July 1 1936: Cartoon published in Manhua Jie issue 4

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"Can't make four-of-a-kind, or a concealed straight, and certainly not three-of-a-kind . . . but two zhong's [China's, or more accurately, Chinese political parties] form a perfect pair."

This cartoon was published in “Manhua Jie” (The world of Cartoons) in July of 1936.

The below interpretation is contributed by Prof. John Crespi, Henry R. Luce Associate Professor of Chinese, Colgate University). Thank you Prof. Crespi and we welcome comments and contribution to interpreting these works.

A short background on Mahjong - 槓 gang seems to be when you have the fourth matching piece of three mahjong tiles, making a "four of a kind" group. The character after 暗 an is hard to make out, but is probably a variant of 克 ke, which is an alternative for 吃 chi (a.k.a. chow), to "eat" a tile--another kind of move in mahjong, meaning to complete a sequence (a bit like a "straight" in poker). 暗 an refers to a concealed piece, one that the other players can't see (I think).  The character after 更 geng is probably 碰 peng (a.k.a. "pung") which is what you say when someone plays a tile that you have already have two of in your hand, thus giving yourself "three of a kind." The only "two of a kind" or "pair" (二和 er he) in mahjong seems to be when the tiles paired up are "trump" or 风 feng (wind). So if 中 zhong happens to be trump you can put two of them together and form a pair that gives you points.

With educated guesses at the blurry characters of the title, I think the whole thing reads:

"槓" 不得,"暗尅" 不得,更 "碰" 不得,"二" 隻 “中” 风,恰恰 “二和”

or:

"Can't make four-of-a-kind, or a concealed straight, and certainly not three-of-a-kind . . . but two zhong's [China's, or more accurately, Chinese political parties] form a perfect pair."

What does that have to do with current affairs at the time? I will hazard a guess based on a history article I found by John W. Garver called "The Origins of the Second United Front: The Comintern and the Chinese Communist Party" (The China Quarterly, no. 113, March 1988, pp. 29-59).

At the time this cartoon was published, April 1936, complex, fraught, and mostly secret negotiations had been going on between various elements in the Chinese Communist Party (including Mao), the KMT, Japan, and the Moscow-based Comintern. This was all well before the "Xi'an Incident" of December 1936, when Zhang Xueliang had Chiang Kai-shek kidnapped to force a second CCP-KMT united front, against Japan. Basically, the four power blocs were each pursuing various alliances so as to secure their positions in China, especially North China and Mongolia, as well as on the global political stage. It's not clear how much Huang Yao would have known of this high-level diplomatic wheeling and dealing, but there would certainly have been plenty of speculation in the Chinese press.

His caption could suggest the impossibility of aligning any group of four or three of the participants.  The only option, he suggests through the codes of mahjong terminology and the two Niubizi's wardrobe selection, is for the two China "trump tiles" to unite as a pair (二和); that is, for the KMT and CCP to ally against Japan. Which is indeed what eventually happened.

 

Image from Dachengdata.com

 


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