Martina Caschera

Chinese Cartoon in transition: animal symbolism and allegory from the “modern magazine” to the “online carnival”

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Studies in Visual Arts and Communication – an international journal / June 2017 4(1)


By definition, the cartoon (satirical, single-panelled vignette) “reduces complex situations to simple images, treating a theme with a touch of immediacy. A cartoon can mask a forceful intent behind an innocuous facade; hence it is an ideal art of deception” (Hung, 1994:124). As well as their western counterparts, Chinese cartoonists have always based much of their art on the strong socio-political potential of the format, establishing a mutual dependence of pictographic material and press journalism. From a media perspective, the present paper shows how Chinese cartoon developed from 1920s-1930s society  ̶  when the “modern magazine” was the most important reference and medium for this newly-born visual language – to the present. Cyberspace has recently become the chosen space for Chinese cartoonists’ visual satire to take part in an international public discourse and in the “online carnival” (Herold and Marolt, 2011:11-15), therefore replacing magazines and printed press. Through emblematic exempla and following the main narrative of “animal symbolism and allegory”, this paper intends to connect the historical background with cartoonists’ critical efficiency, communicative tools and peculiar aesthetics, aiming at answering to questions such as: how Chinese modern cartoon changed, from the first exempla conveyed in “modern magazines” to the latest online expressions? Is its original power of irreverence still alive and how did it survive? How modern (Lu Shaofei, Liao Bingxiong) and contemporary (Rebel Pepper, Crazy Crab, Ba Diucao) cartoonists have been dealing with governmental intervention and censorship?

Keywords: Visual Culture, Popular Culture, cartoon, satire, censorship, cyberspace

Biographical note

Martina Caschera. PhD in Chinese Literature. Adjunct Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Chieti-Pescara, “G. d’Annunzio” (ITA). Research interests: (Chinese) Visual and Media Studies, Chinese Literature, Transcultural Studies, Comics Studies, Gender Studies.