuxia novel was limited to those who could read Chinese because no English translations existed. The closest one could come to these fantastic stories was through films, mostly made in Hong Kong. The first major translation, "The Deer and the Cauldron", was published in 1997. Official translations of other Louis Cha novels are in progress. Many fans have posted unofficial and often partial translations on the Internet.

  Title Mini Review
Water Margin
aka Outlaws of the Marsh
Written by Shi Nai-an (ca 1290-ca 1365) and Luo Guanzhong, (ca 1330-ca 1499)
Translated by Sidney Shapiro
Acacia Press, 2001
4 volume set, 2149 pages
Rating: ★★★★

One of the four classic novels of Chinese literature, this one is called a Robin Hood story because it tells the exploits of a group of outlaws who steals from corrupt officials to give to the poor. However, I find more like the "Justice League" of  DC Comics.  Except that there are 108 superheroes.  But not to worry.  They do not all appear at once.  In fact the book is about how the bandits get together and join the group one at a time or in small groups to escape some injustice perpetrated by corrupt officials.
The Deer and the Cauldron

Written by Louis Cha
Translated by John Minford
Oxford University Press, 1997
3 volumes (sold separately)
Rating: ★★★★★

This was Louis Cha's last and, some argue, his best martial novel. Unlike most of his other novels, though, this one is not about gallant warriors selflessly righting wrongs. Instead, it follows a 13-year old foul-mouth, incorrigible anti-hero growing up in the early years of the Qing dynasty. Disguised as a eunuch, he lives in the Imperial Palace and gains the trust of the young emperor while secretly being a leader of one of the triad societies set up to restore the Ming dynasty.

The Book and the Sword

Written by Louis Cha
Translated by John Minford and Graham Earnshaw
Oxford University Press, 2005
500 pages
Rating ★★★★

Louis Cha's first full-length novel is built around the rumor that the Qing dynasty's greatest emperor, Qianglong, was actually a Han Chinese rather than Manchu due to a baby swap. See Full Review.

Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain
Written by Louis Cha
Translated by Yung Chin and Olivia Mok
Coronet Book, 1996
382 pages
One of Cha's earlier efforts. reader opinions on the translation have been mixed.
Sword of the Yüeh Maiden
Written by Louis Cha
Translator unknown
Read it at
Rating: ★★★★

Cha's only short story is set in the 5th century BCE, around the time of Sun Tzu (The Art of War). The king of Yüeh wanted to exact revenge on the king of Wu. The idea seemed preposterous since his army was no match for the better equipped and trained enemy. However, a mysterious peasant girl changes everything. Despite the amateur translation, Cha's brilliance and knack for surprising the reader comes through.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
A Portrait of the Ang Lee Film
Edited by Huiling Wang
Newmarket Press, 2001
144 pages
Rating: ★★★★

The movie screenplay was loosely based on the fourth novel of the "Crane-Iron Pentalogy", written by Wang Dulu. There is no English translation of this work so this book about the Ang Lee film, which includes the complete screenplay and many color photographs, is the closest you can come it. There is a synopsis of each volume of the Pentalogy at this external website.

The Eleventh Son: A Novel Of Martial Arts And Tangled Love
Written by Gu Long (1937-1985)
Translated by Rebecca S. Tai
Homa and Sekey, 2004
366 pages
Rating: ★★★★★

First English translation of a novel by Gu Long, who is considered to be one of the top martial arts writer. The plots starts with the pursuit of a legendary sword but evolves into a rather complicated love story. The book was the source of the plot for Swordsman and Enchantment, a 1978 hit movie as well as several TV series. See Full Review.

See also