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Hua Junwu -- Doyen of Chinese Cartoonists

Cartoons are an unfailing source of humor and satire, reflecting people's daily lives and politics. Hua Junwu is one of the most outstanding contemporary cartoonists in China. Born in 1915, Hua started to produce cartoons in the 1930s, and has made a name for himself as a cartoon artist worldwide.

Hua's cartoons are distinctive for their "Hua Style" featuring people with unkempt dress and messy hair, unadorned yet imposing. Though Hua does not picture his characters in detail, he vividly illustrates their inner state.

A lifelong career

In April 2005, the People's Daily posted a cartoon drawn by "the veteran cartoonist" Hua Junwu, satirizing Taiwan separatists' visit to the Yasukuni Shrine where Japanese war criminals are commemorated along with others. As one of his friends said, the 90-year-old cartoonist never stops fighting with his cartoons.

Hua attributed his choice of drawing cartoons as a career largely to his personality. "I liked painting when I was very young. But I couldn't draw static things well. I decided on cartoons because I like drawing in a more casual way and mirroring social realities," he explained in his autobiography My Career as a Cartoonist.

Hua Junwu was born in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, where he began to draw cartoons for fun when he was a junior school student. In 1930, the school magazine posted his first cartoon Students Getting Injections, vividly depicting the exaggerated expressions of pain on the faces of students being injected.

In 1933, Hua headed for Shanghai for high school study. In 1936, he began to work as a bank clerk. His stay in Shanghai turned out to be the first important period in his cartoon career. As the center of the Chinese cartoon community at that time, Shanghai boasted a large number of brilliant cartoonists from home and abroad. Hua began to send cartoons to magazines and gradually made the acquaintance of many famous cartoonists, whose work greatly influenced him.

Hua gained popularity for his cartoons depicting crowds. The cartoon December 9 Movement is a good example. The movement occurred in 1935 when students in Beijing, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China , held a patriotic demonstration, calling for the whole country to stop the civil war and unite to resist Japanese aggression.
"I drew pictures for the December 9 Movement at that time, and sometimes for common people," recalls Hua. "However, I had no clear idea about whom I was drawing for. I thought it couldn't be workers, peasants and soldiers, but more likely ordinary citizens and intellectuals."

When the Anti-Japanese War broke out and Shanghai fell into enemy hands, Chinese faced the danger of becoming Japanese slaves and Hua was depressed by the grim situation. He happened to read a book showing Yan'an , the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, as a world of equality and freedom. This was what he yearned for and decided to go there.

Cartoons as weapons

Yan'an was a rural area and Hua had difficulty finding followers there. He went to great lengths to get local peasants to understand his work. In Yan'an he learned that cartoons are meant for the masses and he had to become familiar with their dialects, tastes and habits, to produce more cartoons with themes close to their lives.

Hua's years in Yan'an witnessed a great change in his style. He adjusted his subject matter during wartime, infusing his cartoons with all the irony, exaggeration and absurdity of armed conflict. He also directed his focus on satirizing the negative side of life. He once recalled: "in Shanghai I used to live in a 'pavilion room', with only one bed, one table, and one chair just for scholars. The occupant of the room can write or draw anything he wants, even if it is nonsense. If I had not gone to Yan'an later in my life, I might have remained a 'pavilion room' painter for the rest of my life."

In 1945, Hua went to work in NE China, where his humorous and sarcastic cartoons were well accepted. His most prominent work during this period was a cartoon image of Chiang Kai-shek, the then leader of the nationalist Kuomintang Party. Because the drawing somewhat revealed the ugliness of Chiang Kai-shek, Hua was put on Kuomintang's wanted list.

Hua moved to Beijing in 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded. He set up Satire and Humor a column in the People's Daily, providing a platform for cartoonists. During the 1950s and 1960s, Hua produced many cartoons, mirroring people's daily life. The drawing "Never Walk, Never Tumble", satirizing people afraid of making mistakes, was highly appreciated by Chairman Mao.
Like many other intellectuals in China, Hua faced difficult times during the Cultural Revolution. At the end of the Cultural Revolution, he became the vice-chairman of the China Artists' Association, one of the most prestigious art organizations in China. But he never stopped making new cartoons despite his busy schedule.

Using just a few strokes, Hua conveys rich meanings. That is the charm of his cartoons. He embodies his creative ideas in carefully chosen images with penetrating insight and acute observations.

He has used cartoons as educational tools, as we can see in his drawing Turn the Tables, a reversed version of the Aesop's fable The Hare and the Tortoise. In Hua's drawing, the fast and impetuous hare wins the race against the slow and stable tortoise, which is completely opposite to the original story.

Hua's worries

Hua attributes his good health largely to his opportunistic, humorous and sports-loving nature. However, he also has worries. Because he's getting older and incapable of going out to collect information for his work any more, he has to turn to newspapers and TV programs for help.

He says characters in newspapers are getting smaller and smaller, and TV announcers speak too fast. Hua says they are hard for old people to follow and wishes those responsible would take senior citizens' habits and feelings into consideration.

(ChinaCulture.org May 25, 2006)

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