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A Socialist Satire: Manhua Magazine and Political Cartoon Production in the PRC, 1950–1960

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In June 1950, Manhua magazine published its first issue in Shanghai. Until its closure in 1960, it remained the only national publication dedicated solely to the popularization and discussion of political cartoons. Terse cartoons were needed to promote the numerous mass campaigns initiated by the new government, remind readers of the continuing battle against enemies of the new Communist state, and rally the people in support of a new military conflict developing on the Korean peninsula. This article discusses key moments in the institutional history of Manhua and its artists. The magazine, I argue, played a crucial but often overlooked role in the contest over the form and content of popular cartooning in the first decade of CCP rule. In such, it was the satirical counterpart to the ever more popular lianhuanhua (serial comics). Cartoonists believed their art might contribute to establishing socialism through well-intentioned and constructive criticism. This, however, did not harmonize with the increasingly fervent control mechanisms of the party-state’s cultural bureaucracy. The history of Manhua magazine is therefore an example of the expanding political supervision of the popular arts throughout the 1950s. At the same time it is a study of an art that, though popular and political, never won the same political acclaim as its counterpart, lianhuanhua.


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