Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Chinese Life, by Li Kunwu and Philippe Ôtié (2009-2011; 2012)

The Chinese people have lived, during the past few decades, many extraordinary upheavals which cannot be easily fathomed by any Western person: the arrival of the Communist Party at the head of the State (1949), the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), aiming at improving significantly Chinese agriculture but responsible for the starvation to death of tens of millions of people; the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), in which the then Chairman of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, created a revolution against his own ruling comrades, an unbelievable turmoil during which everything was constantly changing, political power was passing from one faction to another at an incredible speed; the cult of personality surrounding Mao Zedong and his death (1976); the shift from a Marxist economy to an ultraliberal one; the metamorphosis from an underdeveloped third World country to an economic giant and a political superpower; the rise and fall of the hope for a political change in the Tiananmen Square...

Chinese people have lived through all this. And I must admit that I have always been unable to figure out what these people think of their own history, how they feel about their country, about their leaders, about the evolution of their society.

Here lies the great quality of A Chinese Life. Li Kunwu is a Chinese artist whose father took part in every phase of the Chinese Communist Party since the Second World War. Based on Li Kunwu's memories, Philippe Ôtié, a French writer, drafted a storyboard that was drawn by Li Kunwu himself. This close collaboration was successful and the resulting graphic novel is very pleasant to read: The story is clear and easy to follow, even for someone not specialized in Chinese history (whereas the historical events told are very complicated...). Li Kinwu's art, with a strong influence from his Eastern formation, is original and nice.

A Chinese Life may not be a great masterpiece but it gives a fascinating insight into how it can feel like to have led a Chinese life for the past few decades.

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