Wuxia fans and followers of martial arts drama serials may be familiar with Louis Cha’s work “The Wandering Swordsman” or 《笑傲江湖》. In his novels, Louis Cha explores social themes and some of these themes represents societal issues that our Singapore society has yet to reconcile.
The novel centers around protagonist Linghu Chong who fortuitously stumbled upon a self-exiled grandmaster Feng Qingyang who taught him sword skills created by Dugu Qiubai (an invincible swordsman who was never defeated).
With his acquired skills, Chong rose to be among the ranks of elite martial artists. However, the problem with Chong was that he never differentiated people according to the sects they are from or their background. His interaction with Tian Boaguang, a bandit and rapist but nonetheless a friend incurred the wrath of his sect master, Yue Buqun. Chong’s Huashan sect was considered orthodox.
However, there is great animosity harboured by members of the orthodox sects against the devil’s sect, which in this case is the Sun Moon sect. Unsurprisingly, Chong was expelled from Huashan. Among the enemies that Chong subsequently fought with was Dong Fang Bu Bai of the Sun Moon Sect. There were a series of plots and intrigues, which ended up with Chong defeating his former Huashan master Yue Buqun. Chong subsequently retired from the martial arts world (江湖).
Cha explored the theme of homosexuality in “The Smiling Proud Wanderer”. One of the antagonists in the novel, Dong Fang Bu Bai castrated himself in order to safely master the skills in Sunflower Manual (葵花宝典). Although he became an elite pugilist, he also became more feminine. He killed his female concubines and developed a relationship with another male member of the Sun Moon Sect, Yang Lianting. Gradually, Dong Fang left the running of the sect matters to Lianting, retreating to his little abode to pursue mundane hobbies like embroidering.
The translated excerpt below describes the interactions of other characters with Dong Fang Bu Bai:
“The inner room was layered with floral tapestries and brocade embroideries. A strong scent of perfume and powder filled the room. In the eastern corner on top of a make-up table a person was sitting down, clothed in exquisite pink robes…. In his left hand was an embroidering apparatus and in his right hand was an embroidery needle.
Ren Woxing who was originally filled with anger and rage, now couldn’t help holding in his laughter, said, “Dong fang Bu Bai, have you fallen insane?”
Dong Fang Bu Bai in his sharp voice answered, “So it really is Leader Ren! You’ve finally come!
Dong Fang Bu Bai had an extremely caring and worried look on his face, and asked, “Does it hurt very badly? It’s only a broken thigh bone, not very serious. You need not worry, I’ll immediately help you start reconnecting the bone.” He slowly undressed Yang’s shoes and socks, pulled him across the fragrant bed covers, and into his arms, exactly like a loving wife would do for her husband.
Everyone present couldn’t help but feel shocked and slightly disgusted at what they saw. They all wanted to laugh, but the shows of affection they witnessed were just too strange, any laughter wouldn’t even come out. “
In a way, our Singapore society is grappling with the issue of homosexuality. Liberal-minded and tolerant ones are receptive and have acknowledged the need to accept their homosexual brethren for whom they are. The conservative ones still hold homosexuality in a negative regard. And we have a zealous few who advocate the public condemnation of homosexuality.
At the political level, our leaders have acknowledged the tolerance of homosexuality within the government service, mentioning that homosexuals are being hired. Then, there was the repealing of penal code 377A debate which led to a move that placate both sides of the fence, the code will stay out of respect for the conservative side, but it will not be enforced, placating the homosexual side.
Finally, there was the coming out of the closet by a Mr Otto Fong, a teacher from the Raffles Institution. Again, his coming out was met with a myriad of responses from the conservative and liberal side of the fence. Fong eventually left his teaching post. Thus, for better or worst regardless of whether it is considered acceptable or not (depends on your opinion), homosexuality will inevitably be an issue confronted by our society.
Cha was like any other novelists, inspired by some of the social phenomena which inspired them to explore such themes in their works. One would suspect that if Cha was observing our Singapore society through a magnifying glass, he would similarly observe the same issues and receive a similar dose of inspiration to articulate on such topics in his works.