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China's political drama turns cartoon sensation
Huey Fern Tay looks at the rise of political cartoons in China.

Cartoons are a staple of political commentary the world over.

But in China they can be a dangerous business.

Even so, political cartooning in China is making its mark. And the scandals of the past month or so have provided plenty of fodder.

China correspondent Huey Fern Tay reports.
(Excerpt from online animation with Bo Xilai as a super hero)

VOICEOVER (Translation): Bo Xilai rose to fame as an uncompromising chief of Chongqing, cracking down on graft, reinstating welfare programs ..

HUEY FERN TAY, REPORTER: It is a political story that has captivated China and now become a cartoon sensation.

(Excerpt from Bo Xilai animation continues)

VOICEOVER (Translation): ... while venerating China's revolutionary past. He seemed destined for the top. However, Bo was suddenly deposed on March 15, just days after his political chief Wang Lijun tried to defect ...

HUEY FERN TAY: In recent months, the rise and fall of Bo Xilai has provided a rich vein of material for a growing band of Chinese artists using cartoons to poke fun at the country's politics and politicians.

WANG BO, HUTOON ANIMATION STUDIO (Translation): The Bo Xilai incident is so dramatic, I feel I don't need to do anything. Just listening to the rumours is enough. There's no need for any more dramatisation.

HUEY FERN TAY: Wang Bo wasn't behind that animation, but he is one artist making a foray into the world of political satire. It's not something he does often, preferring to focus instead on his core business of making less controversial cartoons.

But last year he released the short, but politically risky animation touching on sensitive issues in China such as the contaminated of food and the forced demolition of homes.

(Excerpt of animation by Wang Bo plays)

WANG BO (Translation): When I decide on a topic, the first thing I can consider is how interesting is this topic and how suitable is it to my work. I don't think about whether the topic will pass the censors, so that's why there's no boundary. And I don't have a political objective, that's why I won't think about what topic I should choose.

HUEY FERN TAY: There are many more political cartoonist in China than before. Some who use art as political commentary prefer to do so behind the safety of anonymity.

(Referring to cartoon of Bo Xilai)

This cartoon shows Bo Xilai being attacked from many fronts.

(Referring to cartoon of Bo Xilai chasing Wang Lijun)

Then there's another one that shows a character representing Bo Xilai outraged that his police chief has fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, but only because he beat him to it.

The artist behind these pictures doesn't want his name, age or location revealed because he fears for the safety of himself and his family. He goes by the name 'Crazy Crab'. Two years ago he quit his job to become a full time political cartoonist.

He is an ardent supporter of blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guanghcheng and drew this soon after news broke that Mr Chen escaped house arrest.

(Referring to cartoon by 'Crazy Crab' showing Chen Guangcheng as the Nike tick atop a piece of barbed wire with the slogan "Just Do It")

'CRAZY CRAB', CARTOONIST (Translation): Cartoons can provide a fresh perspective and prompt others to rethink a certain issue.

HUEY FERN TAY: But to find the growing body of work out there you have to turn to the internet, because the internet remains the freest domain of public expression in China. However, you have to know where to look for the material because anything deemed politically sensitive will be censored.

Cartoons about Bo Xilai for example can't be found on China's equivalent of Twitter: Weibo.

Despite the cloak of safety the internet provides, there's still this fear of repercussion among artists. One of China's earliest newspaper cartoonists says the concern is not unfounded.

Li Binsheng was a senior editor of the Beijing Daily in 1957 when the Communist Party sought public feedback on various issues. So Mr Li drew this cartoon because he knew of people who felt they couldn't speak up openly. He was swiftly punished when the political tide suddenly changed. Mr Lee was only 32 at the time.

LI BINSHENG, RETIRED CARTOONIST (Translation): This cartoon is called "A Man Without a Mouth". This cartoon was controversial and I was labelled a rightist because of the cartoon. I was sent to labour reform for 22 years.

HUEY FERN TAY: There is optimism that even more political cartoons will emerge because change is gradually taking place.

Li Bingsheng, for example, is now a public figure. His work celebrated is by China's National Art Museum. But he believes cartoonists should exercise restraint.

LI BINSHENG (Translation): The main purpose of cartoons is to ridicule, but we must help others. Cartoons are used to raise awareness, to remind you of something. We go overboard with cartoons.

HUEY FERN TAY: The craft that Mr Li has been practising since his teenage years may have had its restrictions and cost him a large part of his life, but Mr Lee takes comfort in the fact that he has made a difference in society, while proving he has the ability to amuse at the same time.
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