Brief History of Manhua

by Nick Stember

Chinese comics, or manhua漫畫, as they are known in Chinese Generally whenever the term is used in English, it refers to Sinophone comics, or what are generally called guochan manhua國產漫畫, or ‘domestic comics’

In English the term ‘manhua’ is often used highlight thedifferences 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.

Manhua is used is to describe thetraditionof Chinese cartooningwhich is generally thought to have begun with the introduction of lithographic printing technology inthe mid-nineteenth century in the foreign concessions in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The earliest comics (as defined by this definition) produced within China appear to be two satirical comics anthologies which were produced in English,TheChina Punch(1867–1868, 1872–1876) and Puck, or the Shanghai Charivari(April 1871-November 1872).

Along with imported comics magazines from North America and Europe, these works would go on to inspirepioneering Chinese manhua artistssuch as Feng Zikai (1898-1975), Ye Qianyu 葉淺予(1907-1995), Zhang Leping 張樂平 (1910-1992) and Sapajou (? – 1949), many of whom spent the most fertile period of their careers creating anti-Japanese propaganda.

Unfortunately, many of the early manhua artists such as Feng Zikai by and large stopped producing comics after 1949 due to the changed political climate.

manhua is used is to describeChinese forms of visual narrativewhich are similar to comics but arehave not traditionally been described as such. For example, the comics scholar Paul Gravett has describedlianhuahua連環畫 (linked-picture books)as an indigenous Chinese form of comics.

Other potential works which have been suggested include cave engravings, illustrated Buddhist sutras from the Tang dynasty, Song dynasty landscape paintings, and illustrated vernacular fictionfromthe Ming and Qing dynasties.

manhua medium can be said to include comics which were made outside of China, but deal withChinese themes. For example, the Chinese-American artist Gene Yang works include extensive references to Chinese mythology and cultural practices, with his most recent book being set in Shandong during the Boxer Uprising and featuring analmost exclusively Chinese cast of main characters.

Guy Delisle’s Shenzhenis another work which I believe could be considered to belong under this more tenuous definition ofmanhua. The most problematic works which be included in this definition are those which portray Chinese in a negative lightand are based on stereotypes, such as the numerous Fu Manchu comics produced by Marvel and others.

Still, I think there is value in looking at these works and their relationship with the larger body of Chinese comics outlined above, considering the amount ofinterplaywhich exists between American comics and manhua.

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