Zhang Shijie’s 張士傑 Fisher Boy 漁童: Transformative Nationalism in New China

The following is based on a presentation I gave for the 2017 Association of Asian Studies annual conference in Toronto as part of the panel Materia Manhuanica: Reading Chinese Cartoons on March 16, 2017. Funding for this panel was generously provided by the Huang Yao Foundation, with Eileen Chow serving as discussant. Additional  revisions were suggested by my co-panelists John Crespi, Madeline Gent, and Orion Martin. Finally, I am indebted to Barbara Mittler, whose March 6, 2017, seminar “A King’s Two Bodies? Mao’s Death and his Legacy” at UBC got me thinking about how China’s “transformative nationalism” changed under Mao and the CCP, and what this might tell us about Zhang Shijie’s Boxer comics, and their eventual suppression.

I want to begin first by thanking Mississauga people of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe First Nation on whose ancestral lands we are hosting this event today. For those of you who are just visiting Canada for the first time, this might seem a little odd, but I encourage you, especially in the really, frankly, pretty frightening times we find ourselves, I encourage you to think about this question of ownership. Who does the land really belong to and where do we all come from? Where do our stories come from and who do they belong to? I think these are questions which we are going to talk about more during tonight’s panel, and also during our question and answer session.

Niubizi and John Crespi at the AAS 2017 Materia Manhuanica panel.

Secondly, I wanted to thank the Huang Yao Foundation for sponsoring this panel. If you haven’t heard of them yet, the Huang Yao Foundation is an amazing organization, which was founded by Carolyn Huang, Huang Danrong 黄丹蓉 and the Huang family in 2001, with the goal of preserving their grandfather’s legacy as a cartoonist, a painter, and a scholar. Over here, on our sign, you can see Niubizi, or ‘Willie Buffoon’ as he was known in English. The Huang Yao Foundation has been really tireless in collecting information on Huang Yao’s career, and the careers of his peers, and they have a lot of resources to share with Chinese comics scholars. I think almost everyone on the panel today has worked with them in some capacity over the years. So I encourage you all to check them out online at huangyao dot org, and also to keep an eye out for some of the publications and other projects which will be coming down the line over the next couple of months.

Finally, I wanted to thank all of you for being here today. I know there are always a lot of demands on people’s time during AAS, and it really means a lot to us that you were willing to stop by and geek out on Chinese comics for a bit. I know that comics sometimes get a bad rap, and comics scholars are pretty notorious for spending a lot of time and energy on justifying their interest in what is, aside from being physically ephemeral, also pretty crude art form. Even if comics aren’t nearly as “declassee” as they once might have been, thanks to the material turn, I think there is still a big question that looms over any discussion of comics, which is, “Why comics?” Because there really is something that compels comics fans (like all of us here) to really “stand by our man” [hua].

Okay, no more bad puns, I promise!

So one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is being thankful and mindful of the spaces we inhabit. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it brings up this question of belonging. ‘Belonging’ is one of those great words that goes both ways—in the sense of belonging to a place, and places belonging to us.

Nanabozho piles muskrat’s earth on the shell of a turtle while beaver and otter look on in “The Creation of the World” Daphne Odjig (b. 1919, Potawatomi and Odawa First Nation), 1972.

So here we have this great mural by Daphne Odjig from the 1970s, which depicts the trickster god Nanabozho piling mud on the back of turtle to create the world. Over here you have beaver, and muskrat, who for modern viewers might bring to the mind the fur trappers, who formed the vanguard of Western imperialism in North America, and particularly here in Canada. So there’s one reading of this piece, which is basically a straight reading, as being about a creation myth, and another one, which is more subjective, but gets into a different kind of creation myth—the creation of Canada as a nation.

Now, I don’t know what Odjig would say about her painting, or if she would agree with this sort of reading, I did find this quote from her from 1968 that I think speaks to what I want to talk about today:

“If you destroy our legends you destroy our soul.”
– Daphne Odjig, 1968 (from Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair’s introduction to Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water)

And that’s really a great launching off point for talking about Zhang Shijie, and his ‘folk’ stories set during the Boxer Uprising at the turn of the 20th century, but actually collected and edited (pretty heavily in some cases) and published towards the end of the 1950s and up to the mid-1960s. What’s interesting about these stories, one collection of which was called 义和团传说故事 or ‘Boxer Legends,’ is that they are mostly remembered today for the comic book and cartoon adaptations.

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Saving the Nation Through Twisted Means: Zhang Yimou’s 張藝謀 Great Wall 《長城》

The Japanese occupation of China, beginning with the annexation of Manchuria in 1932, and culminating in full-scale invasion via Shanghai in 1937, forms a key turning point in the history of modern China. If this seems like an odd (or inauspicious, or even politically incorrect) jumping off point for a review of Zhang Yimou’s latest film, Great Wall, bear with me for a moment.

 

Taotie 饕餮 (‘the gluttonous horde’) mount their attack in one of the opening scenes of Great Wall

 

As many scholars have argued, without Japanese occupation, the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely to have been able to defeat the Nationalists, whose failure (as so many textsbooks argue) to defend the Chinese heartlands turned countless young patriots against them. It is curious to note then, that so many prominent Nationalist politicians and military officials chose to collaborate with the Japanese invaders:

 

"Portrait of the Late Wang Jingwei" 汪精衛遺像 Ye Qianyu 葉淺予 (early 1940s)
“Portrait of the Late Wang Jingwei”  汪精衛遺像 Ye Qianyu 葉淺予 (early 1940s)

 

While founding KMT member Wang Jingwei 汪精衛 (1883–1944, pictured above in a mock-memorial by Ye Qianyu) is of course the most obvious and well-known collaborator, there was also his right-hand man Zhou Fohai 周佛海 (1897–1948), his brother-in-law Chu Minyi 褚民誼 (1884–1946), and, in no particular order: Chen Gongbo 陳公博 (1892–1946), Jiang Kanghu 江亢虎 (1883–1954), Bao Wenyue 鮑文樾 (1892–1980), Ren Yuandao 任援道 (1890–1980), Xiao Shuxuan 蕭叔宣 (1894–1945), Yang Kuiyi 杨揆一 (1885–1946), Tang Erho 湯爾和 (1878–1940), Chen Zenmin 陳則民 (1881–1951), Zang Shiyi 臧式毅 (1884–1956), Li Shaogeng 李紹庚 (1896–?), Wang Zihui 王子惠 (1892–?), and Zhang Yanqing 張燕卿 (1898–1951).

 

Taotie queen 母兽 or Japanese collaborator? You decide! 1

 

Of these, Wang Jingwei and Jiang Kanghu were known anarchists (as young men at least), with Wang spending 1910-1911 in prison for an assassination attempt of Prince Chun 和碩醇親王, father of the Puyi, the last emperor of China. One theory, known as “saving the nation through twisted means”   曲线救国, holds that these collaborators were actually serving the Nationalists by directing the Japanese forces to target Communists. As Chiang Kai-shek himself is supposed to have once famously said, “The Japanese are a disease of the skin. The Communists are a disease of the heart日本的侵略是皮肤病,共产党才是心脏病.2

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  1. Tried very hard not to make a 日本鬼子 comment here, but it does seem relevant to point out that in the PRC the Japanese, to this day, are referred to as ‘devils’ or ‘demons’ in casual conversation. []
  2. This quote may very be apocryphal. The Chinese appears to be a back translation from English, which fits with the fact that the most convincing source appears to be a June 30, 1941, letter from Ernest Hemingway to Henry Morgenthau, United States Treasury Secretary. Hemingway had accompanied his then wife, the journalist Martha Gellhorn, on a trip to wartime capital of Chongqing in spring of that year, where they had both met Chiang Kai-shek. In the letter, however, he simply quotes a ‘KMT official,’ not the Generalissimo himself. See “In love and war: a Hong Kong honeymoon for Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn,” Post Magazine, February 13, 2016. []

Turtles All the Way Down: Dr. Fix-it 改造博士, Mr. Wang 王先生 and the Origins of Chinese Comics

The following is based on a lecture on Chinese comics which I had the pleasure of presenting to the Asian Art and Visual Culture working group at the Townsend Center for Humanities at UC Berkeley on February 3, 2017, at the invitation of Hannibal Taubes and Weihong Bao. I’ve edited the original text slightly to reflect the comments I received before and after my presentation.

So, starting off, I’d like first thank the Asian Art and Visual Culture working group, and Hannibal Taubes and Professor Weihong Bao for inviting me to be here today, and Andrew Jones for taking the time to meet with me before this talk. It’s really an honor for me to be able to be here to not only share my research, but also have the opportunity to learn more about the projects you guys are all working on in your own fields. It’s always amazing to me to see the ways people studying things I had no idea about can inspire me to think about my own work in different ways.

I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge the Chochenyo band (today Muwekma) of the Ohlone People on whose ancestral and unceded territory we are holding this event today.

Just now, Professor Jones and I were talking about this, and I said, “I know it seems a little hokey…” But Professor Jones, to his credit, said that he didn’t think it was hokey at all. And then he told me a story, one that I hadn’t heard before.

Just to preface, I’m from Portland, so we were talking about Ursula K. Le Guin, who has lived in Portland for most of her adult life with her husband, Charles Le Guin, a historian who taught at Portland State University (my alma mater).

What I didn’t know about Ursula K. Le Guin, is that she was originally from Berkeley, and her father, Alfred Kroeber, taught at the university. (That’s where the K in her name comes from.) Kroeber was an anthropologist, one the earliest students of Franz Boas at Columbia, and Le Guin’s mother, Theodora Kroeber, was also an anthropologist, having written Ishi in Two Worlds: a biography of the last wild Indian in North America in 1961. Ishi was said to be the last surviving member of the Yahi tribe, of the Yana people from Northern California, and he just appeared all of a sudden in 1911, after most of his tribe had been killed in the Three Knolls Massacre of 1865. The part of this story that I think is really relevant to my talk today, is that in her book, Theodora Kroeber describes how Ishi never actually told anyone his true name–just like Ged and the wizards in a Tale of Earthsea.

So we have these threads, the power of names, and the way ideas and traditions move through generations.

I’m going to try and avoid talking about politics here, because I know—or at least I think if you’re here for this talk today, it’s probably at least in part because you want to think about something else for a little while. But avoiding politics is itself political, and we are at Berkeley, which is in the national news for the protests here just two nights ago, for protests which ended in the university cancelling a talk by the white supremacist / internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos.

I would like to say that even though things look pretty dire right now, the struggle for equality and freedom from oppression is something that’s been ongoing for a long time now. I’d like to think that his Orangeness in Chief, and Brexit, and the crackdown on NGOs and lawyers and free speech in China…I’d like to think all of those things are just temporary setbacks.

I do think the tide of history is against them, in the same way that the First Nations peoples of North America, and indigenous peoples around the world are finally starting to gain some recognition for the injustices that were done to them in the past, and new policies are being put into place to address the ongoing legacies of those injustices.

And I want to thank the community here at Berkeley for standing up to the people who would have us the go the other direction, by having us betray the fundamental values of American democracy.

Okay! So, now, on the really pressing matter of the day: Chinese comics!

Statue of three stacked turtles in a public square in front of a curios shop.Statue of three stacked turtles in a public square in front of a curios shop.

So, the title of this talk is ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ and I guess that’s a little confusing for some people, because what do turtles have to do with China or comics?

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Literature at the Margins: Learn Chinese, Read Sci-fi

In my experience learning Chinese over the past decade, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is getting enough practice reading (and writing) characters:

chinese-poster_1-5x7

“Study them every day, use them every day” 天天学,天天用 1

Characters take an inordinate amount of time to memorize, and the lack of spaces between words means that proper nouns, set phrases, and foreign transliterations have to be parsed out from the more common vocabulary of everyday writing.

This is the easy answer for why so few Anglophones read untranslated Chinese literature:

Because Chinese is hard.

As the old joke goes, though:

Q: What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?
A: I don’t know and I don’t care!

My suspicion is that there are a lot of people out there like me — people who are being held back not so much by the difficulty of learning Chinese, as by the difficulty of finding things to read in Chinese, so that we can actually get the practice we need to become (and stay) functionally literate.

Ignorance and apathy are self-perpetuating, of course: The less one reads in Chinese, the harder it is to pick up a book or story to read casually.2

At the same time, one hears over and over again that nothing worth reading is being published in China today. Just a couple of days ago, Ha Jin, an author who I respect and admire, was quoted on LitHub saying that, “Many of my novels—A Free Life, War Trash, A Map of Betrayal—which have political resonance, are not allowed to published.”3 Can Xue has gone even further, saying, when asked about contemporary Chinese literature, “I have no hope, and I don’t feel like evaluating it.”4

Setting aside, for the moment, questions of censorship and literary merit (which seem to, somewhat conveniently, to do double duty as pitches for dissident lit), genre fiction—particularly short fiction—provides interesting examples of ‘marginal’ or ‘weird’ literature: the queer, the dystopian, the creepy.

The trick is finding it.

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  1. ‘Them’ here isn’t actually characters, it’s ‘the words of the Chairman Mao’ but same diff, right? []
  2. In language acquisition studies, this is referred to as ‘attrition’ and it probably affects us more than we think, since most of us have a pretty high tolerance for reading words that we don’t entirely understand. It’s more obvious when it comes to spelling (or writing characters), especially when we’re deprived of spell check (and IMEs). Two related concepts are the ‘plateau effect,’ which points to the fact that we learn L2 languages in stages, rather than all at once, and ‘fossilization,’ which refers to becoming trapped at a sub-fluent level. []
  3. Ha Jin on the Long Reach of the Chinese Government: Love, Betrayal, and the Totalitarian Machine []
  4. Q&A with Author Can Xue on the State of Chinese Literature []

Mermaids and Ghosts: Yang Chao’s 杨超 Crosscurrent 《長江圖》

The Vancouver International Film Festival is town again and all I can say is, man, time flies. While much of my work to date has focused on Chinese comics, I’ve been trying to find a natural way to transition to a broader focus that encompasses my interests in Chinese literature and film.

liaozhai

Page from an illustrated edition of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, late Qing.

Part of the problem has been trying to find books and movies that really excite me, and part of that problem has been putting into words what I’m actually looking for. The best I’ve come up with is ‘sino-weird’—last year I even set up a Tumblr under that name.  During my undergrad years, I really got a kick out of reading Chinese ghost stories like “The Biography of Miss Ren” 任氏傳 from Chen Han’s 陳翰 A Collection of Strange Events 異聞記 and true crime tales like Feng Menglong’s 馮夢龍 “The Case of the Dead Infant” 況太守路斷死孩兒.1 After being suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, tales of the bizarre and macabre have seen something of a comeback in mainland China over the last couple of decades, Gordon Chan’s 2008 film Painted Skin 畫皮 and the 2012 sequel (directed by Wu Ershan) being two recent examples. In Hong Kong of course, there is the much earlier success of Tsui Hark’s 1987 film A Chinese Ghost Story 倩女幽魂 , which like Painted Skin, was loosely based on a short story from Pu Songling’s collection of classic ghost stories Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio 聊齋誌異.

Following my interest in the supernatural side of the Middle Kingdom, on Monday I had the pleasure of getting to see Yang Chao’s 杨超 latest film Crosscurrent 長江圖, which was followed by a Q&A session with the director, moderated by Shelly Kraicer. While there are probably some obvious comparisons to be made to films like Jia Zhangke’s Still Life 三峡好人 (2008) and Yung Chang’s Up the Yangtze (2007), Crosscurrent is concerned with more than simply documenting a historical moment. In fact, there is something almost ahistorical or even anti-historical about the film–the only references to place the film in a historical chronology that I can recall are a mention of the year 1989 in a poem, images of the Three Gorges Dam, documentary footage of river tracers, and the narrator mentioning passenger ferries stopped providing service on the river the year previous.

crosscurrent1

Gao Chun searches for An Lu in Crosscurrent.

The film follows a busted-down barge filled with mysterious cargo of ‘little fish’ as it makes its way from Shanghai to an unknown destination upriver. At dawn, on the banks of the Yangzte, the protagonist, Gao Chun (played by Qin Hao), catches a small black fish and places it in a golden urn before a bonfire—an offering to meant to appease the restless soul of his recently deceased father. Returning to his ship, he catches sight of a young woman on old-fashioned wooden boat. When he runs into her again at the next town up the river, they fall into bed, undressing each other like an old married couple. It’s not clear if it’s an act of (albeit restrained) passion, or a business transaction, but they whatever the case, Gao Chun and An Lu (Xin Zhilei) find themselves reunited again and again at each stop along the river, guided by an unusual framing device: a book of poems. Found in a dusty box under the ship’s engine, the poems (written by the director) convey a vague sense of loss. Visually stunning, the film itself meanwhile, conveys a strong undercurrent of Buddhist detachment as the natural beauty of the river is juxtaposed with the ugly decay of rusting hulks and rotten river towns.2

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  1. Both of which are included in Y.W. Ma and Joseph S.M. Lau’s definitive collection of English translations, Traditional Chinese Stories: Themes and Variations (Cheng & Tsui, 1986). []
  2. Mark Lee Ping-Bing, who also served as director of photography for Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and cinematographer for Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin, won the Silver Bear in Berlin for his work on the film. []

The Shanghai Manhua Society
 Conclusion

This is the conclusion of my MA thesis, The Shanghai Manhua Society: A History of Early Chinese Cartoonists, 1918-1938,  completed in December 2015 at the Department of Asian Studies at UBC. Since passing my defense, I’ve decided to put the whole thing up online so that my research will be available to the rest of the world. I’ve also decided to use Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which means you can share it with anyone you like, as long as you don’t charge money for it. You can also download a PDF version here.

As we have seen, although the official Manhua Society ended about a year after it began in late 1926, many of the members remained close, and throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s they pooled their resources to fund several short-lived manhua periodicals for which they solicited submissions from amateur and professional artists alike, becoming not only editors, but also gatekeepers, teachers, and patrons for generation of cartoonists which followed, a somewhat ironic role given their relatively humble origins (with the exception of Wang Dunqing).  Employed primarily in the advertising and fashion industries, members responded to the worsening of the conflict with Japan by becoming increasingly political and in their manhua periodicals, one can see a marked shift from boys’ humor and light political satire into outright propaganda.  Their example demonstrates that the link between art, commerce and politics in the 1920s and 1930s in Shanghai was a fluid one, with few hard and fast boundaries.

English-language historians of modern Chinese visual culture such as Julia Andrews, Adam Cathcart, John Lent, Ellen Johnston Laing, Paul Pickowicz, Kuiyi Shen and others have examined the careers of various manhua artists. Many more scholars have used manhua illustrations to demonstrate the development of the public sphere in Republican China. Other scholars have looked at the political and literary groups of the time, building on the work of Michel Hockx and Kirk Denton.[1] John A. Crespi, meanwhile, has published an illustrated introduction to the important manhua periodical Modern Sketch and is in the process of completing a study of selected Chinese pictorial satire magazines from the late 1910s to the 1950s.[2]  Likewise, Jonathan Hutt has written at length on the life and times of Shao Xunmei, touching upon Modern Press, and more recently, Paul Bevan has published an important monograph which places Shao Xunmei and the members of the Manhua Society and their later collaborators within the global discourse of modern art.[3] While I have relied on their work to varying degrees in the course of my research, to my knowledge, however, this is the first English language study to provide a comprehensive account of the formation and immediate legacy of the Manhua Society.

Cartoonist and scholar Bi Keguan’s 畢克官pioneering 1986 Chinese-language study The History of Chinese Manhua 中國漫畫史, co-authored with Huang Yuanlin 黃遠林 was the first to highlight the historical importance of the Manhua Society.  Thirty years later, this groundbreaking work remains unsurpassed as the most exhaustive and penetrating look at the history of Chinese cartooning. Beginning with a short look at proto-cartoons from the pre-modern period, Bi and Huang document the emergence of humorous drawings 滑稽畫 in the newspapers and pictorials of the late Qing and early Republican period, looking at artists such as Shen Bochen and Ding Song. They show how these works informed the satirical cartoons 諷刺畫 of the politically tumultuous late 1910s, which Bi and Huang refer to as the Era of May 4th Movement 五四運動時期.  Although this movement began as a series of student protests against territorial concessions given to Japan, it eventually came to be seen as emblematic of a much larger cultural backlash against cultural and social conservatism.

Further research is needed on why so many manhua publications were short lived. While we will probably never know for sure how exactly how many manhua periodicals were published, in Chapter 6 of this study I touch on a total of 25 magazines published after the (informal) founding of the Manhua Society in 1928 and before Shanghai fell to the Japanese in November, 1937 (see Appendices Table 0.2 for a complete list). Of these, only a handful were able to survive for 2 to 3 years, with the vast majority closing after 2 or 3 months. John A. Crespi has hypothesized that many magazines were launched with funding sufficient to cover the costs of only one or two issues, being forced to rely on the sales of these first issues to continue printing thereafter. At the same time, for every successful magazine there were any number of titles which failed to find an audience large enough to justify production costs.[4]

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The Shanghai Manhua Society
 Chapter 6: The Legacy

This is the sixth chapter in my MA thesis, The Shanghai Manhua Society: A History of Early Chinese Cartoonists, 1918-1938,  completed in December 2015 at the Department of Asian Studies at UBC. Since passing my defense, I’ve decided to put the whole thing up online so that my research will be available to the rest of the world. I’ve also decided to use Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which means you can share it with anyone you like, as long as you don’t charge money for it. Over the next couple of days I’ll be putting up the whole thing, chapter by chapter. You can also download a PDF version here.

Over the years which followed its founding in 1926, the Manhua Society would come to be seen as forming an important part of the history of cartooning in China. Writing in the English language magazine ASIA Monthly some eight months after the outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese War in May, 1938, Jack Chen described the fate of the Manhua Society in vivid language:

Since this was not a fair weather art, it did not attract those in search of fame or fortune. On the contrary, it offered poverty and hard knocks. The history of the first group of cartoonists is typical. Out of ten members, 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 [in 1934] 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.[1]

While it is easy to identify the first Manhua Society member mentioned as Huang Wennong, who died of ruptured stomach ulcer on June 21, 1934, the others are less obvious. Clearly, Ji Xiaobo is the most likely candidate for having joined the government, and the six who held together most likely refers to Ye Qianyu, Zhang Guangyu, Zhang Zhengyu, Lu Shaofei, Ding Song, and Hu Xuguang or Zhang Meisun. Huang Wang seems to have been the only out-and-out leftist in the group, although the dates for going into hiding seem wrong, since he was active throughout 1927 and early 1928, and again in 1930, with a four year period of inactivity from 1931 to 1934. This corresponds with the crackdown against the League of Left-Wing writers, of which he was a member, in February, 1931. The author of the pointed anti-KMT cartoon is more difficult to identify, but it may have been a younger member of the staff at Shanghai Sketch II, such as Xuan Wenjie, or someone less directly connected, such as Huang Shiying.

Birth of the Modern

Riding high on their success, on October 10, 1929, Shanghai Sketch Press 上海漫畫社, Zhang Zhengyu convinced his older brother to rename their press the China Fine Arts Periodical Press 中國美術刋行社and launch a second periodical, the monthly pictorial Modern Miscellany 時代畫報, to be co-edited by Zhang, and the modernist writer, Ye Lingfeng 葉靈鳳 (1905-1975).[2]  Designed to compete with the wildly successful pictorial Young Companion 良友畫報, the inspiration for Modern Miscellany came after the Singaporean distributer for both Shanghai Sketch and Young Companion lost distribution rights to the latter. The distributor’s representative in Shanghai, Wang Shuyang (who had met Ye in 1925, when he interviewed him for the job at Three Friends Co.), approached Ye Qianyu and Zhang Zhengyu with this business opportunity, and Zhang managed to convince his older brother against of the urgings of their three partners. Shortly thereafter, Lang Jingshan, Hu Boxiang, and Zhang Zhenhou withdrew from the partnership in protest, forcing them to move their office from the church to an alley near the intersection of Nanjing Road and Zhejiang Road, just minutes from the Bund.[3]

As a result, the second issue of Modern Miscellany was delayed until late February of the next year, and the third issue was not published until May. To solve their cash flow problems, Zhang Guangyu and company announced in the June 7, 1930, issue of Shanghai Sketch that the publication would be merging with Modern Miscellany and the publication schedule changed to bimonthly.[4] On June 16, 1930, the first merged issue of Shanghai Sketch and Modern Miscellany was published, with the title shortened to Modern  時代.[5]

Meanwhile, in 1930 Ji Xiaobo and Ye Qianyu seem to have made steps toward burying the hatchet when Ji Xiaobo convinced the owner of Chenbao 晨報 [Morning Post] to launch a pictorial supplement which would serialize Ye Qianyu’s popular cartoon, Mr. Wang. Despite already working full-time as an editor at the bimonthly Modern Miscellany, Ye agreed, receiving 100 yuan per month for his strips, and two pin-up advertisements which the publisher requested in exchange for publishing the cartoon.[6]  Despite Jack Chen’s sarcastic comment in late 1938 that “[Ji Xiaobo] joined the government and secured a job that kept him from doing embarrassing cartoons,” then, it seems possible that Manhua Society parted amicably, having served its purpose of launching the careers of its members.

Publication problems with Modern continued to persist, but as luck would have it, China Fine Arts Periodical Press had attracted the attention of the wealthy socialite and erstwhile poet, Shao Xunmei 邵洵美 (1906-1968), who was looking for an investment to change the declining fortunes of his large and profligate family.[7]  In November, 1930 he officially joined the editorial staff of Modern, providing the necessary capital to have the magazine printed on the latest rotogravure presses rather than relying on the outdated copperplate etching that they had been using before.[8] A notice in Modern Issue 12 (Vol 1) announced

Improvement in Printing and Picture Plates

Starting with Issue 1, Vol. 2, we will begin using photogravure, plus two-color plates, three-color plates, seven-color plates, etc. The paper we use will also be changed to specially produced foreign-made photogravure paper, in what could be called a pioneering step in China.

印刷及圖版之改良

從二卷一期起改用影寫版印行並添加 雙色版、三色版、七色版等, 紙張亦改用特向外洋定造之影寫版專用紙, 可稱國內獨步[9]

As promised, the next issue of Modern, published on November 16, 1930, featured a large number of photographs, with much better contrast and fine detail. Over the next year however, due to the limited number of rotogravure presses in Shanghai at the time, Modern continued to suffer from delays, and quality declined as well. Finally, in the summer of 1931, Shao Xunmei managed to buy his own German-made rotogravure press for $50,000 US dollars, which was to be the foundation of his new venture, the Modern Press 時代印刷公司, and in the sixth issue (Vol. 2) of Modern, China Fine Arts Periodical Press announced that they would be taking a two month hiatus to set up their new press.[10] Renting a factory on Pingliang Road 平涼路in Yangpu district, between the Japanese controlled Hongkou district and the Huangpu River, Shao soon found himself cut off from his investment when this part of the International Settlement was occupied by Japanese troops arriving via gunboat in January, 1932.[11]

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The Shanghai Manhua Society
 Chapter 5: The Breaking of the Fellowship

This is the fifth chapter in my MA thesis, The Shanghai Manhua Society: A History of Early Chinese Cartoonists, 1918-1938,  completed in December 2015 at the Department of Asian Studies at UBC. Since passing my defense, I’ve decided to put the whole thing up online so that my research will be available to the rest of the world. I’ve also decided to use Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which means you can share it with anyone you like, as long as you don’t charge money for it. Over the next couple of days I’ll be putting up the whole thing, chapter by chapter. You can also download a PDF version here.

Since no former member of the Manhua Society has gone on record to explain why the Manhua Society gradually drifted apart in late 1927 and early 1928, I looked at the evidence left behind and reconstruct a plausible sequence of events, like a crime scene investigator using various clues the perpetrators left behind. That no Manhua Society member has seen fit to comment on the dissolution of the group seems strange, given the importance placed on its formation as, in the words of Bi Keguan, “the first civil cartoon society in Chinese history.”[1]

From the evidence, it seems that at least in part an internal schism (or schisms) broke the group apart from the inside. For one, the checkered relationship between Ji Xiaobo and Ye Qianyu seems to have colored his interactions with the rest of the group.[2] Lu Shaofei, on the other hand, seems to have had an especially close relationship with Ji up until late 1929, when the Ji seems to have mostly stopped publishing cartoons after being hired as a censor for the Ministry of Education.[3] Huang Wang also withdrew from the group, and the cartooning world in general in the spring of 1928 after a falling out with Zhang Zhengyu, publishing leftist cartoons two years later under various pseudonyms, while Ding Song, meanwhile, seems to have distanced himself from the group following an obscenity trial in late 1928.[4] Finally Hu Xuguang seems to have quit cartooning entirely in 1928, finding employment as set decorator in the film industry instead.[5]

At the same time, while it is true that four prominent members of the Manhua Society (Ji, Wang, Ding Song, and Hu) left the group to pursue other projects, as did other more minor members (Zhang Meisun and Cai Shudan), the bonds between the remaining five members of the Manhua Society (Ye, Huang, Zhang, Zhang, and Lu), however, seem to have grown even stronger throughout 1928, while at the same time allowing new collaborators to emerge. This reflects the fluid nature of membership in the Manhua Society that is attested to in their early meeting notes which note that, “…our group has adopted an open format and we welcome new comrades to join. There is no established procedure for soliciting new members, so interested parties are encouraged to contact us” 該會取公開態度、歡迎同志加入、但無徵求會員之手續、願入會者、可與該會接洽云.[6]

Shanghai Sketch I

To understand the breakup of the Manhua Society, we need to go back to the summer of 1927, just after the arrival of the Northern Expedition in Shanghai that spring. Having spent June and July of 1927 in Fuzhou, the provincial capital of Fujian (some 250 kilometers north of Xiamen) Ye found himself without a job. In December, his former boss in the Political Office of the Navy recruited him to create an illustrated magazine mocking British imperialism in support of a trade union strike at British-American Tobacco. Ding Song and Zhang Guangyu were both working at BAT at the time, Zhang having left his job as an industrial designer at the Chinese-owned Shanghai Mofan Factory in early 1927.  Ye recruited Wang Dunqing to help create content for the magazine, focusing on the Opium Wars. Although the protest was ultimately suppressed by BAT management, the first issue of their magazine (which ultimately took the form of a broadsheet) seems to have been a success. According to Ye, however, just as they were preparing to publish a second issue, however, the KMT government stepped in and shut them down. [7]

This collaboration led to the creation of a new publication in late 1927, with the addition of the newly unemployed Huang Wennong, called Shanghai Sketch. “At the time, there were three of us working together: Huang Wennong provided the drawings, I was charge of doing all the odd jobs, and Wang Dunqing was in charging of editing.” 當時我們三人合伙,黃文農供畫,我管跑腿,王敦慶管編務.[8]  ‘All the odd jobs’, in this case seems to mean taking care of printing and distribution. If one looks at the announcements posted in the Shenbao, and the actual publication itself, however, it is clear that Ye contributed a great deal of his own art, in addition to his other responsibilities:

A DATE HAS BEEN SET FOR THE NEW PUBLICATION SHANGHAI SKETCH

Manhua Society members, Wang Dunqing, Huang Wennong, Ye Qianyu, three united comrades from the world of art and literature, will be distributing a pictorial magazine that uses five-color rubber blanket offset printing. Every three days a new issue will be released under the name, “Shanghai Sketch.” The objectives of this periodical are to use words and pictographic art to encourage Chinese industry, beautify present day society, and conduct the revolutionary spirit. The contents of each issue will be one set of long-running humorous cartoons, and one set of short-running cartoons. The beautiful printing will include more than 20 satirical drawings, joke drawings, etc. while he text will include miscellaneous social commentary, short stories, interesting accounts, etc. Regarding the preparation of the pictographic materials and the selection of texts, there has already been over a year of preparation so the works we will publish are, without exception, vastly different from those published in normal pictorial magazines and three-day papers.  This periodical will be published December 31, Year 16 [1927].

新刊上海漫畫出版有期

漫畫會會員王敦慶·黃文農·葉淺予·三君、集合文藝界同志、將發行一種畫報、以五彩橡皮版精印、每三日出版一期、命名“上海漫畫、”其宗旨在以文字及圖畫藝術、主吹國內工業、美化現有社會、傳導革命精神、逐期內容、有長期及短期滑稽活動畫各一套、美的裝束畫諷刺畫笑畫等約二十餘幀、文字方面、有社會雜評短篇小說及富有趣味之記載等、對於圖畫材料之籌備、文字風格之揀選、已達一年之久、故將來錄登作品、無不與尋常畫報及其他三日刊有所逈異、聞該報准定於十六年十二月三十一日出版。[9]

Five days later, the following notice appeared, which mentions that Ding Song and Zhang Guangyu were also attached to the project, in addition to the translators Wang Qixu 王啟煦 (pennames Wang Kangfu 王抗夫, Wang Yizhong 王藝鐘, Wang Jushi 王弆石, n.d.)[10] and Ji Zanyu 季贊育 (n.d.), and the artists Chen Qiucao 陳秋草 (1906-1988) and Fang Xuegu 方雪鴣 (n.d.) :

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The Shanghai Manhua Society
 Chapter 4: Come Together

This is the fourth chapter in my MA thesis, The Shanghai Manhua Society: A History of Early Chinese Cartoonists, 1918-1938,  completed in December 2015 at the Department of Asian Studies at UBC. Since passing my defense, I’ve decided to put the whole thing up online so that my research will be available to the rest of the world. I’ve also decided to use Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which means you can share it with anyone you like, as long as you don’t charge money for it. Over the next couple of days I’ll be putting up the whole thing, chapter by chapter. You can also download a PDF version here.

While it is clear that the members of the Manhua Society were connected through a variety of social and professional institutions, it took them more than five years to form a society dedicated to the production and promotion of cartoons and comics in China. Initially, they may not have seen the need to organize, instead being satisfied to be paid to draw cartoons on a semi-regular basis for the Shenbao and other periodicals. For most of them, cartoons probably seemed like a hobby, or side-business, to their more lucrative work in advertising and teaching.

The escalating political turmoil of the 1920s would seem to be obvious catalyst for the formation of the Manhua Society. On the other hand, cartoons and comics provided these young men with the means not only to speak out against foreign imperialism and government corruption, but also establish their respective careers and provide for their families. One event in particular has special significance for the formation of the Manhua Society, not simply because it spurred the Manhua Society members into action, but because it provided an opportunity for publishers (particually of pictorials) to capture the attention of readers.

The Shot Heard Round the Bund

On May 30, 1925 policeman in the International Settlement opened fire on a crowd of Chinese protesters, many of them students, gathered outside the Laozha police station老閘捕房, killing nine and injuring many more.  The students had gathered to protest the trial of students who had been arrested performing a mock-funeral demonstration following the shooting of a Chinese worker in Japanese-owned cotton mill earlier in the month.

Two days later, the tabloid Pictorial Shanghai 上海畫報released its controversial first issue on June 6, 1925, featuring photographs of the bloody protests.[1] Published by the popular noveist Bi Yihong畢倚虹(born Bi Zhenda 畢振達, 1892-1926), who was associated with the Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies clique, the tabloid employed not only Zhang Guangyu and Ding Song, but also St. John’s graduate and future Manhua Society member, Wang Dunqing.[2]

Over the next month, a triple strike of merchants, students and workers organized by the KMT working in cooperation with Du Yuesheng and the Green Gang led to riots and more deaths, providing Pictorial Shanghai with enough sensational content to publish a new issue every three days.[3] Clearly inspired, two months later on August 3, 1925 Zhang Guangyu launched his own three-day tabloid, the two-page broadsheet, China Camera News三日畫報. The May 30 Incident galvanized the young cartoonists into action, providing a ready market for their pointed political satire, and in addition to news and topical essays, the first issue also included satirical drawings諷刺畫 by four future members of the Manhua Society: Lu Shaofei, Huang Wennong, Ding Song, and Zhang himself.[4]

Lu Shaofei, who had returned from Shenyang some six months earlier, was also busy that summer putting together an exhibition for the fourth annual Aurora Art Club show晨光美術會第四屆展覽會, held August 1-7 at the second campus of Iron Forge Creek Art University 打鐵浜藝術大學第二院, to the south of the French Concession in present day Jinshan. An preview published in the Shenbao the day before the show opened to the public makes it clear that this exhibition included the material which would published nearly three years later as Cartoon Travels in the North: “Mr. Lu Shaofei’s more than seventy sketches of his travels to the capital and Fengtian, featuring landscapes of the north, strange and bewildering to behold, without a set form, are especially impressive” 魯少飛君之旅京奉寫生約七十餘件、北地風光、怪怪奇奇、不名一狀、尤為可觀云. [5]

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The Shanghai Manhua Society
 Chapter 3: Wild Cards

This is the third chapter in my MA thesis, The Shanghai Manhua Society: A History of Early Chinese Cartoonists, 1918-1938,  completed in December 2015 at the Department of Asian Studies at UBC. Since passing my defense, I’ve decided to put the whole thing up online so that my research will be available to the rest of the world. I’ve also decided to use Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which means you can share it with anyone you like, as long as you don’t charge money for it. Over the next couple of days I’ll be putting up the whole thing, chapter by chapter. You can also download a PDF version here.

Ji Xiaobo, Ding Song, Zhang Guangyu, Zhang Zhengyu, and Lu Shaofei all met in the late 1910s, and found an affinity in their shared interest in cartooning, and also perhaps a sense of social exclusion, since all four men were born into a merchant or tradesmen families. Their relative lack of education stands in contrast with many Republican-era intellectuals and artists who came from wealthy families and were educated abroad. Although Ye Qianyu was given the benefit of a high school education, and was also somewhat younger, like the Zhang brothers and Ye Qianyu, he seems to have mostly forged his own path to becoming recognized as a professional artist.

The remaining members of the Manhua Society are Wang Dunqing, Huang Wennong, Hu Xuguang, Zhang Meisun 張眉蓀 (1884-1975) and Cai Shudan 蔡輸丹 (n.d.). Of them, Zhang Meisun seems to have been an early acquaintance of Ding Song, having studied art together at Tushanwan orphanage while both men were in their teens, and Hu Xuguang a student of Ding Song, having studied at the Shanghai Art Academy. The rest, like Ye Qianyu, seem to have been wild cards, attracted to Manhua Society by chance encounters and shared interests. Some, like Zhang and Cai, don’t seem to have left any cartoons behind, with Zhang becoming a well-known painter of watercolors, and Cai working as an assistant to Ji Xiaobo.[1]

Ye Qianyu has mentioned that he first became interested in cartooning after seeing cartoons by Huang Wennong, who himself may have been influenced by Shen Bochen without ever meeting him. Wang Dunqing, meanwhile, quickly rose through the ranks of the Manhua Society, taking over the chair from Ding Song in November, 1927. He made fast friends with Ye Qianyu, but seems to have remained distant from many of the other members of the society.

Wang Dunqing: The Boy Scout

Born in 1899 in Wangjiangjing 王江涇鎮, a prosperous village near Jiaxing 嘉興 city, located to the south of Shanghai, Wang Dunqing is unique among the founding members of the Manhua Society for his high level of education, having earned a BA from the prestigious English-language St. John’s University 聖約翰大學. During his time at St. John’s Wang was an active member of the Boy Scouts 童子軍, while also serving as the club president of the Illustration Research Society 圖畫研究會. The former appears to have been under the influence of Donald Roberts, a professor of English and History who organized the St. John’s Boy Scouts troop in 1917. [2] Roberts, an avid collector of early Republican-era illustrated broadsheets, may have encouraged the young Wang to pursue his interests in cartooning. By the time he graduated with his BA in 1923, Wang was set on a career in the arts. Following a short stanza from Longfellow’s 1878 poem Kéramos,[3] his yearbook biography modestly proclaims (in English):

With a glance at the picture, you can immediately tell who he is. It is not strength, but his fine character and art that win the love and admiration of all his fellow students. As a friend, he is always sincere and ready to help without hesitation. As an athlete, he is noted for his fine college spirit. His beautiful verses in Chinese are depictable [sic] of humanity and true to nature. His clear perception with a firm, bold hand marks him a true artist of distinction. With such an intelligence, capacity and character, we are sure that a bright future awaits him.[4]

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