First published in 1969, this novel by Chin Yung is very enjoyable to read. I read that some people said this book was Chin Yung's best work - and some other chose The Deer and the Cauldron. I have read both books and both are interesting in their own ways. The Deer and The Cauldron is more a historical fiction; I did have a great time reading that book. The time frame in The Smiling, Proud Wanderer is not clear, but it can be guessed that it's a couple hundred years after the events in The Heavenly Sword and The Dragon Sabre.
One of the many things I like about this book, is how the author constructed a web of intrigue from the very beginning. The central character of this book is a young swordsman named Lenghou Tiong (or Linghu Chong in Mandarin), the first student of Gak Put-kun, the chief of Hoa-san-pay (pay=sect, san=mountain). From the title we can guess that he is a merry, proud young man who likes to travel.
The book begins with the story of Lim Peng-ci, a handsome young man and the only son of a security bureau owner. The Lim family is well-known for its invincible swordplay, pi-sia-kiam-hoat; but Lim Peng-ci and his father's skill themselves are not very good. So there should be a secret behind it. People from Jing-sia-pay attack the Lim family's security bureau, arrest Lim Peng-ci's parents and kill the employees. Lim Peng-ci runs away and is saved by Gak Put-kun, the chief of Hoa-san-pay, and becomes a student.
Then the readers are introduced to Lenghou Tiong from a story told by a young beautiful nun, who have been saved by Lenghou Tiong from a rapist. In his effort to save the nun, Lenghou Tiong is gravely wounded. We finally meet this heroic character when he is recuperating in a brothel.
Wounded Lenghuo Tiong then meets two dying characters who gives him a music book. The notes are of a song called 'The Smiling, Proud Wanderer', made for a duet for a khim and a flute. They ask him to give the music book to a talented person. Soon after he receives this task, he meets the dying parents of Lim Peng-ci. The dying father gives him a message for his son, probably how to find the most wanted manual swordplay.
But on saving the young nun, Lenghou Tiong have befriended the rapist and for Gak Put-kun, this is a big sin. Hoa-san-pay's people should not make friends with bad people. On their return to Hoa-san, Lenghou Tiong is punished. He is to go to a secluded area in Hoa-san to reflect in his sins for a couple of months. In here our hero meets an elder of Hoa-san-pay, who teaches him the invincible Tokko-kiu-kiam (=nine sword moves by a man named Tokko). In his life-time, Tokko always won in every fight.
Lenghou Tiong is an orphan. Gak Put-kun and his wife brought him up as their own son, so he loves them and respect them very much. He grew up with Gak Put-kun's only daughter, Gak Leng-sian. As Lenghou Tiong is Hoa-san-pay's first student, many people hope that one day he will replace Gak Put-kun as the chief. Lenghou Tiong also hopes to marry Gak Leng-sian someday.
But while Lenghou Tiong is punished on the secluded area, Gak Leng-sian becomes closer to the new student, Lim Peng-ci.
Lenghou Tiong's suffering does not end here. Because Lim Peng-ci's father gives his last message to him, Gak Put-kun accuses him of stealing the pi-sia-kiam manual. When they search him, they find the music book and think that it is the swordplay manual in codes. To prove that the book is a music book, they go to a khim player. In this occasion Lenghou Tiong meets Yim Ing-ing, the daughter of the tiau-yang-sin-kau's chief. Tiau-yang-sin-kau is considered an evil sect.
Although Yim Ing-ing is from an evil sect, when Lenghou Tiong first meets her, he doesn't know her identity and her face. He only knows that she plays khim beautifully and someone who can play music like that should not be a bad person. He trusts her completely and tell her all his secrets. He hopes he can play the duet song with her in the future, so Yim Ing-ing teaches him how to play khim.
Because Lenghou Tiong befriends people from the evil sect - plus the accusation of stealing the swordsplay manual - he is fired from Hoa-san-pay. Our broken hearted hero will try to be forgiven and taken back to Hoa-san-pay - until he realizes that it is all his teacher's evil scheme to rule to martial arts world. Meanwhile, he learns how much Yim Ing-ing loves him, that she doesn't hesitate to sacrifice herself for him. The young lady agrees to be confined in Shaolin Temple, and in return, the abbot teaches Lenghou Tiong a skill to cure his inner injury.
The character we meet in the beginning of the book, Lim Peng-ci, is like Lenghou Tiong at first. He is brave and not afraid to die in fight for justice. With his limited skill, Lim Peng-ci saves Gak Leng-sian from evil men, although he almost lose his life. As the story progresses, his lust for revenge is bigger than his love for Gak Leng-sian. He can have a happy ending with a loving wife, but he chooses to castrate himself a few days before his wedding because he cannot restrain himself from learning the pi-sia-kiam-hoat he has just found. He also becomes evil and kills his wife, but Lenghou Tiong has promised dying Gak Leng-sian that he will not kill Lim Peng-ci and take care of him all his life.
In this story, we learn that not all people from good sects are good and not all people from bad sects are bad. Greed can change a good person. Hoa-san-pay is destroyed, in the end, by greed of one man.
The two characters who gives Lenghou Tiong the music book, one is from the evil sect and one from one of the righteous sects. The people from the 'righteous sects' don't like this kind of friendship and force the man from the good sect to kill his friend. He refuses, of course. They have attracted to each other because of the sound of the music they play. They have learned that no one can guess one's heart, but the sound of music cannot be deceitful.
I watched the 1984 TVB version of this story, the one with Chow Yun-fat as Lenghou Tiong; but I remember I didn't like it very much. Considering I like this book very much, then the 1984 series must not be a good adaptation.