30
Mar
10

Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – Introduction

In Jin Yong‘s book Journeys of the Knight Errand 侠客行, he included a set of traditional woodcuts called Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen《卅三剑客图》.

This type of illustrations were usually found in ancient editions of literary works. This set is considered to be one of the finest examples of such illustrations. And no wonder, it was created by famous Qing Dynasty artist Ren Weichang 任渭长.

Jin Yong’s copy of the illustrations did not have accompanying text, thus causing him to “look up tens of [such] journals and records of Tang, Song, and Wu Dai periods” to search the origin of several more obscure characters depicted.

We know today these portraits were based entirely on the book Legends of Swordsmen 剑侠传. Edited by Ming dynasty literary giant Wang Shizhen 王世贞, the book was a very well-edited selection of thirty-three tales of swordsmen from Tang, Song, Yuan, and Mind Dynasty.


These portraits were in a slightly different order than the one in the book. I will be translating them in the following order: first some of the most representative and easy to translate ones, then others arranged by theme (assassins, hidden in plain sight, swordsman, magicians, old men, rescues, marriage between swordsman and mere mortals…), and finally, the best, longest ones. They will be accompanied by original text from Legends of Swordsmen.

凡剑侠,经训所不载。其大要出庄周氏、《越绝》、《吴越春秋》,或以为寓言之雄耳。至于太史公之论荆卿也,曰:“惜哉!其不讲于刺剑之术也。”则意以为真有之。不然,以项王之武,喑呜叱咤,千人皆癈,而乃曰无成哉!夫习剑者,先王之僇民也。然而城社遗伏之奸,天下所不能请之于司败,而一夫乃得志焉。如专、聂者流,仅其粗耳。斯亦乌可尽废其说?然欲快天下之志,司败不能请,而请之一夫,君子亦以观世矣。余家所襍说剑客事甚伙,间有概于衷,荟撮成卷,时一展之,以摅愉其郁。若乃好事者流,务神其说,谓得此术,试可立致冲举。此非余所敢信也。

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