Jin Yong joins the Chinese Writers' Association

Jin Yong's new badge

The Chinese Writers' Association's recent public announcement of more than 400 candidates for admission this year is notable for two reasons.

First, it includes a notice inviting the public to report any instances of plagiarism on the part of anyone on the list, probably in response to scandals involving high-profile members like Guo Jingming (whose plagiarism actually occurred long before his induction to the CWA). Second, for the first time, the list contains the names of writers from Hong Kong and Macao, including the king of 20th Century martial arts fiction, Jin Yong.

Jin Yong (金庸, aka Louis Cha 查良镛) officially retired from writing in 1972 and has spent the last few decades conducting a series of revisions to his fourteen novels, collecting honorary degrees, and working on a doctorate in history at Cambridge.

Jin's application to join the CWA was accompanied by rumors that he would be given the position of honorary vice-chairman upon acceptance. Chinese media has run with the story even as CWA staff have denied it. From yesterday's Guangzhou Daily:

Great knight Jin Yong's position in the world of writing is so high, his contributions to literature so brilliant, that for him to become an ordinary member would a bit of an insult to his talent. A few days ago, Jin Yong's assistant Pan Yaoming responded, saying that given Jin Yong's social position and literary accomplishments, he would not be an ordinary member of the CWA. As for how high a position he would occupy, a CWA official who did not wish to be identified said, "Procedure would have to be followed for Jin Yong to be given an official position. The specifics are still under discussion."

Predictably, the vice-chairmanship rumors drew criticism from commentators who have grown tired with the popular image of Jin Yong as a "great knight" who has made "brilliant contributions" to literature. Wang Xiaoyu, whose response is translated below, compared Jin Yong to the "post-80s" rebel novelists who have been co-opted by the system, and suggested that his image as a chivalrous, upstanding hero hides the heart of a hypocrite.

In the wake of the media focus on Jin Yong's possible vice-chairmanship, children's author Zheng Yuanjie declared that he was withdrawing from the Beijing Writers' Association. His declaration, which was widely interpreted as a protest against CWA favoritism of Jin Yong, actually seems to be the product of dissatisfaction that has been building for a long time. Zheng joined the BWA in the late 1980s and wrote in his statement that the organization has declined precipitously over the past two decades, to the point that it no longer serves the interest of its members.

Zheng is not the first author to make a public exit from a writers' association. Wang Lixiong left the CWA in 2001 over political boilerplate in the organization's mission statement. 2003 was a big year for withdrawals: Yu Kaiwei and Huang Heyi left the Hunan Writers' Association because they felt it was far too disorganized, Xia Shang left the Shanghai Writers' Association because he felt that "the honor of being a member had completely disappeared," and Li Rui, vice-chairman of the Shanxi Writer's Association, quit his post and the CWA to concentrate on his work.

Quitting an organization in protest implies that membership once had value. Zheng Jun (郑军), a Tianjin-based author, suggests that a writers' association membership has been valueless for quite some time.

"Withdrawing from the CWA" is Utter Hype

by Zheng Jun

News about Jin Yong joining the Chinese Writers' Association recently brought that living fossil back into the public eye. Shortly afterward, several well-known authors declared that they were "withdrawing from the writers' association." And if you look back, you'll find that quite a few authors have loudly announced their withdrawal in recent years.

I was a little confused when I first heard about it: what is there worth announcing about something so insignificant? But when I discovered that the public reaction to the news was miles away from the actual facts, I understood: apparently people think that "withdrawing from the CWA" is as serious a matter as "withdrawing from the CPPCC." And since this is the case, why not have some fun and cook up a huge story out of something whose actual value is the size of a sesame seed or a green pea?

The public's major misconception of the Writers' Association is that members draw a salary and then write according to the wishes of the authorities. So they see someone like Guo Jingming joining the CWA as a case of "amnesty offered to rebels." And "withdrawing from the CWA" is at least equivalent to resigning from a post.

But writers' association membership is basically just an honorary title. If you can publish a few books, even if they're vanity-published, and then if you apply for membership, they'll confer the title of member on you. At least in the provincial associations, you can work your way to member with a few self-published titles. And in some remote provinces, publishing a few stories is all you need to become a member. So for top-selling novelists, joining a writers' association is as easy as turning over your hand. It's no big deal at all.

After you become a member, you have to pay annual dues of twenty or thirty yuan, and they give you a few issues (in my association it's four per year) of Writers Correspondence, and then you have a Spring Festival gathering, and that's all the interaction you have. Sometimes the association will organize symposia if they can get a few active participants. Any then they'll distribute compensation for missing work. I've attended in the past, because you can make back in compensation what you've paid in dues, and then go and spend it on dinner with friends. That's all.

When I first joined, I thought that the title would be very important for future publications, and proudly printed "XX Writers' Association Member" on my business card. Later, I discovered that editors across the country basically did not care about the line. They only asked, "What have you published?" And when they saw what I had published, they would be able to judge whether I was a writer whose manuscripts they were looking for. Seeing as how it's basically meaningless, my current business cards omit that line.

The title may be worthless, but don't writers' associations provide a space for publishing? My own Association has an official journal. It changes its name every two years or so, apportions out the space, and with a circulation of a few thousand copies can't really support many editors. At every convention, you see them at the gate with their magazines spread out to give away, and you feel for them. In Beijing, any book dealer could rent a room in an alleyway, hire two college students who can do page layout, and put out a magazine whose circulation would be several times greater.

Apart from magazines, they also edit collections of the works of member authors, more stuff that no one is interested in. The binding alone is 1980s level. Every time I visit the Association, they stuff an assortment of books into my bag.

A writers' association is an official work unit that lives off the treasury, so while there aren't any professional members who draw a salary, there are salaried staff members. For example, whenever I go to the "liaison department," I'll see a young woman in her early twenties, a recent graduate, whose work is just to clean up lists of names on the computer, and issue notices when it comes time for conferences. People who come to a poor yamen like this have no better place to go. Anyone with the least bit of promise has gone elsewhere.

For a period of time, writers' associations actually had professional members, but today, even provincial associations can only support a few, and they're all seventy- or eighty-year-olds, who for "residual historical problems" cannot be kicked out. Today, writers' associations no longer have full-time authors; the position has been changed to "contract authors" that they've recruited. Specifically, after you sign a contract, if you produce a certain amount of work every year, they'll give you a subsidy. It's just a token amount, and not enough to live on. In my association, the annual subsidy is 7,000 yuan.

But for better or for worse, it's money, and it's nominally extended to all members. Most importantly, they set your annual productivity at one hundred and some thousand characters, while any random freelancer has to have an output of several hundred thousand in order to live. So at first, I eagerly put in my name. Later, a friend in the association told me that you have to write "mainstream-themed" pieces in "mainstream publications" for it to count. Then another friend told me that the contracted writers were designated internally beforehand, mostly laid-off workers within the association. It's an organization pretty much cut out of the marketplace that exists to support a few people, so its decline is inevitable. What do you do with those people from the 1940s and 50s? Setting up a contract and give them a few thousand yuan a year is at least the humane thing to do.

When I heard that this was the case, I no longer put my name in contention. There was no profit to be had, and I could always write another column to make that much in a year, and then donate it to the old and infirm.

But today, the writers' associations have been marginalized. When a writer wants to make something of themselves, what's most important is not for them to join a writers' association, but to hook up with a good publisher. A few years back, a writers' association member in the northeast made the news for going begging on the street. I told a friend at the time, this is pure self-promotion. He had published a book in the "Paper Tiger Series," which made him at least enough to buy a house. That was the work of an awesome publisher, and it brought each author a couple hundred thousand.

It's so easy to join a writers' association, and there's so little profit in it, so of course it's easy to withdraw — just fail to pay your dues at the appointed time, and when the association revises its rolls every few years, you'll be taken off. What point is there in making a statement? Lots of people automatically "resign from the writers' association" because their status doesn't bring them any benefit. In my own association, the last time they "cleared out the ranks," more than four hundred "dead members" were eliminated. I jumped from number eight-hundred-and-some to a little more than four hundred, but I didn't see any media reports about "400 writers' association members in XX resign en masse." So it doesn't really mean anything at all.

In the end, using the public's misconceptions about the writers' association to sensationalize things is a little iffy. If you've got the guts, then resign from an organization that has a higher social cost.

Commentator Wang Xiaoyu (王晓渔) wrote about the poor behavior of "post-80s" novelists in the CWA, and includes among their ranks writers like Guo Jingming who were born in the 1980s, Jin Yong, who is 85 years old, and novelists who came to prominence in the 1980s.

So Glad to See the Great Knight Become a Vice-Chairman

by Wang Xiaoyu

The official website of the Chinese Writers' Association,, recently publicized a list of the 2009 class of candidates for membership, and one of the most notable names was that of Jin Yong. A source said that Jin was likely to serve as honorary vice-chairman of the Association, but the CWA secretary denied this supposition saying, "nothing has been decided at this point" (Daily News, 2009.06.22). "Nothing has been decided at this point" does not rule it out for the future, and not serving as honorary vice-chairman does not mean that he will not be given some other position. Besides, this is the first time since the return of Hong Kong in 1997 that the CWA has accepted members from Hong Kong and Macau, so is there a Hong Kong-Macau Writers' Association in store for the future? Can Jin Yong get things heated up and serve as a stand-out model? These are all unknowns. However, these questions are within the purview of the CWA, and I am not concerned with them.

The CWA has gradually retreated from the public eye, but on three occasions the public has been very interested in new CWA members, each time for a special reason. First it was the "post-80s" writers, then it was Guo Jingming, and this time it is Jin Yong. When the post-80s champions of individualism requested entrance into the Association, it caused quite a stir: how could a generation of rebels accept the system so quickly? However, once you understand the work of these post-80s, you'll realize that their rebellion basically stops at a bodily level — using accessories like tattoos or nose rings as symbols of uniqueness and individuality — and they sometimes fall short of bodily rebellion and linger at the level of clothing rebellion, dressing themselves or the characters in their fiction in strange clothing that is not particularly bizarre: bare midriffs, spaghetti strap tops, or low-ride slacks. It is no surprise that a generation basically insulated from mental rebellion quickly learned to accept the system, so even though a number of post-80s slipped through the cracks to enter the CWA with Jin Yong this year, they no longer have the capacity to shock the public.

Guo Jingming, a post-80s writer who joined the CWA with other writers his own age, is mentioned on his own because he has a special status: in addition to his identity as a young writer, he's a literary plagiarist. "Acting on the principle of nurturing talent," the CWA "broke the rules to accept" Guo Jingming. That statement does not elaborate on whether "talent" means "writing talent" or "plagiarizing talent," and whether the rules were broken because of outstanding writing or obvious plagiarism. Looking at the details, it's likely the second option, because Never Flowers in Never Summer, the novel the court ruled was plagiarized, is right there on his recommendation form. This time, the CWA announcement is mainly targeted at plagiarists and includes the line, "If there are any names on this list suspected of plagiarism, please report them within the hearing period." So I'm sympathetic toward future plagiarists: why shouldn't the CWA extend the same "nurturing" and "rule breaking" toward their talent that it did for Guo Jingming?

Jin Yong was born in 1924, so he counts as a post-80s too. Jin's entrance into the CWA reminds me of Wang Shuo's remarks ten years ago in 1999, when he called the Four Heavenly Kings, Jackie Chan films, Chiung Yao's TV dramas, and Jin Yong's novels the "four great vulgarities." I took issue at the time with his inclusion of Jin's novels among the "four great vulgarities," because I felt that substituting Yu Qiuyu's essays would have been a better choice. But as the years went on and I looked back on his critique of Jin's fiction, each blow was a critical hit. For example, "The swordsman, under Jin's pen, is less a martial arts master than a criminal, and each school is a gang of bandits. They carry out revenge killings over private grudges, but what's most intolerable is that grand names are given to their violent actions as if there are distinctions between just and unjust mob killings, and for the cause of justice blood flows like a river." There is nothing wrong with being worldly, but when an elevated individual who does not deign to live off worldly things is so anxious to gain worldly renown, the outcome is rather comical, like when a bunch of overstimulated young people start fighting, carrying on, and forming gangs. Not such a big deal on its own, but when slapped alongside something like, "A great hero acts for the country and the people," it is hardly solemn and stirring, and actually a little silly.

Biographies of Jin Yong usually depict him as great and mighty as one of his heroes, but Fu Guoyong's Biography of Jin Yong is different: while it affirms the man, it also criticizes. During an interview in which he replied to Fu and his biography, Jin Yong abandoned the magnanimity and open-mindedness of the heroes of his books and said he had not authorized Fu to write the biography. He also said, "I do not recommend The Biography of Jin Yong. I don't know him, and he does not know me. It's a pack of lies. What's the point of reading it? If he were to appear in one of my stories, he'd definitely be a villain." Writing a biography does not require the subject's authorization, nor does the biographer need to know the subject personally. These are basic rules of biography writing, of which Jin Yong unfortunately seems to be ignorant. As to seeing the biographer as a villain in one of his novels, that's just a child's temper tantrum, miles away from the demeanor of a great hero.

Mainland Chinese literary circles have the saying, "stand by while friends become chairmen." Authors who became famous in the 1980s (they too can be called "post-80s") one by one became chairmen and vice-chairmen of local writers' associations in the 21st Century. Their former humanistic ideals were gradually replaced by institutional thinking, and their friends, grieved by this transformation, turned Lu Xun's line, "stand by while friends become new ghosts" into "to stand by while friends become chairmen."* Today, the three types of "post-80s" are assembled in the CWA, while at the same time, Hong Kong compatriots are vying for top spots. It's not only that Jin Yong may become the vice-chairman of the CWA. Jackie Chan, who made his name by wearing a hero's costume, has already become a vice-chairman of the China Film Association, in which capacity he stunned us all with the line "Chinese people need to be disciplined," and Andy Lau, one of the Four Heavenly Kings, is on the CFA board. As an observer facing such cultural wonders in this flourishing age, I am not in the least surprised, and will gladly see the great knight become a vice-chairman. Netizens have said that Jin Yong is like his character Yue Buqun,*, but such an assessment requires careful examination of the evidence, so nothing more will be said about it here.


  1. 忍看朋辈成主席, a play on 忍看朋辈成新鬼 from 《悼柔石》 (A Lament for Rou Shi). See The Lyrical Lu Xun by Jon Eugene von Kowallis et al.
  2. 岳不群: Leader of the Qi faction in Jin Yong's novel State of Divinity (笑傲江湖), originally a respected leader but later revealed to be selfish and power-hungry.
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There are currently 5 Comments for Jin Yong joins the Chinese Writers' Association.

Comments on Jin Yong joins the Chinese Writers' Association

1 error:
character “查” is a 多音字。
the main pronunciation is "cha".
however, when used as a chinese surname, it is pronounced "zhā".

there are quite a few characters/surnames that function alike, such as:

纪(J ǐ )
尉迟(Yù chí)

Thanks for the textbook explanation, emaN, but that ignores the fact that the standard English rendition of 查良镛 is "Louis Cha", probably from the Cantonese (Yale) transcription of his name, Chàh Lèuhng-yùhng.

Which presents an interesting problem for translating the name of someone like 查羽龙, a writer who draws his pseudonym from the names of three well-known martial arts novelists.

you are welcome.

the more we learn, the less we know.

therefore, 革命尚未成功,同志仍需努力 :)


Simply, heteronyms, also known as 破音字.

Another uncommon surname is 么, pronounced Yāo in Mandarin.

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