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Popular Fiction in Textbook Sparks Debate

An excerpt from a wuxia, or popular martial arts novel, by author Jin Yong has beaten a controversial path into the Chinese textbooks of senior middle school students. It is joined there by an excerpt from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the wuxia story by Wang Dulu that was made into an Oscar-winning film. The two excerpts form a section titled "The Magical Wuxia."

Jin Yong's Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, from which one of the excerpts is taken, is wildly popular reading among millions of Chinese across different age groups.

The stories' textbook debut comes more than three years after the Ministry of Education (MOE)'s aborted plan in 2001 to include Jin's martial arts fiction in a middle school textbook. The proposed inclusion of stories generally viewed as entertainment in classroom materials sparked a frenzy of heated debate across the country then, and the current publication looks set to be a sequel.

"They are for leisure reading. The fictional plots and fight scenes in martial-arts novels might have a bad effect on teenagers," said a college professor who declined to be named.

The book's publishers say they have already considered that issue. "The selection process for martial arts fiction is very meticulous. We held three discussions before making the decision," said a teacher surnamed Wang with the People's Education Press, which published the controversial textbook last November.

Wang added that the stories were not intended only to be included in the regular curriculum; it is hoped that they will stimulate after-school reading.

"It is only designed to expand students' reading," she said, pointing out that including martial arts content in a textbook for teaching requires approval from the MOE.

Many Internet users have expressed their support for the new textbook, some even declaring Jin's fiction a treasure of modern Chinese literature. In a Sina.com quick vote, 81.6 percent of the 18,794 voters favored including wuxia in Chinese reading assignments for middle school students.

Liu Ximing, a research fellow with the Education Science Research Institute at Renmin University of China, said that the wuxia genre features stories of good triumphing over evil and concern for the poor and the weak, both of which are themes that should be advocated.

Jin Yong's writings have long been known for this quality, exploring the depths of human evil and the heights of nobility. Jin, who wrote 15 multivolume novels between 1955 and 1972, is also famous for his deft interweaving of various aspects of Chinese tradition, including Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn March 3, 2005)

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