The term manhua has a variety of meanings based on context. Manhua used in English usually refers to “guochan manhua” or domestically produced comics and cartoons. It is a term that captures all comics and cartoons produced in Chinese. In Chinese, however, the term encapsulates all comics of all languages, and refers to comics as a global medium. In a historical context, the term manhua can describe the tradition of Chinese cartooning, which traces its roots to foreign concessions in Hong Kong and Shanghai, bringing lithographic printing technology to China. Manhua has also been described as all Chinese visual narrative. This definition includes other forms such as lianhuanhua, illustrated Tang Dynasty Buddhist sutras, and Song Dynasty landscape paintings. Finally, the term manhua can include comics that are produced outside of China but utilize Chinese themes. This entry will focus on Manhua as a form of satirical graphic art that originated in China in the 1920s.

Manhua has a literal meaning of “impromptu sketches,” which first emerged as a term used in 18th century Chinese literati (ink wash) paintings. Lianhuanhua (a form of illustrated Chinese storybooks) can be considered the predecessor of manhua, which was in scarcity until the creation of the Shanghai Sketch Society (manhua magazine) in 1928. Shanghai Sketch was the first successful manhua magazine to circulate. It was an eight page, two-toned publication that had roughly 3000 copies circulating weekly with a format inspired by the Japanese and Western comics, although with a key distinction of being printed entirely in color. The term manhua used here was coined by pioneering manhua artist Feng Zikai (1898-1975), who borrowed the term from the Japanese word “manga”, which was popularized earlier in Japan (although “manga” itself, can trace its roots back to Chinese literati). The development of the Manhua Hui (Cartoon Organization) in 1927 centralized manhua artists and solidified the term Manhua to describe the style had emerged. Early manhua was highly political in nature. In the Chinese Republican Era (1912-1949), it was used to by Sun Yat Sen (1826-1925) to proliferate anti-Qing (Qing Dynasty) propaganda, and for anti-Japanese propaganda. Allow it became suppressed by various occupations (by Japan, first in Shanghai, then in Hong Kong) it continued to follow political trends, even after the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. The style persists today, although it waned in the late 1970s due to the influx of other forms of entertainment (the television), it continues to be an identifier of Chinese comics and cartoons.

— Shelly Qiu

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