Biography of Gu Long, one of the great masters of twentieth-century wuxia literature
Gu Long is one of the great masters of twentieth-century wuxia literature. Along with Wolong Sheng (卧龙生), Zhuge Qingyun (诸葛青云), and Sima Ling (司马翎), he is one of the “four masters of Taiwan”; they are still referred to as the “four celestial kings” of wuxia fiction (四大天王). Along with Jin Yong (金庸) and Liang Yusheng (梁羽生), Gu Long is furthermore considered the third “tripod leg” of the “new school of wuxia novel” (“武侠小说新派”).
He distinguished himself by refusing to be restrained by tradition, and striving for radical innovation, his watchword being: to seek novelty and change (“求新求变”).
Author of some 60 novels, many of which have been adapted to film and television, yet he died very young, after an existence marked by a terrible feeling of loneliness despite his many friends.
A difficult start
Real name Xiong Yaohua (熊耀华), Gu Long was born in Hong Kong on June 7, 1938, to a family originally from Nanchang (南昌), the capital of Jiangxi, and lived in Hankou (汉口) for part of his childhood.
He moved with his parents to Taipei in 1952. In 1954, he entered Taipei Municipal Chenggong High School (台北市立成功高级中学) as a senior. He wrote poems that were published in the newspaper “Chenggong Youth” (成功青年) or the poetry magazine “The Blue Star” (蓝星诗刊).
In 1955, still a high school student, he published his first novel, “From a Country in the North to a Country in the South” (《从北国到南国》), in the magazine Chenguang (晨光杂志), edited by Wu Kaixuan (吴恺玄). But the young aspiring writer is struck by a family tragedy that has a profound effect on his existence.
But precarious existence
His father suddenly abandons his mother, and his parents divorce in 1956. The young Yaohua left the family home. With the help of friends, and money earned from part-time work, he managed to finance his studies: evening English classes at the foreign language department of what is now Tamkang University (淡江大学), where he entered in the fall of 1957. The following year, however, he stopped his studies to devote himself to writing. And he earns a living by doing translations.
Search for a personal style
1960-1963: first wuxia novels
Urged by friends, and under the influence of a new interest in the genre, Xiong Yaohua began to write wuxia novels, He published the first one in 1960, “The Vault of Heaven and the Divine Sword” (《苍穹神剑》Cangqiong Shenjian), which he signed with the pen name of Gu Long. The novel is intended to be the antithesis of traditional wuxia novels, but the style is still in the draft stage.
From 1960 to 1963, Gu Long then published eight novels, including “Perfumed Sword Rain” (《飘香剑雨》), “Defective Gold, Imperfect Jade” (残金缺玉), “Strange Moon and Bad Star” (《月异星邪》), all novels whose twisted plots captivate readers, but are still written in an unoriginal style. He writes on impulse, and starts many stories that he does not finish.
He met the three big stars of wuxia literature at that time in Taiwan – Wolong Sheng (卧龙生), Sima Ling (司马翎) and Zhuge Qingyun (诸葛青云) – and served as their nigger for a while.
Transition to a new style
At the same time, he read a lot, especially “The Doings of the Young” (《少年行》), the first novel, published in 1961, by Lu Yu (陆鱼), a Taiwanese author who was the precursor in the island of the new wuxia novel (台湾 “新派 “武侠先行者). Written in a style inspired by the “stream of consciousness,” the novel prompted Gu Long to revise his own.
He then wrote novels such as “The Legend of the Lone Star” (《孤星传》) or “The Sword of the Concubine Xiang” (《湘妃剑》), but did not meet with the expected success. He then retired to Ruifang (瑞芳) for three years, from 1964 to 1967, to meditate on his existence and seek a way out of his stylistic research. He says over and over that the wuxia novel has reached the point where it must necessarily evolve (“武侠小说到了要变的时候”).
Retreat to Ruifang
From 1964 to May 1966, he wrote a novel that reflected the influences of the three authors whose works he particularly studied during this period: the Japanese Eiji Yoshikawa, the Chinese Huanzhu Louzhu (还珠楼主) and Jin Yong (金庸).
From the former, he retained a way of creating tension before a fight, then dispatching it in two or three sword strokes. By liquidating the characters quickly, the advantage was to avoid long descriptions of battle scenes. Gu Long thus began the transition to a simpler and more direct style, essentially made up of dialogues. In addition, the Japanese brought him a philosophy of life through wuxia, as well as Jin Yong; in his novel, Gu Long uses poetic and philosophical passages to depict human nature, or to transmit his thoughts on existence.
This novel is “From the Cleaning of Flowers and Swords” (《浣花洗剑录》); a bit disjointed, it starts out brilliantly but then runs out of steam a bit. It is a transitional work that heralds the great successes to come. It is followed, during the same period, by four other novels that have the same characteristics: a very concise literary style, descriptions as if with a scalpel, an introductory page drawing up a dark and disturbing state of affairs, and foreshadowing an intrigue that maintains the suspense until the end.
Example: the beginning of “The Unofficial History of the Martial Arts World” (《武林外史》Wulinwaishi ), written in 1965, in 43 chapters.
Endless snow, intense cold, icy and lifeless land, for leagues around silver-white vastness, without the slightest shade of color.
At the gates of Kaifeng, under the snow falling in large flakes, two horses galloped, one behind the other. The first rider, dressed in a worn-out coat, has his hands in his sleeves, the reins attached to the saddle; the horse is a beautiful stallion, but the man looks like a poor man, wearing an old black leather hood, pulled down over his eyes, which hides his look. As for the second horse, it carries a dead man; the body is already frozen, but, because of the cold, the face is well preserved and still looks alive; the superb clothes have lost none of their shine and look as if they were new. On the whole body, no trace of wound, and on the face still remains the mark of a last smile, as if the man was calm and at peace, after having died quietly.
On his return to Taipei, strengthened by these achievements, Gu Long entered the richest and most prolific phase of his literary production, from 1967 to the late 1970s.
Consecration: the golden decade of 1970
To the influences of the previous authors were added those of Western works, including Ian Fleming’s “007” series, and Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”. Gu Long appreciated the sense of humor, the twisted plots and the thrilling stories – and was inspired by them. The style is even more streamlined, and lively as a script, tending towards dialogue.
The series of the late 1960s
The first novel of the period, written between 1966 and February 1969, is the story of two brothers separated by fate and sinister rivalries, “The Legendary Twins” or Juedai Shuangjiao (《绝代双骄》). But it is mostly marked by series of novels built around a character (1).
The three most famous series are those of Chu Liuxiang (楚留香系列), Lu Xiaofeng (陆小凤系列) and Xiao Li (小李飞刀系列), colorful characters who reflect the author’s extraordinary imagination.
Twilight of a Master: 1980-1985
The year 1981 marks the peak of Gu Long’s career and creativity.
A life marked by solitude and alcohol
Gu Long was marked at an early age by the divorce of his parents. He kept the trauma. Known to love women as much as alcohol, he went from one to the other by marrying two: Mei Baozhu (梅宝珠), who gave him a third son, Xiong Zhengda (熊正达), in 1977, and Yu Xiuling (于秀玲), who accompanied him to his death.
To celebrate the first and the joys of their life together, he had a friend write a couplet of parallel verses, playing on the characters of their respective names:
古匣 龙吟秋说剑, 宝帘 珠卷晓凝妆
宝靥 珠铛春试镜, 古韬 龙剑夜论文
The ancient (古 Gu) box and the dragon (龙 Long) discuss swords in the fall ;
The precious (宝 Bao) curtain and the pearl bracelet (珠 Zhu) seal the trousseau in the morning.
The precious (宝 Bao) dimple and the pearl (珠 Zhu) test the mirror in the spring;
The ancient (古 Gu) scabbard and the dragon sword (龙 Long) speak literature in the night.
This is a happy time, and the blessed era of his greatest literary successes. When, in 1980, he set up his own production company to produce the film adaptations of his works himself, he still gave it the name Baolong (宝龙影业公司) by taking the first character “宝” from Baozhu’s first name (宝珠) and the second character from his own name.
Although he could not live without women, Gu Long enjoyed the company of his many friends even more, but this did not This did not prevent him from feeling lonely, as he said at the end of his life.
His most faithful companion, in spite of everything, was alcohol. In his days of retirement in Ruifang, when he returned to Taipei to collect royalties, he would return after buying books and bottles. The only time he didn’t drink, when he was writing, he smoked….Many of his characters are heavy drinkers like him-Chu Liuxiang (楚留香), Lu Xiaofeng (陆小凤), Li Xunhuan (李寻欢)…
At the end of his life, he sank into depression, made worse by an incident: one night while drinking with friends at the Yinsong (吟松阁酒楼) restaurant in Taiwan, he got into an argument with them, one of them pulled out a knife and wounded him in the arm; he lost so much blood that doctors thought they could not save him. He survived, but was never the same. The quality of his writing dropped, he had his novels finished by friends, or negroes.
A well-watered death
At his funeral, his friends brought him forty-eight bottles of his favorite XO cognac, one for each year of his short life.
His death was celebrated in poetry:
小李飞刀成绝响, Xiao Li’s Flying Dagger Has No Heirs,
人世不见楚留香! The world has lost track of Chu Liuxiang!
What remains is a work that places him alongside the great names of wuxia literature, whose style he will have helped to completely renew.