|Pictures worth 1,000 words
Most fans in China know that these picture-story books with Chinese
characteristics - lianhuanhua - were born in the late Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911) when modern printing technology was introduced to China.
But archaeological finds in the Mawangdui Tombs in Changsha, in
Central China's Hunan Province, reveal that the art of incising
single narrative pictures into the surfaces of bricks goes back
as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).
In the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Buddhist serial picture stories
were painted on the walls of the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes.
In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the invention of block-printing
boosted the use of illustrations in books.
In the Song and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, the flourishing of
Chinese operas and their huaben (printed versions of the prompt-books
used by popular storytellers) led to the popularity of serial picture
narratives among ordinary Chinese at that time.
The first Chinese picture-story book was believed to be Liu Boliang's
"General Xue Rengui's Foray to Eastern China," printed in the early
1900s, which combined illustrations of ancient Chinese legends with
brief captions underneath every picture.
Around 1913, best-selling picture-story books about current events
in China and neighbouring countries were created in Shanghai.
Later, smaller-sized picture-story books about Peking opera episodes,
which were well-known to most Chinese households, came out.
The Chinese picture-story book officially got the name lianhuanhua
when the Shanghai World Press published its "Romance of the Three
Kingdoms (AD 220-280) in the Lianhuanhua Format," an illustrated
picture series, along with picture versions of four other Chinese
classical novels, in 1925.
In the 1930s, picture-story books won increasing popularity, and
picture-story artists enjoyed high social esteem in China.
The "Top Four Picture-Story Artists" in the 1930s were Zhu Runzhai,
Zhou Yunfang, Shen Manyun and Zhao Hongben.
At that time, reading lianhuanhua was a major pastime for the less-educated,
low-income workers in Shanghai - then China's largest industrial
So, lianhuanhua books were based on classic novels, popular stage
dramas, pingshu (stories told by professional performers), circus
shows, and even newly-released movies which were easy to understand.
In the 1940s, many picture-stories were first published in newspapers
before being printed in the form of books. Among the most famous
picture-stories were master painter Ye Qianyu's "Mr Wang" and Zhang
Leping's "San Mao the Waif."