|Despite the passing of 27 years since the death of Feng Zikai (1898-1975), a master artist of Chinese cartoon, his name and art are still inspiring younger generations of cartoonists in China. The 2002 "Zikai Cup" National Cartoon Exhibition - the fourth in the history of this annual event - is showing at Beijing's Yanhuang Art Museum until September 22.
While following in the footsteps of the late master, most contemporary cartoonists in the exhibition have gone far beyond the influence of Feng's style to nurture more diversified, individual expressions that are typical of their own times.
"The 185 exhibits were selected carefully from more than 3,400 entries nationwide. Without doubt, the exhibition is a most thorough showcase of how Chinese cartoons have developed in recent years," said Wang Fuyang, director of the Cartoon Art Commission under the Chinese Artists' Association (CAA).
Wang's commission co-organizes the exhibition with the municipal government of Tongxiang in East China's Zhejiang Province, the birthplace of Feng Zikai.
During the exhibition, more than 40 cartoonists from across China participated in a three-day symposium to discuss how Chinese cartoons should face opportunities and challenges in an Internet era. The conference, which ends today, is co-sponsored by CAA's cartoon art commission, the China Journalistic Caricature Society and the China Daily web edition.
Images and information about the exhibition and conference can be reached online at the China News Cartoon website (www.newscartoon.com.cn), which was opened by China Daily's web edition with the help of the China Journalistic Caricature Society.
Criticism vs humour
"For almost a century, Chinese cartoons have primarily served as weapons of social criticism. Cartoons that satire or blast evil things have remained in the mainstream until today," said Sun Yizeng, president of the China Journalist Caricature Society and a senior cartoon editor at Beijing Daily.
"Entertaining cartoons have begun to emerge and become popular only in recent years."
Most of the cartoon works at the exhibition, especially those by veteran cartoonists, are distinctive for their strong sense of social responsibility and often touch on sensitive social problems such as corruption, pollution, and moral decadence.
In Beijing cartoonist Wang Fuyang's work, "Occupy the Wide Land," trucks carrying inferior-quality TV sets, washing machines and refrigerators rush from the city to the less-developed rural areas under the banner of enhancing consumption there.
The cartoonist implies his deep worry that the interests of Chinese farmers are being threatened by some immoral business people.
In his work "Ah, Sunshine!" Zhu Guangrong, a cartoonist from Northwest China's Gansu Province, portrays urban residents sitting in a line for some sunshine because buildings are too crowded and sunshine is very rare.
The artist criticizes poor urban planning and random construction in Chinese cities, which have deprived many urban citizens of their right to a natural environment.
Shanghai cartoonist Wang Jiaming's "It's Harder than Extracting A Tooth," is one of the few works that are impressive for their pleasant humour. The picture vividly represents an ardent and committed smoker who staunchly refuses to give up his cigarette despite the doctor's attempt to get kick the habit.
"Personally, I would like to see more humorous cartoons than serious ones. I feel many cartoonists lay too much stress on the critical aspect of cartoons, which has led to a kind of monotony," said Xu Juyi, an art critic and painter from Feng Zikai's hometown. "Life can be light-hearted and there are so many interesting, small things in our daily lives that are worthy of cartooning. In this respect, cartoonists today still have a lot more to learn from masters like Feng Zikai."
Facing new media
What mostly interested the cartoonists on the conference, which was held at the headquarters of China Daily, were the demonstrations and introductions by staff editors of the China News Cartoon website.
The website, the first of its kind in China, was opened last July to promote Chinese cartoons and cartoonists. Information about foreign cartoonists and trends are selected and translated into Chinese as well.
"The website has been the subject of a major revamp very recently. Detailed information and representative works of more than 90 Chinese cartoonists are already available on the site and are selling online," said Zhang Yaoning, senior cartoon editor of China Daily.
"To help foreign readers, mass media and cartoonists better understand Chinese cartoons, we are considering constructing an English edition for the website."
The website has enjoyed increasing popularity among Chinese cartoonists and editors by broadening cartoonists' channels for the publication of their works and providing a huge database of cartoons for editors to choose from.
"I am also interested in the newly opened BBS on the site where I can communicate with other cartoonists and cartoon lovers.
I believe the Internet means boundless possibilities for the development of Chinese cartoons, especially in the respect of international exchange," said Hong Hu, 28, a cartoonist and editor of a local newspaper in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province.
As well as using the Internet, Chinese cartoonists are increasingly turning to the computer for their artistic creations.
A number of cartoons in the current exhibition, for instance, are produced with the aid of computers.
"It still takes time for the older generations of cartoonists to accept and get used to computers," said Miao Yintang, a 67-year-old cartoonist who is learning to use the computer and the Internet. "I do not resist new things. If you have a better, new weapon, why not use it?
"Anyway, to learn some skills is not that difficult."
But many cartoonists are afraid that using new technology and methods will distract from the hand-made effect of drawing and the national flavour of Chinese cartoons.
Veteran cartoonists Hua Junwu and Bi Keguan have even returned to the use of traditional media of ink and brush as well as the techniques of traditional ink painting in their creations.
Sun Yizeng, however, stressed that it does not matter what techniques and methods a cartoonist uses, so long as he or she makes good works.
"In my opinion, what really makes the difference is culture. It's the influence of Chinese culture that makes Chinese cartoons and cartoonists special," said Sun.