Chinese Picture Stories

Picture stories are the most popular reading material in China, and children particularly love them. The term encompasses comic strip in newspapers, comic book for children, and dramatic stories for adult told through pictures and captions. Collecting and exchanging picture stories has become a widely popilar hobby in China: People read the stories during trips, for relaxation after work, or for a quick education about historical events or famous pieces of literature.

Narrative painting can be traced to the Han Dynasty, some 2000 years ago, with the first murals on the walls of tombs. With block printing in the Ming Dynasty came the first picture-story books. They were popularized in the 1920s after the Cultural Enlightenment Movement, and the books began to be mass-produced, first in Shanghai and then in the rest of China.

The first step in producing a picture-story book is to write a script, often based on populqr novels, operas, or films. The author must kep in mind the pictorial possibilities of his or her script as well as the quality of the language. This lays the foundation for the book.

Chinese comics favor a realistic style, though some artists prefer humorous or exaggerated styles. Techniques include traditional line drawing, ink and wash, watercolor, woodcut, and paper cut.

A good picture story like a good novel, must have well-chosen language and sharply drawn characters who develop in the course of the story. The writers and artists must all be keenly observant of people of social trends.

A small to medium-size picture-story book averages 60 to 100 pictures. Some works are produced in serial – for example, Outlaws of the Marsh, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and A Dream of Red Mansions, which are all adapted from classical novels, run to dozens of volumes and are very popular among readers.

Picture stories are based not only on Chinese literature but on Western works as well by such authors as William Shakespere, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, Maxim Gorky, and Mark Twain. Some are taken from fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen or the brothers Grimm. The books’ publishers feel that picture stories can help bridge the culture gap and help promote international friendship.

Before Liberation, comic artists were looked down upon socially and critically neglected. But Lu Xun and his contemporary Mao Dun helped break the barrier by supporting the picture-story form, Lu Xun with his appeal to intelectuals and Mao Dun by arguing that the comic is the most effective and popular means of mass education.

Since the founding of New China, the government has paid great attention to comics. The comic artists’ work has been supported and encouraged, and the competiotion have been held regularly to recognize outstanding picture stories. More and more picture-story books have been published. In the first post-Liberation decade 600 milion picture-story books were published. In recent years, about 700 million have been published annually. The number of comic artists has increased greatly.

The comic has also developed a wider range of styles and themes. The Central Academy of Fine Arts, China’s largest, established comic-art and New Year picture departments in 1980. Following the establishment of the Chinese Comic Art Reasearch Society in 1983, many branch societies were established to promote the theoretical study and creation of comics. The Chinese Comics Publishing House was set up in 1985. All this will ensure the further development and prosperity of comic art.

In 1982, 50 Chinese picture-story books were on display at exhibition held in Italy and the Pompidou Center for the Arts in Paris. In 1984, 14 books won special awards at the First International Comica Festival held in Switzerland.

This Chinese-comics exhibition in Britain will help promote cultural axchanges between China and Britain. Finally, we hope it will enhance understanding and friendship between our two peoples.

Jiang Weipu, Chairman of the Chinese Comic Art Research Society