Shidai Manhua 時代漫畫 (Modern Sketch) satirized and embodied a progressive image of China. It did so by presenting contrasting ideas and images that formed an eclectic cultural vision. Through images and text, the magazine nurtured witty social and political commentary on the socio-culturalclimate of 1930s China. Both visual and literary texts covered various topics, a notable presence being the militarization of Japan.
A war in 1932 and a decline in China’s rural and urban economies resulted in Japan’s control of all of northern China by 1936. This “Portrait”-- a collage of text and image -- criticizes Japan’s colonial presence in China and offers contradictoryimages of Japan that prompt the viewer to question its imperial power. Kodama’s eyes are used to convey the two sides of Japan’s invasion. His true eyes are cut out and replaced with visions of a Japanese flag planted in a desolate area on the left, with a crowded storefront on the right. This may imply that whereas Japan sees China as a bountiful economic landscape, China sees itself economically crippled and emaciated by Japanese colonial aggression.
The critique of Japan is made obvious by the use of lines from a Lu Fangweng poem in the accompanying text. Lu is noted for his patriotic poems in which he protested foreign invasion during the Song Dynasty, an earlier period in China’s history when its northern territories were lost. Aligned with Lu’s poem, this image is critical of China’s passiveness towards Japanese imperialism, an ironic assertion if we consider that the lines are spoken by Kodama in relation to Japan’s economic vision for China, further highlighting China’s helplessness as it is rendered mute by the Japanese voice.
The use of a portrait codes individuality, but the absence of his true eyes strips Kodama of his individuality. Instead, he stands in for Japan as an icon of colonialism, just as the unidentified individuals in his right eye may represent China. Contradicting Japan’s imperial male gaze are Kodama’s lips, which are bathed in rouge and bestow his face with a feminine quality. Eliminating his body and placing him on a plain background gives Kodama’s portrait a floating effect that destabilizes the image, suggesting the instability of Japan’s colonial rule. Likewise, portraying Kodama on a plain background allows the artist and the viewer to define his form. Instead of a person, Kodama becomes a collaged persona of Japan created by the artist from multiple images. This aspect of the image may be representative of Modern Sketch’s role in reflecting China’s progress through the magazine’s visual content. However, unlike the progressive images produced by the magazine, this image identifies a hindrance to China’s progress.
Mr. Kojima, on the banquet of figures from all circles, read a poem by Lu Fangweng (Lu You, 1125-1210): “Everybody gets intoxicated in the era of peace, everywhere comes spring with the generosity of Nature.” [With the two lines of poem, Mr. Kojima] expressed his profound emotion. In our opinion, the two lines indeed speak the facts in Northern China: the first one is on the foreign firms selling drugs, the second one is on the international transportation. Mr. Kojima does have another pair of acute eyes, which is really admirable!
Photograph by World Peace News Agency