“This is what happened at Tiananmen Square; a lot of people who went to appeal [for an end to the persecution] were locked up. As an artist, this is my form of expression. But the Chinese regime does not like it, so they tried to brainwash me. They locked me up, kept me awake, didn’t let me sleep. They chained me up.”
Chinese comic book artist speaks on art and persecution
PITTSBURGH, Penn.—Students at Carnegie Mellon University learned about comic books that tell a moral tale in Chinese. Prominent comic book artist Guo Jingxiong made a special visit to art students at the school on April 9 to show them.
Guo, who left his native China in 2008 to escape persecution for his spiritual beliefs, is now a resident of New York. He spoke to the students about his journey out of China, his art, and his philosophy.
The legends of ancient China inspire Guo’s work. “A lot of Chinese traditional stories are very mysterious, but the way the stories are told is not well-done,” Guo said. He aspires to bring classical Chinese culture to the West through the comic arts.
His art also expresses his wish for the end of the Chinese regime’s persecution of Falun Gong in China. In 2007, he created a comic book series on the book Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, which details the crimes committed by the Chinese Communist Party and prompted millions of withdrawals from the Party. That comic series changed his life, he said.
After the publication of his series, Guo found himself a victim of the regime’s attack. Not only was he labeled a dissident and put under lock and key, but was stripped of his assets. “They took all my money. They took my passport,” he said. But with the help of friends in police circles, he was able to obtain documents that enabled him to emigrate.
Guo showed his audience a series of images from the collection based on the Nine Commentaries. One shows a woman pulled away by two ghoulish figures in Tiananmen Square as she grips a yellow banner protesting the persecution.
Another shows people in ordinary dress with angel wings standing over a crouching, evil red dragon symbolizing the specter of communism. Another depicts a battle between forces of divine strength and an uprooted tree of evil.
GOOD BATTLES EVIL: Guo Jingxiong’s drawing echoes the early Renaissance work of Hieronymus Bosch in the contrast of the wicked shielded by an uprooted tree, representing the communist regime, and good people protected by divine forces. (Courtesy of the artist)
“I was locked up because of these pieces—because I drew what was related to the current situation in China,” Guo said.
In explaining the first image, he said, “This is what happened at Tiananmen Square; a lot of people who went to appeal [for an end to the persecution] were locked up. As an artist, this is my form of expression. But the Chinese regime does not like it, so they tried to brainwash me. They locked me up, kept me awake, didn’t let me sleep. They chained me up.”
The suppression of dissenting opinions is the norm in China, but the widespread censorship is often overlooked in the international community due to economic interests. “Often in the U.S., you don’t hear about this because the Chinese financial market is increasing rapidly; the Chinese seem very powerful. But the persecution is covered up, such as the issues of Tibet and of Falun Gong,” he said.
Since 1999, the Chinese communist regime has used police force and skewed media reports to launch a persecution on those who practice Falun Gong. Thousands have died as a result of state-instituted torture.
Guo joins a select circle of artists who depict evil with a moral purpose. Early Renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch rendered depraved beings in order to help viewers change their wicked ways. Others, such as Francisco Goya, have shown persecution and death at the hands of tyranny.
Guo began his career at a young age. Inspired by traditional Chinese drawings, he published his first book at the age of 15 and came out with multiple sketchbooks as he was ready to enter college. His first published work told a traditional Chinese ghost story called Painted Skin.