A Hero Born by Jin Yong – A Review

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A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes #1) by Jin Yong
Fantasy | Martial Arts
Translated from Chinese
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Released September 17, 2019
Originally Published in China in 1957
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Here’s a thing you guys should know about me: I tend to plan out hardcore, impossible-to-do ideas and then quickly abandon them. Now that I’m receiving mental health treatment, I know that it’s one of my bipolar disorder symptoms. A perfect example of this random urge I get was the idea I had last year to dedicate each month to a different country and only read books from that country, calling the challenge “Read the World.”

Obviously, this didn’t work out for a few reasons. First, finding translated literature, especially from some small countries, can be an incredibly frustrating endeavor. Second, it was going to be damn near impossible to read only translated books, especially with so many amazing books coming out in the U.S. that I wanted to read. And third, it was just going to be too much.

However, for the one month when I somewhat tried to stick with the plan, I settled on reading Chinese books. What I did read that month was really fun, plus I had a guest post from the amazing Meonicorn.

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The first Chinese edition

Since fantasy is my favorite genre, I obviously started off my search for books to read by looking for original Chinese fantasy novels. I discovered the Legends of the Condor Heroes series, written by Jin Young in the late 50s/early 60s. It sounded amazing – a martial arts generational saga taking place during the Song Empire and featuring Genghis Khan? Yes, please.

Unfortunately, though, finding an English translation was so difficult that the search was one of the reasons I quickly abandoned the whole “Read the World” endeavor. I added the book to my Goodreads TBR and, sadly, gave up the search.

And then, a few months later, I saw a new English translation for the first of the novels, A Hero Born, on Edelweiss!! I reached out to the publisher and was ridiculously excited when I received an ARC of this book in the mail.

I’m so thrilled that this series is getting a new English translation and being released. The first book was incredible. I couldn’t put it down and gave it a solid five-star rating. I can’t believe I have to wait until 2020 for the second book. I can say with confidence that A Hero Born will be on my top ten books of 2019 list.

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Jin Yong

Whew, I guess that’s enough backstory. Let’s get to the book itself.

Legends of the Condor Heroes is an epic Chinese martial arts fantasy series. It was originally a serialized story published in the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, but eventually was published in novel form.

The story starts off by the reader meeting two sworn brothers, Yang Tiexin and Guo Xiaotian, who pledge to one another that their children will be bonded just as they are. If the children are both of the same gender, they will become sworn siblings; if they are not, they will be married.

After a tragic event occurs, the children are separated, and Guo Xiaotian’s son, Guo Jing, ends up being raised in Mongolia, the best friend and sworn brother of Genghis Khan’s son. He is taught martial arts from a group known as the “Seven Freaks of Jiangnan.” Unbeknownst to Guo Jing, however, he has been entered into a martial arts contest which he’ll fight at 18 years of age. By the end of the novels, he’s making his way into China and has to put both his courage and skill to the test.

This novel was extraordinary. The fight scenes were so well-written and intense. In many novels, fight scenes are difficult to describe, but author Jin Yong wrote it in such a way that you can easily visualize every step taken amongst the warriors.

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Genghis Khan

The antagonists in the story were conniving, manipulating, and, in one particular case, downright terrifying. About halfway through A Hero Born, we encounter a monstrous pair of martial artists known as Copper Corpse and Iron Corpse. Together, they’re known as Twice Fowl Dark Wind and they’ve perfected what is called the Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, a horrible move that slaughters their victims and leaves holes in the skull, right through the bone.

If you’re familiar with martial arts and Kung Fu literature, then the paragraph above won’t be shocking. When Chinese names and martial arts techniques are translated into English, they often end up with descriptive names that seem unusual to Western readers. If you’re not used to these sorts of names, please don’t let it put you off from the story; stick with it, and it’ll quickly lose its strangeness.

I enjoyed watching our protagonist, Guo Jing, grow up throughout the novel. We follow him from being in his mother’s womb to when he’s grown and ventures into China, and it’s fascinating watching his character development. Many of the other characters are just as amazing, but you don’t get to know any of the others as deeply as you do Guo Jing. I’m hoping that in the rest of the novels we get to know even more characters as intimately.

There’s a little bit of everything in this book, from love, war, betrayal, and friendship to amazing scenery, fight scenes, and dialogue. The only thing that I disliked about the book is that I have to wait a little longer before reading the second book in this series.

Legends of the Condor Heroes is the most famous fantasy martial arts series in China, and author Jin Yong has been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. Reading A Hero Born, I understand these comparisons. There’s a good reason for it. If you’re looking for a new series to lose yourself in, or if you’re a fan of martial arts, this series is definitely one that you should check out.


Do you think you’ll be reading the Legends of the Condor Heroes series? Let me know why or why not in the comments!




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GUEST POST: 7 Chinese Books in the Last 70 Years from Meonicorn

For the #readtheworldchina challenge, the amazing Meonicorn of The Bookish Land has written a guest post about 7 Chinese Books of the past 70 years. I love Meonicorn’s blog and Youtube channel, so definitely go check her out for some amazing content and book recommendations. 

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7 Chinese Books in Recent 70 Years

By Meonicorn ( The Bookish Land)

Hi, I am Meonicorn from the BookTube channel: The Bookish Land. Thanks a lot to Penny for inviting me to talk about books from China (since I was born and raised in China, I love talking about them). China has a long history of literature but I feel it’s very difficult to find Chinese books that have been translated into English, especially the recent publishes. So I’ve selected 7 Chinese books from the recent 70 years, maybe you’ll find them interesting, and hope we will have more good Chinese books translated into English in the future!


2010 – NOW: FOLDING BEIJING by Hao Jingfang, 2012, Genre: Science Fiction

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This Hugo Award-winning novelette was set in an unspecified future when people have been divided into three classes and lived in Beijing accordingly. Beijing cycles every 48 hours, where the first 24 hours belong to the highest class, the next 16 hours belong to the second class and the last 8 hours belong to the rest of the population. The living space for each class was folded when they were not using it and the people were put to asleep, and the space would be unfolded when people could use it. People were forbidden to travel across different space. However, a worker called Lao Dao decided to do so because of his daughter and started his space traveling journey.

This novelette was translated by Ken Liu, who also translated the Hugo Award-winning novel The Three-Body Problem.


2000 – 2009: THE LAST QUARTER OF THE MOON by Chi Zijian, 2005, Genre: Historical Fiction

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This was a beautiful family saga about an ethnic group called Evenki, it is told from the perspective of the wife of the last chief in their tribe, following her story for almost 100 years. Their tribe experienced changes from traditional hunting lifestyle to modern culture lifestyle, accepted opportunities and losses, as well as glories and declines. The narrator was also changed by time and generations. The book was beautifully written, the language was poetic, the story was atmospheric and the culture was mysterious.

This novel won the Maodun Literary Prize in 2008. (One of the most important literary prizes in China)

 


1990 – 1999: TO LIVE by Yu Hua, 1993. Genre: Literary Fiction

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To Live discussed the meaning of life with the story of Fugui. Fugui was born in a wealthy family but lost all his fortune by gambling. After that, his life seemed to be a tragedy, his family suffered from the consequences of poverty, he himself had a difficult time living. Whenever there was a warm moment in life, it would be destroyed in the next second.

This book was written when the author was facing some life difficulties, it was a reflection of the author’s life and his attitude towards life.

 

 

 


1980 – 1989 RED SORGHUM by Mo Yan, 1986, Genre: Historical Fiction

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Red Sorghum was a multi-generation novel. The story happened in 1930 when World War II happened and China was fighting with Japan. The protagonists were heroes who fought with Japan but knew little about why they fight, who loved deeply but didn’t know what’s love, who contributed to the country but also did illegal business. This book shows the complexities of human nature and the unclearness of moral truth.

This book was one of the most famous books by the Nobel Prize in Literature winner Mo Yan.

 

 

 


1970 – 1979 THE ANSWER by Bei Dao, 1976. Genre: Poetry

The Answer was a poetry collection by Chinese poet Bei Dao, it was also the title of one of his most famous poems. The poem was written after The Cultural Revolution in China ended and people were struggling between confusion and development. It shouted out the question the poet had “The Ice Age is over now/ Why is there ice everywhere? The Cape of Good Hope has been discovered/ Why do a thousand sails contest the Dead Sea?”


1960 – 1969 HALF A LIFELONG ROMANCE by Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing), 1966. Genre: Literary Fiction

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Half a Lifelong Romance is set in Shanghai in the 1930s. It was a love story between engineer Shijun and his colleague Manzhen, where they fall in love but had to separate because of their families. While they are facing their fate, Chinese society was also changing because of World War II. The hope that they may meet again was getting smaller and smaller, but yet they didn’t give up. This was a book about the suffering and sorrows of love, but also about the life in 1930s Shanghai, and how people were played by societal expectations.

This book was originally written in 1948 with the name of The Eighteen Spring, but was edited by the author and re-published as Half a Lifelong Romance in 1966.


1950 – 1959 LEGENDS OF THE CONDOR HEROES by Jin Yong, 1957 – 1959. Genre: Wuxia (Chinese Fantasy).

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Legends of the Condor Heroes was a classic Wuxia novel, and it was also a historical fiction. Set between 1199 – 1227, this book followed Guojing’s journey from being a boy who knew nothing about himself and his country to a hero who protected his country and his lover. It has a well-rounded character development and is complex but does not have excess historical background. It was one of the most classic Wuxia fictions, and has been translated into English for the first time in 2018.

The Four Chinese Classics

China's Four Classic Novels

#readtheworld

This is part of Read Yourself Happy’s #readtheworld series. Every other month, a new country will be selected, and we’ll examine literature and culture for that location. If you would like to participate this month, use the hashtag #readtheworldchina.

When you start learning about Chinese literature, you will undoubtedly come across the Four Chinese Classics – four (very long) books that are essentially the foundation of Chinese literature. I wanted to take a moment today and share some information about those four books, including the one I’m currently reading.

All of these books were written hundreds of years ago, and although each book is contributed to a specific author, in all cases that authorship is somewhat contested.

One of the reasons these four novels are so important is that they use vernacular Chinese rather than Classical Chinese, making the works more accessible. These four novels are still influential today.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong

Written in the 14th century, this novel is about political intrigue during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history at the end of the Han dynasty and follows hundreds of characters.

Although Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a fictional novel, the battles detailed in the book are real. At the end of the Han dynasty, the lands were divided up and ruled by three separate rulers: Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan. This novel examines the politics of this era alongside some more fantastical elements, such as avenging ghosts.

Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en

Journey to the West was written in the 16th century and is probably the classic that Americans are most familiar with due to its prevalence in films and popular culture. It was the first novel to put ancient Chinese myths into writing.

The story follows Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk, as he travels on a sixteen-year pilgrimage through western China. It draws on Buddhism, Chinese folktales, mythology, Taoism, and pantheism for its characters, including Xuanzang’s three disciples – a monkey, a pig, and a river ogre.

There are countless adaptions of this novel and aspects of it in both Chinese and American television and film.

Water Margin by Shi Nai’an

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Also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, this book was written in the 14th century and was actually the first of these four to be released. This is the book I’m currently reading, after being prompted by my boyfriend who had a copy of all three volumes and loved it when he read it in college.

Set in the Song dynasty, the novel follows a group of outlaws. Before I started reading Outlaws of the Marsh I was incredibly intimidated by its huge cast of characters – 108 in total. After starting it, however, it actually flows incredibly well, and it’s easy to keep track of them all.

Supposedly, this novel is based on a real-life outlaw named Song Jiang who lived during the 12th century, so it is partially based in fact.

I’m not very far into it yet, but what I’ve noticed so far is that many of the characters are not happy with the status quo and actively go against it. The stories are accessible to modern readers because they focus on the people themselves. I’m really enjoying reading my way through this classic novel.

Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin

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Written in the 18th century, Dream of the Red Chamber is the most modern of the four classics. The author, Cao Xueqin, wrote about the financial decay of both his family and the entire Qing dynasty. The novel also examines the Chinese aristocracy, as well as other aspects of Chinese culture such as art and medicine. I’ve seen in compared to Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet in some descriptions because of the love story in it.


Have you read any of these books? Let me know down in the comments!

Foundations of Chinese Civilization by Jing Liu – A Review

“After 17,434 disasters, 3,791 wars, 663 emperors, and 95 dynasties, the 5,000-year-old Chinese civilization marches on.”

The Book

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Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty (2697 BCE – 220 CE) by Jing Liu
Released May 31, 2016
Published by Stone Bridge Press
Goodreads
Author links: Facebook

Synopsis

Foundations of Chinese Civilizations is the history of China told through comic book form. This one is the first in the series.

It examines everything from the most important and long-lasting Chinese dynasties to the dynastic cycle itself, geography, emperors, and so much more.

Review

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I found this comic book on Hoopla while looking for books about Chinese history for this month’s #readtheworld-china challenge. The idea of telling a nation’s history through a comic book really caught my attention.

The thing that really struck me was how incredibly comprehensive it was. It covers everything, from geography and natural disasters to the history of the dynastic cycle and the origin of Chinese civilizations and the mysterious Xia dynasty, said to be the first, although no evidence has been found to support that theory.

I learned so much from this graphic novel, such as that during a dynasty change, as much as two-thirds of the population could perish (!). Also, some interesting information on Chinese surnames:

“Today, 85% of China’s population uses only 100 surnames. Many of these surnames come from the Zhou period.”

It also examines Chinese schools of thought and philosophers, such as Confucius:

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I really enjoyed learning about the Qin and Han dynasties, and some of their leaders, especially Wang Mang, who I’d never heard of before, but had interesting ideas to rid his government of corruption and make overall society fairer.

Rating

5 out of 5 stars. This was a wonderful way to learn more about early Chinese dynasties. I’m definitely going to be seeking out the rest of the books in this series.

Read the World Challenge: China

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I’ve been looking for a massive reading challenge to undertake. A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to read a book from every country, which in itself is pretty daunting, as there are 195 officially recognized countries in the world.

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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I’m taking it a little further though.

One of the personality traits that I love about myself is my need for complete understanding of a topic. It started when I was a kid, and I became obsessed with reading and memorizing my grandparent’s issues of National Geographic. (To this day, I still collect issues of National Geographic!) When I’d research a topic for school, I wouldn’t just stop once the paper was done – I wanted to understand how everything worked, how a place or thing came into being, and… just everything!

Due to that trait, my reading challenge is this: Every month, I will pick one of the 195 countries to focus on. I’ll read books and comic books and poetry created in that country. I want to learn about that location’s mythology, folklore, culture, food, and everything else I can find. Obviously, I can’t learn everything about a country in a single month, but it’s definitely enough time to learn plenty of new things.

For the first month of this challenge, I chose China for a variety of reasons.

First, my boyfriend, Ian, is an art history major with a particular fondness for classical Chinese history, art, and literature. We had the pleasure of visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA when they had a visiting exhibition of China’s famous Terra Cotta Soldiers from Emperor Qin’s tomb. Sometime this month, Ian is going to contribute a few guest posts, which I can’t wait to share with you guys.

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Second, China is one of the world’s earliest civilizations and the foundation of so many great achievements in human history. In fact, some of the most well-known inventions in ancient China are known as the Four Great Inventions: the compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing. I’m particularly thankful for their contributions to printing, considering how much I love books and the history of bookmaking.

Third, China is absolutely massive. It’s the most populous country in the world, and one of the largest in terms of landmass. China has so much to offer in terms of landscape, culture, philosophy, music, literature, and so, so, so much more.

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During the month of November, you’re going to be seeing regular posts that focus on Chinese culture and literature. I’ve already started reading one of the four classic Chinese novels, Outlaws of the Marsh, and my library is probably a tiny bit annoyed with me for literally requesting everything they had on China.

One thing I want to mention is that I will still be reading non-Chinese books during the month of November, as I have a ton of new releases and ARCs and my massive TBR list to work on.

I hope you enjoy this new series that will be featured on Read Yourself Happy. If you know of any Chinese books I should check out, please leave those recommendations in the comments.

In December, I’m going to read and learn about Norway, so I’m also taking recommendations for books written in and about Norway.

Feel free to participate and share your thoughts! #readtheworld

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