May 1 1937: Niu Tou Manhua (Ox Head Magazine)


Huang Yao publishes, ‘Niu Tou Manhua’ (Ox Head Magazine), Volume 1. It is published by Niu Tou Manhua She (Ox Head Magazine Company). The magazine has 36 pages consisting of cartoons done by Huang Yao, cartoons and articles done by his friends and cartoons submitted by children. There is also a page of cartoons jointly done by Huang Yao and his friend, Zhang Leping, where Sanmao is bullying Niu Bizi.


Huang Yao published his own cartoon magazine 牛头漫画 in 1937. The publication of additional issues was permanently halted because of the Japanese attack on Shanghai. It appears that this Niubizi was designed in 1935 with the title of “怪人不死,大道不止”.This Niubizi indeed looks weird as he has 4 raised arms, each hand holds a symbolic item representing four different social classes. From left to right on the drawing, they are: a riding whip with red tassels representing the highly visible entrainment class; a red golf club representing rich merchant and industrialist class; a large Chinese brush representing intellectual class; a set of Buddhism prayer beads representing the traditional religion or cultured class.  The outfit of Niubizi is divided into two distinguished parts separating his torso : on his left side (right side of the drawing), he wears a traditional red Chinese Monk robe extended almost to his left foot. On the robe is a white round button on which a Niubizi cartoon logo is wrapped by Chinese characters and English words appearing to be “中华名国二十五年造” (Made in 1936) and  “W. BUFFOON 25.10.XX".  On his left foot he dons a military boot with a spur and a 羽毛毽子(a shuttlecock made of feathers) perches top of the boot. On the opposite side, he wears a black cloak on top of a green military uniform. A bright yellow, five pointed star shaped military badge is pinned on the cloak. General Chiang Kai-shek is often portrayed with a black cloak on. Niubizi's right foot dons a white-black leather shoe, which was very fashionable at that time. There is a flying kite tied to one of Niubizi's iconic four hairs. Both the kite and the shuttlecock were popular folk games at that time.

I personally think Huangyao designed this "weird" Niubizi to satirize the polarizing and chaotic society of the 1930s in China: the military strongman ruling class vs. the ruled, the elite vs. the masses, traditional vs. modern, domestic vs. foreign... At the same time, it echoes the notion by Huang Yao many a times that Niubizi does not personify one human being but a combination of many characters from all walks of life and different classes of the society, probably in a lesser sense than political satire. Huang Yao used bold, eye catching red and black colors in the painting. The drawing is rich, well balanced, the arm full of motion. Yet with two eye balls rolling in different directions, two feet pointing inwards towards each other, a big red nose and tiny mouth, this Niubizi still looks funny and lovable. 

The above interpretation is contributed by Dr. WANG Hui (Iowa, USA). Thank you Dr. WANG and we welcome comments and contribution to interpreting these works.

Mr. Chua (of the Huang Yao Foudnation) has added that the button on the robe with Niubizi's face is likely refers to piece of artwork Huang Yao drew with a satirical cartoon coin.


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