A native of Haining City, Zhejiang, China, with ancestry from Wuyuan, a county of Shangrao, Jiangxi, Cha is the second of seven children from an illustrious family of scholars; his grandfather obtained a jinshi degree in the imperial examination. Cha was an avid reader of literature from an early age, especially wuxia and classical fiction. He was once expelled from his high school for openly criticizing the Nationalist regime as autocratic. He studied at Hangzhou High School in 1937 but was dismissed in 1941. He studied in Jiaxing NO.1 High School and later was admitted to the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the Central University in Chongqing. Cha later transferred to the Faculty of Law at Dongwu University to major in international law, with the intention of working as a foreign relations official.
In 1947, Cha joined Shanghai's newspaper agency Ta Kung Pao as a journalist. One year later, he was posted to the Hong Kong division as a copyeditor. He has resided in Hong Kong ever since. When Cha was transferred to Hsin Wan Pao as Deputy Editor, he met Chen Wentong, who in 1953 wrote his first wuxia novel under the pseudonym "Liang Yusheng". Chen and Cha became good friends and it was under the former's influence that Cha began work on his first serialized martial arts novel, The Book and the Sword, in 1955. In 1957, while still working on wuxia serializations, he quit his previous job and worked as a scenarist-director and scriptwriter at the Great Wall Movie Enterprises Ltd and Phoenix Film Company.
In 1959, together with fellow high-school mate Shen Baoxin (沈寶新), Cha founded the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao. Cha served as its editor-in-chief for years, writing both serialized novels and editorials, amounting to some 10,000 characters per day. His novels also earned him a large readership. Cha completed his last wuxia novel in 1972, after which he officially retired from writing, and spent the remaining years of that decade editing and revising his literary works instead. The first complete definitive edition of his works appeared in 1979. In 1980, Cha wrote a postscript to Wu Gongzao's tai chi classic Wu Jia Taijiquan, in which he described influences from as far back as Laozi and Zhuangzi on contemporary Chinese martial arts.
By then, Cha's wuxia novels had earned great popularity in Chinese-speaking areas. All of his novels have since been adapted into films, television series and radio series in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. The important characters in his novels are so well known to the public that they can be alluded to with ease between all three regions.
In later years in the 1970s, Cha was involved in Hong Kong politics. He was a member of the Hong Kong Basic Law drafting committee, although, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, he resigned in protest. He was also part of the Preparatory Committee set up in 1996 to supervise Hong Kong's transition by the Chinese government.
In 1993, Cha prepared for retirement from editorial work, selling all his shares in Ming Pao. Together with the royalties from his works, Cha's personal wealth is estimated at some HK$600 million.
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