Indonesian storyteller Kho Ping Hoo was quite the household name, especially among Chinese Indonesians, during the New Order era, when this segment of society were discouraged from openly displaying their cultural identity.
His novels, which were mostly fictional stories involving Chinese martial arts, in many ways helped Chinese Indonesians learn more about their roots.
Kho Ping Hoo’s works gained even more prominence after they were adapted into graphic novels and comic books.
Ironically, the author — whose full name is Asmaraman Sukowati Kho Ping Hoo —began to wane in popularity after the country underwent reformasi and citizens were able to express and appreciate Chinese cultural traits.
But a special exhibition of the author’s rare novels and comic books held by Bentara Budaya, a network of cultural centers in Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Surakarta and Kudus in Central Java and Bali, earlier this month helped the public reconnect, or connect for the first time, with the heroic tales.
I arrived at Bentara Budaya Bali, which is located on Jl. By Pass Ida Bagus Mantra, to find it crowded with students as well as senior citizens who apparently grew up reading Kho Ping Hoo’s works.
Stacks of comic books with colored sleevs were on display and pages of black and white graphic novels enlarged to poster size adorned the building’s walls.
The exhibition also included a discussion about Kho Ping Hoo and there were plenty of comic books and other visual adaptations from other cartoonists.
The author was born on Aug. 17, 1926, in Sragen, Central Java, and grew up there, never actually went to China before writing his stories.
In fact, Kho Ping Hoo initially did not understand the language either. He taught himself by reading books and gathered information from here and there.
“It is amazing that he [Kho Ping Hoo] could produce such works, they closely portray Chinese culture, even though he never experienced it first-hand and could not understand the [Chinese] language,” a literature enthusiast, Warih Wisatsana said at the Bentara Budaya Bali.
Kho Ping Hoo passed away in 1994, after writing approximately 120 titles consisting of thousands of volumes as each story can go for more than 10 volumes.
He also left a legacy of fictional characters, which became favorites of his loyal readers. These characters include Bu Kek Sian Su, Warriors of Ice Island, Huang-Ho Sian-Li and the Kertapati Pirates.
Aside from martial arts stories, Kho Ping Hoo also wrote stories using different themes, such as detective stories and romance dramas.
Those interested in reading the author's stories can contact CV. Gema publishing company.