Sinophone Comics: A World of Changes - Institute for the Study of the Asia Pacific
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Sinophone Comics: A World of Changes



During the last few years, the world has witnessed a series of deeply disruptive changes, which called for immediate and radical adaptive and counteractive measures. This workshop proposes to explore graphic narratives published in the Chinese language, addressing issues pertaining to ethnic Chinese groups in Asia, or produced in Asian countries and other locations with a predominantly Chinese population.

To join us, register you place on Eventbrite.

This event is based in the UK; the hours below are provided in UK time (UTC+0).
The organisation of the workshop panels will be as follows: each recorded presentation will be briefly summarised by the author (5 mis), followed by a dialogue with the discussant. Each panel will include 15 mins of open floor discussion with the audience.

Prior to the event, please take some time to read the below abstracts for each paper.


Past, Present and Future of Manhua in Italy


“Gabriele d’Annunzio” University, Pescara, Italy

At the turning of the XXI century, the People’s Republic inaugurated the “going out strategy” (zou chuqu zhanlue 走出去战略), which was implemented during the following decade (Yelery 2014). To facilitate the PRC’s global rise, the strategy comprises the export or internationalization of Chinese cultural products. As a consequence, since 2010, the circulation of Chinese comics, also known as manhua, has experienced an expansion in the European market (Chen 2020, Pan 2012). France can be deemed as the first and foremost European importer of manhua, but in the last five years, a growing interest in translating and purchasing manhua has been detected in Italy too. This phenomenon offers a new viewpoint and additional info for investigating the presence of manhua in Europe.
The present research poses at its basis a broad definition of manhua that includes 1) Sinophone comics 2) comics made by Chinese citizens residing and/or working in foreign countries 3) second-generation artists that maintain a meaningful and meaning-making relationship with China. This broad definition draws on the notion of post-loyalism, a relatively recent theoretical proposition (Wang 2013) that goes beyond the fields (and idiosyncrasies) of Sinophone and diaspora studies for the sake of inclusivity. Firstly, the paper presents a report on the publication of Chinese comics in Italy, taking into account the last twenty years (i.e. the time since the launch of the “strategy”), to show when and how a change occurred in the Italian market. Although the number is still not high, the report shows a considerable surge of Chinese comics publishing in the last 5 years. Secondly, the paper examines specific products, trends, and responsibilities, to track down recurrent themes, successful activities, and productive networks. Hopefully, this research represents a starting point for cultural agents to reflect on possible future developments of manhua production/dissemination in Italy and beyond.


  • Chen Shujiao陈淑姣 (2020), “Tansuo zhongguo manhua xiang haiwai shuchude shijian – yi Beijing Tianshi quanjing wenhuachuanbo youxiangongsi wei lie 探索中国漫画向海外输出的实践 ——以北京天视全景文化传播有限公司为例”, Chuangshe创意设计3, 72-76.
  • Pan Jian盘剑 (2012), “Zhongguo dongman ruhe ‘zouchuqu’ 中国动漫如何’走出去’”, Dongyue luncong东岳论丛 1, 53-59.
  • Yelery, Aravind (2014), “China’s ‘Going Out’ Policy: Sub-National Economic Trajectories”, Institute of Chinese studies 24, 2014.
  • Wang, David Der-wei (2013) ‘Post-loyalism’, in Shu-mei Shih , Chien-hsin Tsai , and Brian Bernards (eds), Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader, New York: Columbia University Press, 93–116.

Dr. Martina CASCHERA is an adjunct professor of Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature at the University “Gabriele d’Annunzio” in Pescara, and of Classical and Literary Chinese at the Ecampus online University. She graduated in Comparative Literatures and Cultures (English and Chinese), and obtained her Ph.D. in Oriental and Southern Asia Studies from the University of Naples L’Orientale with a dissertation on Shidai Manhua (Modern Sketch), as a case study for Chinese Modern periodicals research. Dr. Caschera has often collaborated with her Alma Mater, L’Orientale, for the tutoring of undergraduate students of Chinese Language and of graduate students of the training course in Chinese Pedagogy and teaching. Her main research areas are Chinese media studies, with a focus on transmedial/transtextual phenomena, gender studies and transcultural studies. Dr. Caschera is an active member of the 2021 Society of Animation Studies (SAS), of the Association of Asian Studies (AAS), and of the European and of the Association of Chinese Studies (EACS). She also joined the recently established network for Italian Chinese Media Studies, YZMT (MediumItaliaCina), contributing with her research on Chinese animation. Dr. Caschera translated two graphic novels from Chinese to Italian and has been steadily attending and organizing events on Chinese comics, contributing to their popularization in the Italian market.
Among the latest publication in Italian and English:

Changing lyrics: A case study of comic parody

Kin-Wai CHU

KU Leuven, Belgium

This presentation focuses on a parodic comic adaptation of Disney’s Frozen theme song ‘Let it go’. “Let’s eat cakes” (‘cake(s)’ is pronounced as ‘go’ in Cantonese) is created by Hong Kong comic artist Siuhak in 2014, narrating a story about snacks commonly seen in Hong Kong with brief commentary in response to the social and political events at the time. The panel background are film shots of the original singing scenes, and the rewritten Cantonese lyrics serve as the text of the comic. The main character Elsa is replaced by Siuhak’s uncouth panda comic character with additional side characters.
This comic adaptation poses challenges to media specificities between films and comics, as well as the phonological differences of English and Cantonese. The most obvious media challenge is that audio elements can only be represented visually. This is solved by an intermedial reference of karaoke to entice audiences’ mental reconstruction of the original song melody and bodily response to sing the rewritten lyrics displayed like the guided lyrics in karaoke videos. Besides, changing the original non-tonal and multisyllabic English lyrics into tonal and monosyllabic Cantonese has exemplified not only technical difficulties, but also evoked the unsettling issues concerning the legitimacy and decency of written Cantonese. I will conduct a close reading of this comic from an intermedial and linguistic perspective. I propose that Siuhak has foregrounded the language controversy of Cantonese but he settled it in his comic parody by demonstrating the phonological and symbolic capacity of Cantonese. The intermedial strategies adopted in the comic has also changed the ways audiences consume comics.

Kin Wai CHU is a PhD Fellow of the Research Foundation of Flanders (FWO) at KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium. She researches on Hong Kong comics and cultural studies.


Contemporary Comics Reviews in Taiwan: Towards a New Editorial and Aesthetic Paradigm?

Norbert DANYSZ

Université Lumière Lyon 2, France

During the last ten years, a significant number of comics-focused magazines have arisen in Taiwan. They are often thick volumes, published on a regular though scarce basis, always presenting contemporary creations – in short, these periodicals relate closely to the forms and functions of the artistic or literary review. They show the recent changes that are redefining Taiwanese comics since the beginning of the 21st century. Their emergence is also taking place in the context of a broader movement of institutional and economical promotion of comic art in Taiwan, be it with the inauguration of comics dedicated places, the development of international partnerships, or the implementation of subsidies programs for the artists. By analyzing these periodicals from an editorial point of view as well as from an aesthetic point of view, we can try to comprehend the new comic art ecosystem that has been structuring in Taiwan since the 2000s.
This paper examines such diverse publications as the monthly Creative Comic Collection [CCC 創造機] (launched in 2009 and relaunched in 2018), the yearly documentary Monsoon [熱帶季風] (launched in 2017), the collectives Taiwan Comix [TX] and Bo_ing Comix [波音漫畫誌] (launched respectively in 2010 and 2018), and the very recent Zigma (launched in 2020). In this highly contrasted landscape, conventional styles stand alongside more innovative styles and independent groups coexist with financially stronger structures. Notwithstanding that works and artists can circulate between the different reviews, I will try to establish a typology of the periodicals based on various criteria: the target audiences, the ways in diffusion and distribution, the formal characteristics of the objects, the styles and conditions for the creation, the economic aspects of the publications, etc.
Finally, the fact that some of the above-mentioned reviews have ceased their publication or have decided to continue their activities by other means, can shed another light on the apparent vitality of the contemporary comics scene in Taiwan.

Norbert DANYSZ is a PhD student at Université Lumière Lyon 2, under the supervision of Marie Laureillard and Laurent Gerbier. He currently works on the subject of comics stylistic evolutions in China between the 1920s and the 1980s, but is also interested in research projects on sinophone comics in general, in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Cartoons for the People of New China:


Rural Authors and Scenes in Manhua Magazine, 1950–1960

Mariia Guleva

Charles University, Czech Republic

The phenomenon of manhua 漫画, which for China of the 1950s can be roughly translated as ‘cartoon,’ by that decade became a recognised element of newsprint. The entertaining ‘sketches’ of the 1930s grew into the militant ‘weapons of satire’ of the 1940s and with the establishment of the PRC turned into an inextricable part of mass campaigns and agitation. The “new,” post-1949 China required a reshaping of the previously existing genre to make it “serve the people.” Yet the already established notion of manhua remained, kept even in the title of the central magazine of satire and visual humour, Manhua, published from 1950 to 1960. John Crespi in his recent monograph traced much continuity between the manhua of pre- and post-1949.1 However, because his focus was mostly on urban modernity, Crespi left aside the large segment of pictures which appeared in Manhua: cartoons created by China’s rural population and cartoons showing village life.
This paper, therefore, poses two questions:

  1. What sort of images developed in the initially urban culture of cartooning under the influence of amateur contributors from rural areas of the country, who were encouraged to give free reign to their creativity?
  2. How life in these areas came to be seen by urban authors, many of whom had to go to the countryside during the first decade of the PRC?

By analysing the amount and contents of relevant cartoons in Manhua magazine, I propose to direct attention to the less noticed aspect of cartooning in China and thus to add an angle to our understanding of manhua’s developments there.

Mariia GULEVA is currently a 3rd year Ph.D. student at the Department of Sinology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University. Her research focuses on the production of Manhua magazine and its connections with and distinctions from the satire periodicals of the socialist camp during the 1950s. Mariia previously taught China-related subjects at Saint Petersburg Polytechnic University, Saint Petersburg State University, and Saint Petersburg branch of the Higher School of Economics.


Change through Stylistic Innovation: The Contributions of Chen Uen’s Comics


Lumière-Lyon 2 University, Lyon’s East Asian Studies Institute, France

Comic book writer Chen Uen 鄭問 (1958-2017) achieved acclaim in Japan with a manga award, and then in his native Taiwan in a posthumous exhibition at the Palace Museum in 2018. With Assassins (刺客列傳), first published in 1986, but also with The First Emperor (始皇) or his other productions, Chen Uen brilliantly adapted the heroic wuxia武俠literature which features big-hearted heroes who defend the oppressed, a Chinese version of samurai or knights of the Western Middle Ages.
The idea of adapting this type of literature was not new and even goes back to the beginnings of Chinese comics in the 1920s, but the treatment that Chen Uen proposes is very personal: his drawing style is characterised by traditional Chinese expressive and unconstrained ink painting (xieyi寫意). It is these new techniques that we will attempt to analyse here, combining the use of the brush with that of the toothbrush, using paper soaked in water and oil or glued with plastic. The result is a drawing, sometimes in black and white, sometimes enhanced with vibrant colours, which gives the fighters an extraordinary energy by hollowing out the forms or making them emerge from empty spaces, closely mixing realism and abstraction. We will reflect on the causes and impact of this stylistic revolution which might be connected with the migration of this artist to Japan.
Keywords: Chen Uen, wuxia heroic literature, comic book, breath-energy qi, Chinese painting xieyi, change

Marie LAUREILLARD, Associate Professor of Chinese language and civilisation at the Lumière-Lyon 2 University in France, member of the Lyons Institute of East Asian Studies, specializes in modern art and literature history, semiotics, and cultural studies of China and Taiwan. She has published Feng Zikai, a Lyrical Cartoonist: Dialogue between Words and Strokes (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2017, in French) and co-edited At the crossroads of art collections, Asia-the West from the 19th century to the Present (Paris: Hémisphères, 2019). She is currently working on comics and cartoons from the Republican period.


Sonny Liew and His Double: Exploring Pan-Asian Metacomics

Corrado NERI

Jean Moulin University, Lyon 3, France

Malaysian-born, Singapore-based Sonny Liew is a chameleonic, versatile, resolutely transnational comic artist. He draws many covers and interior for Marvel and DC comics, as well as other major American publishers. His work with Gene Luen-yang – The Shadow Hero – was already hybridizing American superhero genre with a more realist approach, namely the description of the experience of Asian immigration in the States. With The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, Liew upgraded his Sinophone connection by creating a vertiginous “mockumentary”.
I argue that this term, usually destinated to movies (fake documentary) can aptly describe this “trompe l’oeil” graphic novel. Liew tells the story of an imaginary artist – imagine a mix of Osamu Tezuka, Li Kunwu and Chen Uen – and via this biography he reviews the story of Singapore and its neighbors, and he creates a kaleidoscopic meta-narration of comic books history and aesthetics (therefore: national imaginary, western influences, rivalry and admiration for Japanese manga). Both a celebration of the heritage of Sinophone comics and a funeral of missed opportunities and censored masterpieces, this presentation will be Janus-faced as well: one take will dwell in the highbrow art of Liew, the other take will raise questions on the possibility of a renewed Sinophone graphic novel outside the savant mimicry of past (and alien) masterpieces.

Corrado NERI is associate professor at the Jean Moulin University, Lyon 3. He has conducted extensive research on Chinese cinema in Beijing and Taipei and published many articles on books and magazine (in English, French and Italian). His book Tsai Ming-liang on the Taiwanese film director appeared in 2004 (Venezia, Cafoscarina). Ages Inquiets. Cinémas chinois: une representation de la jeunesse, was printed in 2009 (Lyon, Tigre de Papier). His third book, Retro Taiwan: Le temps retrouvé dans le cinéma sinophone contemporain, has been published for l’Asiathèque (Paris, 2016). He co-edited (with Kirstie Gormley ) a bilingual (french/english) book on Taiwan cinema (Taiwan cinema/Le Cinéma taiwanais, Asiexpo, 2009); Global Fences (with Florent Villard, IETT, 2011); Reinventing Mao: Maoisms and National Cinemas/La Réinvention de Mao. Maoïsmes et Cinémas Nationaux (Special issue of Cinéma & Cie International Film Studies Journal (with Marco Dalla Gassa, Federico Zecca) and Politics and Representation in Sinophone Cinema after the 1980s/Politique et Représentation dans le Cinéma Sinophone après 1980 (Special #55 de Monde Chinois Nouvelle Asie, with Jean-Yves Heurtebise).


Chinese Comics in All Their Forms: Materiality to the Test of Consumption

Laetitia RAPUZZI

Jean Moulin University, Lyon 3, France

In the People’s Republic of China, comics exist in various forms: bound works, urban displays, digital forms on computers and since the beginning of the 2000s on mobile phones. Although it is not very visible on the shelves of bookstores compared to novels, essays or illustrated books for children, it floods the digital space.
In a context where the creation and distribution of contemporary Chinese comics depend on a complex editorial system, the digitization of society seems to be able to be a factor of creative emancipation for authors and entertainment for readers. In 2015, the Internet Plus action plan was promoted by Prime Minister Li Keqiang, heralding a radiant global economy driven by big data. Thus, artistic creation and digitization of the economy seems to find a meeting point that can be qualified as late modernity, including Harmut defined by this slogan ʻExpect everything to be new and different tomorrowʼ.
Drawing on the theory of social acceleration developed by Harmut Rosa and a study conducted in 2017 by the Beijing Film Academy aimed at defining the ecosystem and the profile of the online comic reader, we offer a reflection on the factors that determine the choice of materiality for many of the actors in the creative process (authors, editors and readers) and to what extent digital materiality would imply a change in the construction model of comics.

Laetitia RAPUZZI is preparing a doctoral thesis entitled “Materialities of contemporary Chinese comics: expression of (in) visible bubbles” under the supervision of Corrado Neri within the IETT of Lyon, within the framework of the Doctoral School of Letters, languages, linguistics, arts (Lyon). In 2016, she defended a research master’s thesis on Foreign Languages and Cultures Chinese Studies entitled “Franco-Chinese relations in comics from 1900 to 2016: intertextualities and representations of China” under the supervision of Florent Villard. Laetitia Rapuzzi worked as a photographer and documentary maker in the French Navy for 25 years, she also held an assistant position at the French Embassy in Beijing from 2017 to 2020.


Model(ing) Creative Workers: A New Genre of Taiwanese Cartoon Character


Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica

This paper looks at a new genre of cartoon character that has emerged along with the expansion of new media and the rise of creative industry and creative economy discourse. There are a surprising number of comics produced in Taiwan which not only represent the daily life of white-collar workers, but in which characters appear who clearly represent the artist creating the comic. These characters, some of the best known of which are the ones created by designers Wan Wan and Mark, often begin as a self-representation on designers’ personal blogs or as free-to-download stickers for messaging services before they become the protagonists in narrative comics, as well as logo characters reproduced on a wide assortment of products. The comics are critical of corporate logic (like Scott Adams’ Dilbert) while simultaneously promoting the values of hard work, entrepreneurship, and the continual reanimation of one’s “inner child,” sometimes through the citation of self-help discourse, but more through techniques of composition and visual style. They encourage multiple identifications with both characters and artists, and the transmedia platforms allow fans not only to keep the cartoon characters co-present in their daily lives, but also to use them as vehicles for self-expression. I argue that these licensed characters, with their combination of autobiographical aura and Everyman genericness, absorb “creativity” into a new model of the ideal neoliberal subject, and encourage fans to inhabit that subject by reframing all labor as animation.

Teri SILVIO is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. She is an anthropologist who has done extended ethnographic research on theater, puppetry, toy design, and comics. Her work combines approaches from anthropology, cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, performance studies, and media studies. Her book, Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan (University of Hawai`i Press 2019) develops an anthropological concept of animation as a complement to the concept of performance, and elaborates this concept through Taiwanese examples including televised puppetry, folk religious practice, and manga/anime fandom.


Arduous Changes: Internet, Censorship, Lives of Chinese Dissident Cartoonists and Their Political Works (2009-2021)


University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

The paper aims to provide an overview encompassing changes in the lives of six major Chinese dissident cartoonists in exile and identifies at least twelve that remain in the PRC. In addition, it informs about shifts in quantity, contents, and style of anti-establishment and anti-Communist cartoons. To adequately explain these issues, it situates them within the context of the rapid development of internet access in China, the appearance of blogs and social media platforms, subsequent adjustments of censorship, major official propaganda campaigns, and the growing authoritarianism.
After becoming dissident cartoonists (consciously or not), artists faced the threat of detention and disappearance. The paper shows that they mainly dealt with it either by choosing to live in exile, cooperating with the authorities, or stopping publications on their terms or due to imprisonment. Some embraced their actual identity while others hid it, fearing a backlash, and only began to reveal it gradually in exile.
Change also manifested itself in the difference between the initial abundance of the relevant visual material in the PRC and its subsequent nearly complete disappearance. In contrast, free from censorship constraints, cartoonists in exile kept increasing the number of sketches. Thus, the foreign media and websites are now brimming with relevant caricatures. While their Chinese equivalents only have traces of them left. Additionally, they are scattered across different platforms, making it hard to trace the phenomenon comprehensively.
Finally, the paper shows that the styles and themes developed by Chinese dissident cartoonists were not merely a result of adopting different sketching methods. Presumably, they also conveyed emotions related to their experiences of living in China and their perception of its future. Also, the gradual professionalisation of cartoonists and improvements in their style made others refer to them as artists.

By the end of April 2021, Piotr STRZALKOWSKI obtained his AHRC-funded PhD in Chinese Studies from the University of Edinburgh after completing a dissertation titled “The Red Scare in China: Caricatures, Anti-Communist Propaganda, and the Foreign Press in the Interwar Shanghai, 1924-1937.” Currently, he is revising two papers related to the thesis. His research focuses on the intersection between modern and contemporary Chinese history, Sino-foreign relations, popular culture, visual culture, propaganda, and social psychology.


Diversifying Change Strategies: An Investigation of Littler Thunder’s Creations

Wendy S Wong

York University, Toronto, Canada

This paper investigates how comic artists have tackled the changing creative environment in Hong Kong since 1997 with a case study on Little Thunder (born 1984), a woman artist who became a full-time comic artist in 2001. Born and raised in an artistic family, Sam-Ling Cheng (鄭心菱), who uses Little Thunder or Men Xiao Lei (門小雷) as her penname, debuted at the age of eight with her first original comic published in a local Hong Kong manga magazine. With her roots in Hong Kong, she embraced the opportunity to work in mainland China at the age of 17, rather than pursuing higher education studies. Between 2010 and 2013, she published a three-part full-colour graphic novel, Kylooe, which was published in French, Chinese, and Italian versions. This title was also popular in Japan where Little Thunder developed a devoted international fan base.
Along with her graphic novel creations, she also works on commercial commissions as an illustrator for high-end clients in Hong Kong and overseas. Her social media presence is impressive; she has over 862,000 Instagram followers as of October 2021. Through connections in various social media platforms, her followers can view her work not only in static image format but also in real-time or time-lapse videos of her drawing processes. She also sells her drawing reproductions as art prints, organizes solo art shows, and produces merchandise for sale. Her latest venue is Patreon, a membership platform for creators to who are paid for their creations from patrons’ subscription. By walking through her creations in this presentation, this talk will explore her graphic narratives and drawing techniques as a woman artist responding to the changing milieu of Hong Kong in between China and the global world.

Wendy Siuyi WONG is Professor in the Department of Design at York University in Toronto, Canada. She has taught in Hong Kong, the United States and Australia, and has established an international reputation as an expert in Chinese graphic design history and Chinese comic art history. She is the author of Hong Kong Comics: A History of Manhua (2002), published by Princeton Architectural Press, and she often receives invitations to speak on the topic at international venues. Her latest book, entitled The Disappearance of Hong Kong in Comics, Advertising and Graphic Design (2018), published by Palgrave Macmillan, utilizes the city as a case study to demonstrate the potential of these three media to offer us a global understanding of contemporary visual cultures.


Comics and Public Diplomacy in Taiwan

Adina Zemanek

University of Central Lancashire

Comics in Taiwan have a long history of association with Japanese manga, children’s entertainment and negative value judgments. The second decade of the 21st century witnessed the rise of mangaesque creativity on local themes, and of independent artists who cultivate individual styles and target older audiences. Despite these developments, until very recently the concept of “Taiwan comics” remained largely invisible to both a general public and to state institutions promoting Taiwan’s cultural and creative industries and its international image.
During the last few years, the medium of comics gained unprecedented prominence both as recipient of state funding and as instrument for public diplomacy. This presentation combines a study of official documents and interviews conducted with artists and publishers during the 2020 edition of the Angoulême International Comics Festival. It will discuss recent ROC initiatives aimed at systematically boosting the development of comics and the impact of these state initiatives on young artists’ careers. Finally, it will reflect on the definition of Taiwan comics as provided by official sources and the artists themselves, with special emphasis on the relationship between comics and national representativeness.

Adina Zemanek holds a PhD in cultural anthropology from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and currently works as a lecturer in Asia-Pacific studies at the University of Central Lancashire, UK. She also is a board member of the European Association of Taiwan Studies. She has done research into gender issues in PRC fashion magazines and TV series, the construction of national identity and grassroots nation branding through tourist souvenirs, graphic novels, and picture books in Taiwan. Her recent research projects explore Taiwan-related citizen diplomacy in Europe and the use of comics for public diplomacy in Taiwan. Her articles were published in journals such as Positions: Asia Critique, Archiv Orientální, China Perspectives, and Culture, Theory, and Critique.