Lianhuanhua: “Linked-Serial Picture Story Book” and China’s “Pop”


 Originally posted Monday, March 03 2013

The “linked-serial picture story book” or Lianhuanhua(連環畫) has been a form of popular culture in China for almost one hundred years. Lianhuanhua literally means “linked-serial pictures” in Chinese, but the genre also refers to Xiaorenshu (小人書) or Gongzaishu (公仔書) which mean “books for children” and “cartoon picture books”.


Linked-serial picture books were socially and culturally significant in that they offered a cheaper form of entertainment to the majority the urban Chinese population, some of whom could not afford the price of admission to a movie theater but could afford to buy or rent the linked-serial picture book version of the film. When a new film came out, painters of linked-serial picture books brought their apprentices to the cinema with them, and hand drew scenes in the movie as it was playing. The books also used photographs (or screen captures) of films. The production moved quickly, and a new linked-serial would appear the morning after a film had been screened. These storybooks were generally sold at prices lower than the cost of a theater ticket. At the time when life was rather simple and resources were limited, these linked-serial picture books were one of the only readily available and relatively affordable forms of mass entertainment. In the 1950s, children could spend one cent and for a whole day sit down at a street bookstall and consume as many picture books as possible (one cent in China in the 1950s approximately equals five dollars in today’s Hong Kong or about 60 US cents).

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When China’s economy and infrastructure resumed after 1978, the status of linked-serial picture books was revived and once again became popular. In contrast to the splitting up of families during the Cultural Revolution, in which children were separated from their parents, and husbands from wives, one of the prevalent story themes in the early 1980s was about the freedom of marriage (freedom to choose your partner), and the reunion and harmony of the family. Rena’s Marriage published in 1983 and The Mid-Autumn Full Moon in 1984 both fall into this category. Also at that time, books with martial arts themes became popular, books which were based on the Cantonese (Hong Kong) and Taiwanese martial arts fictions – the South Shaolin Master published in 1985 being a good example.


2 copy

The South Shaolin Master (Part 1) /南拳王()

adapted from a film of the same name

by Xiao Li

Publisher: China Film Publishing House

Place and year of publication: Beijing, 1985

Patriotic overseas Chinese Lin Hainan is bringing back donation money from the south to support the uprising led by the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom against the Qing Dynasty. On his way Lin Hainan is ambushed by the Qing troops and seriously injured. He unexpectedly escapes to a red boat which is the base of a theatre company. Lin Hainan meets the monk Wu Bai on the boat who not only tends to his injuries but also instructs him in Kung-fu skills. With Wu Bai’s advice, Lin Hainan successfully beats the tyrant Zhao Shixiong and becomes known as the South Shaolin Master. Qing’s secret police attack and burn the red boat. Lin Hainan, Wu Bai and the people of the theatre escape and hide at the South Shaolin Temple. At the temple, Lin Hainan practices South Shaolin Kung-fu for a year in order to take revenge. In the end, he manages to overcome the most difficult part of his training and engages in a victory over the Qing’s troops.

Natalie Siu-Lam Wong, received a PhD in Visual Culture and China Studies from University of Westminster in London in 2010




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