August 2010 : Huang Yao and Cartoon Guiyang


Article Published in Guiyang Wenshi by Wang Liuyi

An Explorer Returns: Huang Yao and “Cartoon Guiyang”. 

Although culture is inherited it needs cultivation to be carried forward. From this principle, we should also look at the past as we endeavor to discover and cultivate group after group of young artists. The way forward is for us to examine our cultural and artistic heritage left to us by past artists and then face and embrace the future, the diversity of animation and comic art of China.

We have discovered with pleasure that it is in Guiyang, the host city of AYACC, where during the Anti Japanese war, a large collection of many outstanding Chinese painters, literary masters and scientists had lived. Among them are familiar names like Ba Jin, the writer; Xu Beihong, the painter and Feng Zikai the cartoonist. In this group, there was an artist named Huang Yao, famous for the cartoon, Niubizi.  He did a set of Cartoons about Guiyang and held four solo exhibitions in Guiyang.

Through the introduction of Dr. John Lent, an expert on Asian animation and comics, the 2010 AYACC Organizing Committee was able to contact the daughter-in-law and the granddaughter of Huang Yao who presently live in Malaysia and in Singapore. On my trip to a conference in Singapore held in May, I met with them in the Lion City. After a few hours of conversation with them and reading the material that they had brought me, I found that they have spared no expense in the collection of the material of this patriotic artist and his timeless cartoon character, Niubizi. I feel that our city, Guiyang, and our country should be proud and honored to have a citizen like him.

Huang Yao was very popular in the 1930s and 1940s. His friends were great cartoonists like Zhang Guangyu, Ding Cong, Huang Miaozi, Te Wei and many others. His cartoon character, Niubizi was created around the same time as Sanmao (by Zhang Leping) and Mr. Wang (by Ye Qianyu). All these comic characters were household names.

Characterized by simple strokes, Niubizi is an interesting character that can change with immense flexibility. By using a single or multi-frames, Huang Yao conveyed solemn messages using contents in Chinese culture, from historical figures to classical literature and expressed them through his Niubizi cartoons, making it charming, thought provoking and unforgettable. 

The fact that people in Shanghai would read Niubizi cartoons before the news when they got their daily newspaper (The Xin Wen Bao) shows the extent of Niubizi’s popularity. The four Wan brothers (Wan Laiming, Wan Chaochen, Wan Guzhan and Wan Dihuan), known jointly as the fathers of Chinese animation, highly praised Niubizi in a jointly-signed article entitled An Anatomy of Niubizi”. In their opinion, “Niubizi has all the Chinese jocular elements and has established its own special style in the international humor cartoon community. It has built up its own fame not by picking up foreign jocular leftovers but by flying high alone and blowing a different sound of trumpet.” It is a rather rare cultural phenomenon in the history of art in either China or outside of China to have a review jointly written by all the four brothers.


During 1930s, Huang Yao created the image of Niubizi to counter the misconception that China was the “sick man of Asia”. Under his penmanship Niubizi was an upright, patriotic, humorous Chinese learned gentleman, with the embodiment of the excellent Chinese qualities. During the anti-Japanese War, he was a teacher, a comrade to the soldiers and the supporting peasants in the interior of China. His Niubizi series published by many publishers, played an important role in raising the morale of the Chinese to fight against the Japanese invader.

Huang Yao came to Guiyang in 1942. He wrote “the invitation of my friends brought me some warmth in the time of cold and chill.” He instantly fell in love with Guiyang and its ancient charm.

The beautiful natural environment and rich ethnic minority cultures stimulated his inspiration to create. Within three months he produced more than 100 cartoons with Niubizi as the central character presenting the local living conditions, customs and various aspects of life of Guiyang. The Scroll with One Hundred Chinese Diety of Longevity (a copy of this work is still not available today as the original was lost in the war) and The Cartoons of Guiyang which he created in Guiyang were published by Guiyang Wentong Press in 1942. The latter have left with the people of Guiyang a rare description of the city, its inhabitants, the traditions and social customs.

Huang Yao expressed his deep feeling for Guiyang in the preface of his Cartoon Guiyang: “The city of Guiyang is poetic with clean white city walls surrounding it. You can always hear the ringing of the bells that the goods-carrying horses wear. If I were to write a drama depicting Guizhou, it is better to accompany it with music and songs or dances to present the poetic background and effects.”

The three solo exhibitions Huang Yao had in Guiyang in 1942 were The Scroll with One Hundred Chinese Diety of LongevityThe Chinese in Wartime and Cartoon GuiyangCartoon Kunming and Cartoon Guilin were exhibited in his last exhibition in this city in 1944.

According to the newspapers then and recollections of many people, his exhibitions were well attended and were very popular. From 26th to 29th of November 1942, Huang Yao’s exhibition of the Cartoon Guiyang was held at the Merchants Club on the Fushui Road, Guiyang with free admittance. Out of the 100 pieces of cartoon in this exhibition, 24 of them were selected and photographed by the Golden Horse Photography Studio to make two sets of photos (12 in each) for a special collection. The money made from the sale of these photos was donated to the Guiyang Municipal Government as a relief fund for beggars.

Huang Yao’s cartoons regarding Maotai, fried pork tenderloin, and igniting piece made from yellow phosphorus… are familiar to people of Guiyang, but many other local produce had since disappeared.  He has also left with us the wonderful natural views like “comb-like water pool named Moon Spring” and “who says Guiyang cannot have clear sky for three consecutive days?”

Huang Yao drew the set of Guiyang cartoons and had intended to introduce them to the world so that a larger audience would know about Guizhou. He appreciated its special qualities, praised its relics, captured its spirit and made known its natural beauty to generate interest and feelings for new fans. His cartoons and his descriptions of Guyiang touch us deeply. We grateful to this great artist for helping us keep alive the memories of our city.

During his stay in Guiyang, he had very close contact with local scholars and celebrities. In an article collected in Bibliography Literature (Zhuangji Wenxue) in Taiwan, he recalled in his later years his association and meetings with some Guizhou scholars like Xie Liuyi and Chen Heng’an. This will become a popular tale in the history of the Guizhou literary community.    

In 1945 he left Guiyang for Vietnam (and encountered the Indo China war), in the later part of the next year he returned to Kunming. After that he moved to Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia and worked in the education sector. After 10 years of research, including fieldwork and searching through China archives, he completed The History of Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore in 1967. Retiring in 1973, he researched into philology, Chinese calligraphy and painting resulted in the creation of a unique set of paintings of Chinese words. Although he lived outside China, he continued to teach and paint about China and its culture. His patriotism is really heart touching.

Huang Yao died of illness in Kuala Lumpur in 1987. Due to the course of history, we are not as familiar with his works as with those done by his contemporaries like Zhang Leping and Ding Cong. However, in recent years, scholars have begun studying his work. Shandong Pictorial Publishing House and Guizhou People’s Publishing House have respectively republished his works. Dr. Lent, the well-known American expert on Asian-Pacific animation and comics, writes of Huang Yao as a leading member of the cartoon community before and during the Anti-Japanese War in China, which reestablishes the position of Huang Yao in the history of Chinese comics. We feel even more admiration when we learn that Huang Yao’s descendants who now live abroad have set up the Huang Yao Foundation with their own funds to promote his works.

Half a century later, Huang Yao who traveled far away from home has returned to his homeland and to Guiyang, the host city of several of his exhibitions. Niubizi is of historical and practical significance in the history of Chinese comics because the character created by Huang Yao is an upright learned Chinese, curious, humorous and patriotic. The artistic connotation and cultural meaning of the character is worthy of deeper research. This, I believe, is a meaningful event for AYACC.

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