Feng Zikai has been regarded as one of the most influential figures of Chinese comics. He is an artist, essayist, musician, and teacher who became prominent in the Republican Era (1912-1949) through publishing manhua in Shanghai. In a Literature Weekly in 1925, Feng coined the term “manhua” (comics, literal translation meaning “impromptu drawing”) in contemporary use to describe his quick sketches that combined traditional Song dynasty paintings with new elements. The term was adapted from the Japanese term “manga.” Manga itself was adapted from the eighteenth century Chinese literati (ink wash) term for impromptu drawings, and was merely popularized a decade earlier. He was inspired by the sketches of Chinese literati artist Chen Shizeng (1876-1923), as well as Japanese artist Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934) from his studies in Japan in 1921. His mentor, Li Shutong, who later became a Buddhist monk, impacted Feng to be restrained in his art despite its critical messages. As a result Buddhist teachings are usually embedded in his work. Feng’s work is highly political in nature and carried humanist messages despite being aesthetically delicate. He and his colleagues in Shanghai were responsible for establishing both lianhuanhua as well as manhua through the creation of organization such as Manhua Hui (or Comic Society).

Feng is known for his graceful illustrations that drew inspiration from literati techniques. He often combined traditional writings with new techniques to create new meaning that was salient in the tumultuous time period of the 1920s and 1930s. Although his early works on children’s manhua popularized him as an artist, his work later became political due to the growing demands of the wartime public in 1937 due to the Sino-Japanese War. Feng often criticized the Japanese colonial occupation of China, and used his manhua to spread anti-Japanese propaganda. Prior to the consolidation of Shanghai publishing houses after the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China (1949-), Feng was an editor at the Shanghai Kaiming Publishing House, where he was able to proliferate his works. Feng and his colleagues faced new challenges due to the onset of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) which, threated intellectuals who published criticisms of the new Communist regime exile and imprisonment. With the censorship placed and the quickly changing political atmosphere following the establishment of the new regime, his work in manhua receded publically. Some notable works include essays such as Yuan-Yuan Tang Sui Bi and most famously cartoons such as his self-titled Zikai Manhua, both which had critical and popular acclaim. In addition to these, his contribution to prominent literary journals at the time (such as Xiaoshuo yuebao/ Short Story Monthly and Shenbao) earned respected for the art of manhua.

 — Shelly Qiu

Further Reading

  • “Feng Zikai”. Cultural China Accessed May 25, 2015. http://arts.cultural-china.com/en/77Arts4101.html
  • Hung, Chang-Tai. 1990. “War and peace in Feng Zikai’s wartime cartoons”. Modern China. 16 (1).
  • Peterson, Robert S. Graphic Narratives in Asia in Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives. ABC-CLIO: 2011