Starting in the nineteenth century, magazines and journals appeared across China, widely circulating text and images which both reflected and helped shape the way the nation saw itself. Although previously characterised as ‘popular’ or lowbrow, by the 1930s many of these publications contained sophisticated modern artwork in the form of manhua (loosely translated as cartoons), photography and printmaking that reflected artists’, editors’ and readers’ interests and, crucially, anxieties. For example, photo-pictorials like Liangyou (良友, The Young Companion, 1926-45) and Dazhong Huabao (大眾畫報, The Cosmopolitan, 1933-35) contained images of fashion and tourism, as well as coverage of world events and domestic crises. More pointed political critique emerged in manhua magazines like Manhua Shenghuo (漫畫生活, Cartoon Life, 1934-35) or Shidai Manhua (時代漫畫, Modern Sketch, 1934-37), which creatively combined global trends in image-making with local imagery of and concerns about the rural and urban poor, exploitation of labour and natural disasters. A rich site of transnational exchange and societal critique, these magazines are often the only extant record of complex artistic and literary conversations, not only in Shanghai but also in cities like Tianjin and Guangzhou.

During this masterclass, we will discuss the role of print publications in the representation and dissemination of anxieties concerning the Chinese nation to a broad reading public, as well as these images’ relationship to global print publications. Questions to be explored include the following: How did the artwork and literature in these magazines complicate perceived political allegiances (i.e. Leftist/Communist versus Rightist/Nationalist) on the part of writers, artists, and editors? How are humour, revulsion and attraction deployed, particularly in satirical images, and what do they do? And why do certain publications now play an outsize role in the way we think about China’s publishing industry during the early twentieth century?

Reading List

Crespi, Paul, ‘Introduction: Manhua, Magazines, Modernity’, in Manhua Modernity: Chinese Culture and the Pictorial Turn. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2020, pp. 1-24.

Tang, Xiaobing. ‘Echoes of Roar, China! On Vision and Voice in Modern Chinese Art’, positions: east asia cultures critique, 14, No. (Fall 2006): 467-494.


This event is part of the CVC Masterclass series. It is open to University of Cambridge students only.

To register for this class, please send an email to by Monday 29 April with a short statement on the benefits of participation in this masterclass to your studies.


Lu Shaofei (1903-1995), ‘Breaking Ground on a New Era (Kaipi Xin Shidai, 開闢新時代)’, Cover image, Modern Sketch (Shidai Manhua, 時代漫畫), No. 28, July 1936; Image courtesy of Colgate University Library.