Jin Porn Mei: Comic Book Adaptations of the Chinese Novel

The Jin Ping Mei 金瓶梅1 is a notoriously pornographic vernacular Chinese novel believed to date from the late sixteenth century. Authored during the disastrous reign of the Wanli Emperor 萬里 who posterity has come to remember as a sort of Robert Baratheon of the Ming dynasty, later commentators such as Zhang Zhupo 張竹坡 (1670-1698) have convincingly argued that the author of the Jin Ping Mei meant for his work to be interpreted as political allegory.2

Nevertheless, biting political allegory of long dead historical figures doesn’t exactly fly off the shelves these days, and for better or worse the Jin Ping Mei has come to be known mostly for the dirty bits. As part of a guest lecture for a class on the book3 I recently delved into the murky world of comic book adaptations of the great novel. Many of these are, unsurprising, porn, plain and simple, while others are “neither meat nor vegetable” 不葷不素. 4

 

Jin Ping Mei: The Children’s Book

Jin Ping Mei: The Children’s Book

This seems to be the most common illustrated version of the story available online. Although the author and publisher are not identified, although one version identifies as being “for use in schools” (学校专集).  In total there are 100 images with abbreviated text to the side in an updated lianhuanhua 連環畫5 style. Also known as 小人書 or ‘children’s books,’ lianhuanhua emerged in the 1920s as a popular form of story-based comics, defined in opposition to manhua (漫畫) or European and North American style newspaper cartoon strips.

In content, the first 85 pages are spent retelling the Wu Song 武松 chapters of the original novel, with the arrival of Li Pinger, the death of Guange, the death of Ximen Qing and the death of Pan Jinlian at the hands of Wu Song compressed into the last 15 pages. Chunmei and her postscript is also largely absent from this adaptation. Not surprisingly, most of the sex and violence in the text is alluded to but not shown in the illustrations.

 

Jin Ping Mei: The Picture Book

Jin Ping Mei: The Picture Book

Similar to the above version, this lianhuanhua style adaptation by Cao Hanmei 曹涵美 (1902-1975)6 includes 500 images with abbreviated text underneath. Originally published in Modern Sketch《时代漫画》1934-1937, it was later collected into one volume in 1942.

Interestingly, from what I have seen of this version, it seems to tell the story from the perspective of Pan Jianlian, beginning with her birth. It is also not particularly pornographic, as it seems to focus more on telling the story of the novel rather than just the juicy bits. Nudity also tends to be incidental, as in the panel above. Although Pan Jinlian’s breasts are exposed, they are just one detail in a complex composition.

Cao’s illustrations were also used in the opening credits to Li Hanxiang’s 李翰祥 1974 film adaptation of the Jin Ping Mei, Golden Lotus 金瓶雙艷, starring a very young Jackie Chan 成龍:

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  1. In the earlier Wade-Giles transliteration still preferred by many academics it is rendered ” Chin P’ing Mei.” David Roy includes the literal translation,  “Plum in the Golden Vase,” as the subtitle to his version although the accuracy of this is disputable, given that the title is generally assumed to refer to the names of three most important female characters: Pan Jinlian 潘金蓮, Li Ping‘er 李瓶兒 and Pang Chunmei 龐春梅. []
  2. Chang, Chu-p’o. “How to Read the Chin P’ing Mei.” In How to Read the Chinese Novel, edited by David Rolston, translated by David Tod Roy, 196–201. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1990. []
  3. ASIA 441B taught by the incomparable Catherine Swatek who also happens to be David Roy’s cousin. []
  4. In other words, neither fish nor fowl. []
  5. Abbreviation of lianhuatuhua 連環圖畫 or ‘linked-picture’ books []
  6. Given name Zhang Meiyu (张美宇), middle brother of the more famous cartoonists and publishers Zhang Guangyu 张光宇 (1900-1965, née Zhang Dengying 张登瀛) and Zhang Zhengyu 张正宇 (1904-1976, née Zhang Zhenyu 張振宇). []

Momotoro’s Eagles and Rudolph’s Red Nose: the Chinese Cartoon Connection

Two quick pieces of Chinese-Japanese cartooning and animation trivia that I brought up of today during a conversation with @Brett_Fujioka who felt my post on Chinese manhua unfairly left a discussion of non-Chinese influences, 1 plus one more that I forgot to mention to Brett.

Trivia #1: Japanese Anime (Probably) Would Not Exist Without the 1941 Chinese Cartoon Princess Iron Fan

tezuka_princess_iron_fan

Chinese film scholars like Carlos Rojas and Eileen Chow love to point out that Osama Tezuka, the godfather of Japanese anime and manga, drew inspiration from the 1941 Chinese animation Princess Iron Fan 鐵扇公主,2 which directly inspired the Japanese Navy to produce the first feature-length Japanese animated film, ever:

The immediate and wide-reaching success of Princess Iron Fan left a deep impression not only on its domestic Chinese audiences, but on the Japanese Imperial Navy, which promptly commissioned ambitious animation projects of its own aimed at bolstering the patriotic spirit of Japanese children-resulting most notably in Seo Mitsuyo’s Mornotaro’s Sea Eagles (Momotaro no Umiwashi, 1943) and Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (Momotaro Umi no Shinpei, 1945), the latter of which is recognized as Japan’s first feature-length animated film. Among those who watched these unabashedly propagandistic yet lyrical and delicately drawn animations of patriotic monkey-soldiers coexisting happily with colonized simian jungle natives was a Japanese youth by the name of Osamu Tezuka 手塚 治虫.3

Rojas and Chow also point out that Tezuka explicitly references the influence Princess Iron Fan and the Wan brothers had on his career in his last film Boku wa Son Goku (I Am Son Goku):4

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  1. I’m glad he raised this point, because I agree I could have been much more clear about this. I should have a post up in the next day or two with some examples of the ways manhua have been influenced and inspired by North American and European comics. []
  2. (Produced by the Chinese animator Wan Laiming and his three brothers in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, who were in turn in turn influenced by Disney’s 1939 animated feature-film, Snow White. []
  3. Rojas, Carlos, and Eileen Chow. The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. Oxford University Press, 2013, pg 648. []
  4. The whole film is available online here. []

Don’t Call it ‘Manga’: a short intro to Chinese Comics and Manhua

Chinese comics, or manhua 漫畫, as they are known in Chinese, are hard to pin down, in large part because the term ‘manhua’ is used in so many different and often contradictory contexts.

Context 1. Manhua which are exclusive to China

Manhua by Yao Feila

“Take Love to the Limit” by Yao Feila // 《將愛情進行到底》 姚非拉

Generally whenever the term is used in English, it refers to Sinophone1 comics, or what are generally called guochan manhua 國產漫畫, or ‘domestic comics’2 within the PRC.3 In English the term ‘manhua’ is often used highlight the differences between Chinese comics and Japanese manga, similar to the way in which the term ‘manhwa’ is used to describe Korean comics. All the same, these comics tend to be very similar in appearance to Japanese comics. One notable exception are wuxia 武俠 (martial chivalry) comics from Hong Kong which were developed by Tony Wong Yuk-long 黃玉郎  during kung fu craze the 1970s, which seem to have more in common with hyper-muscular American superhero comics.

Context 2. Manhua as inclusive global medium

Manhua by Yan Cong

“Narcissism” by Yan Cong // 《自戀》 煙囪

In Chinese, manhua is a general term which refers to the global comics medium and therefore includes Japanese, Korean and American comics.4 One of the most interesting ways in which manhua is being created in this context today is the dixia manhua 地下漫畫, or ‘underground comics’ movement which is being spearheaded by artists such as Yan Cong 煙囪 and Chi Hoi 智海, who have helped organized the groups secret comics (aka SC 漫畫) in Beijing and Springrolllll in Hong Kong.

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  1. Belonging the Chinese script, language and/or cultural context. []
  2. Domestic being used in the economic sense here, as in ‘gross domestic product.’ []
  3. This is often abbreviated to guoman 國漫. Manhua from Hong Kong and Taiwan seem to use more neutral terms such as bendi manhua 本地漫畫 (local comics) or bentu manhua 本土漫畫 (native comics) for Taiwanese comics in particular. []
  4. Nowadays, it’s also less commonly used than the term dongman 動漫, a portmanteau of the Chinese words for animation, donghua 動畫, and manhua, similar to how someone might say that they like anime to describe an interest in both Japanese animation and also manga. Dongman also carries connotations of video games, as fans of one tend to be fans of the other. []

Graffiti Artist Squid Talks About His Monkey King Graff

I have to admit I had not heard of the graffiti artist Squid  until I came across this image on @101GreatGoals twitter feed:

Vincent Tan (陳志遠), the billionaire Chinese-Malaysian owner of Cardiff City F.C., who is depicted here in red, about to be eaten by an irate Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King, Painted by Cardiff Graffiti Artist Squid

I also had not heard of Vincent Tan (陳志遠), the billionaire Chinese-Malaysian owner of Cardiff City F.C., who is depicted here in red, about to be eaten by what appears to be an irate Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King. Tan, it turns out, is not a very popular figure among fans of the Bluebirds, having changed the colors of their uniforms from blue and white to red and black when he purchased the team in 2010.

The upper left corner of the mural identifies the artist as Squid. There isn’t much on him online, although a quick Google search turns up a profile on the graffiti forum Fatcap which mentions that he is affiliated with the MK crew. His name also turns up on various Cardiff graffiti sites. Eventually I was able to track down his Flickr page, which includes a photograph of the mural dated March 12, 2014.  I emailed him to see if the allusion was intentional or not:

Have you ever heard of the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, Sun Wukong? Are you familiar with any Chinese comics or cartoons?

Yeah I’ve heard of the monkey king, I have quite a few books by Chinese tattoo artists with him in, I’ve read a few Lone Wolf and Cub comics, mostly samurai stuff which is probably Japanese now I think of it…..

For the sake of comparison, here is two-page spread showing Sun Wukong in ‘fierce mode’ (兇性) drawn by Hong Kong comic James Khoo Fuk-lung (邱福龍):

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Only Ten Percent of Ma Wing-shing’s Epic Chinese Manhua _Chinese Hero_ Has Been Translated Into English

I recently found out that one of the first and only manhua to be translated into English and published in North America was edited to remove anti-Caucasian racism. In the first issue of the original version of Chinese Hero 中 華英雄, created by Ma Wing-shing (馬榮成) which was published in the early 1980s in  《金報》 [Golden Daily?] , the protagonist’s parents are killed by ‘foreign devils‘ 洋鬼子:

chinese hero 2

chinese hero 1

According to the publisher of the 2006 English translation, DrMaster, however “[a]s a child, Hero’s1 family was attacked and killed by a practitioner of Northern Mantis kung fu.”2 Rather than going back and re-drawing the comic, though, DrMaster skipped the first [undetermined number of issues of] Chinese Hero comics and jumped ahead to the birth of Hero’s son. The publisher also had the art re-colored and re-touched.

The murder of Hero’s parents by foreign devils is not the only plot point that Anglophone readers of Chinese Hero are missing out on. The original series ran for 159 issues with Ma Wing-shing at the helm before being passed on to Cheung Ma Yau (張萬有) in 1989, with each issue averaging around 130 pages. The eight translated volumes published by DrMaster average around 270 pages, meaning they each contain two issues of the original run. This means only  about 10% of Ma’s Chinese Hero have been translated into English.3

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  1. The protagonist of Chinese Hero is named Hua Yingxiong [Wah Ying-hung] (华英雄), literally ‘Chinese Hero’. []
  2. DGN Production/DrMaster Publications: Chinese Hero: Tales of the Blood Sword vol 1 []
  3. And that’s not even counting the more than 250 issues that were done by Cheung and other artists though the 90s and 00s! []