Suddenly the cartoon image of a European boy seems to be omnipresent in China.
Wandering across the streets in Beijing, Shanghai or any other major Chinese city, sometimes you will meet, by accident, people wearing T-shirts with him printed on them.
Cups, clocks, postcards or key rings, bearing the boy with an apple head, an upstanding tuft of hair and a button nose.
He is Tintin, the beloved hero of Belgian artist Herge's (Georges Remi) worldwide acclaimed cartoon series.
The people who wear Tintin T-shirts or use Tintin cups are the boy reporter's loyal fans in China, the ancient country that he visited twice in his adventures.
Since the master cartoonist first created him in 1929, the boy reporter who never wrote a word but constantly got himself into all sorts of tricky situations, has had numerous followers across the world.
His Chinese fans first had the chance to read Tintin's Adventures in the late 1970s.
Although their love for Tintin never faded with time, they hid their love deeply in the bottom of their hearts.
Last year, the Beijing-based China Children Publishing House bought the copyright from the Casterman Publishing House in Belgium to publish a 22-part series of Tintin's Adventures in China.
The publishing of the new edition ignited the craze for Tintin among a huge population of Tintin followers, becoming an instant hit in the market.
According to Xiao Liyuan, editor-in-charge behind the Chinese Tintin's Adventures, a total of 220,000 books (10,000 sets, with each set containing 22 books) sold out within a week after the official launch of the books last May.
So far, most of the 550,000 books have been sold. Tintin even became the talk of the town in many cities.
The series was so popular that pirated books soon appeared on the market.
Having found the huge market potential, the China Children Publishing House decided to dig more gold from it.
This year the company published a smaller-sized version, costing 10 yuan (US$1.20) each.
Again, these books are well received by readers. So far, all 660,000 books have been grabbed up by coveting distributors, and another batch of 220,000 books are being printed.
"Most purchasers of the books are adults," said Xiao Liyuan.
On the Internet, many Tintin fans posted articles on message boards recalling how they fell in love with Tintin in their childhood.
Many even wrote to Xiao's company to express their deep love for the boy reporter. Others established their own Tintin websites.
For them, Tintin represents their bygone childhood, and the books help them reminisce.
"I started collecting the Chinese version of Tintin in 1984, when I was 10, and took me five years to get all the adventures," recalled Ma Jiali, a girl currently studying in the United States.
Ma collects Tintin books in different languages through exchanges. She has collected Tintin books published in 25 languages and in 39 countries.
In a letter to Xiao, a Beijing worker Zhang Suhua recalled his first encounter with Tintin 20 years ago when he was in his twenties.
"I was on my way home from work when I found the book at Xidan Children's Bookstore," Zhang recalled. "I was so attracted by the funny plots and humorous dialogue I bought the books immediately."
Zhang said he was so engrossed in reading Tintin on the bus he forgot to get off at his stop.
Now a middle-aged man, Zhang still has a strong interest in Tintin. As soon as the new edition was published last year, he bought a set for himself.
Tintin's adventures were first printed in 1929. Since then, together with his dog, the boy has visited many countries, including the United States, the Soviet Union, the Republic of Congo -- and even the Moon.
The stories of his adventures have been enjoyed by children and adults alike, from Europe to Southeast Asia.
So far, Tintin's stories have been published in 63 countries, with nearly 200 million copies sold.
As to why Tintin is so popular, Chinese fans have similar reasons as their foreign peers.
"The interesting adventures of Tintin give me things and places to dream of," wrote a netizen on Joyo.com, an Amazon.com-like online bookstore in China.
Another netizin said he likes reading Tintin books because they contain both suspense and humor.
Xiao Liyuan believed the cartoon has succeeded in creating an ideal hero, who is kind-hearted, brave, good at everything and loyal to friends.
Yet the Chinese readers also have their own reasons for their love of Tintin.
In The Blue Lotus, the fifth story of the series, Tintin made a visit to Shanghai, and got to know a Chinese friend named Chang Chong-chen.
In another story Tintin in Tibet, Tintin saved Chang's life after his Chinese friend survived an air disaster in Tibet.
In his real life, Herge -- the author of Tintin's adventures -- did have a Chinese friend named Chang Chong-chen, who helped Herge change his former bias against China. Herge thanked Chang by writing him into the Tintin series.
Many Chinese readers said this made them feel Ding Ding, as "Tintin" is pronounced in Chinese, more close to them.
Although several editions of The Adventures of Ding Ding have surfaced in China since the 1980s, most of those were not published on purchased copyright. Most of them were poor quality black and white copies.
In 1991, China promulgated its copyright law. One year later, the country joined international copyright protection treaties.
The China Children Publishing House edition is the first legally published edition in the Chinese mainland and in full-color.
Realizing the huge market potential behind Tintin, many local publishing houses have been attempting to publish the cartoon series since the 1990s. Some, such as The Qinghai People's Publishing House, even went so far that they published pirated copies.
The editors there argued they were misled by a Beijing-based book dealer, who had told them that Herge was dead for more than 50 years; therefore his work was now in the public domain.
Later, at least three other local publishers expressed their interest in obtaining legal rights to publish Tintin in Chinese, but the Chinese Children Publishing House became the final winner.
(China Daily June 5, 2002)