Part of The Legendary Swordsman written in Singapore

A 2000 Singapore television adaptation of The Legendary Swordsman starred local actress Fann Wong and Taiwanese actor Ma Jingtao (both left), who played the titular character, Linghu Chong.
A 2000 Singapore television adaptation of The Legendary Swordsman starred local actress Fann Wong and Taiwanese actor Ma Jingtao (both left), who played the titular character, Linghu Chong.PHOTO: TCS

In The Legendary Swordsman, century-old wine from Turpan, Xinjiang, is shared, spilled and used for an impromptu work of calligraphy when swordsman Linghu Chong visits the four cultured squires of Plum Manor and challenges them to duels.

The charming chapter, originally titled Plum Manor, Solitary Hill, unfolds in a house near West Lake in Hangzhou.

And it was conjured up by Louis Cha in, of all places, Singapore in 1967.

That year, the Hong Kong novelist and founding editor of Ming Pao Daily News set up Shin Min Daily News here with Axe Brand Universal Oil founder Leung Yun Chee. About two months after Shin Min was launched, leftist riots broke out in Hong Kong in May.

Cha, who received death threats from the leftists, stayed in Singapore for 11/2 months for his safety, said Ming Pao.

Television was not yet prevalent at the time and Cha, alias Jin Yong, built his newspapers around fiction supplements that serialised his sought-after wuxia novels.

During his sojourn in Singapore, he went to the Shin Min office - at 7 Davidson Road then - past 2pm every day to write about 1,200 words of his latest novel, The Legendary Swordsman, retired journalist Toh Lam Huat told Ming Pao in 2016.

The fiction editor Ling Geok Choon had temporarily moved into the editor-in-chief's office and would watch as Cha came in, sat on the sofa and flipped through a newspaper, Mr Toh said. At the editor-in-chief's desk, the novelist would start writing as a typesetter waited at the door.

Cha filled three sheets of manuscript paper at every sitting, stopping after he had produced about 1,200 words.

"His habit was to stop after finishing writing," Mr Toh said. "He didn't write more, didn't write in advance, always wrote on the spot and didn't reread after writing. He rarely made changes to the manuscript. This means that his thinking was careful."

Mr Toh was a supplement editor with Nanyang Siang Pau when he befriended Cha in 1981. Around the 1980s, Cha sold his stake in Shin Min after foreigners were barred from holding more than a 3 per cent stake in a local newspaper. In the 1990s, he sold Ming Pao to Hong Kong entrepreneur Yu Pun Hoi. It is now controlled by Malaysian tycoon Tiong Hiew King.

Mr Toh, who was editor of Shin Min from 1992 to 2007, did not have first-hand knowledge of those afternoons Cha worked in Singapore. But he heard about them from late fiction editor Ling, who had been in that room with Cha - and who later gave Mr Toh those precious handwritten pages about Linghu's adventure in Plum Manor.

Foong Woei Wan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'Part of The Legendary Swordsman written in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe