The Life of Gu Long
Gu Long (古龙), whose real name was Xiong Yaohua (熊耀华), was a native of Jiangxi, China. As a young man, he enjoyed reading ancient and modern wuxia fiction, as well as Western literary works. He appeared to be most influenced by authors like Yoshikawa Eiji (吉川英治), Ernest Hemmingway, Jack London and John Steinbeck, as well as philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche. He liked, in his own words, "'stealing moves' from modern Japanese and Western novels", coming with something fresh again and again, until he eventually opened up new frontiers in wuxia fiction.
Born in Hong Kong.
Some sources say that he was born in 1936, while others believe that he was born in 1937 in China.
Moved to Taiwan with his parents.
His parents divorced.
Without anyone to care for him, Xiong Yaohua's life lost a measure of stability. After graduating from the Foreign Language Department of the University of Danjiang in Taiwan (台湾淡江大学外文系) with assistance from friends, as well as money earned from part-time work, he found a job in the United States Army Advisory in Taipei.
Published his first pure literary work.
Called "From the North to the South" (从北国到南国 Cong2 Bei3 Guo2 Dao4 Nan2 Guo2), the work was printed in two installments in Wu Kaixuan's (吴恺玄) "Daylight" (晨光 Chen2 Guang1) magazine.
Wrote his first wuxia novel, "The Vault of Heaven and the Sword of Divinity" (苍穹神剑 Cang1 Qiong2 Shen2 Jian4).
This novel, written under the pen-name of "Gu Long", came about because of the influence of the times, as well as the encouragement of friends and the pressure of financial need. Although it was meant to be the anti-thesis of traditional works, the content itself was "written carelessly and at random". Consequently, the novel read like an outline.
Published a flurry of eight novels before retreating in solitude to the town of Ruifang (瑞芳镇) for three years.
Novels like "The Fragrant Rain of Swords" (飘香剑雨 Piao1 Xiang1 Jian4 Yu3), "Broken Gold, Flawed Jade" (残金缺玉 Can2 Jin1 Que1 Yu4) and "The Strange Moon and the Evil Star" (月异星邪 Yue4 Yi4 Xing1 Xie2) captured readers with bizarre plots, but the stories themselves remained unremarkable because the traditional literary style was still being used. During this time, his attitude towards writing was akin to child's play, starting new stories and casting them aside irresponsibly according to his fancy.
Other works, like "The Sword and the Scholar" (剑气书香 Jian4 Qi4 Shu1 Xiang1) and "A Spark of Distraction" (失魂引 Shi1 Hun2 Yin3), had an originality in prose that seemed to indicate an improvement, yet they did not have the ingenuity needed for a breakthrough.
After reading Lu Yu's 陆鱼 "Ways of the Young" (少年行 Shao4 Nian2 Xing2), he decided that a "new style of wuxia fiction" was worth pursuing. He began making a gradual change to his traditional style of writing and soon came up with novels such as "The Legend of the Solitary Star" (孤星传 Gu1 Xing1 Zhuan4) and "The Sword of Concubine Xiang" (湘妃剑 Xiang1 Fei1 Jian4). Yet, these attempts in taking a new route to wuxia writing did not result in the desired success.
At that time, the wuxia fiction scene in Taiwan was monopolised by the "Three Swordsmen", Wolong Sheng (卧龙生), Zhuge Qingyun (诸葛青云) and Sima Ling (司马翎). Gu Long was unwilling, of course, to be their little page (attendant).
After retreating to Ruifang, he focused on understanding the ways of life and sought a new perspective to his work. The results were amazing almost to the point of incredulity, for he quickly gained a reputation that put him on the same footing as the "Three Swordsmen". Together, they were known as the "Four Heavenly Kings" (四大天王 Si4 Da4 Tian1 Wang2) of wuxia fiction.
Completed "The Record of Cleansing Flowers and Swords" (浣花洗剑录 Huan4 Hua1 Xi3 Jian4 Lu4).
Also known as "The Hero of the Rivers and Seas" (江海英雄 Jiang1 Hai3 Ying1 Xiong2), this flowing and poetic tale was soon hailed as the best among his early works. During this time, Gu Long drew heavily from the works of three well-known wuxia authors: Japan's Yoshikawa Eiji, China's Huanzhu Louzhu (还珠楼主) and Hong Kong's Jin Yong (金庸).
Taking a cue from Yoshikawa's "Miyamoto Musashi" (宮本武蔵 Gong1 Ben3 Wu3 Zang4) that talked about "understanding the true essence of life through the way of the sword", he focused on the tension that preceded a duel and finished things off with a single stroke of the sabre. By despatching characters within three strokes and two stances, he never had to write another lengthy battle scene again. This marked his breakthrough in wuxia fiction as well as the dawn of his inimitable "simplified" style.
He also understood the subtleties in the philosophy of "overcoming the sword with swordlessness" that Jin Yong wrote about in "Divine Eagle, Gallant Knight" (神雕侠侣 Shen2 Diao1 Xia2 Lü3). This took place a whole three years before Jin Yong expanded the description of the philosophy as the peerless skill of "overcoming form with formlessness" in the novel "Smiling Proud Wanderer" (笑傲江湖 Xiao4 Ao4 Jiang1 Hu2), where Feng Qingyang instructed Linghu Chong in the "Nine Swords of Dugu" (独孤九剑 Du2 Gu1 Jiu3 Jian4).
In addition, Gu Long began doing his best to create an atmosphere of literature and art in his works, using simple yet succinct dialogue to convey a variety of philosophies. In addition, he used many poetic phrases and passages to depict human nature and the philosophies of life.
Unfortunately, "The Record of Cleansing Flowers and Swords" had too many hints that foreshadowed later developments in the story. Unable to tie all these loose ends up, Gu Long eventually produced a work that read like the tiger's head and the snake's tail: a fine start but a poor finish that reduced the artistic value of the book.
Published "The Chronicles of Ironclad Determination" (铁血传奇 Tie3 Xue3 Chuan2 Qi2), better known as "The Marvellous Tales of Chu Liuxiang" (楚留香传奇 Chu3 Liu2 Xiang1 Chuan2 Qi2).
These stories showcased the individuality and character of Gu Long at his best.
Between 1967 and the end of the 1970s, his novels finally secured him a place in the annals of modern wuxia fiction. As the sole representative of excellence in the genre from Taiwan for an entire decade, he was named along with Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng (梁羽生) as the three legs of the tripod of wuxia.
Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng took the "orthodox route" to writing wuxia fiction, using history, culture and philosophy to create winning works. Initially, Gu Long wanted to go down the same path, but his directions changed after being exposed to Japanese literature as well as Western works like the "007" series and the "Godfather" novels. The influence of these works, which relied on the idiosyncracies of human life, razor-sharp wit, poetic philosophies, mysterious plots and spine-tingling thrills to achieve success, enabled Gu Long to come up with a "new" and distinctive way of writing.
Gu Long was brilliant, yet he could be melancholic. After buying two luxurious apartments in Taipei, he engaged Chen Ding (陈定), a well-known figure in local literary circles, to write him an antithetical couplet that incorporated his own name as well as that of his (first) wife, Baozhu (宝珠), in public:
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) casket and the dragon (龙 Long) speak of swords in autumn;
The precious (宝 Bao) curtain and the pearl (珠 Zhu) bracelet seal the trousseau in the morning.
The precious (宝 Bao) dimple and the pearl (珠 Zhu) test the mirror in spring;
The ancient (古 Gu) covering and the dragon (龙 Long) sword discuss literature in the night.
That, was a time of glory.
In his later years, when he lay trapped in alcohol and disease, he said: "When a man has escaped death five times, what else is there that he cannot resign himself to?"
Gu Long grew up in a broken family. Consequently, he had the loneliness of a wanderer in his heart. He enjoyed being around people, for that was a means of turning his own attention away from himself. At the same time, he carried himself in the romantic manner of a self-loving hero and self-respecting knight who would often lay drunk in a mountain village with good alcohol and beautiful women.
During his university days, he lived together with a dance hostess named Zheng Lili (郑莉莉, pix above, in happier times) and had a son, Zheng Xiaolong (郑小龙, literally "Long Junior", pix below, as an adult c. 2005, note baby photo in foreground) in 1967, who eventually became one of the top Judo exponents in Taiwan. They broke up after the three-year stay in Ruifang.
Then, Gu Long had another relationship with a second dance hostess, Ye Xue (叶雪), who also bore him a son.
Shortly after that, he met an elegant and simple senior middle-school (equivalent to high school in most of the western world) graduate named Mei Baozhu (梅宝珠), whom he married as his first legal wife. Together, they had Gu Long's third son, Xiong Zhengda (熊正达, b.1977, pix below, as an adult c.2004). Unfortunately, Mei Baozhu's tender love for her husband could not keep his worldly heart from straying. Eventually, they separated because of their incompatible personalities.
Gu Long remarried, this time with Yu Xiuling (于秀玲, pix below, mourning in sackcloth at his funeral, 1985), who accompanied him to the end of his life.
He loved beautiful women. His friend, Yu Zhihong (于志宏), once said: "There is a woman behind every novel Gu Long writes." The author admitted it as well, saying that without women, he could not live.
Yet, he placed an even greater importance on friends.
He would often throw his pen aside and leave his home, spending days visiting his friends (pix above; centre). He could confide in these friends, who ranged from scholars and academics to hawkers and labourers, and talk just about anything with them. Many of his friends were women, of course, but he valued the men more. Sadly, none of these numerous friends really understood him. This was another of his unique traits as a wanderer.
The only one who knew him better than most was his disciple and godson, Ding Qing (丁情), who lived for extended periods of time in his home and received the greatest amount of influence from him. Ding Qing said: "Because of his loneliness, Gu- daxia* often sought new thrills. Hence, his marriages could not last long. Gu- daxia was a wanderer at heart."
(* Meaning "Great Hero", this is a popular term of address for wuxia authors, taken from the honorary title given to the leading men in their works).
And it was this particular trait that influenced the wuxia novels that he wrote and gave them their distinctive personalities.
21 September 1985
Died of illness in Taiwan.
Gu Long's drinking was well-known.
In the early days of his career in Ruifang, he would buy several bottles of good alcohol and a big stack of new books whenever he received payment for a manuscript, before returning to the countryside and resuming his life as a recluse.
After becoming famous, he began categorising the liquor in his collection according to their respective vintages. He would also do his best to obtain liquor that was not available on the market. When he drank, his cup would be emptied with a single backward tilt of the head. It was an act that he really enjoyed, so much so that he once finished 28 bottles of brandy with four friends in a single sitting. To him, no drinking meant no joy.
The only occasions when he did not drink were when he was seated on the floor, writing with a blackboard as his desk. Then, he would have a cigarette in his left hand. He did not usually smoke, but when he wrote, he could finish two packets of '555's (a very popular brand of cigarettes in East/South-East Asia in 1970s) a night.
Gu Long's thoughts flowed like a spring because of alcohol. Consequently, he created many alcohol-loving characters like Chu Liuxiang (楚留香, from The Marvellous Tales of Chu Liuxiang), Lu Xiaofeng (陆小凤, The Adventures of Lu Xiaofeng), Li Xunhuan (李寻欢, Sentimental Swordsman, Ruthless Sword) and Shen Lang (沈浪, The Informal History of the Martial Arts Circle), who enabled his wuxia novels to reach the pinnacle of the genre.
At the same time, he was consumed because of alcohol.
Because of alcohol, he was sent to the hospital.
After he was discharged, he drank again ... and was hospitalised once more.
Eventually, he developed the cirrhosis of the liver, which led to the swelling of the spleen, the haemorrhage of the stomach and death in the prime of life.
Once, his friends invited him to the Yinsong Restaurant (吟松阁酒楼, in Taiwan) for some food and drink, but somehow, he found the occasion meaningless. His friends were upset by the snub, so after a quarrel, one of the pulled out a knife and slashed the author on the arm. Gu Long lost 2000cc of blood, prompting doctors to suggest that he would probably not survive.
Yet, he did. However, the Gu Long that emerged from that trauma became increasingly dejected. The quality of his novels fell, for they no longer bore the distinctive and heroic style that marked those written in the 1960s-70s. Post-1980, his work degenerated further, without any new ideas and fresh heights.
Gu Long died of illness wrought by alcoholism.
During the funeral, his friends brought him 48 bottles of his beloved XO (a superior type of brandy), one for each year of his life. Gu Long succeeded because of alcohol, yet he lost everything because of it.
While his contemporaries, Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng, chose to retire from the world of wuxia fiction and leave readers with their brilliance, Gu Long stopped writing only upon his death, leaving readers with sorrow and gloom.