Friday, July 12, 2013

Jack Chen, Cartoonist

Return to the Middle Kingdom
One Family, Three Revolutionaries, and the Birth of Modern China
Yuan-tsung Chen
Sterling Publishing, 2008

Chapter 16
Jack Sails into the Eye of a Revolutionary Storm

…His father had a private talk with him and asked if he wanted to work at the soon-to-be-published People’s Tribune. The paper, a four-page English daily, would voice the opinions of the Wuhan government. Eugene decided its general policy, giving the staff wide latitude on the details. Brordin acted as a consultant. The editor, Rayna Prohme, gave the paper her own buoyant slant.

Among those who had come to meet Jack and his sisters, when their ship waddled its way sideways to berth itself by the floating jetty at Hankou, was this young American woman, Rayna Prohme. She had been working for Eugene since they first met in Peking in 1925, as the editor of his newspaper, the People’s Tribune of Peking. When Eugene was appointed foreign minister in 1926, he invited Rayna and her husband, Bill, to come south. Bill was slated to head the new National News Agency, while Rayna ran the newspaper, the Canton Gazette. When the Canton government moved to Wuhan, they followed. There Rayna set out to prepare the first Wuhan issue of the English edition of the People’s Tribune.

Across the road from the Foreign Office Building there stood a large yellowstone three-story mansion containing the editorial offices and printing presses of the People’s Tribune. It had a block to itself, most of it an empty, dusty playground surrounded by a six-foot-high wall. Rayna was at her desk when Jack walked in unannounced one morning in late February. She stood up from her chair to welcome him. A ray of sunlight caught her red hair; her locks were a burst of fire; and underneath then was a most engaging smile. The became friends immediately.

Jack was attracted to Rayna’s vivid personality. Rayna was an all-American girl, friendly, open, and straightforward, just as jack imagined an American girl would be. Without wasting time on preliminaries, she explained how together they would make the People’s Tribune the greets newspaper in the world.

“I have done some drawing while in college, but not too well,” Jack said apologetically. “I liked David Low’s cartoons in the London Star.”

When she heard that he had tried to draw, she was immediately certain that he would make a good cartoonist. Jack’s job became producing cartoons to accompany and highlight her editorials. So, at age eighteen, Jack became the first Chinese editorial cartoonist. And when she heard that he had taken care of the foreign minister’s personal correspondence and scribbled some replies, she instantly discovered the writer and journalist in him....

...Jack’s first cartoon was published on March 12, 1927. His father and Rayna had chosen this day to begin the People’s Tribune of Wuhan because it was Sun Yatsen’s birthday. The picture was of a coolie carrying a pole across his shoulders, a basket on each end. One was marked “wage,” the other “work.” The hopeful caption read: “It balances better now the Kuomintang has come.”

In 1927, Jack and growing millions of Chinese believed in the truth of that drawing. They believed they would be able to add ten cents (Chinese) to the coolies’ daily wage of twenty-five cents for sixteen hours’ work. This was no more than a first, minuscule attempt to alleviate the suffering of the working poor, but it was reviled by the colonialists as a Red plot. Why? Jack was at once confused and disturbed.

The day his first cartoon was published, Rayna congratulated him. “Do you feel great? You are the first Chinese artist recording in cartoons a glorious revolutionary period!”

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