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The Seifert Collection

More than 40.000 comic (or Chinese lianhuanhua 连环画 chain picture) -titles have been produced in China over a period of more than 80 years now. Especially after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, they were omnipresent as part of China’s popular culture. Their artistic quality and high drawing standards have earned them praise from both readers and politicians alike who also appreciate them for their entertainment value and as a propaganda tool.
When I discovered lianhuanhua for the first time while living in Beijing in the early 1990s, they were already an established art form in China since the beginning of the 20th century. Numerous well-known artists have contributed to this popular medium. Generations of Chinese children began to read classic stories like “Dream of the Red Chamber” or “Journey to the West” in the form of the small pocket size booklets, the “small people’s books” 小人书 xiaorenshu. They would read them in their school library or at the bookstalls at the corner of their living quarters. By the 1990s, however, when I first discovered them, these Chinese comics were already on the decline.
Within only a decade the bookstalls and comic libraries, as places of public reading, disappeared and the lianhuanhua with them. Today only a small group of people devote time and money to collect the last few copies for their own pleasure and private collections. The dying medium has been replaced by new comic forms like Japanese Manga, which influence a new generation of young artists seeking for individual ways of artistic expression. Some of these new comics from China, like “Remember” by Benjamin, which depart artistically from their Japanese models, have even become bestsellers in Europe.
But the old stories and the old comic books remain important, their visual impact is felt even by the new generation of comic artists. Popular artists like Benjamin or Yao Feila, whenever asked about their artistic roots, recall their personal impressions of the small comic books they once read.
Lianhuanhua which have formed and influenced the visual inventory of the Chinese people for a period of some 60 years can serve, today, as key documents helping researchers to understand how Chinese artists reflect their personal experience. They can also serve as historical documents reflecting the twists and turns of Chinese politics as much as the artistic tastes of certain times.
The foundation of my personal collection was laid in the 1990s and when it grew, my interest to write something about them, grew too. When my book on Chinese comics and comic book production “Bildgeschichten für Chinas Massen: Comic und Comicproduktion im 20. Jahrhundert” went into print, I already knew that this would only be a beginning, a starting point for further research and analysis. In providing this collection of roughly 2000 titles to other researchers via the Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA) database I hope to be able to support further research projects using China’s rich store of lianhuanhua.

Andreas Seifert    

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