Interview with Wang “Rollin” Rong: Of Course I Want to be Famous

Thanks to posts like this and this, Wang “Rollin” Wong’s “Chick Chick” has been viewed over 11 million times in the 7 weeks since it was first posted to YouTube on October 22, 2014. If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s worth a few minutes of your time to contemplate in all of it’s bat-shit crazy glory:

Victor Mair has written about the use of animal sound in the song on Language Log and Boing Boing and others have suggested that it could become the “song of the year,” or “the next Gangnam Style.” While Wang’s success is nothing to scoff at, as a point of comparison, Psy’s hypnotic ballad clocked over 10 times as many hits in the first two months after being posted on YouTube, meaning that “Cluck Cluck” is literally an order of magnitude less viral than the Korean megahit.

Still, for China nerds, anything that gets China in the news for wackiness is a cause for celebration:


In China, however, the fact Wang Rong is appearing on the websites of Time magazine and major other American media outlets seems to be causing a certain amount of hand-wringing on the part Chinese netizens and journalists, who are seem embarrassed that a cheesy song like this is attracting so much attention. One newspaper, The Mirror, managed to track her down for an interview, which I’ve translated below:

The Mirror 11/17 The singer Wang Rong, who first rose to fame with her 2007 song “I’m not Huang Rong” but has since fallen off the radar, is attracting attention again with her latest ‘viral tune’ “Chick Chick.” The song, which is entirely made up of lines like “chicken cluck cluck day,” “little chick cluck cluck day,” “rooster whoa whoa whoa” has attracted both both attention and scorn. Yesterday, Wang Rong agreed to an interview with The Mirror in Beijing.

法制晚报11月17日讯 因《我不是黄蓉》走红的歌手王蓉,沉寂多时,最近“神曲”《小鸡小鸡》再度备受关注。全篇都是“母鸡咕咕day”、“小鸡咕咕day”、“公鸡喔喔喔”的这首歌,引来关注的同时也招来了骂声。昨日王蓉在北京接受了《法制晚报》记者的专访。

I don’t care about the critics, my ‘viral tune’ came from a dream

The Mirror: How did you come up with this song?

Wang Rong: This song originally came from a dream I had. It was a really happy dream, where kittens, chicks, and ducklings looked like they were having a meeting, talking about really trivial stuff, like oh, today I laid an egg, and then I lost something, clucking and quacking away in disagreement. It was really cute. I could understand what they were saying though, just like in fairy tales. So when I woke up I decided I wanted to turn my dream into a song.

不在意骂声 “神曲”源自一个梦



The Mirror: There aren’t any lyrics in the whole song, just “cluck cluck day,” do you think people can handle this?

Wang Rong: If you want to hear a song with lyrics, there are plenty of those, and I could easily have written lyrics too. When I first started, I want to write out a conversation between the animals, but it didn’t really work with the music, so I just used “cluck cluck day” so I would have time to think about they were saying. Anyways, it’s successful as entertainment, because it’s fun.



The Mirror: There’s a lot of criticism online, have you read any of it?

Wang Rong: If it’s not too objective, or mistaken, then I can handle it, but I have to ignore personal attacks. It’s totally normal for people to have different opinions, and if they criticize me, then probably it’s helping them blow off steam, so that’s okay.



It’s normal to want to be famous

The Mirror: You’ve written several popular songs before, but a lot of people think you’ve gone too far this time, by choosing to write a ‘viral tune.’

Wang Rong: I’ve done viral songs, but I’ve also done down-tempo ‘healing’ songs too. But to be completely honest, we’re not some big corporation, with a bunch of capital investment and not enough time to spend it all. Given our situation, we have to use strategies and tactics to create the most kick-ass things we can. It’s survival of the fittest out there, so our hands are tied, but it’s also a positive situation, too. If this music let’s us get big, then I will have more energy, more optimism, and more money to invest in the kind of music I really want to make.

Making music is also like doing business, so if people say, Wang Rong, you’re just doing this to become famous, to be a hit, then I’ll say, of course I want to be famous, don’t we all need money to live? – Interview by Shou Penghuan



王蓉:我有神曲,但也有治愈系的。但说实话我们不是大财团,或者有很多资金投入,没时间耗了,这种情况我们只能采取战略和策略,推出最牛的东西。这是一 种适者生存的无奈,但这也是一个积极的状态。如果因为这个娱乐产品让我们的局面打开,我就可以有更多精力、积极性和金钱可以投入到我们真正想做的音乐中 去。

做音乐也是在做生意,有人说王蓉你就是为了出名,你就是为了红,我说当然了,我就是想红,活着不得赚钱么?文/记者 寿鹏寰


ICAF 2014: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the International Comic Arts Forum at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at the Ohio State University:

ICAF 2014

Going into ICAF, I really didn’t know what to expect, but like other first time attendees I was immediately struck by how friendly and outgoing everyone was. There was very little sense of the hierarchy that one often gets in more hoary academic circles. Instead, I found myself happily immersed in a group of fellow comic book fans and scholars, who were as excited to hear about my research as I was to hear about theirs.

As compared with the academic conferences and comic cons that I’ve attended in the past,1 it felt a little bit like a small indie comic fest, with the key difference being that the discussion of comics was being placed on the same level as the production of comics. I think this is something that other, non-academic comic fests could learn from ICAF. Unlike other media, such as film, I’ve found that the line between creator and critic is much less well-defined in comics. Sitting in the audience for panels, I noticed many attendees doodling in the notebooks provided by Ohio State. This artwork was enthusiastically shared online alongside more traditional commentary, and one presenter even made a comic book version of her presentation!

ICAF Doodles

 Source: Charles Hatfield

I’m entirely why comics studies as a field is so much more open to this kind of experimentation than other fields. Maybe it is because comics are (relatively) easy to make? Or maybe it is because comics are traditionally a ‘low’ medium so critics of comics are more willing to step into the role of creator? (Or maybe I’m just not familiar enough with other fields! The French New Wave director François Truffaut, for example, was a critic before becoming a director.)

The other aspect of ICAF that really struck me was the commitment to expanding the conversation beyond Anglophone North-American comics. During my panel, for example, my presentation on Li Kunwu and Philippe Ôtié’s graphic novel A Chinese Life, got people talking about the impact of State censorship on film and comics. Paul Morton’s presentation on the Serbian cartoonist Aleksandar Zograf likewise brought up questions of  the role of comics in representing history, as did Elizabeth Nijdam’s presentation on Anke Feuchtenberger and other post-1989 East German cartoonists, and Héctor Fernández’s engaging presentation on the Argentinian comic book Alvar Mayor.


Detail from Li Kunwu and Philippe Ôtié’s 2010 A Chinese Life

401896_Letters to Ckalja CMYK 01

Page from Aleksandar Zograf’s 2004 work, Pisma Čkalji


Page from Anke Feuchtenberger’s 1998 Somnambule


Page from Carlos Trillo and Enrique Breccia’s Alvar Mayor

This commitment to exploring comics in a global sense was also mirrored in the choice of guest speakers. While Justin Green, Carol Tyler, Dash Shaw, Phoebe Gloeckner and Jeff Smith all hail from US, Phoebe Gloeckner’s challenging presentation dealt primarily with her ongoing project to document the Juarez murders through sculpture and photography:


Additionally, the Finnish cartoonist and Rune singer Hanneriina Moisseinen provided a fascinating account of her own attempts to combine performance art with visual narrative:

Hanneriina Moisseinen’s 2014 Syntymäpäivä / Birthday

The last night of the conference featured a moving speech by Congressman John Lewis who came to discuss his new graphic novel, March, co-authored with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. As someone who has followed Nate’s work since his self-publishing days, I found myself extremely proud to see how far he has come and his ongoing commitment to social justice.


Cover to the original 1956 “Montgomery Story” comic which inspired March

In the end, though, what has stuck with me the most from ICAF is the great conversations I had over lunches and dinners and between panels. It heartens me to see that informal dialogue of this will be strengthened and encouraged with the formation of the Comic Studies Society and its graduate caucus, of which I am now a member. I look forward to ICAF 2016 at University of South Carolina!

  1. In 2010, I participated in an undergraduate conference for McNair Scholars at Portland State, and in 2013 I organized the graduate conference for the Asian Studies Department at UBC. I’ve also been to the San Diego Comic Con a couple of times, as well as the Stumptown Comics Fest, the Portland Zine Symposium, and for the first time this year, the Vancouver Comic Arts Fest. []

Infographic Department of the CCP (Part 2 of 5): The Three Unswerving Perseverances

This is part 2 of a five part translation of infographic referred to as the “Hong Kong ‘Occupy Central’ Ten Questions Infographic Version” 香港 “占中” 十问 漫画版 that was published on Weibo Friday, October 4, 2014, in response to the then ongoing Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong. Read more about the background of this info-ganda here.

 ccp_hk_info (10)

Question 3: Why do we say that the central government’s basic policy guidelines regarding Hong Kong haven’t changed, and will not change, besides which has always been Hong Kong’s greatest supporter ever since it’s return to the mainland?

“The Three Unswerving Perseverances” 三个坚定不移
• Unswervingly persevere in implementing the “one country two systems policy and basic law;
• Unswervingly persevere in supporting Hong Kong’s lawful advance into democratic development;
• Unswervingly persevere in safe-guarding Hong Kong’s long term prosperity and stability.
[Box] In reality, for the last 17 years, the central government has been Hong Kong’s greatest supporter.
“The Eight Embodiments” 八个体现
[From left to right.]

  1. Be trustworthy in politics.
  2. In financial administration, do not collect taxes.
  3. In development, give special protection.
  4. In trade, do not collect customs duties.
  5. In travel, support for all people.
  6. In economics, willingly provide backup assistance.
  7. In the lives of the people, first rate care.
  8. In accordance with Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the regulatory procedures of international organizations and international conferences, strongly support participation in international affairs.
ccp_hk_info (11)

Question 4: What is the essential reason 本质原因 for “Occupy Central”?

The Decision of National People’s Congress regarding the election of the Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has give the representatives of foreign powers a difficult to cross threshold to seize the highest level of political power in Hong Kong.

[Stone monument with three representatives of foreign powers loitering in front, one labeled USA, one wearing an American flag shirt, and one looking vaguely British? Monument reads:

The 12th National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the 10th Conference. Starting in 2017, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Officer Election can use the method brought about by universal suffrage.]

Accepting the National People’s Congress joint decision —> means that –>

The opposition party which has for many years been supported by the West will spend a long time pointlessly trying to seize the office of the Chief Executive Officer of the Special Administrative Region. –>

This will make the foreign powers waste money and waste time supporting the pro-colonial Hong Kong opposition party, causing their many year attempt to control the political power in Hong Kong to come to nothing. —>

The opposition party which has received the support of foreign powers are thoroughly anxious and panicked. –>

Through “Occupy Central” they are misleading the people to participate in a large scale mass incident. –>

  • Quickly weaken the governance of the Hong Kong SAR.
  • Quickly control the right to speak.
  • Quickly expand the political survival space 政治生存空间 of the opposition party.
  • Attempt to quickly warm the political soil of political power from the right and left of the opposition party.


Infographic Department of the CCP (Part 1 of 5)

This is part 1 of a five part translation of infographic referred to as the “Hong Kong ‘Occupy Central’ Ten Questions Infographic Version” 香港 “占中” 十问 漫画版1 that was published on Weibo Friday, October 4, 2014, in response to the ongoing Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong. It has since circulated in Chinese state media reports, inspiring Didi Tatlow to write a short article about it for Sinosphere, the China blog of The New York Times. Although the authorship is, as Tatlow points out, “unclear” given the wide circulation it has received in state media, it seems likely that it was created by the Publicity Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party 中共中央宣传部,  or a related organ. Regardless of who created it, it is a great example of contemporary Chinese propaganda:

Hong Kong Occupy Central Ten Questions - Question 1

Hong Kong “Occupy Central” Ten Questions

Signs: Occupy Central! Peace!

Question 1: How did Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central” start?

Occupy Central” refers to the illegal gathering which is currently taking place in our nation’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

“Occupy Central” The full name is “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” 让爱与和平占领中环, the abbreviation is “Peacefully Occupy Central” 和平占中 or “Occupy Central” 占中.

March 27, 2013, proposed—–September 28, 2014, officially began.

Sign: Peace.

In recent years, the “Occupy” movement has appeared in many countries, and it has already become an important form of street politics 街头政治 it’s a important method for parts of society, in particular young and vigorous 血气方刚 students, to publicly express their political demands 政治诉求, and express even stronger spirit of confrontation 对抗性.

The kind of excited confrontational expression of demands [shown by] the “Occupy Central” activity -> will often lead to bloody conflicts and social unrest in countries where there is mood of serious antagonism.

In any country, they are always illegal and the police always have the right the use the law to deal 处置 with them.


Question 2: August 31, 2014, what did the standing committee of the National People’s Congress 全国人大常委会 actually say about the decision made regarding the Hong Kong problem?

Starting in 2017, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Officer Election 香港特别行政区行政长官选举 can use the method brought about by universal suffrage 可以实行由普选产生的办法.

–The 12th National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the 10th Conference passed the ” Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Issues Relating to the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by Universal Suffrage and on the Method for Forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the Year 2016.

1. At the time of universal suffrage: A council is formed to nominate candidates which has wide representationality.

2. According to a democratic process, candidates are nominated.  Every candidate must receive a majority support from the nomination committee. This will produce two to three candidates for the Chief Executive Officer.

3. Qualified voters 和资格选民 of the Hong Kong Administrative Region have the right to choose the Chief Executive Officer and according to the law will choose a Chief Executive Officer.

Following the results of universal suffrage, the Central People’s Government will appoint 任命 [the winning candidate to the position of Chief Executive Officer].


  1. It’s interesting to note that in Chinese the word for “comics” and “cartoons” manhua is also used to describe infographics like this. []

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.


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:


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


“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:


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 <>; ‘Zhou Han fan yang jiao an’ 周汉反洋教案 [The Case of Zhou Han Opposing the Foreign Religion] <> . []
  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) :


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

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.”11 For an example of this, consider, the first three panels of the following cartoon “No Prostitution” 禁娼 by Chen Qi 陳琪:12

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.”13 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:
“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:


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. Jack Chen, “China’s Militant Cartoonists,” ASIA Magazine, May 1938. []
  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 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. Chen, 311. []
  12. Source: Modern Sketch, No. 39, pg. 17-18, published June 20, 1937, available online here courtesy of the Colgate University Libraries Digital Collections. []
  13. 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…

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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].


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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


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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.


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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].


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.





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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!


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: []
  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: []
  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 []
  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.