Wu Youru: The “First” Chinese Cartoonist

Firsts are always controversial. If the first Chinese cartoonist was the student of another, earlier cartoonist or proto-cartoonist, either by instruction or by inspiration, then he wasn’t really the first Chinese cartoonist, was he?

In a way, it all depends on how broadly or narrowly you choose to define the word “cartoon,” or kǎtōng 卡通 or “comics” mànhuà 漫畫 in Chinese. Strictly speaking, the first time the word “manhua” was used to describe a cartoon-like drawing by a Chinese artist occurred when Zheng Zhenduo 鄭振鐸 published drawings by Feng Zikai 豐子愷 under that name in the periodical Literature Weekly 文學周刊  in 1925. Most scholars agree however that Feng’s work represents a synthesis of earlier works. Geremie R. Barmé, for example, has found particularly strong stylistic and thematic resemblances to the popular Japanese artist Takehisa Yumeji 竹久夢二 (1884-1934) whose work Feng was exposed to while studying abroad for 10 months in 1921.1

Chinese scholars Bi Keguan 畢克官 and Huang Yuanlin 黃遠林, meanwhile, have “[traced] a genealogy back to such pre-modern proto-cartoons as stone etchings (shike 石刻) from the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE) and humorous brush paintings from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).”2 These stone etchings were likely based on earlier works in more ephemeral media, like wood or paper, which themselves would have found inspiration in the oral tradition.

In short, it’s cartoonists all the way down.

More importantly, perhaps, as Tom Gunning points out in his landmark essay on “the first” fictional and comedic film (the Lumiere brothers’ L’Arroseur arrosé), the whole process of arguing over who is standing on whose shoulders can get in the way of looking at things which really matter, or as he puts it, “the issues history involves.” Even so, Gunning makes a good argument for paying attention to so-called “firsts” not so much out of respect for their chronological precedence, but instead to consider the ways in which they set a precedent for works yet to come:

“Firsts” are the bane of film history. Not only are they usually dubious (given how many films have disappeared), they also obscure the issues history involves. If this Lumiere film has a significance for the history and theory of film comedy…that significance comes precisely from the films that came after it, from the way it set up a widely imitated prototype.3

In this spirit, I think a strong argument can be made that it was not until the last decade of the 18th century that works which meaningfully anticipate manhua began to emerge, and that moreover the most influential “cartoonist” during this time period was the mysterious Wu Youru 吳友如 (1841-5?-1893?), one the most prolific “newspainters” of the late-Qing who created illustrations for the Dianshizhai Pictorial 點石齋畫報, published by the British entrepreneur Ernest Major’s 美查 Dianshizhai lithographic press4 in Shanghai from May 8, 1884, to August 16, 1898.5

Very little is known about Wu, aside from a few scattered biographical sketches of dubious authenticity penned by his admirers. Rudolf G. Wagner has painstakingly sorted through the scant evidence which exists to create a rough sketch of his life and times, providing at long last a credible source of information: a short autobiographical note in the Feiyinge huace xiaoqi 飛影閣畫冊小啟, published in 1893.6 Born in Suzhou, Wu claimed to have been something of a playboy in his youth, having spent his family fortune on idle pastimes. Forced to flee to Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), he arrived in Shanghai at the age of 20 where he eventually found success as an illustrator for the emerging lithographic print industry.

wuyouru

Wu Youru, “Portrait of Zeng Jize.” Dianshizhai Pictorial, May 27, 1884. Source: Wagner, p. 137.

Lithographic printing represented a enormous technological innovation for Chinese publishers (and, more often than not, foreigners looking to publish in Chinese). More durable than metal engraving, and more less technically challenging than the wood engraving pioneered by Thomas Bewick and perfected by illustrators working for English publications such as the Illustrated London News, lithography allowed Chinese text and images to be juxtaposed seemlessly:

Feiyingge_Trainwreck

Wu Youru, Feiyingge Huabao. September 1890 Source: D.B. Dowd, “News From Abroad: Trainwreck!,” Graphic Tales

Certainly, there are many other artists who were as, if not more capable, who also were working as newspainters at the time, and it is even possible that there are nianhua 年華, or New Year’s Print artists working with woodblocks who were more prolific, or at least saw a wider distribution. Liu Mingjie 劉明杰 (1857-1911) is a especially interesting example of a sui generis newspainter who created woodblock prints of the Boxer Uprising and the siege of the Legations in Beijing. Although these works were once thought to only have survived in oral traditional, the nianhua scholar James A. Flath discovered that one had managed to find its way into the collection of the Yale Divinity School:7

boxers and red lanterns

As translated by Flath, the text accompanying this image reads in part:

Beat the drum, sound the bugle,
Dong Fuxiang, proud in character,8
Leading men and horses, shouldering a gun,
At the vanguard are the Boxers,
Marching behind are the Red Lanterns,9
Beat them well, beat them good,
The vanquished devils’ attack breaks down,
Bright red cap on top of your head,
Of all the officials under heaven, you are the best.10

Likewise, a infamous set of anti-Christian woodblock prints published under the (rather awesome) title Heresy Exposed In Respectful Obedience To The Sacred Edict: A Complete Picture Gallery 謹遵聖諭辟邪全圖, were published at some point in the second-half of the 19th century, reputedly commissioned by Zhou Han 周漢 (1842-1911), a literati who had been given the official post of daotai 道台in his hometown of Ningxiang County, Hunan, for his military service during the tumultuous Taiping Rebellion:11

bixie

“Beating the [Foreign] Devils and Burning Their Books” Source: John, 1891.

The text of this image reads:

The depraved religion of the Hog (Jesus) is propagated from foreign lands. Its followers insult heaven and exterminate ancestors; ten thousand arrows and a thousand swords (the severest punishments) would not expiate their crimes…Their dog-fart magical books stink like dung; they slander the holy men and sages; they vilify the [Taoist] Genii and Buddhas; all the Nine Provinces and the Four Seas hate them most intensely.12

Such proto-cartoons may well represent some of the earliest prototypes for the artist as an entrepreneur, which represents a clear break from the traditions of literati and academic painting which date back to at least the Six Dynasties.13 More importantly, these artists helped pave the way for the development of a mature manhua periodical industry in Shanghai and other entrepôt cities the late 1920s and up until the Japanese invasion of 1937. Still,  in subject matter and style, I think a more clear lineage exists between Wu Youru and artists such as Zhang Guangyu 張光宇,  and Ye Qianyu 葉浅予, who would have grown up surrounded by Wu’s art and copycats thereof:

img_20140516_140306

Page from the 1936 edition Yu Zhi’s Illustrated Stories of Twenty Four Filial Women, (almost certainly falsely) attributed to Wu Youru
Source:  Katherine Alexander “Filial modern women buy our towels!” Far From Formosa

  1. Geremie Barmé, An Artistic Exile: A Life of Feng Zikai (1898-1975) (University of California Press, 2002), pp. 52–71. []
  2. Christopher Rea, ‘He’ll Roast All Subjects That May Need the Roasting’, in Asian Punches – A Transcultural Affair, ed. by Hans Harder and Barbara Mittler, pp. 389–422 (p. 392); Keguan Bi [毕克官], 黄远林 and Yuanlin Huang, Zhongguo manhua shi 中國漫畫史 [A History of Manhua in China] (Beijing: Wenhua yishu chubanshe, 1986), Beijing. []
  3. Tom Gunning, ‘Crazy Machines in the Garden of Forking Paths: Mischief Gags and the Origins of American Film Comedy’, in Classical Hollywood Comedy, ed. by Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins (New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 87–105 (p. 88). []
  4. itself a part of the larger press, Shenbaoguan 申報館, responsible for the first newspaper in China, the Shenbao 申報 []
  5. Wagner, Rudolf G., ‘Joining the Global Imaginaire’, in Joining the Global Public: Word, Image, and City in Early Chinese Newspapers, 1870-1910 (SUNY Press, 2012), p. 131. It should be noted that Ernest Major himself left Shanghai in 1889, at which time the Shenbaoguan, and the Dianshizhai along with it, came under new management. Wu Youru left the press around the same time to start his own illustrated periodical, the Feiyingge Pictorial 飛影閣畫報. []
  6. See Wagner, p. 126-127 []
  7. James A. Flath, The Cult of Happiness: Nianhua, Art, and History in Rural North China (UBC Press, 2011), p. 103. []
  8. Dong Fuxiang董福祥 (1839–1908), commander of a mixed army of Han and Hui [Chinese Muslim] troops from Gansu, known to the West as the “Kansu Braves.” See Jonathan N. Lipman, ‘Ethnicity and Politics in Republican China: The Ma Family Warlords of Gansu’, Modern China, 10 (1984), 285–316 (p. 296). []
  9. Female boxers were known as “Red Lanterns” and were said to have the power of flight, among other supernatural abilities. []
  10. Flath, pp. 108–109; Zheng Jinlan [鄭金蘭], Weifang nianhua yanjiu 潍坊年畫研究 [Research on Weifang Nianhua] (Xuelin chubanshe, 1991), p. 108. []
  11. Fun fact: Zhou was promoted his post by the scholar-general Zuo Zongtang左宗棠 whose name has been preserved for posterity by Chinese restaurants across North America which sell “General Tso’s Chicken.” []
  12. The Cause of the Riots in the Yangtse Valley. A ‘Complete Picture Gallery.’, trans. by Griffith John (Hangkow: Hangkow Missionary Press, 1891), Hangkow. See also Peter C. Perdue, ‘Introduction to “The Cause of the Riots in the Yangtse Valley. A Complete Picture Gallery.”’, MIT Visualizing Cultures <http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/cause_of_the_riots/cr_intro.html>; ‘Zhou Han fan yang jiao an’ 周汉反洋教案 [The Case of Zhou Han Opposing the Foreign Religion] <http://www.changsha.cn/infomation/rllsfy/t20030808_1576.htm> . []
  13. For more on these two school see R. Eno’s brief introduction here. []

The Interbellum Manhua Boom

Between World War I and World War II China experienced it’s first boom in the production and appreciation of cartoons and manhua. Although several notable cartoon and proto-cartoon publications predate World War I (and more importantly in China, the collapse of the Qing in 1911),1  it is the 1920s and 1930s which saw comic strips and cartoons reach their highest social currency in China, one that has perhaps yet to be rivaled even today.

In large part this is thanks to the work of a group of loosely affiliated artists, writers, and publishers who collaborated on several key publications produced primarily (but not exclusively) in Shanghai. Many of them are featured in this 1936 illustration by Wang Zimei 汪子美, who also drew himself in the middle row, on the far left (dressed in a pair of very handsome knickerbockers and what appears to be a hounds-tooth jacket) :

manhua_circle

The cartoon circle climbs the mountains for Double-Ninth 漫畫界重陽登高圖

According the caption, they are (from left to right):

Bottom row:  Wang Dunqing王敦慶 (1899-1990),  Liang Baibo 梁柏波 (?1911-70),Ye Qianyu 葉淺予 (1907-95), Huang Miaozi 黃苗子 (1913-2102)
Middle  row: Wang Zimei 汪子美, Lu Fu 魯夫, Zhu Jinlou 朱金樓, Te Wei 特偉 (1915-2010),  Huang Yao 黃堯 (1917-87), Zhang Guangyu 張光宇(1902-65), Zhang Zhengyu 張正宇  (1903-76), Hu Kao 胡考 (1912-94), Lu Shaofei 魯少飛 (1903-95), Gao Longsheng  高龍生, Zhang Leping 張樂平 (1910-92)
Top row: Zhang Yingzhao 張英趙 ,Lu Zhixiang 魯志庠,Ding Cong 丁聰 (1916-2009),  Cai Ruohong 蔡若虹 (1910-?)2

As I am currently in the process of writing my MA thesis on the networks of economic and social capital which made manhua periodicals possible during this time period,3  most of these names are very familiar to me. Wang’s illustration, however, is the first time I’ve seen them all in one place.

If the date attributed to the illustration is correct, this drawing was produced during the final year of the period of relative peace and prosperity which Shanghai had enjoyed from the time of its founding as a patchwork of extraterritorial foreign concessions following the Opium Wars of the late 19th century. It would all come crashing down on August 13, 1937, with the Japanese bombing and invasion of Shanghai.

For nearly 6 weeks of KMT troops engaged in pitched battles with Japanese forces on the streets of the “Paris of the Orient.” As the Nationalist government lacked the resources and capital to fight the well-trained and highly industrialized Japanese military, the so-called Battle of Shanghai was designed to bring international attention to China’s plight and hopefully galvanize the League of Nations to come to China’s defense.  Unfortunately, although a conference was eventually convened in November in Belgium (well after the fall of Shanghai to the Japanese) on the basis of Nine Powers Treaty, both Japan and Germany refused to participate, and nothing of note was accomplished.

It appears that we have this conflict, however, to thank for inspiring journalist, cartoonist, and world traveler Jack Chen 陈依范 (1908-97) to bring this illustration and a number of others to Europe, where he organized and exhibition in support of the anti-Japanese Cartoon Propaganda Corps.4

201306171305089066
Jack Chen, 1920s

Like many of the journalists who covered China in the early 20th century, Jack Chen was (to borrow a phrase from Neal Stephenson) a stupendous badass. Born in 1908 in Trindad to Sun Yat-sen’s future foreign minister, Eugene Chen 陈友仁, and his first wife, Agatha Alphosin Ganteaume, Chen first arrived in Shanghai in 1927 apparently having spent most of his childhood with his mother in London. Shortly there after the 19 year-old Jack was sent to Moscow, along with his older brother Percy, where Jack (probably under the influence of Anna Louise Strong) began his career in journalism. After returning to China, Chen fell in with the crowd of troublemakers pictured above, eventually traveling to the Communist base in Yanan in 1938 with Hu Kao (see above, middle row fourth from the right, with the crazy hair), where they were later joined by the influential cartoonist Hua Junwu 华君武 (1915-2010). In May of the same year, Chen wrote an expose on the Chinese cartooning movement for ASIA Magazine, which began, perhaps somewhat tongue in cheek:

      Six years ago there was no cartooning in China worth writing about. It is one of the youngest modern arts that have grown out of China’s struggle to master the progress of the West and yet retain her soul. And it bears all the marks of that struggle.
It was persecuted from birth by the reaction that then sat in the saddle of government, and even in 1936, in October, when the first national exhibition of cartooning was held in Shanghai, old-fashioned esthetes still called it disdainfully, in the colorful “scholars” colloquial, “a small means of cutting up insects”–that is to say, an inconsequential art. Yet by then more than a dozen cartoon magazines were being published, delighting readers in all the main cities and playing an important part in the modern national movement. The Shanghai exhibition attracted more attention than any proceeding art show, even the venerable Lin Sen, President of the Republic, smiled approval.
In August, 1937, the Japanese invasion threatened the main technical base of the cartoonists in Shanghai. They mobilized in the government propaganda units in defense of their country and their cartooning: for one thing was evident–Japanese domination spelled the absolute suppression of modern art in China, cartooning included.
Such is the brief history of this newcomer to the ancient arts of China. Yet a consideration of it gives a vivid insight into contemporary China–for this is above all an art of the present, and therefore an immediate signpost to the future.5

 Although I can’t say I agree with Chen’s assessment of the state of Chinese cartooning in 1932, nor can I entirely set aside his political bias6 his article provides a unique perspective on an important transition period for Chinese manhua artists, as they moved from being entrepreneurs to propagandists. For example, Chen mentions that of the ten7 founding members of the Manhua Society 漫畫會,

…one died with enough money to pay for his funeral; one joined the government and secured a job that kept him from doing embarrassing cartoons, one disappeared after publishing a particularly pointed anti-Kuomintang cartoon, six managed to hold together, to be joined by a seventh who had been in hiding for four years during the bitterest persecution of “Leftists: after the fall of the Wuhan government in 1927 and the split of the united front between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. Their survivors met at the home of their dead friend, whither that all unknowingly come on the same mission–to give him a regular funeral. Of the seven, three had steady jobs that paid fifty dollars gold a month, and they earned perhaps fifty more by extra work. These are the best paid cartoonists in China. The rest scrape along as best they can, editing, teaching, doing odd jobs. And yet–making cartoon history.

Of these I can only identify Huang Wennong 黄文农 (1903-1934) as the one fortunate enough to have been able to pay for his own funeral. In his autobiography, Ye Qianyu (bottom row, second from the right)  records that began his career in submitting cartoons to the periodical Three Day Cartoons 三日漫畫, which was shut down by the KMT following the April12 1927 crackdown8 Afterwards, Ye worked as the “odd job man” 跑腿 for the first incarnation of Shanghai Manhua 上海漫畫, a broadsheet with drawings by Huang, and edited by Wang Dunqing (bottom row, first on the left), who was also working as a middle school teacher at the time. Shortly there after,  probably in late 1927, Ye co-founded the Manhua Society with Ding Song 丁悚 (1891-1972, father of Ding Cong, top row, second from the right) and the Zhang  張 brothers, Guangyu 光宇 (middle row, sixth from the left) and Zhengyu 正宇, all of whom happened to live in the same neighborhood in Shanghai at the time, near Rue Admiral Bayle 貝勒路. Together with the Zhang brothers, Ye would relaunch Shanghai Manhua 上海漫畫 in 1928 as a full color magazine. Wang Dunqing was originally involved with the relaunch, but quit after an argument with Zhang Zhengyu, following which he allegedly didn’t speak to the members of the Manhua Society for three years. This break lasted until he was convinced to join the millionaire playboy and erstwhile romantic poet Shao Xunmei’s 邵洵美 (1906-1968)9 would-be publishing empire, the Modern Press 時代圖書公司 in 1931, one year after Shanghai Manhua had been absorbed by Shao’s Modern Pictorial 時代畫報.  10

Interestingly, while most academic studies and popular histories have focused on the political content of these manhua periodicals, Jack Chen is quick to point out that although, yes, there is a great deal of political satire, “…this is most essentially a man’s art, which indulges in what is best described as ‘Elizabethan coarseness.’ There is a necessary amount of eroticism, influenced to a large extent by journals such as the American Esquire, but with an element of quite Chinese abandon.” For an example of this, consider, the first three panels of the following cartoon “No Prostitution” 禁娼 by Chen Qi 陳琪:11

no prostitution_1

When we turn the page however, it is revealed that the police officer was chasing after the prostitute not to arrest her, but was instead intending to escort her to a cheap hotel:

no prostitution_2

Surprisingly, the work of the these pioneering cartoonists is mostly unknown in mainland China today, with most young people conflating manhua with manga, since both are written with the same characters in Chinese, and since Japanese cartoons have more or less dominated since the late 1980s. In a 2011 article on contemporary mainland Chinese comics, Nadim Damluji spends much of the article contrasting the cartoonists of the Republican era with those of today, focusing on Chairman Ca 擦主席, the editor of the underground Chinese comics anthology Cult Youth. Ca tells Damluji that, “Growing up here we come into contact with more Japanese comics. Only after the Internet became prevalent did we learn about European or North American comics.”12 While Damluji finds this deeply ironic, and perhaps somewhat disappointing, I am hesitant to romanticize  the artists from the 1930s. As can seen from above, manhua legends such as Ye Qianyu, Wang Dunqing, and Zhang Guangyu were not above petty squabbles and trying to make buck from salacious content.

“Growing up here we come into contact with more Japanese comics. Only after the Internet became prevalent did we learn about European or North American comics.” – See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/06/can-the-subaltern-draw-defining-manhua-or-a-translated-marketplace-in-contemporary-china/#sthash.jPpgYgIS.dpuf
“Growing up here we come into contact with more Japanese comics. Only after the Internet became prevalent did we learn about European or North American comics.” – See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/06/can-the-subaltern-draw-defining-manhua-or-a-translated-marketplace-in-contemporary-china/#sthash.jPpgYgIS.dpuf

 

Nadim Damlujinterview with Chairman Ca 擦主席, the editor of Cult Youth, an underground manhua publication produced in Beijing,
  1. For example The China Punch was an early cartoon magazine produced in Hong Kong, and Puck, or the Shanghai Charivari the Dianshizhai Pictorial 點石齋畫報 were both published in Shanghai durin the last decade of the 19th century. For more on China Punch and Puck, or the Shanghai Charivari see Christopher Rea’s essay “He’ll Roast All Subjects That May Need the Roasting’: Puck and Mr Punch in Nineteenth-Century China.” in Asian Punches, edited by Hans Harder and Barbara Mittler, 389–422. Berlin: Springer, 2013. For more on the Dianshizhai Pictorial, see Rudolph Wagner’s chapter “” in Joining the Global Public: Word, Image, and City in Early Chinese Newspapers, 1870–1910 . Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. []
  2. Dates and image courtesy of Mary Ginsberg and Paul Bevan at the British Museum. who included this image among others collected by Jack Chen in the exhibition The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda, on display May-Sep 2013. []
  3. The research question I am trying to answer is:  For what reason (or reasons) did manhua magazines cease publication  in 1930s Shanghai? I believe that I can plausibly answer this question by completing a close reading of a selection of manhua periodicals, combined with biographical research into the contributors and publishers, and historical research into the economic and political realities of 1930 Republican era China. Another way to put this is that I am attempting to write a typology of failure for manhua magazines, ergo my working title  “Manhua Magazines in 1930s Shanghai: A Typology of Failure.”  I might change this to “Manhua Magazines in Republican era China: A Typology of Failure,”  if the scope of my thesis expands significantly beyond Shanghai. []
  4. For more on this group, see John Lent and Xu Ying’s article “Cartooning and Wartime China: Part One — 1931-1945”  published in the International Journal of Comic Art, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring 2008. []
  5. Source: http://www.huangyao.org/837.html []
  6. After returning to England in 1947, Chen  joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and began working as a reporter for the Worker’s Daily.  In 1947, he  founded what would become the the London office of the Xinhua News Agency (reputedly at the behest of the Great Helmsman himself), and in 1950 he moved back to China with his wife, I-wan, where he lived and continue to work as journalist and cartoonist until 1971. For more information on Chen see page 3 of Linda Chen’s 2013 Sino-US.com article, “Sincere friends of true communists of China – Eugene Chen family,” available online here. []
  7. According to Ye Qianyu’s autobiography, written late in in his life, there were only seven founding members of the Manhua Society. According to Ye, this group formed the core of the Manhua Society 漫畫協會 organized in 1935. See 葉淺予 《細敘滄桑記流年》 (江苏文艺, 2012), 107-108 []
  8. See also Ellen Johnston Laing’s “Shanghai Manhua, the Neo-Sensationist School of Literature, and Scenes of Urban Life ,”  published by the Published by the MCLC Resource Center, October, 2010, available online  here. []
  9. See Jonathan Hutt’s “Monstre Sacré: The Decadent World of Sinmay Zau 邵洵美” in the China Heritage Quarterly (No. 22, June 2010) for an account of the rise and fall of the great Shao Xumei, available online here. []
  10. For an introduction to another Shao publication, Modern Sketch 時代漫畫 see John A. Crespi’s “China’s Modern Sketch: The Golden Era of Cartoon Art, 1934-1937″ unit on MIT’s Visualizing Cultures website, available online here. []
  11. Source: Modern Sketch, No. 37, pg. 17-18, available online here courtesy of the Colgate University Libraries Digital Collections. []
  12. See “Can The Subaltern Draw?: Defining Manhua -or- A Translated Marketplace in Contemporary China,” posted to the Hooded Utilitarian blog  June 1, 2011, available online here. []

Chinese Star Wars Comic (Part 6 of 6): A Fitting Memorial to the Empire

This is the final installment of a six part post in which I translate a 142 page Chinese comic book adaptation of Star Wars originally published in Guangdong, China, in the 1980s. Thanks to Maggie Greene for giving me the go ahead to re-post her scans, and Brendan O’Kane for bringing this to my attention. In this episode the Rebels mount a surprise attack on the death Star, with both sides suffering heavy losses…

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (125)

122. The Empire originally thought that the Rebels would have put all of their energy into defending their base, so they are entirely unprepared for the [Rebel] offensive, forcing them to rush to employ high-energy weapons and lightning (shan dian 閃電) to repel [the Rebels].

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (126)

123. The Rebel fighters fly back and forth, firing upon the [radar] equipment [and gun arrays] on the “Death Star.” Luke’s sharpshooting leaves a string of fireballs across the sky.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (127)

124. But Luke’s spacecraft can’t turn in time, forcing him to fly directly through the fireballs. Luckily the space craft can withstand the extremely high temperatures, allowing Luke to escape by the skin of his teeth.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (128)

125. Vader orders all of his fighters out to meet the attack, the two sides pitching into a fierce battle to the death. Luke destroys two enemy ships, but his own ship is damaged in the process. Agitated, he tells R2 to begin repairs.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (129)

126. Meanwhile, Red Leader (hongse zhongdui zhang 紅色中隊長) has led two ships into a long trench full of cables where they plan to attack the exhaust vent.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (130)

127. A fiery explosion momentarily blocks their way, but upon entering the narrow trench the enemy fire ceases altogether, the terrible and sudden stillness unexpectedly putting them [even more] on edge.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (131)

128. Suddenly, three enemy ships appear behind them, led by Vader himself. The three Red Squadron ships are forced deeper into the trench. In such narrow circumstances, there is simply no way for them to use their formidable [flying] skills to full effect.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (132)

129. The three ships on Red Squadron find themselves in dire straits, and are soon completely destroyed.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (134)

130. Blue Squadron immediately replaces Red Squadron, with [Blue] Leader personally leading the first flight, and Luke leading the second flight as backup. Ultimately, the responsibility [to destroy the Death Star] falls to Luke’s flight.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (133)

131. While Luke leads his two squadron-mates into the trench, Vader leads two fighters to press them from behind. With his two squadron-mates covering him, Luke is able to advance [towards the exhaust vent].

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (135)

132. Luke’s two squadron-mates soon sacrifice themselves along with their fighters. Tears streaming down his face, Luke is filled with determination to revenge Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru, Kenobi, and his squadron-mates.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (136)

133. Vader commands the two craft escorting him to follow Luke. He is only moments away from certain death when one of the vessels explodes in a ball of fire. The crew of the other vessel looks around in fright for the source of the attack only to find themselves likewise engulfed in flames only seconds later.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (137)

134. A space craft appears above the trench, swooping down to attack to attack Vader’s fighter. Vader is completely unprepared, and his ship receives a direct hit. Losing control of the vessel, Vader and his craft spiral out into the endless expanse of space.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (138)

135. “I’ve cleared the way, [Luke] old buddy. Now go blow up the damn thing so we can all go home!” Upon hearing Solo’s voice, Luke looks up through the sunroof at Solo’s space craft and smiles.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (139)

136. Luke flies his X-wing up to the exhaust vent. As soon as his crosshairs lock onto the target he pulls the trigger, launching all of his proton torpedoes.

 

Chinese_star_wars_comic_manhua_llianhuanhua (140)

137. Luke then steers his space craft out of the trench, the cockpit ringing with the sound of voices shouting excitedly, “You’ve done it! You’ve done it!” Meanwhile, the Death Star thunders ominously, leaving Luke shaken.

 

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138. The Death Star explodes! It sends out a flash that is brighter than the stars in the distance, so bright that it is difficult to look at directly. A split second later, the air is filled with a hundred million shards of metal, a fitting memorial to the Empire.

 

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139. Returning victorious, as soon as he steps off of the space craft Luke embraces Solo in a hug, saying, “I knew you’d come back! If you hadn’t arrived when you did I would’ve been finished!” Solo laughs and says, “I couldn’t let you take on that base by yourself—and I didn’t want to let you take all the credit, either!”

 

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140. Princess Leia comes forward to welcome them. She falls into Luke’s arms, hugging him tightly and only then turning to Solo. Likewise, C3PO welcomes R2 back and the Rebel base is filled with joy.

 

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141. At the victory celebration, Princess Leia gives Luke, Solo, Chewbacca, and the droids R2 and C3PO each a medal.

 

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142. Luke feels as if his entire heart and soul have come under the sway of the Princess. Noticing his unrestrained gaze, she smiles.

 

FIN

 

Colophon:

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Opposite cover: Liu Renyi 劉仁毅

 

 Star Wars

Based on the original American science fiction movie

Adapted by Zhou Jinzhuo 周金灼

Illustrations by Song Feideng 宋飛等

Popular Science Press, Guangzhou Branch 科學普及出版社廣

Bld #2, Xingpingli, North Jiaoyu Rd & Dahua St, Guangzhou

Yuebei Press 粵北印刷廠

Xinhua Bookstore, Guangdong branch 廣東省新華書店

Format 開本 787 x 1092 1/64 Sheets 印張 2 1/4

First edition, December, 1980      First printing, December, 1980

Print run: 1-351,000 booklets      CSBN 統一書號15051 · 60020

Suggested retail price: 0.25 yuan 元1

  1. Roughly $1.00 in 2013 USD. To put this in context, the average salary for a worker in the PRC at the time was the equivalent of $1000 in 2013 USD per month. See Li, Hongbin, Lei Li, Binzhen Wu, and Yanyan Xiong. 2012. “The End of Cheap Chinese Labor.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26(4): 57-74. []

Chinese Star Wars Comic (Part 5 of 6): We have to destroy the Death Star!

This is part of five of a six part post in which I plan to translate a 142 page Chinese comic book adaptation of Star Wars originally published in Guangdong, China, in the 1980s. Thanks to Maggie Greene for giving me the go ahead to re-post her scans, and Brendan O’Kane for bringing this to my attention. In this episode, Obi-wan sacrifices himself  so that Leia and droids can be escorted to Yavin IV,  Han and Chewie take off with their big reward, and Luke joins the Rebel assault on the Death Star… 

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100. Luke takes out a small communicator and impatiently yells for C3PO, but he gets no response. Just as all four of them are about to be crushed by the walls of the garbage chute, C3PO’s reply is transmitted [through the radio]. Luke quickly asks him to turn off the device which is controlling the garbage chute so that they won’t be turned into a meaty pulp (roujiang 肉醬).

 

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101. Once the two walls have returned to their original position, Luke pushes aside the trash covering the escape hatch so that he can see the [garbage chute] number clearly. Right away he radios C3P0, saying, “Open the inspection hatch for [garbage chute] 336-191.” In this way they are able to escape from the garbage chute.

 

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102. But as soon as they enter the corridor they run into the Imperial Stormtroopers again. Solo takes Chewbacca to fight them off while Luke and Princess Leia run off down a side corridor only to discover a bottomless chasm blocking their way. With no way forward and the enemy close behind, what can be done?

 

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103. In a flash of inspiration, Luke finds an electrical cable and lassos the opposite side. He embraces Princess Leia with one arm and grabs the cable with the other, using the cable like a pendulum to swing across. From there they run quickly in the direction of the space craft.

 

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104. Luke, Princess Leia, Solo, Chewbacca, and the two robots are reunited near the space craft. Coincidentally Kenobi has just finished his mission to destroy the power source of the tractor beam. As they are walking towards the space craft, Vader suddenly appears.

 

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105. To protect the others, Kenobi stays behind to face Vader alone. He says to him calmly, “You still have much to learn.” He turns on his lightsaber and Vader does the same, saying to him in answer, “My school days are far behind me. It is now time for the student to surpass the master.”

 

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106. Kenobi lunges at Vader furiously, and Vader blocks with equal speed. The two men parry back and forth, sending forth a shower of sparks and a cascade of flashes.

 

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107. Due to his age, Kenobi can’t keep up and he is forced to retreat, step by step, towards the space craft.

 

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108. Luke the others take advantage of the fact that the guards defending the space craft are distracted by Kenobi and Vader’s fight to quickly make their way to the craft.

 

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109. Kenobi looks back [to look at the ship] and Vader takes advantage of the opportunity to bring down his lightsaber. Lamentably, it is in this way Kenobi sacrifices himself.

 

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110. When Luke sees Kenobi get cut down he wants to rush over and revenge him, but Princess Leia holds him back, saying, “This isn’t what Kenobi wanted for you. We’ll have a chance [to get revenge] later. What we need to do now is leave here right away!” Only after hearing this can Luke be convinced to board the space craft.

 

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111. The vessel rises quickly into the air. Luke sits down, despondent over Kenobi’s death. Princess watches him silently for a time, and then takes off her cloak and drapes it softly over Luke’s shoulders.

 

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112. Despite the enemy’s [best efforts to] intercept and attack their space craft, they manage to shake them, swiftly arriving at the secret [Rebel] base on the fourth moon of the faraway planet of Yavin (Yawen 亞文).

 

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113. The [Rebels] welcome Leia back, greeting her warmly. Leia says, “I don’t have time to talk about the past. I believe we were followed.” Solo wants to disagree, but Leia cuts him off, saying, “That’s the only way to explain why we were able to escape so easily.”

 

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114. Under Princess Leia’s direction, the Rebels quickly decide to attack the Death Star using the technical schematics collected by R2. Leia says, “This is our only hope. We have to find a weak point in the Death Star and destroy it!”

 

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115. Little R2 is now the center of attention, his chassis projecting a diagram of the computer and database. The nearby bank of computer screens and monitors are displaying the data which has been stored on the microscopic data tapes that make up the robot’s brain. C3PO sees all this and is surprised to no end.

 

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116. After careful analysis they come to the conclusion that the Death Star’s only weakness is a two meter wide exhaust vent. The [exhaust vent covers] an unshielded duct which leads directly to the reactor which powers the base. If they can hit the exhaust vent with a proton torpedo, it will set off a chain reaction which will destroy the Death Star.

 

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117. Based on this information, the Rebels quickly develop a plan of attack and put it into action immediately, hoping to destroy the “Death Star” before it destroys them. Solo and his partner Chewbacca can’t be bothered about any of this, however, having already received a generous reward which they are busily loading into their safe.

 

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118. Luke tries to get him to stay and fight, but Solo jokes with him, saying, “What’s the point of getting a reward if you’re not around to spend it? Attacking the ‘Death Star’ isn’t heroic, it’s suicidal!” Disheartened, all Luke can do is leave. [It is clear that] Luke and Solo have developed a friendship in the course of their fighting [the Empire] together.

 

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119. Before Luke boards the X-Wing (X-Yi Feichuan X翼飛船) he is to fly into battle, Princess Leia comes to see him off and wish him success. R2 will accompany Luke on his ship, so C3PO arrives to see off his partner, too.

 

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120. The fighters take to the air. Luke belongs to Blue Squadron (lanse zhongdui 藍色中隊) which is tasked with defending Red Squadron during their attack on the Death Star exhaust vent, and, if necessary, step in to take their place.

 

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121. The “Death Star” appears before them, already close enough for them to make out the docking bays and antennas—man-made valleys and hills. How much creative ingenuity and material wealth it must have taken to build a battle station as big a moon!

CONTINUED IN PART VI…

Putting 25 Years of Silence in Context with Comics and Animation

The Tiananmen Square Massacre is an incredibly difficult topic to discuss without getting smeared with the brush of anti-CCP demagogue or, alternately, pro-CCP apologist.1 The modern Chinese historian Jeff Wasserstrom has argued that the term “Tiananmen Square Massacre” itself is something of a misnomer, given that most sources seems to agree that most (if not all) deaths occurred in the streets of Beijing rather than the square itself.2 Perhaps for this reason, the Chinese term is the much more neutral 6/4 六四, not unlike 9/11 in English. Meanwhile the iconic image of the Tank Man, together with student leader Chai Ling’s 柴玲 heart-rending (albeit unsubstantiated) account of seeing students flattened by tanks in the Square, has overshadowed the much more numerous deaths caused by PLA gunfire. Equally critical, is the fact that workers and inhabitants of Beijing stood up and were killed along with the students, and that Beijing wasn’t the only city which experienced massive unrest: Shanghai experienced worker strikes and student walkouts, as did Wuhan, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Nanjing, Chengdu, and likely other cities as well.3

Unsurprisingly, the protests and crackdown remain sensitive topics in the PRC even today. More surreal, perhaps, is the fact that many younger Chinese know almost nothing about them and those that do often have little interest in discussing them:

Tiananmen Square: On This Site, in 1989, Nothing Happened

Simpsons Episode 12 “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” Season 16, aired March 13, 2005.

 

This contrasts starkly with the situation abroad, where China is perhaps best known for the events of June 4, 1989. As a student of modern Chinese cultural history I find myself intensely conflicted about talking about 6/4. On the one hand, as a historian, I recognize that history should be a neutral, “true record” of events as they actually occurred, something which often conflicts with the desires of nation states and political parties to paint their pasts in the brightest colors possible. 4

On the other hand, as someone who is passionate about Chinese literature and culture,  I often find myself frustrated with the extent to which the discourse on China is dominated by 6/4. Chinese literature in translation, in particular, seems to be almost singularly restricted to works which are “banned in China.”5 This leads to a very skewed perspective on Chinese popular culture in North America, which is in many ways every bit as vibrant (and trashy) as popular culture anywhere else in the world. Romance, horrormystery, and sci-fi are all thriving, both on the internet and in bookstores. And even “serious literature” is thriving, too: two of the most popular novels in translation are 1984 and One Hundred Years of Solitude.

And as Maggie Greene points out in her recent post on the surprisingly warm reception her Star Wars comic received on the internet last week, there have been other, earlier periods of “thaw” in censorship, particularly during early 1960s following the Great Leap Forward, and again in the 1980s, after the Cultural Revolution. 6

I think this is a much larger issue than just 6/4, one which can be traced back to Cold War. The communist takeover of China and the polarizing figure of Chairman Mao perhaps irrevocably connected China with socialist and totalitarian politics in the American imagination. Theodore H. White’s 1967 Emmy-winning documentary, China: The Roots of Madness is emblematic of this association, and of the desire to connect the man-made tragedies of the Mao-era with earlier cultural traditions in China:7

 

While the desire to understand the madness of the Cultural Revolution is understandable, blaming the excesses of radical Maoism on 2000 years [sic] of Confucianism is a little bit like saying McCarthyism was caused by the same Puritanical-thinking which led to the Salem witch trials. And while it might seem like this kind of thinking is far behind us, consider the the widespread belief that China isn’t “ready” for democracy or that Chinese people are incapable of creativity.8

That said, there are many accounts of 6/4 which do an excellent job of placing it in a larger historical context. I personally think autobiographical comics and animations are well suited to this purpose. Memory is incredibly subjective, and photographs have a tendency to seem much more objective than they often actually are. When we look at a drawing of a memory we are forced to acknowledge that memories are created and re-created over and over, rather than being preserved like fossils waiting to be unearthed.

 

1. Wang Shuibo’s 王水泊 Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square 天安門上太陽升

The visceral sense of the betrayal Wang Shuibo experienced after 6/4, having grown up in a “New China” where Mao was treated as essentially a demi-god and the CCP were his sacred protectors is palpable in Wang’s 1998 Academy Award nominated short animated film. This is something I have seen first-hand among my Chinese friends who seem to be angrier about the fact that the government continues to lie to them about the past than they do about the massacre itself, the impact of which has faded somewhat with the passage of time:

 

2. Bella Yang’s Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale

Bella Yang’s account of 6/4 plays a very small, but critical role in her graphic novel Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale. After fleeing her home in the US due to threats by a violent stalker ex-boyfriend, Yang ends up studying art at the Academy of Traditional Painting in Beijing. This mirrors her father’s journey from Manchuria to the US in following the communist takeover/liberation of the Chinese mainland in 1949. Her studies are cut short, however, when the crackdown on the protests of 1989 leaves her shaken and afraid for her personal freedom:

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3. Li Kunwu 李昆武 and Philippe Ôtié’s Une vie chinoise / A Chinese Life 從小李到老李

Perhaps the most interesting of response to 6/4 in comics is Communist Party member and former propagandist Li Kunwu’s A Chinese Life, co-authored with the French trade diplomat Philippe Autier (writing under the penname Philippe Ôtié) in 2010. This massive 600 page book took five years to complete, and was released with much fanfare in English translation in late 2012 by SelfMadeHero. To date it hasn’t much of a splash in the North American comics scene. Although I haven’t had a chance to read the Chinese translation, which was finally released in early 2013 and went on to win the Golden Dragon Award 金龍獎9 for that year,  I am willing to bet the following passage in which Li and Autier argue about how to portray (or why not portray) 6/4 has been cut:

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For a course on historiography in Asian Studies last year with Sharalyn Orbaugh, I wrote a seminar paper which centers around this passage in A Chinese Life. I’ve recently been invited to present a version of that research at the 17th International Comic Arts Forum in at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 13-15.  In my abstract for my paper I wrote:

My goal in writing this paper is two-fold: First, I would like to explore the ways in which the post-colonial experience of China is remembered by the generation of men and women who were born in the 1950s during the first decade of the People’s Republic of China by looking at Li Kunwu’s graphic novel, A Chinese Life (2005-2010), co-authored with Philippe Ôtié and translated into English (from French) by Edward Gauvin. In this book, Li describes his lived experience as the son of a communist cadre and villager from rural Yunnan, a teenaged Red Guard, a People’s Liberation Army propagandist and finally a cartoon journalist. This retelling is presented as a long series of mostly interconnected flashbacks occurring inside of Li’s head and is interspersed with short disjointed, depictions of the present. My second goal for this paper is to look at the ways in which the remembering of this history is complicated by the fact of being co-authored with a French writer and commercial diplomat and produced in cooperation with a French publisher. That Li Kunwu and his coauthor have addressed these concerns both in their book and also in interviews demonstrates the inherent impossibility of ‘true’ representation of marginal communities encapsulated in Giyatri Spivak’s haunting interrogation, “Can the sub-altern speak?” Foreigners and foreignness therefore play an important role throughout the novel, shaping the narrative in an overt and palpable way.

I think that the same can be said about the discourse around the June 4th Massacre: Foreigners and foreignness shape the discourse in an overt and palpable way. This is not to discount genuine expressions of sympathy for the victims of the massacre, or to excuse the perpetrators and apologists, but simply to say that we would not be interested an atrocity which occurred 25 years ago in another country if it did not speak to deeper fears about our own society and our tacit acceptance of state violence in other countries to guarantee our current standard of living.

I do hope that someday the events of June 4th, 1989 will be a topic of public debate in China. At the same time, I also hope that people in my own country will begin to engage with China on a deeper level than one we currently do.

 

  1. Or in non-academese, Panda Hater or Panda Hugger. []
  2. In this this piece he wrote for the Huffington post for example, he refers to it as the “June 4th Massacre.” []
  3. The website for the excellent documentary, Gate of Heavenly Peace, has a long list of publicly available resources: http://www.tsquare.tv/links/ []
  4. Take, for example, the way the historical repression of organized labor has been pushed out of American classrooms in favor of subjects such as the Civil Rights Movement and WWII. []
  5. The interest in “forbidden fruit” is also equally true for Chinese readers, of course: http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2013/07/19/hong-kongs-banned-book-fair-is-big-hit-with-mainland-chinese/ []
  6. And, of course, there were equivalent periods during the Republican-era and the late-Qing and other earlier dynasties, as well. []
  7. For a great take-down of this awful, awful film, see http://www.filmthreat.com/features/22523/ []
  8. Admittedly, Chinese writers themselves are often the most vocal proponents of such theories. []
  9. Awarded annually at the Golden Dragon Award Original Animation & Comic Competition 金龍獎原創漫畫動畫藝術大賽, the Golden Dragon Award appears to be one of the highest honors available to a Chinese-language comic, equivalent to the The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards in North America, or the Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards in Europe. Since 2003, it has been co-organized by the comic book publisher ComicFans 漫友, the General Administration of Press and Publication 国家新闻出版广电总局, and the Guangdong Provincial People’s Government  广东省人民政府 and takes place at the International Comic Book Festival 中国国际漫画节 in Guangzhou. Somewhat confusingly, there is also a Golden Monkey Award 金猴獎 which has been awarded at the China International Cartoon and Animation Festival 中國國際動漫節 in Hangzhou since 2004, and the (apparently defunct) Golden Comic Award 金漫獎  organized by the Ministry of Culture in Taiwan 中華民國文化部 in from 2010 to 2013. []

Chinese Star Wars Comic (Part 4 of 6): THX-1138, why have you left your station?

This is part of four of a six part post in which I plan to translate a 142 page Chinese comic book adaptation of Star Wars originally published in Guangdong, China, in the 1980s. Thanks to Maggie Greene for giving me the go ahead to re-post her scans, and Brendan O’Kane for bringing this to my attention. In this episode, Vader is duped by Solo’s Trojan Falcon, Obi-wan strikes out alone to take out the tractor beam generator, and Luke rescues Princess Leia only to find themselves trapped in a trash compactor…

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75. Meanwhile, in the meeting room of the “Death Star,” Vader is staring fixedly at star map. Fascinatingly enough, even after the largest device of mass destruction ever—the “Death Star”—destroyed the planet Alderaan, this star map looks the same as always. Indeed, it is only after careful inspection that it becomes apparent that a tiny dot is missing [from the map].

 

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76. The loudspeaker announces that a ship has been taken captive in the ruins of Alderaan. The identifying marks match those of the spacecraft which left the desert planet without authorization. Vader immediately heads to the docking bay (feichuan tingbochu 飛船停泊処) to direct a search of the vessel by the [Imperial] troops.

 

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77. The Imperial Troops enter the spacecraft. Although they look everywhere, they are surprised to find that the ship is empty. The controls are offline and every system is shut down. A soldier turns on the controls [only to discover] that, according to the navigation log, the crew of the ship disembarked before the spacecraft took off [from Tatooine] and that the ship flew to Alderaan on autopilot (zidong zhuangzhi 自動裝置).

 

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78. Vader orders a fully equipped (zhuangbei qiquan 裝備齊全) scanning crew to be dispatched to complete a thorough search of the spacecraft. He then saunters away and the remaining soldiers leave the ship in quick succession.

 

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79. Silence reigns inside the spacecraft. Suddenly, a section of the floor lifts up and Luke and Solo stick their heads out, with Kenobi and the others appearing shortly thereafter. Solo stretches and says, “This ship ain’t going nowhere.” Kenobi gives him a mischievous look and says, “Just leave it to me.”

 

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80. At the same time, two members of the scanning team have arrived at the entrance of the ship and report to the two soldiers standing guard. The guards want them to report the results of their scan immediately, and the two [technicians] nod, lugging their heavy [scanning] equipment up the stairs and onto the ship.

 

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81. The scanning technicians have only just entered the ship when a loud roar sounds from inside, causing the two guards to run inside as well. But as soon as they enter, the ape-man Chewbacca with Luke and the others make short work of them.

 

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82. In a small control room near the spacecraft, a officer in charge of the tow tractors [for the docking bay] discovers that the guards are missing and calls out over the radio, “THX-1138, why have you left your station?” In response, the receiver produces only static.

 

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83. A short while later, a guard descends from the ship and waves his arm at [the officer in the control room], tapping on his helmet to indicate that his communication device is malfunctioning.

 

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84. The officer opens the door [to the control room] and the guard shoots him with a high energy beam. The officer is immediately knocked to the ground. It turns out that this “soldier” is actually Solo in disguise. Shortly thereafter, two more “soldiers,” Luke, Kenobi, and the rest, walk into the room.

 

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85. As soon as he enters the room, Kenobi stands in front of the complex and difficult to describe controls to the computer system and begins to operate the device. The screen shows a schematic of the “Death Star,” which the old man studies carefully.

 

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86. At the same time, the two robots are inspecting an equally complex control panel. After a short while, R2 discovers something [important] and whistles loudly.

 

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87. Kenobi wants R2 to connect his data port (cha tou 插頭) to the computer with a cable so that he can download all of the data from the “Death Star” and find the power source for the tractor beam. The lights flash up and down R2’s chassis and the drone (weng weng sheng 嗡嗡聲) of the computer operating at high speed continues for several minutes before the task is complete.

 

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88. Kenobi volunteers for the mission to sabotage the tractor beam. Luke wants to go with him, but the old man wants him to wait for his signal and look after the two robots. It is of utmost importance, Kenobi says, that you get the droids to the Rebel base, otherwise many more planets will meet with the same cruel fate as Alderaan.

 

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89. After Kenobi leaves, R2 begins to whistle madly in front of the control board. It turns out that he has discovered Princess Leia. She is here, on Level 5, imprisoned in cell block AA-23. According to the information [on the computer], it has already been decided that she will be put to a slow death.

 

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90. Luke suggests that they rescue her but Solo says he won’t go. Luke tries to appeal to his morality (xiaoyi dayi 曉以大義) but Solo still won’t do it. Finally, Luke promises him a big reward (dabi choujin 大筆酬金) and Solo is forced to agree. They put Chewbacca in manacles, and pretend to be two Imperial soldiers escorting a captive out of the small control room.

 

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91. Moving deep into the bowels of the enormous base, a steady stream of Imperial soldiers, technicians, and robots pass by but they mostly ignore them, with only a few individuals giving the ape-man Chewbacca curious looks.

 

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92. They take the elevator to Level 5 where an officer interrogates them, saying, “Where are you taking this thing?” Chewbacca howls, and Solo jabs him in the ribs to shut him up. Luke smoothly replies, “We’re transferring this prisoner from cell block TS-138.”

 

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93. The officer says that nobody notified him, and turns to consult his instrument panel. After a quick glance at Luke, Solo unlocks Chewbacca’s manacles and says something to him under his breath. Straight away, Chewbacca roars and grabs Solo’s gun.

 

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94. Solo pretends to be alarmed, shouting loudly, “Watch, he’s slipped his restraints, we’re screwed! (bu de liao 不得了)” He and Luke pull out their guns and let loose a barrage of fire in Chewbacca’s direction. Chewbacca dodges and weaves. None of the blasts hit him, instead destroying the instrument panel and killing the three guards. The officer is the last to be felled.

 

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95. The loudspeaker demands a status report but Solo ignores it. He quickly finds Leia’s cell number and tells Luke to go rescue her while he and Chewbacca stay behind to stand guard.

 

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96. Luke uses his laser gun to blast open the door of [Leia’s] cell. He takes off his helmet and says to the stunned Princess Leia, “I’ve come with Ben Kenobi to rescue you—we found your two robots.” Princess Leia sighs happily.

 

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97. The Imperial Storm Troopers (Chongfeng Dui 衝鋒隊) pour in one after another leaving Luke and the four others are trapped in the corridor, with no exit in sight and no plan for escape.

 

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98. Princess Leia takes Luke’s gun and blasts open a small grate in the metal wall, leading everyone into the garbage chute.

 

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99. The stench of the garbage is hard to bear, and they look for an exit but all they can find is an access hatch which is locked tight. Just as they are starting to get nervous, something unexpected happens: there the rumble of machinery and the two walls on either side of the chute start suddenly start to move slowly inwards, making the narrow chute even narrower.

CONTINUED IN PART V

Chinese Star Wars Comic (Part 3 of 6): Once we’ve entered hyper-speed, they’ll never catch us!

This is part of three of a six part post in which I plan to translate a 142 page Chinese comic book adaptation of Star Wars originally published in Guangdong, China, in the 1980s. Thanks to Maggie Greene for giving me the go ahead to re-post her scans, and Brendan O’Kane for bringing this to my attention. In this episode, tragedy strikes at the Skywalker ranch on Tatooine, Luke masters the art of the lightsaber, and Grand Moff Tarkin and “The Dark-Robed Lord” Vader resort to extreme methods to learn the location of the Rebel base…

 

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51. Kenobi opens a box, looking for something, saying, “I’ve saved something from your father in here. He wanted me to give this to you once you were grown. I wanted to give it to you earlier, but your uncle wouldn’t let me. He doesn’t want you to follow the same path as your father.”

 

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52. Kenobi pulls out something which looks like the hilt of sword. With one press of a button, the guard of the sword [hilt] emits a blue-white beam resembling an incomparably sharp blade. He tells Luke, this is a light saber (jiguanjian 激光劍, lit. ‘laser sword’) , the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Those who can master the light saber are one in a million (butongfangxiang de ren 不同凡響的人).

 

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53. Luke asks how his father died. Kenobi says he was murdered by Vader. Originally Vader was Kenobi’s brightest disciple, but he ended up using the martial skills which he learned and his own extraordinary innate powers to help the Empire destroy virtually all of the Jedi.

 

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54. Kenobi gives the light saber to Luke and [tells him] he wants him to accompany him to Alderaan and to become [a Jedi Knight] like his father. He says, frankly, “I need your help. I’m already an old man and it will be difficult for me to complete this task alone. You’ve heard and seen the info tape—this is a matter of utmost importance.”

 

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55. Luke yearns to join the fight [against the Empire], but he isn’t willing to go against Uncle Owen’s wishes. [After all] Uncle Owen raised him from when he was a small child! So he only agrees to take Kenobi as far as Mos Eisley (Mosi Qilisi 莫斯•其利斯), to help Kenobi on his way to the planet Alderaan.

 

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56. While rushing to Mos Eisley in the speeder they come across a number of dead Jawas and the wreckage of their sandcrawler in a canyon. Luke recognizes that they are same Jawas who sold the robots to Uncle Owen. Kenobi surmises that these Jawas were killed by Imperial troops.

 

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57. Luke wonders, why would Imperial troops suddenly show up here? Why would they kill the Jawas? Could it be that they were tracking R2 and C-3PO? If that’s the case, then they must have asked the Jawas who they sold the droids to, and that means…

 

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58. Luke is extremely uneasy, and, ignoring Kenobi’s shouts, he jumps into the speeder and pushes the accelerator as far as it will go, leaving Kenobi and the two robots in a cloud of sand and dust.

 

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59. When Luke arrives back home, the mouth of the cave is bellowing forth smoke like a small volcano. He tries to rush in several times, but each time the thick smoke and hot air force him back.

 

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60. He finally manages to force his way in, looking everywhere and shouting in every direction, “Aunt Beru, Uncle Owen!” In the end he discovers they have already been burnt to blackened char, their corpses still smoking. Luke nearly passes out from grief and anger.

 

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61. Luke returns to where he left Kenobi. Rubbing tears from his eyes, and in a determined tone of voice tells Kenobi, “I want to go to Alderaan with you! There’s nothing left for me here! I want to become a Jedi Knight, just like my father!”

 

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62. Meanwhile, Princess Leia has been sent to the Empire’s newly built military base—an enormous man-made moon called the “Death Star.” Tarkin and Vader employ a variety of ruses to force [Leia] to reveal the location of the Rebel base, but they are all unsuccessful.

 

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63. [Finally] Tarkin comes up with  another venomous plot: “To deal with this kind of obstinate behavior, the best strategy is to threaten a secondary object separate from the actual object [which we desire]. What we should do now is show her the full might of the “Death Star!” Commander of the Base, inform the programmers to fire on the planet Alderaan!”

 

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64. By the time “Death Star” departs for Alderaan, Kenobi and Luke have already hired the cosmonaut Solo (Suluo 素洛) [to transport them in his] spacecraft. Just as the two robots and Solo’s assistant, the ape-man Chewbacca (yuanren Qiubake 猿人丘巴克) are boarding the craft, they are discovered by the Imperial troops. Alarms begin to sound from all around.

 

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65. The interstellar spacecraft rises swiftly into the air, but the scanner on the rear of the craft soon displays five tracers, indicating that there are five Imperial warships getting ready to attack them. But Solo says with no small amount of confidence, “Once we’ve entered hyper-speed, they’ll never catch up with us!”

 

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66. Just as predicted, soon after the vessel enters hyper-speed they shake the five Imperial warships.

 

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67. During their flight, Kenobi teaches the way of the light saber to Luke. In order to get revenge and oppose the Empire, Luke immerses himself in training and quickly masters [the art of the light saber].

 

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68. Upon entering the vicinity of space around the planet Alderaan, they suddenly find themselves face to face with an oncoming meteorite shower. Solo is surprised and it is only by turning on the stabilizer (pianzhiban 偏致板) that he is able to prevent their summary destruction.

 

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69. As they continue on, something else makes them even more surprised and uneasy, namely that the planet Alderaan has disappeared! Given the particular type of energy levels [they detect] outside the ship and the number of asteroids, they can only conclude that Alderaan, home to innumerable cities and lifeforms, has already been destroyed by some unknown thing!

 

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70. Kenobi believes this to be an evil act of the Empire, but Solo doesn’t think that the Empire has the ability to destroy whole planets. As if in answer to Solo, at this moment an Imperial battleship appears. As this is a short-range vessel it is inconceivable that it could have followed them from the desert planet.

 

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71. Solo tails the Imperial battleship, which is flying towards a moon which grows ever brighter, with light appearing to be produced from within. Solo admits that Empire must have a base here after all, despite the fact that on the star map Alderaan doesn’t have any moons.

 

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72. Nearing closer and closer to the moon, the craters of its volcanoes and ravines come into view. But it all looks rather strange: the mountains are too steep and straight, and the ravines look too planned and unnatural. Kenobi says, “It’s a space station.” Solo doesn’t believe a space station could be so big, and that it would be impossible for [a moon] to be man-made.

 

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73. The normally reserved Kenobi suddenly shouts, “Turn the craft around!” Solo adjusts the controls, and the spacecraft turns sharply, but cannot escape because it has come under the control of an invisible force, [drawing it] closer and closer to the enormous space station. How could they know that they are facing the Imperial “Death Star”?

 

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74. Luke shouts, “Why are we still moving toward it?!” In a defeated tone of voice Solo says, “We’re in a tractor beam (qianyin guangshe 牽引光射), and it’s pulling us in!” Against the enormous bulk of the “Death Star” the spacecraft becomes a tiny speck until it is finally sucked inside.

CONTINUED IN PART IV…

Chinese Star Wars Comic (Part 2 of 6): I am a Jedi Knight…

This is part of two of a six part post in which I plan to translate a 142 page Chinese comic book adaptation of Star Wars originally published in Guangdong, China, in the 1980s. Thanks to Maggie Greene for giving me the go ahead to re-post her scans, and Brendan O’Kane for bringing this to my attention. In this episode, Luke and the robots have a close call with the Sand People in the desert, Princess Leia delivers her message, and Obi Wan reveals that he is a Jedi Knight, sworn to protect and serve the old Republic…

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25. Flustered, the girl hurriedly says, “Obi Wan Kenobi (Aobiwan Kainuobi 奧比萬•凱諾比) save me! You are my last and only hope!” But the image quickly gives way to interference (shoudaoganrao 受到干擾) before he can hear what else she has to say.

 

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26. Surprised, Luke asks, “What happened?” C-3PO doesn’t understand, either. R2 beeps away for a while, and C-3PO translates for him, saying, “This is an old data tape, it should have been deleted a long time ago. It must have been left out by mistake. You really shouldn’t take it seriously.”

 

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27. Luke ignores [C-3PO] and continues to stare at the image longingly. “Who is she? She’s really beautiful! Is that all that was recorded? It sounds incomplete.“ He reaches out with his hand to touch R2, and R2 pulls back in fear. C-3PO is very displeased with his partner’s behavior.

 

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28. After a short conversation between the two robots, C-3PO tells Luke that R2 says that he belongs to a man named Obi Wan Kenobi who lives in this area. That short clip we saw is part of a private message for him.

 

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29. Luke wants to see the entire message, and R2 tells him that if he removes his control bolt he can probably play back the contents of the entire message. But after removing the bolt, the image disappears and does not come back. It looks like R2 has been scheming to protect his secret.

 

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30. Aunt Beru (Beilu Dashen 貝魯大婶) calls everyone to dinner, so Luke has to leave the two robots. While eating dinner Luke asks Owen if Obi Wan Kenobi is [the full name of] Ben Kenobi who lives nearby. Owen doesn’t deny it, but tells Luke to stay away from him.

 

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31. Luke brings up leaving the farm again, but Owen still doesn’t nod his head. Once Luke leaves, Aunt [Beru] says, “Luke isn’t a farmer, [we] should let him go. He is too much like his father.” Owen says in a worried voice, “That’s just what I’m afraid of!”

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32. Luke returns to the storeroom, and is surprised to discover that R2 is missing. C-3PO tells him that R2 has already left to complete his orders. Full of regret, Luke says, “Goddammit, he tricked me into uninstalling his control device!”

 

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33. The next morning, Luke takes C-3PO out in his sand speeder (沙地快艇). He has C-3PO drive the speeder, tracking R2 in the desert.

 

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34. Luke and C-3PO finally catch up with R2 near the Western Lake.

 

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35. Just as they are about to start blaming R2 [for running off], R2 suddenly jumps up and starts to make a mad symphony of whistling, sirens, and electronic alarm sounds; at the same time his chassis twists and turns. C-3PO also starts to look around nervously.

 

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36. A short time later, C-3PO says, “R2 claims that an apparently nameless animal is headed our way from the southeast.” Luke immediately unholsters his laser gun and, in a state of high alert, takes C-3PO to a high dune, all the while looking back to prevent R2 from running away [again].

 

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37. When they arrive on top of the dune, Luke lies on his stomach and pulls out a pair of extra-large binoculars. He peers into the canyon, and is surprised to see two of the strange beasts the Sand People (Sha Ren 沙人) are accustomed to riding.

 

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38. Just as the anxious Luke is about to get up, he suddenly sees a dark shadow cross in front of him. Wrenching his head, he discovers that the shadow belongs to a terrible Sand Person who is already standing right in front of him.

 

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39. The Sand People of the Sand Planet are not organic lifeforms, but they are also not entirely mechanical either. They are strong and ferocious, and specialize in the shady business of murder and plunder. C-3PO steps back in shock, and discovers there is nothing there for him to stand on, and so he falls down the sand dune. Luke finds himself momentarily stunned.

 

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40. Standing erect in an instant, the Sand Person raises his double-bladed axe to chop at Luke. Luke skillfully raises his gun to block the blow, shattering the barrel of his gun.

 

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41. Luke looks behind himself only to see a perilous cliff with no escape route. My god! Luke passes out. A sand person lifts him up and throws him to the side of the sand speeder before entering the speeder with his accomplice to seize [valuables].

 

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42. It is precisely at this moment that a deep rumbling roar of anger echoes up the canyon. The Sand People immediately stop their plundering to look all around.

 

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43. The angry roar is getting closer and closer, and the Sand People begin to shout in panic, fleeing helter-skelter.

 

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44. In a flash, an old man appears at Luke’s side. He smiles and kneels down to massage Luke’s forehead and temples. Luke awakens at once.

 

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45. Luke studies the old man carefully and then calls out in happy astonishment, “Ben Kenobi… I’m really glad to see you!” The old man asks, “Young man, what has brought you to this place?”

 

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46. After Luke finds R2 and the C-3PO, who has fallen and hurt himself, he says to the old man, “R2 says he belongs to someone named Obi Wan Kenobi, so I came looking here…” Ben Kenobi acknowledges that he is Obi Wan Kenobi, but says that he hasn’t used this name in a long time.

 

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47. They ride the speeder to Ben Kenobi’s well-hidden cave. Ben Kenobi immediately begins to work on R2. After only a minute, R2 begins to project the 3D image of Princess Leia from the front of his chassis. Luke again finds himself attracted to her stunning beauty.

 

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48. In a grave tone of voice Princess Leia tells Kenobi that the Alliance to resurrect the Republic is in dire straits. Leia received orders from her father—the viceroy of the planet Alderaan—to seek out [Obi Wan] and request that he meet with her father. She was able to complete her orders, however, and so she was forced to use this backup plan to contact him.

 

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49. She tells Kenobi that the information of life or death importance to the Alliance is already stored inside R2’s memory banks and that her father knows how to recover the data. She begs him to guarantee that R2 is delivered safely to Alderaan.

 

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50. After the 3D image disappears, Luke asks in astonishment, “She called you a general, and said that you served the Republic, are you…” Kenobi says, “I am a Jedi Knight (Jiedi Qishi 傑迪騎士), just like your father. We were both old guards of the Republic, sworn to protect and serve.”

CONTINUED IN PART III…

Chinese Star Wars Comic (Part 1 of 6)

This is part of one of a six part post in which I plan to translate a 142 page Chinese comic book adaptation of Star Wars originally published in Guangdong, China, in the 1980s. Thanks to Maggie Greene for giving me the go ahead to re-post her scans, and Brendan O’Kane for bringing this to my attention.

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Star Wars 星球大戰

 

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Star Wars 星球大戰

Based on the original American science fiction movie

Adapted by Zhou Jinzhuo 周金灼

Illustrations by Song Feideng 宋飛等

Popular Science Press, Guangzhou Branch 科學普及出版社廣

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Synopsis

This lianhuanhua is an adaptation of the American sci-fi blockbuster Star Wars. According to the story, there is Empire in a certain galaxy which cruelly oppresses all of the planets in the galaxy and therefore builds a “Death Star” to put down rebels. Princess Leia (Laia Gongzhu 來阿公主) from the planet Alderaan (Aoerdelan 奧爾德蘭), who leads the rebel resistance, falls into the hands of the enemy and is imprisoned on the “Death Star.” With the help of the Jedi knight Kenobi (Kainuobi 凱諾比) and two robots the young Luke “Skywalker” (Feitianzhe Luke 飛天者盧克) braves difficulty and danger to save Princess Leia and finally attacks and destroys the “Death Star” in a space battle.

 

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1. In a certain vast galaxy, the entirety of which was ruled by the Galactic Republic (Yinhe Gongheguo 銀河共和國) in the past, but now this Republic has been destroyed and is now ruled by a Galactic Empire (Yinhe Diguo 銀河帝國). Not only does the Galactic Empire use despotic violence to oppress all of the planets in their galaxy, but they also are trying to rule the entire universe.

 

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2.However, the fight against the Empire’s rule has has never ceased. In order to put down the rebels, the Empire’s ruler, Tarkin (Tajin 塔金), puts his supporter “The Dark-Robed Lord” Vader (Heiyi Xunjue Weide 黑衣勛爵維德) in command of a transuniversal carrier ship to seek out and suppress rebellion on every planet.

 

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3. On this day, the trans-universal carrier discovers a rebel spacecraft on its way to a desert planet named Tatooine (Tatuyien 塔圖伊恩). Vader immediately orders [his crew] to follow and attack, [and so they] shoot a high-energy ray to ambush the spacecraft.

 

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4.In order to dodge the ray, the spacecraft bobs and weaves, but its solar panel is still hit in the end, sending shards priceless metal and plastic blasting out into space and leaving the spacecraft shaking.

 

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5. It looks like [Leia] won’t be able to escape from Vader’s clutches. Carrying secret marching orders, rebel leader Princess Leia immediately takes the robot R2 (Atu 阿圖) to a secret storeroom and, after pressing and turning certain parts on R2, faces him with urgent agitation and begins to speak.

 

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6. A little while later, R2 walks out of the secret storeroom and finds another robot, C-3PO (Silipi’ao 思里皮奧). R2 can only speak the language of machines (dianziyuyan 電子語言), but C-3PO looks like a person and can speak human languages.

 

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7.The spacecraft is ambushed again, and the two robots are shot into a long, narrow corridor by the enormous vibrations, leaving them hurt and tired. They listen carefully, and discover that the spacecraft has stopped moving. The carrier has drawn aside the spacecraft, and the soldiers from both sides are already facing off.

 

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8. Unexpectedly, armor-clad Imperial soldiers jump through a hole in the roof one after another. Just as the first regains his balance, he is shot in the head with a brilliant ray by a rebel causing his armor, bones and flesh explode in every direction.

 

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9. The air in the corridor is filled with smoke and criss-crossing high-energy beams. Blood and flesh fly all about. The two robots hurriedly huddle to one side.

 

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10. The rebels are hopelessly outnumbered and the survivors are taken captive. At this time, the two-meter-tall commander of the Imperial forces, Vader, appears wearing a black cape and a metal mask. His armor is already black enough, but its not nearly as black as his heart. At the sight of him, the rebels begin to shake uncontrollably, and the Imperial troops don’t dare to make sound, either.

 

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11. Vader wants a rebel officer to tell him who is the commanding officer on the ship, and where the secret information tapes are kept, but the rebel officer doesn’t pay him any heed. In the end Vader uses a metal-clad hand to strangle him to death.

 

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12. The Imperial troops search the vessel thoroughly but they can’t find the information tapes. After putting up a strong resistance, Princess Leia is finally captured. When Princess Leia is brought before Vader she doesn’t show any fear, and instead spits contemptuously in his direction.

 

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13.An Imperial officer advises that they take care of her immediately, but Vader says, “No, she is my one and only only key to finding the Rebel base. I’m prepared to make full use of her, even if it means killing her in the process. Escort her onto the carrier!”

 

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14. In the heat of the battle, R2 and C-3PO run this way and that, eventually sneaking into an escape pod. R2 presses a sequence of buttons [on the control panel] in front of the pilot’s seat and after a thunderous crash the escape pod carries them away from the wrecked spacecraft.

 

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15. On the carrier, as soon as an officer discovers what has happened he immediately asks the the captain whether or not he should open fire. The captain glances at the scanner locked onto the escape pod. The screen is blank, indicating that there aren’t any lifeforms on the escape pod. Because the captain believes it would be a waste of ammunition [to destroy it] the pod escapes unscathed.

 

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16. The escape pod lands safely on the desert planet. R2 and C-3PO climb out of the escape pod. A vast expanse of wasteland appears before their eyes: a series of towering and lofty sandstone peaks; wave after wave of sand dunes in endless succession stretching out into the horizon as far as the eye can see.

 

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17.R2 and C-3PO split up and one heads into the mountains while the other heads into the dunes in search of civilization. Unfortunately they are both discovered by the Jawas (Jiawa 賈瓦) who look like people, but aren’t. Thinking they are abandoned trash, the Jawas put the robots into an enormous sand crawler (shadi pache 沙地爬車).

 

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18. Afterwards, the Jawas sell R2 and C-3PO to Uncle Owen (Ouwen Dashu 歐文大叔). Owen needs robots to operate his condensers, so that the moisture in the air can be converted to water to irrigate his crops.

 

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19. Owen tells his nephew, Luke “Skywalker,” to wash the two robots clean. Luke takes them into a storeroom buried deep beneath the desert.

 

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20. “You guys clean yourselves up, and recharge your batteries, and don’t get into any trouble, you hear?” After Luke finishes talking to the two robots he walks toward a two-seated land-repelling kind of spacecraft parked in the hanger and prepares to repair the already damaged port-side wing.

 

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21. But several hours pass, and Luke can’t make any progress. Lately he’s had a lot on his mind: his close friend has already joined the Rebels in their fight against the Empire, but Uncle Owen won’t let [Luke] leave the farm. “It’s just not fair!” Luke throws his wrench on the worktable, and walks in the direction of the storeroom.

 

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22. C-3PO and R2 have already cleaned themselves up to be bright and shiny [again]. But Luke discovers that R2 has a small bump on his head from a collision, and begins to work away at [the protrusion] while saying, “The are a lot of charred spots around here. Seems like you guys have had a quite an experience.”

 

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23. C-3PO agrees, saying, “You can say that again, Sir. Because of the Rebellion, and other reasons.” Luke’s eyes flash brightly. “You’re familiar with the Rebellion against the Empire?” C-3PO answers evasively, saying, “We were just observers, we had nothing to do with the Rebels!”

 

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24. Luke is a little disappointed, and he goes back to scraping away at R2. After prying loose a shard of metal that was stuck in a circuit though, R2 miraculously begins projecting a 3D image of a graceful and beautiful young woman from the front [of his chassis].

CONTINUED IN PART II…

Chinese Lianhuanhua: A Century of Pirated Movies

Seeing that Eric Abrahamsen’s translation of Xu Zechen’s Running Through Beijing was released by Two Lines Press earlier this month, it seems appropriate to sketch out a tradition of movie pirating that existed in mainland China before the advent of bootlegged DVDs:

Star Wars lianhuanhua

This is a lianhuanhua 連環畫 adaptation of Star Wars which historian Maggie Greene picked up at the infamous Wen Miao 文廟 book market in Shanghai in 2011. She recently posted a complete scan to her blog The Wayward Historian, which Brendan O’Kane OCRed and reposted here. According the copyright (sic) page, this work was published in December, 1980, by Yuebei Press 粵北印刷廠 and distributed by the Guangdong branch of the state-owned Xinhua Bookstore 廣東省新華書店, with editing by Zhou Jinzhuo 周金灼 and illustrations by Song Feideng 宋飛等.

Lianhuanhua, or “linked picture books,” have been around since roughly the turn of the 20th century, when cheap printing technology made it possible for publishers to mass produce high fidelity images and text at low cost, providing a new form of entertainment for growing numbers of literate urbanites.1 As comics historian Paul Gravett described them in a 2008 interview for the Manhua! China Comics Now Exhibition2 (appropriately introducing an unauthorized 1984 lianhuanhua adaption of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus ):3

What I’m going to show you here, this is actually what Chinese comics came from. Chinese comics, before they were called manhua they were called lianhuanhua, which means, basically, the hua means drawings and the lianhuan means linked up, joined together in a chain. So it’s like, comics in sequence, or drawings in sequence. And they appeared in color, and in black and white, particularly in this format and also in larger format books, with one image per page, often with the text appearing underneath. But interestingly, they did actually use speech balloons as well. As we see here there are examples of it. And they were cheap; even if you couldn’t afford them you could actually sit in the street and rent them. Literally, you’d read them in the street, there’d be some chairs, there’d be a guy with a whole shelf loan of these little tiny comics, and you could read them. Because of course some of these comics run for several volumes, maybe, ten, twenty, thirty volumes, and you could read them all in one sitting, just like manga cafes now. Just like the way manga’s gone now—that was already going on back in the twenty and thirties.4

Although it is somewhat misleading to say that lianhuanhua proceeded manhua, as both emerged more or less contemporaneously as distinct forms of production, Gravett correctly points out that it wasn’t until the 1920s and 30s that lianhuanhua really took off, and that for most of its history lianhuanhua was something that you would rent rather than own. Due to their inherent disposability relatively few of the earliest lianhuanhua have survived. That said, one which did seems to indicate that the tradition of adapting American movies to lianhuanhua is older than we might think:

All Quiet on the Western Front lianhuanhua

All Quiet on the Western Front 西线无战事 published in the 1930s by Shanghai Aikesi Bookstore 上海爱克司书店, adapted from the original, translator and artist unknown.

This is a lianhuanhua adaptation of WWI veteran Erich Maria Remarque’s bestselling novel Im Westen nichts Neues, first serialized in 1928 and later translated into English by Arthur Wesley Wheen in 1929 as All Quiet on the Western Front. Presumed to pirated, this adaptation appears to have been based on the 1930 American film version directed by Lewis Milestone which was released in China only to be banned along with all other “anti-war” films by the Nationalist government in 1934.5 Curators at the Rauner Library Special Collections at Dartmouth which purchased the adaption in 2013 have pointed out that although antiwar films were banned in China, versions of the story continued to circulate in Shanghai as a form of “cultural resistance.” Moreover, despite reports which indicate that attendance for anti-war films such as All Quiet on the Western Front was poor,6 the existence of this work shows that its anti-war message must have held some appeal.7

Like manhua, lianhuanhua production seems to have mostly died out during the Second Sino-Japanese War due to shortages in paper and ink following the Japanese occupation and the partial destruction of Shanghai, home to the vast majority of Chinese printers, presses, and publishers. Following the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War of 1945-1949, however, lianhuanhua experienced a second golden age as part of the general push for mass literature for the proletariat, with Mao Zedong and other leaders promoting “new” lianhuanhua as propaganda for the semi-literate farming communities of the Chinese countryside as well as the less numerous educated masses in the cities. As Mao reputedly said in 1950, “Lianhuanhua is read by children as well as adults, illiterates as well as educated. Why not set up a publishing house to issue a series of new lianhuanhua?”8 As had been the case with the earlier lianhuanhua, the majority of these works were retellings of classical operas such as The Red-Maned Steed 紅鬃烈馬, Mulan Joins the Army 木蘭從軍, The Romance of the Western Chamber 西廂記, etc, with relatively minor editorial changes to emphasize class struggle.9 Some of the more explicitly political works produced however, include an adaptation of the Irish socialist revolutionary Ethel Lilian Voynich’s novel The Gadfly and Russian Nikolai Ostrovsky’s socialist realist novel How the Steel Was Tempered, both of which were also made into films in the Soviet Union around the same time:

The Gadfly lianhuanhua

The Gadfly 牛虻, published in 1955 by New Art Press 新美术出版社 with art by Lu Yanshao 陸儼少 (1909-1993), editor unknown.

How the Steel was Tempered lianhuanhua

How the Steel Was Tempered 鋼鐵是怎樣煉成的, published in 1959 by The People’s Fine Arts Press 人民美術出版社, adapted from the original novel by Wang Su 王素with art by Yi Jin 毅進.

It also seems relevant to mention that lianhuanhua were apparently made available for free to passengers on trains to help them pass the time, not unlike in-flight movies today. In the introduction to a collection of translated lianhuanhua the journalist Gino Nebiolo describes reading lianhuanhua like these on a train between Hangzhou and Shanghai during a state-sponsored tour in the late 1950s10:

I observed my companions—workers, petty officials, and peasants. The train was moving slowly, at a speed well under the conventional forty miles an hour, and the heating system was out of order. Only two women and one old man laid aside their comic books and fell asleep. Among the others, no one paid attention to the cold or to the repeated stops; they were all completely absorbed in their reading. And if one of them finished his comic book before the others, he looked around him with restrained impatience, and then, when he got the next one, plunged into it without delay. Several times the stewardess came into the compartment with more hot water for tea, but no one noticed, and the conductor had to knock his ticket puncher against the metal rim of the baggage rack, as if to arouse sleepers, in order to get any attention. At dawn, just a few minutes before arrival at the central station of Shanghai, one of the passengers collected the comics, smoothed frayed corners, and turned them over to the stewardess, who wrapped them in a plastic case.11

Despite the Anti-Rightist Movement 反右運動 of 1957-1959 targeting prominent lianhuanhua artists such as Hua Sanchuan 華三川 (1930-2004),12 and the break with the Soviet Union effectively ending the flow of post-Stalin Russian and Eastern Bloc literature and film into China,13 lianhuanhua continued to flourish during the (relative) cultural thaw of the early 1960s. Perhaps in response to the political developments, the proportion of overtly political (not to mention xenophobic) works seem to have increased however. For example, two separate series of lianhuanhua adaptions of stories collected from survivors of the Boxer uprising in rural Shandong by the writer and folklorist Zhang Shijie 张士杰 (1931-1978) were published in the late 1950s and early 1960s: the fifteen volume series Boxer Stories义和团故事 by the People’s Fine Art Publishing House 人民美术出版社 in Beijing between July 1959 and April 1960, reprinted 2012; and the fourteen volume series Boxer Legends义和团传说故事 by the Tianjin Fine Arts Publishing House between May 1959 and November 1963, reprinted 2001. These stories include a surprising amount of fantastic elements: in Hong Dahai 洪大海the titular Boxer is driven to the brink of defeat only to grow to enormous proportions and defeat an entire army of foreign devils single-handed by drowning them in his spit, while in Fisher Boy 鱼童14 a wizened fisherman discovers a small child inside a lotus blossom who makes gold beans and fishes for conniving priests in cahoots with the local yamen:

Fisher Boy lianhuanhua

Fisher Boy 渔童, published in 1959 by The People’s Fine Arts Press, adapted from Zhang Shijie’s original (collected) story by Wu Chao 吴超, Cheng Hua 程华, and Bo Chen 伯诚 with art by Guang Yu 光玉and Da Fang 达方.

With the advent of the Socialist Education Movement in 1963 and the much larger Cultural Revolution in 1966 however, lianhuanhua stagnated again until 1970, when Zhou Enlai began promoting lianhuanhua as an effective tool for propaganda.15 Adaptions of Jiang Qing’s model operas 樣板戲 were produced in large quantities, including Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy 智取威虎山, Shajiabang 沙家浜, etc. Interestingly, several biographies of early Soviet leaders and intellectuals such as Lenin and Maxim Gorky were published in the early 1970s:

Maxim Gorky's autobiography My University lianhuanhua

My University: Volume Three of the Biography of [Maxim] Gorky 我的大学: 高二其故事之三 published in 1972 by The People’s Fine Arts Press, adapted from the original with art by Dong Hongyuan 董洪元.

With the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 and the fall of the Gang of Four shortly thereafter, one would like to think that the eventual renaissance in lianhuanhua which followed was sudden and immediate. It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, that the political situation in China became relaxed enough to allow the reprinting of many of the earlier lianhuanhua adaptions of traditional operas. At least two lianhuanhua went so far as to address the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution directly, the first being a 1978 adaptation of Lu Xinhua’s盧新華Scar傷痕by Chen Yiming 陈宜明, Liu Yulian 刘宇廉and Li Bin 李斌and the second being the 1979 adaption of Zheng Yi’s鄭義novel Maple楓by the same authors, both of which were published to some controversy in Lianhuanhua Pictorial 连环画报.16 Many other lianhuanhua dealt with the Gang of Four allegorically: in the 1977 work Evil-Hearted Empress Lü野心家吕后 published by The People’s Fine Arts Press, the malevolent Empress Lü Zhi呂雉皇后(241–180 BC) who usurped the throne from her son, Emperor Hui漢惠帝, is clearly meant to be equated with Jiang Qing, making explicit reference to her and the Gang of Four in the introduction.

At the same time as this was going on, other lianhuanhua artists began turning their attention to American movies and TV shows:

The Man from Atlantis lianhuanhua

Fighting Jellyfish on the Bahrain Beach (?): The Man from the Bottom of the Atlantic 巴林海灘鬥水母–大西洋底來的人 published in 1983 by Liaoning Fine Arts Press 遼寧美術出版社, adapted from the original television show by Yu Xiang 魚翔 with art by Xu Xilin 徐錫林.

Above we have an adaption of the first American television show to be shown in the PRC. Although it is almost entirely forgotten in the US, many Chinese who grew up during the 1980s still remember The Man from Atlantis with fondness.17 Other works include the aforementioned Star Wars and Tintin adaptions, as well as eighties ephemera such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Transformers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He Man:

He Man lianhuanhua

Author and publisher unknown, 1980s.

Also, lest we think only American works were targeted:

caravan

Caravan 大蓬車, published November, 1981 by the Fujian branch of the Xinhua Bookstore 福建省新華書店, adapted from the 1971 Bollywood film by the same name by Chen Qinchun 陳勤群  and Mao Zhiyun 茅志雲 with art by Yang Tuanjun 旸團君 and Mao Zhiyun 茅志雲. The original film was directed by Nasir Hussain, with a translation from the Hindi being released in mainland China in 1980 by the Shanghai  Film Translation Studio 上海電影譯制廠.

Today, lianhuanhua is essentially a moribund medium, with most interest in the work coming from collectors and nostalgic adults. Most young people are quickly turned off by the overt political messages in the works produced in the 1960s and 1970s, and find little to enjoy in the adaptions of traditional operas from the 1950s and earlier. For cultural historians of modern China, however, lianhuanhua represent a treasure trove of information about the way people lived and the things that they cared about. I think it would be exciting to explore the ways lianhuanhua could be used in classrooms to liven up language textbooks, or explore the way historical events such as the Sino-Russian split or the Cultural Revolution were represented in the popular media of the day.

  1. For a history of the medium, see Shen, Kuiyi. “Lianhuanhua and Manhua – Picture Books and Comics in Old Shanghai.” In Illustrating Asia: Comics, Humor Magazines, and Picture Books, edited by John A. Lent, 100–. University of Hawaii Press, 2001. []
  2. This exhibition ran twice, first at the London College of Communication from March 7 to April 11, 2008, and then again the next year at Durham Oriental Museum from May 2 to September 27, 2009, and included over 200 examples of Chinese comics and cartoons. []
  3. Hergé [埃爾熱], Lan Lianhua – Ding Ding Lixian Ji (Shang)藍 蓮花—丁丁歷險記 (上) [The Blue Lotus - The Adventures of Tintin (Vol 1 of 2)], trans. by Binggang Li [李秉剛] (Beijing: Zhongguo Wenlian Chubanshe, 1984), Beijing; Hergé [埃爾熱], Lan Lianhua – Ding Ding Lixian Ji (Xia)藍 蓮花—丁丁歷險記 (下) [The Blue Lotus - The Adventures of Tintin (Vol 2 of 2)], trans. by Binggang Li [李秉剛] (Beijing: Zhongguo Wenlian Chubanshe, 1984), Beijing. []
  4. Alex Fitch / Paul Gravett, Panel Borders: Manhua! China Comics Now Part 1, 2008 <http://archive.org/details/PanelBordersManhuaChinaComicsNowPart1> accessed 16 April 2014 []
  5. Zhu, Ying, and Stanley Rosen, eds. Art, Politics, and Commerce in Chinese Cinema. Hong Kong University Press, 2010, 66 []
  6. Ibid. []
  7. Rebecca Onion also draws this connection in her short article on Slate “All Quiet on the Western Front: The Book Translated into Chinese Lianhuanhua.”, which I found via the China Books blog post “Chinese Graphic Novels or ‘Lianhuanhua’ « China Books,”  both accessed May 23, 2014. []
  8. Pan, Lingling. “Post-Liberation History of China’s Lianhuanhua (Pictorial Books).” International Journal of Comic Art 10, no. 2 (October 15, 2008): 694–717, 702. []
  9. For examples see http://digicoll.manoa.hawaii.edu/storybook/Pages/browseby.php?s=browse&by=year []
  10. http://www.provincia.asti.it/hosting/moncalvo/boll7htm/gino.htm []
  11. “Introduction,” vii, Frances Frenaye trans. from The People’s Comic Book; Red Women’s Detachment, Hot on the Trail and Other Chinese Comics. Endymion Wilkinson trans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1973 []
  12. Pan, Lingling. “Post-Liberation History of China’s Lianhuanhua (Pictorial Books),” 704. []
  13. One can only imagine, for example, that if the works of Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanislaw Lem had been available that China might have a few more science fiction authors today. []
  14. This story was later made into a celebrated animated using paper cutouts, directed by Wan Guchan 萬古蟾 and produced at the Shanghai Animation Studio 上海美術電影製片廠 in 1959. []
  15. Pan, Lingling. “Post-Liberation History of China’s Lianhuanhua (Pictorial Books),” 705. []
  16. See 栗宪庭. “现代迷信的沉痛教训——谈连环画《枫》对典型环境的刻划.”美术 no. 08 (1979): 37–38. []
  17. The cartoonist Nie Jun 聂峻, for example, references the show throughout his illustrated memoir Searching for the Sea 找海 (Jiangsu Fine Arts Press江蘇美術出版社, 2006). []