In the Eyes of the Culturati
Mr. Louis Cha is a famous writer. His Wu - Xia novels are works of literature that earn popularity among the mass. He is at the same time as a successful entrepreneur, who has founded and built up the Ming Pao Daily News. He was a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee and devoted his wholehearted effort and time to the job. Cha is among the few people who can command the fields of academic, ethics with business.
"The advancement of knowledge and personal integrity is involved in a long term process of accumulation. School education is just a starting point. No matter good things or bad things, they all accumulated with time until the end of your life."
I have long desired to interview Louis Cha. He is a talented writer, a candid and outspoken media boss as well as a carefree and gracious academic. To be able to interview him is already an honour to me, not to mention the opportunity to be benefited by his learned views on Chinese culture and on life. I was attracted by his gentility and grace. His smiles gave you warmth.
Jin Yong Wu - Xia novels are the beloved of a lot of readers. But which literary work is Cha's favorite? "Among Chinese novels I like "Hong Lou Meng" (Dream of the Red Chamber). You feel differently each time when you read it and re-read it at different ages. Among foreign writers I like Alexander Dumas. His "The Three Musketeers" has influenced me the most. It inspired me to write my Wu - Xia novels. My style is deeply affected by Dumas."
Cha also believes what makes up a great novel is the realistic depiction of human characters, the power to create and portrait a vivid character that people understand, have compassion with and are touched by what he does. Cha is indifferent to foreign contemporary novels.
"I cannot understand contemporary novels. They fail to touch me. I am surprised at why modern and contemporary critics despise popular works and recommend only the high sounding ones. I would say this looks like 'the King's new clothes'". Does he feel pity for such literary development? He smiles, "No! No! When people cannot understand high sounding novels, they will turn to popular ones." Only works that stand the challenge of time become classics. Jin Yong novels can sustain popularity the stories depict a world of love and righteous that captures the heart of the readers.
Jin Yong novels bring readers joy, and Cha has equal fun in creating them. "Writing gives you space for imagination and joy in creating characters, making them do whatever you like. Just like a director." Notwithstanding this, Cha said his real aim in writing novels is to assert traditional Chinese ethics and sublime moral qualities. "Wu - Xia novels must depict justice and righteousness. Good people fight off bad guys. Good characters must not tell lies, be ungrateful and unfaithful to friends. They must be just and affectionate, conduct no violence and evil calculations. Traditional ethics are asserted through the characters and their stories, not by preaching with words." Literary works reflect author's beliefs. The novels at the same time reflect Cha's personal sense of justice, righteousness and sense of value.
Founding Ming Pao Daily News reflects another side of Cha, his quest for truth. "A newspaper must always be open and serves the interest of most readers." Cha tells us his vision in founding the paper, "You must always tell the truth. If you agree to something, say it. If don't, say you don't. The key to Ming Pao's success is its courage to speak up, disregarding the pressures. I wrote editorials in Ming Pao Daily News to protest against unjust phenomena."
Cha never gives up to non-justice. The courage comes from his deep beliefs, persistence and his sense of responsibility to the society, demonstrating Chinese traditional virtues. But to be a successful entrepreneur it requires completely different qualities. It requires efficiency, delicate management skills, accurate judgment of market information and flexibility. Yet Cha is successful in both fields, mastering all these qualities.
Cha has contributed to the society in the role of literati for several decades. Now he is retired and leading a carefree life. "Now I concentrate on academic research. I am particularly interested in the history of the Han dynasty and the Rome Empire. Roman Empire has fallen while China is still here. I believe it has to do with some elements in Chinese culture." Cha remarks that the joy in writing novels comes from 'creation" while that of studying history comes from "discovery". He finds joy in evaluating history with new perspectives, concluding new theories, getting inspirations, and advancing spiritual civilization.
On the declining respect shown to traditional Chinese values, Cha says, "Although we have accepted Western science and technology, our deep rooted family values cannot be shaken. Chinese Confucianism emphasizes harmony of human relationships. There are deep passions between father and son, brothers and friends. The westerners are too detached. Even the son goes Dutch with his father when dining out together. We Chinese think it impossible."
Cha is also optimistic about Hong Kong's future. "Hong Kong is an international city. Hong Kong people are knowledgeable and have great exposure. But they share no passion on traditional Chinese culture. Upon Hong Kong's returning to the Mainland China and more frequent communications between the two places, Hong Kong people will get to know more about China and the greatness of the Chinese culture. It cannot happen overnight but I am optimistic on the outcome."
Cha has faith in the future of the society. He understands that faith and trust is the cornerstone of the society, of the country's future, and the continuance of the cultural heritage. He believes community leaders should set up examples of sublime moral qualities; promote Chinese traditional values so as to enhance the overall ethical standard of the society.
Finally Cha encourages us to improve our knowledge and moral qualities. He kindly gave me his new book, Compassionate Light in Asia. It is a dialogue between Cha and Mr. Daisaku Ikeda, the well-known religious thinker, on topics of literature, politics, culture, Buddhism and life. The book illustrates the unique views of these two famous persons.
Cha's gracious manner and amiability in this short interview impressed me. His sincerity and passion towards people made me feel wonderful.
The Northern Route of the Silk Road
The northern route starts from Yiwu (now Hami), stretching along the northern slopes of Tian Shan, bypasses Urumqi and Yining to the West. This route was established in the Western Han dynasty and became increasingly important since the Sui and Tang dynasties. This route that runs along Tian Shan is full of picturesque landscapes. The splendor natural scenery in the Junggar Basin, which lies in the north of Tian Shan, marks the unique beauty of the northern route.
Urumqi in Mongolian means "beautiful pastures". It was a rich oasis where people settled along the waterfront and led a nomadic way of life. During the Western Han dynasty, Chinese troops were garrisoned in Urumqi to open the grasslands to agriculture. The Tang government once setup small cities in this area and this fostered the development of the northern route of the Silk Road. In the 18th century, the Qing government started to build military barracks in Urumqi and the town grew in importance as the political, economic, cultural and communication centre of Xinjiang. Urumqi today is the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and is inhabited by over 1.3 million people comprised of 36 different local minorities.
Southern Pastures (Baiyang Gou)
Southern Pastures cover the pasture area from south of Urumqi to north of Tian Shan. There are tens of gullies running parallel form west to east. Baiyang Gou is the most famous gully among all. This gully is surrounded by snow-capped mountains covered in tall dragon-spruce trees. Yurts are dotted on the grassland while folk songs echoing in the air. You can visit the Kazakh families, drink milk tea, and watch horse-racing and traditional Kazakh dancing to experience the ethnical lifestyles on the grassland.
Heavenly Lake (Tian Chi)
East to Urumqi, amidst of Tian Shan snow-capped peaks lie the Heaven lake. It is a glacial lake formed two million years ago during the glacial epoch. Like a piece of green jade, the lake reflects as a mirror that of the blue sky, colorful clouds, snow-capped mountain covered in fir and pine in its crystal clear water. It is a fairyland always praised by literati from now and then. Higher up the mountain grows a rare plant called Snow Lotus, which often figure in the wu - xia novels. The plant that blooms in summer grows form rock crevices and has a pleasant scent. It is only found on the Barren snow-capped peaks in the extremely cold region. Snow Lotus is thus a symbol of endurance. Its dried pistils are popularly believed to relieve arthritis and menstrual cramps.
Yining, the capital of Yili Kazakh Autonomous prefecture, was the Wusun kingdom during the Han dynasty. It lies along the frontier and thus being developed into the communication focus between the east and west. These rich pasturelands were trampled by many Central Asian powers and the faces of its people are a mixture of Chinese, Kazakh, Mongol, Tajik, Uzbek and others. Yining was famous for horse ranching. The Wusun horse had earned the name of "heavenly" horse by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty. Yining also has clearly defined seasons, with fine weather and abundant rainfall. Flowers can be seen planted in every house while poplar lined up at every street. The city is hence called "the city of flowers" and "city of poplar".
About 70 million years ago, the geomorphic movements in Euro-Asia continent formed the Himalayas. The Tian Shan emerged and a lake with an area of 457 square metres (hundred times of Heaven Lake), and some 2,000 metres above sea level, has been formed among the snow-capped peaks. This lake is known as the Sayram Lake. Due to the existence of minerals, the lake water is in sapphire blue. In spring, the lake shore is bloomed with colourful flowers. In summer and autumn, the lake is as quiet as a mirror, appearing indistinctly in the fog. With snow-capped mountains and pine forest as background, the sight is fascinating.
The City of Almalik
Almalik had its glory during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Upon the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, his four sons inherited the Mongol Empire. Chaghatai, the second son, made his capital in Almalik. Because it lies between Mongolia and the four Khans, it also has the name as "the capital of the Central Empire" in the European history. This ancient city was established in the 12th century. It was then developed into an important political and military centre in the Western Region, causing the land the target for scrambling. The city decline with its importance since the mid of the 16th century and is now remained as a ruin with an area of 25 metres only. What have left are the precious relics which have recently been unearthed to remind us of its past glory.
The Guozi gou
During the period of late Southern Song, Genghis Khan commanded 600 thousand troops to conquer the Middle Asia. He ordered his second son, Ghaghatai Khan, to open up the Guozi gou and built 48 wooden bridges for the sake of transportation of food and military supplies. Merchants later took on this path, making it become the communication focus. The Guozi Gou lies at the Taleqi Mountain, running from south to north with 70 metres long. This gully is dotted with pines and flowers. Various kinds of fruit such as apple, apricot, cherry grow along the mountain slopes. There are also herbs like Chinese angelica. No wonder it is also known as "Treasure Gully".
The Junggar Basin, between the Tian Shan and the Altai Mountains, not only is a place for adventurers, it is also a natural treasure trove. Karamay, the well-known "City of Oil" lies in the Basin. Karamay means "black oil" in Uygur which tells the undetectable relationship of the growth of the city with its petroleum industry.
The City of Oil
The Black Oil Mountain lies 1 kilometre from the northeast of Karamay. It has over ten oil springs being opened up with oil pouring out in intervals. Oil springs are of 1 metre in diameter and shaped like rounded washing basins. When oil overflows down the hill, it forms the black oil streams. The crude oil produced here is thick, dark and sticky with frozen point as low as 60 degree below Celsius. With this special characteristic, the oil is suitable for producing oil products that can withstand extremely cold weather and fetching a high price. Since the starting of the oil extraction in 1955, its scale continued to expand. At present, it has been developed into an industrial city with plenty of oil wells and well-established communication networks, contributing much to the country's economy.
The City of Devils
A Hundred metre from the northeast of Karamay lays unique landscape - the City of Devils. It is believed that at about 100 million years ago, this area was a large lake. The earth movements later changed it into a plateau, and the land was eroded by wind into different strange shaped hills. The whole site is reddish in colour, with a belt of strange shaped hills stretching along for over 30 square kilometers. Gales blow out strange "wu¡Kwu¡K" sounds like the terrible howl of devils.
Genghis Khan's name was Tiemuzhen. In 1206 he unified all Mongolian tribes and was crowned as Genghis Khan, meaning the King of Ocean. The Kingdom of Mongolia was established and had great influence in the history of China and Europe. Genghis Khan was a great ruler and militarist. During his reign he set up military, administrative and legal systems. He also conquered the Liao, Western Xia, Jin, Huacizimo, Arabian, Russia and Eastern Europe. In 1271 he conquered the Song government and China was under his rule as the Yuan Dynasty. He then became Yuantaizu. Under his leadership, Mongolia became a vast empire of 30 million square kilometers straddling across Europe and Asia. His heroism, bravery and determination are still widely admired.