Sanmao, or “Three Hairs,” has entertained and educated readers in China and beyond from 1935 to the present, ranking him among the world’s longest-lived comics characters. Sanmao’s creator, Zhang Leping (1910-1992) adapted the wordless escapades of this gangly, pumpkin-headed orphan boy across more than fifty years of a changing historical landscape, from the mass entertainment of 1930s Shanghai and brutal wars of invasion and civil strife in the 1940s to Mao’s mass campaigns of the 1950s and on into the post-Mao era of economic reform. Sanmao lives on today in comics reprints in multiple languages, as well as a huge range of transmedia productions from live-action and animated films to stage plays, propaganda exhibits and even museums. Sanmao became a household name between the years 1947 and 1948, when Zhang Leping published The Wandering Life of Sanmao (Sanmao liulangji) across 250 installments in the Shanghai newspaper Dagong bao (L’Impartial). Wandering Life resonated with the realities of historical crisis during those years, a time of disastrous economic collapse and civil war on the eve of the 1949 Chinese communist revolution. Just as, if not more, important to the strip’s impact and lasting fame, however, was its form: an open-ended, serial comic strip embedded within the pages of another open-ended serial, the daily paper. How these two globalized serial forms, one fictional and the other factual, worked in symbiosis to engage the imagination of readers on the eve of a revolution is the topic of this lecture.
About our Speaker
John A. Crespi is Associate Professor of Chinese and Asian Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Colgate University. His most recent book, Manhua Modernity: Chinese Culture and the Pictorial Turn (University of California Press), was published in December 2020.
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The Global Comics Series focuses on global comics scholarship. In this series, scholars present on transnational issues from distinct area studies’ regional perspectives. Topics include global comic scholarship on immigration/migration, nationalism, identity and culture, feminism, political censorship, technology disruption and more. The series is presented by The Ohio State University’s Center for Latin American Studies, Center for Slavic and East European Studies and East Asian Studies Center, with funds from the U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant, the Area Studies Department, University Libraries, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and Asian American Studies.