China and Inner Asia
John A. Crespi
Colgate University, United States
Serial publication has long been identified with the emergence of a capitalist mass culture of reading in the 19th through the 20th centuries. Less understood is how socialist and communist regimes, which eschewed market mechanisms, adapted serial media to create anti-capitalist cultures of “the masses.” In light of that question, this paper explores the invention of the early-PRC cartoon, or manhua, via the serial interface between editors and readers that developed across the first 27 issues of Manhua Monthly (Manhua yuekan). Quite unlike later numbers of the magazine, the early issues of Manhua Monthly underwent rapid and deliberate revisions as its editors devised ways to solicit and respond to reader feedback. The give and take between editors, contributors, and readers—which took textual and visual form—reveals in fine detail the pleasures and satisfactions of consuming a periodical like Manhua in a range of settings, most of them collective and collaborative. Such interactive processes, made possible and visible over time by serial publication, show how the magazine empowered readers to participate as stakeholders in the making of a new visual aesthetics, and at the same time guided them to help construct and consolidate a state-sponsored discourse of manhua-based propaganda. That is to say, Manhua Monthly harnessed serial form to mediate the emergence of a new hegemony of Chinese socialist mass culture. That emergence, however, was neither fully top-down nor bottom-up, but negotiated ad hoc, from month to month, through a material but mutable serial interface.