The political cartoons that maybe got their artist shut down on Chinese social media

January 3, 2013

Political cartoonist Kuang Biao is one of several influential Chinese voices to find his accounts on Sina Weibo, China's ultra-popular micro-blogging service, suddenly terminated without warning. As the Post's Keith B. Richburg reports, the move cuts against "the hopes of many here that the country’s new Communist leaders might begin to relax strict controls over the Internet and free expression."

Kuang, who has shared some of his dramatically evocative cartoons with the Post, explained his work for Richburg's story:

Another microblogger who uses satire to tackle sensitive topics is the cartoonist Kuang Biao, who said he publishes most of his work online. Kuang also found his weibo account closed, at 7 p.m. Friday.

“I guess my political cartoons made them unhappy,” Kuang said. “I just can’t figure out why they are even afraid of cartoons. They lack confidence and don’t have any sense of humor.” Kuang said his cartoons mainly satirized official policy pronouncements and the well-documented misbehavior of some Communist Party officials.

Here are a few of the cartoons. Even if the references are not always easy for an outsider like me to understand (I profess to finding most of them puzzling), the nuance and depth are hard to miss, as is the distinctive style. The Post's Wang Juan, in Shanghai, contributed some insights and explanations, which I've paraphrased or expanded here.

"Groping for Stones"


(Kuang Biao)

In a famous 1980 Communist Party meeting, a senior leader named Chen Yun said China should institute reforms slowly and carefully, as if "crossing the river by feeling for the stones." This cartoon seems to suggest that the party has so focused on groping stones that it's forgotten to actually climb out toward reform -- or decided against it.

"Mainstream media"


(Kuang Biao)

The caged bird, with a pen for a beak, is likely meant to symbolize state-run media's relationship to the Chinese government.

"Dream"


(Kuang Biao)

The shadow certainly looks like the Statue of Liberty. It's not clear who the man casting the shadow is meant to symbolize – perhaps, given the context, he is China?

"Toilet Paper"


(Kuang Biao)

The large man sometimes symbolizes the Communist Party in Kuang's drawings. The character on the toilet paper dispenser says "law," which gives you a sense of how Kuang believes the party approaches law. In China, the court system is directly subservient to the party. 

"Democratized"


(Kuang Biao)

Everyone gets a vote in this depiction of "democratized" China, but the leadership – the hammer – still has the monopoly on power, and it's pretty clear that everyone else is not voting freely.

"New Kasaya"


(Kuang Biao)

The Kasaya is the traditional robe worn by Buddhist monks in, for example, Tibet. The Tibetan issue is extremely sensitive in China, where the Western belief that of course Tibetans should be allowed full religious freedom is not widely accepted. This cartoon, of a monk draped by a Chinese Communist Party flag, his Buddhism replaced by the Party, could be seen as an implicit criticism of China's policies in Tibet – something that is not easy to criticize within China.

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Olga Khazan · January 3, 2013