Ming Dynasty Looney Tunes: Journey to the West in Popular Culture

Inspired by the tragedy of missing Eileen Chow’s presentation on Monkey King cartoons, here is the full text of my talk on pop culture adaptations of Journey to the West for everyone who wasn’t able to make it to our panel at AAS 2016 in Seattle this past weekend, The Construction of Xiyouji in the Sinographic Cosmopolis and Beyond. Some of these will already be familiar to readers of this blog, but others will (hopefully) be new:

Cut off my head and I’ll still go on talking,
Lop off my arms and I’ll sock you another.
Chop off my legs and I’ll carry on walking,
Carve up my guts and I’ll put them together.
[…] To bath in hot oil is really quite nice,
A warm tub that makes all the dirt gone.

Journey to the West, Chapter 46 (translated by W.J.F. Jenner, Foreign Language Press)

So speaks Sun Wukong, better known in English as the Monkey King, after Monkey, British sinophile Arthur Waley’s enduring early 20th century translation of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West 西游记. Thanks to Waley’s judicious to abridgement of the massive Ming dynasty novel into a much shorter and (arguably) more readable novel, for a time at least The Great Sage was able to enjoy an equal measure of fame both at home and abroad. Although the novel is less well known today, nearly a century later, Monkey has many ways found an even greater success—as a cartoon character.

Monkey, 1st edition cover [front]

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Manga Formosa: The Wild World of Taiwanese Comics

The following is a sneak peak of a talk I have been invited to give later this month for the Center for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia. If you are interested in the topic and happen to find yourself in Vancouver, the talk will be Monday, February 29, 2-4pm in Room 120 of the C.K. Choi Building.

Although comics and cartoons (known in Mandarin as manhua) have existed as form of popular entertainment in Taiwan for at least a century, in comparison to Japanese manga they are almost completely unknown to your everyday English-speaking comics fan. Fortunately, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China has been working to rectify this situation through their web-based marketing effort Books from Taiwan, which just last month released samples of twelve award-winning works of Taiwanese cartooning (translated and lettered by yours truly). In addition to the website, which includes over 300 pages of high quality PDFs and background information available to download free of charge, Books from Taiwan has also printed a shorter, 70-page condensed version of the same project to be handed out at book fairs and comic cons:

books from taiwan III_comics

 

Understandably, I’m pretty stoked about this project. Here are quick summaries of the twelve books I was hired to translate and letter, with links to the sample chapters on Books from Taiwan, plus one that was done by the publisher:

1. Chang Sheng’s post-apocalyptic thriller BABY

BABY_web_10

● Winner of the 2011 Golden Comic Award For Best Comic
● Winner of the 2011 Golden Comic Award For Best Shonen Manga

December 1, 2043 AD. The mysterious lifeform BABY invades Earth and takes control of a number of human hosts, parasitising them. The possessed bodies metamorphise into monsters called ‘Organos,’ which slaughter a great mass of humanity in a series of bloody massacres, bringing mankind to the brink of extinction. Thereafter, December 1 comes to be known as ‘Extinction Day.’ While battling an Organo, Elisha, the protagonist of the story, finds that her left hand has been infected by BABY. However, aside from a throbbing pain in her hand, nothing about the rest of her body changes. Elisha begins to search for other survivors, hoping to solve the mystery of BABY…

Baby was first serialised in a shonen manga magazine before being collected into a five-volume set. It is rare example of a Taiwanese science fiction comic, and is also considered Chang-Sheng’s best known work. Although he began drawing comics later than many other artists, his bold, outside-the-box thinking has placed him in a league of his own.

Click here to read the first chapter of BABY.

 

2. Akimma Lee’s adaption of Wu Nien-Jen’s acclaimed drama Midnight in Taipei

人间条件-III-Human-Condition-III_WEB_Page_026

The Human Condition is a critically acclaimed and popular series of stage plays written and directed by filmmaker Wu Nien-Jen starting in 2001, which depict the lives of everyday people trapped in grinding poverty in a colloquial and familiar language.

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The Man from River South Spoiler Free Character Map

As part of a translation project I’m working on, I took it upon myself to draw up a character map for Hai Yan’s 海宴 epic wuxia novel The Man From River South 琅琊榜  (aka Nirvana in Fire aka Langyabang). I’ve deleted (most) of the spoilers, leaving in the information which will help people watching the tv show on Viki follow along (click to see the full size version):

LANGYABANG Spoiler Free Character Map

Keep an eye out, I should have more news on this project soon!1

  1. Also, my much anticipated MA thesis defense has finally been scheduled for later this month (woohoo!) and a 70+ page book of translated comics samples for Books from Taiwan is at the printer and will soon be online as well! I haven’t had much time for this site recently, but hopefully that will change soon… []

Coming Attractions: Six Translations of Chinese Comics for the Summer and Fall of 2015

As many of you already know, I am on track to graduate from the Department of Asian Studies at UBC with my Masters degree in August. After a lot hand wringing, I’ve decided to take a year off from graduate school to devote myself to translation and other projects. I’m not sure if I will continue on to a PhD at the end of the year or not.

The good news: I’m still head over heels in love with Chinese comics, and plan to continue blogging and tweeting far, far into the foreseeable future. Here are the Chinese manhua and lianhuanhua that I plan to translate over the next six months to a year, depending other obligations (like eating,  sleeping, paying the rent, etc) that life throws my way. Also, if you have any suggestions for future projects, or would like to donate to support my translations, there is a page for that now!

xiaolingtong

1. Smarty Pants Visits the Future 小靈通漫遊未來

Adapted by Pan Caiying 潘彩英 from the original 1978 story by Ye Yonglie 業永烈 with art by Du Jianguo 杜建國 and Mao Yongkun 毛用坤.

(Liaoning Fine Arts Press 遼寧美術出版社, May, 1980, 150 pages)

Description: Popular lianhuanhua adaptation of a groundbreaking post-Cultural Revolution sci fi story. A young boy visits the near future and learns about all of the amazing new technologies which will make life easier for the Chinese people, including smart watches, robot butlers, hover cars, and (of course) giant watermelons.

Think The Jetsons meets EPCOT as imagined by Deng Xiaoping.

 

$(KGrHqR,!mIFJpYzrhGlBScgdmI2pw~~60_57

2. Confucius: A Life of Crime 孔老二 罪恶一生

Xiao Gan 萧甘 with art by Gu Bingxin 顾炳鑫 and He Youzhi 贺友直

(People’s Press Shanghai 上海人民出版社, June, 1974, 23 pages)

Description: This short comic was produced towards the end of the Cultural Revolution as part of the 1974 “Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius” campaign launched by the Gang of Four. Sharply critical of the ancient philosopher whose teachings (or interpretations thereof) have come to be seen as foundational to Sinophone countries, this irreverent look at the man from Qufu is one of the more light-hearted products of the disastrous Cultural Revolution.

Think O Brother Where Art Thou meets The Devil’s Dictionary as imagined by Christopher Hitchens.

 

nuwabutian_01

3. Nüwa Repairs the Heavenly Mantle 女娲补天

Adapted by Shi Jinglin 石景麟 from the original retelling by Yuan Ke 袁珂 with art by Hu Yongkai 胡永凱.

(Shanghai People’s Fine Arts Press 上海人民美術出版社, July, 1980, 65 pages)

Description: Lyrical retelling of the classic Chinese creation myth with incredible art by Hu Yongkai. Later made into an award winning animation by Qian Yunda 錢運達 at the Shanghai Animation Studio 上海美術電影製片廠, with art direction by Hu Yongkai. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, adaptions of traditional stories became a way for artists and authors to indirectly criticize the Gang of Four and the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, these works introduced young people to a rich cultural legacy which had been suppressed for over a decade. For Chinese language learners, they are a great resource for people who want to a get a deeper understanding of Chinese culture than is generally available in most textbooks.

Think: The Book of Genesis meets Turtle Island as imagined by Carl Jung.

 

fanduimeidi_12

4. Pictures in Opposition of the American Imperialist’s Re-Armament of Japan 反對美帝武裝日本圖片

[or, for the sake of brevity, American Imperialism Exposed!]

Author unknown.

(Three People’s Press 三民圖書公司, 1950-52, 32 pages)

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Imperial Chinese Avengers is a Thing: Four Chinese Superhero Mashups

The Avengers franchise and superhero films in general are big business in China, with the first film of the series earning Marvel and Disney some 567 million RMB [$91.6 million USD] when it was released in mainland movie theaters in 2012,1  with $17.4 million of that coming in on just the first day. 2 Given the popularity of the film in the Middle Kingdom, perhaps it isn’t surprising to see cartoonists both here in North America and over in China attempting to “sinicize” 漢化 the heroes. Here are four examples I’ve come across in just the last week.

1. Avengers of Imperial China by micQuestion

Avengers of Imperial China

Source: http://micquestion.deviantart.com/art/The-Avengers-of-Imperial-China-373438271

Created in January, 2012, for a contest on CBR, micQuestion’s version features The Immortal Captain, Invincible Iron Mandarin, Mighty Thunder, and the Emerald Mountain.

2. Peking Opera Avengers by Gene Luen Yang

Captain-America

Captain America

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  1. See: http://www.sarft.gov.cn/articles/2013/01/11/20130111112329420341.html []
  2. See: http://deadline.com/2012/05/avengers-now-260-5m-overseas-could-reach-585m-worldwide-through-sunday-with-u-s-canada-russia-china-openings-265455/ []

A Comics Industry with Chinese Characteristics: Manhua Publishing in the PRC and Hong Kong

Recently, I have been working on a few projects to get Chinese comics published in English translation. It’s a tricky proposition, given the limited “brand name recognition” for manhua outside of China, in comparison to the much better known (and therefore more marketable) Japanese manga.
Manhua World Cover
Cover to issue #43 of Comicfans’ weekly Comic World 漫畫世界, published September 26, 2014
 
The fact that so much contemporary manhua is visually indistinguishable from manga (cf. above) doesn’t help things, either, unless of course one is going after the manga demographic. So in large part my work with publishers so far has been to steer them towards Chinese comic book artists with more unique styles that touch on topics which would appeal to a more general comics reader.
It’s much easier said than done, however, since artists with more unique styles tend to also be iconoclasts in their storytelling as well. In this post I’m going to introduce some of the major players in the Chinese-language comics industry, and also talk a little about the economic side of making comics in mainland China and Hong Kong.1
  1. Taiwan is another area that deserves further study, although my preliminary research suggests that the Taiwanese market is more heavily influenced by Japanese comics than either the PRC or Hong Kong. []

Zhang Guangyu’s Manhua Journey to the West (1945) – Part 6 of 6

Zhang Guangyu’s 張光宇 (1900-1965) overlooked masterpiece, Manhua Journey to the West 西遊漫記 was originally created in the fall of 1945 while Zhang was living in the wartime capital of Chongqing. Deeply critical of the ruling KMT government, it was eventually banned and did not see print for another 13 years. For the sake of introducing Zhang’s out-of-print work to a larger audience, I’ve taken the liberty of translating the entire 60 page comic into English.

In the final part of this 6 part translation, the pilgrims have just escaped from the forces of False Qin and are sitting down to rest when a “black force” 黑气 approaches and steals their shadows. The black force is revealed to have come from the nearby the “black market” 黑市场, a shadowy realm of ghosts and demons guarded by a giant cat with one eye open and the other eye closed. Mice are said to be flowing into and out of a hole in the wall of the market, “like cars speeding back and forth on a motorway.” Eventually the pilgrims’ shadows make their way into the market where they immediately fall into a slimy pond full of talking carp who tell them to, “Seek profits! Seek profits!” They are rescued by a giant skeletal hand only to find themselves facing the “Spirit of Idle Capital” in the “Hall of Laughter and Curses.” The spirit takes a fancy to Zhu Bajie and follows his shadow back into the human realm to take over his body. Zhu Bajie then apparently abandons his body, somehow tricking the spirit.1 Once back in the human realm, Tripitaka asks Monkey to find some food and water for him. Monkey manages to find a stream inside a cave, but just as he is about to fill a kettle with water, a three-headed dragon appears and challenges him to a riddle…

1945张光宇_西游漫记 (52)

51. 那 四个影子再往前走几步,却被一堵城墙挡住,只是寻觅不着一个城门,正在迟疑间,忽然墙边有淅索之声,接着发现那 边有个小窟窿,许多耗子钻进钻出,好像马 路上的汽车一样驶来驶去,在另一个角落里却见有一对猫眼睛,一只眼开,一只眼闭,好像马路上的红绿灯一样,四个影子上前打问:“警察先生,请问如何入 城?”话还没说完,早被那猫脚爪猛的一掌,打进了城。

The four shadows walked another few steps, but found themselves blocked by the city wall. No matter how hard they looked they weren’t able to find the gate. Just as they found themselves in a state of befuddlement, they heard a pitter pattering sound, so they looked around and discovered there was a hole through which a multitude of mice were passing, like cars speeding back and forth on a motorway. To one side there was a pair of cat-eyes, one open and the other closed, appearing for all the world to be nothing else than a pair of traffic signals. The four shadows went forward to ask, “Mr. Police Officer, please, can you tell us how to get into the city?” Before they had finished asking their question, the cat had snatched them up with violent movement of his claws and pulled them into the city.

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  1. This part of the narrative is very unclear to me, so I’m open to suggestions as to how to interpret it. []

Zhang Guangyu’s Manhua Journey to the West (1945) – Part 5 of 6

Zhang Guangyu’s 張光宇 (1900-1965) overlooked masterpiece, Manhua Journey to the West 西遊漫記 was originally created in the fall of 1945 while Zhang was living in the wartime capital of Chongqing. Deeply critical of the ruling KMT government, it was eventually banned and did not see print for another 13 years. For the sake of introducing Zhang’s out-of-print work to a larger audience, I’ve taken the liberty of translating the entire 60 page comic into English and will be posting it in installments on my blog over the next several weeks.

In part 5 of this 6 part translation, having taken over the opera from the actor playing him, Monkey has the his furry subjects learn various trades so that they can become farmers, merchants, builders, artists, and poets, eventually transforming the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit into a modern metropolis, complete with high rises and smoke stacks. An idle month passes in the Epang Palace before the pilgrims realize that they are getting no closer to their goal of retrieving the Celestial Tome from the Western Paradise, so they decide to leave the comforts of the palace and continue on their quest. The mayor warns them of the dangers they will face travelling through the neighboring kingdom of “False” Qin. This kingdom of monsters is said to be ruled by the “Japanese Dwarves” 倭秦with assistance from defectors from Ey-qin. For their protection, the mayor offers to send an escort of air balloons to take them over False Qin. The pilgrims agree, but as they are passing over False Qin, Monkey spies artillery being set up to attack the fleet…

1945张光宇_西游漫记 (42)

41. 于是改编的“水廉洞”新剧出现在台上,果然情形不同,表现众猴子个个在勤俭进行工作中。

When the new version of “Water Curtain” was performed on stage, the situation was indeed quite different, showing all the little monkeys hard at work.

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Zhang Guangyu’s Manhua Journey to the West (1945) – Part 4 of 6

Zhang Guangyu’s 張光宇 (1900-1965) overlooked masterpiece, Manhua Journey to the West 西遊漫記 was originally created in the fall of 1945 while Zhang was living in the wartime capital of Chongqing. Deeply critical of the ruling KMT government, it was eventually banned and did not see print for another 13 years. For the sake of introducing Zhang’s out-of-print work to a larger audience, I’ve taken the liberty of translating the entire 60 page comic into English and will be posting it in installments on my blog over the next several weeks.

In part 4 of this 6 part translation, Monkey narrowly avoids a full-body haircut only to land on the giant Peach of Immortality, where he finds himself surrounded by dancing immortals and fairies. Monkey concludes that he has somehow arrived back at the Southern Heavenly Gates. Princess Iron Fan appears in the middle of the festivities and asks Monkey to dance and rather surprisingly, given his characteristic lack of interest in the opposite sex in the original novel, he agrees. After their dance, Princess Iron Fan leads Monkey into the garden to “whisper sweet nothings among the grapevines.” Just when things are starting to heat up though, an unpleasant surprise soon cools Monkey’s ardor…

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31.   悟空从那美女剪刀下挣扎脱身,踉踉跄跄逃出门外,回头一看见有“美发宫”三个字写着,他方[才?]明白道:“老孙的毫毛根根都有用处,如果把他剃净岂不难看,而且 世界哪有光皮猴孙,幸亏老孙机警逃得出来,否则就大上其当了!”说着他倒反而得意起来,反背着手洋洋地沿走廊踱过去,忽然脚底下的地板自己转动起来,一霎 时像旋转乾坤般的转得孙猴儿头昏眼花,手足无措,翻了不知多少筋斗。

Sun Wukong wrestled free from the woman with the scissors, stumbling and staggering out of the door, he looked back to see the words, “Palace Hairdressers,” leading him to say, “Every hair of Sun Wukong’s downy fur has its use, if you shaved me bare, wouldn’t I look terrible? Besides, who’s ever heard of a hairless monkey? Good thing that the vigilant Sun managed to escape, otherwise I would have fallen into her trap!” Having said this, he began to feel full of himself, strolling down the corridor with his hands clasped behind him, smiling contentedly, when suddenly the floor beneath his feet swiveled and with a whoosh! Sun Wukong spun around like a yin yang sign, leaving him dizzy with blurred vision. He was completely helpless, somersaulting into the void who knows how many times

 

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Zhang Guangyu’s Manhua Journey to the West (1945) – Part 3 of 6

Zhang Guangyu’s 張光宇 (1900-1965) overlooked masterpiece, Manhua Journey to the West 西遊漫記 was originally created in the fall of 1945 while Zhang was living in the wartime capital of Chongqing. Deeply critical of the ruling KMT government, it was eventually banned and did not see print for another 13 years. For the sake of introducing Zhang’s out-of-print work to a larger audience, I’ve taken the liberty of translating the entire 60 page comic into English and will be posting it in installments on my blog over the next several weeks.

In part 2 of this 6 part translation, Monkey and Zhu Bajie run into Lady Mengjiang, who husband has been forced to labor on the wall.1 Monkey promises to seek vengeance and with the help of a crow monster, he and Zhu Bajie are able to track down the Crested Falcon. A battle takes place and Monkey handily dispatches his foe, freeing his master and Brother Sand.  The four pilgrims continue on the “City of Sweet Dreams” 梦得快乐城2 above which floats the Pharaoh’s spectacular palace of air balloons, the Epang Palace 阿房宫.3 The mayor of the City of Sweet Dreams agrees to take the four pilgrims up into the Epang Palace in an elevator, but Monkey is impatient, so he flies ahead on his magic cloud only to find himself face to face with an army of monsters and, possibly even worse, hairdressers…

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21. 孙 悟空朱八戒走在前面,行了一程,只不见师傅与沙和尚随来,心中有些疑惑,孙猴知道有变,一个筋斗云翻上半空,四面一望,并无动静,但见半山腰有一白衣女子 正在哭哭啼啼的喊:“好命苦,我的丈夫,今番又被拉去当壮丁,叫我如何过活呀!……”十分凄切,悟空踏住云脚,翻身落地,上前打问,原来她叫孟姜女,她的 丈夫范杞良是万年老丁,回为没有钱今番又被鸦鸦鸟们奉了毛尖鹰之命强拉去当新丁!孙猴听了,十分愤怒道:“我齐天大圣与你们报仇!”孟姜女拜谢不已。

Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie went ahead, but they couldn’t find their master or Brother Sand, so they began to feel uneasy. Sun Wukong knew that something was the matter, so he jumped on his magical cloud and sprang up into the sky, looking all around, but no one was out and about. Then all of a sudden halfway up the mountain he saw a woman in white, sobbing and crying out, “Life is so unfair, today my husband was taken away to be conscripted, how can I ever go on!?” Completely at a loss, Sun Wukong stopped his cloud, and turned around to coast to earth. Going up to ask her what was up, he found out she was called Lady Meng Jiang. Her husband, Fan Qiliang, was an old laborer of many years, but because he didn’t have any money he was once again conscripted by the Crow-crow Birds to become a new laborer! Upon hearing this, Sun Wukong was filled with rage and said, “I, the Great Sage Equal of Heaven will take revenge on your behalf!” Whereupon Lady Meng Jiang thanked him profusely.

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  1. This is a famous Chinese legend whose origins can be found in the Zuozhuan commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, compiled in the third or fourth century BC. See Wilt Idema’s Meng Jiangnü Brings Down the Great Wall : Ten Versions of a Chinese Legend. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008. []
  2. In his 1958 introduction to the print version, Zhang comments that the City of Sweet Dreams was meant to be stand-in for the “decadent and dissolute life in the interior during the war.” A somewhat garbled translation is available here. []
  3. This is the name of a famously grandiose palace which Qin Shihuang began construction on in 212 BC but was never completed. See Lukas Nickel, “The First Emperor and Sculpture in China,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 76, no. 03 (October 2013): 26. []