Lian Huan Hua 连环画 literally means "linked serial pictures." They are pocket sized picture-story books first published by a Shanghai publisher in the 1920s. Lian huan hua is also commonly known as Xiao ren shu (小人书), children's book for their simplicity and heraldic subjects. They combined pictures with text. Unlike the western comic books, the text is usually placed either at the bottom or on the right side of the picture, rather than issuing from the characters' mouth in balloons.
The origin of lian huan hua in China is hard to trace. However, there are two recognized forerunners of this popular medium, the traditional drawings in Chinese classical literature or popular romantic novels and Chinese New Year's pictures (nian hua 年画). Many story books of the Song (A.D. 960-1279) and the Yuan (A.D. 1279-1368) dynasties often had illustrations at the top of each page, including The Water Margin (Shui hu zhuan 水浒传) and Romance of the Three Kingdoms (San guo zhi 三国志). During the Ming (A.D. 1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, popular romantic novels, such as The Dream of the Red Chamber (Hong lou meng 红楼梦) and The Romance of the Western Chamber (Xi xiang ji 西厢记), often included portraits of the main characters at the beginning of the novels and sometimes at the start of each chapter. Traditional Chinese New Year's pictures are often colorful prints of stories of legendary heroes and episodes of operas. Tales such as Twenty-Four Legends of Filial Piety (Er shi si xiao 二十四孝) is one of the favorite subjects of New Year’s pictures.
In the early 1920s, lian huan hua first appeared mainly as adaptations of Jingju 京剧 (Peking Opera) and Chinese literary classics. The pictures were created mostly in line drawings, sketches, and oil-wash painting. After the People's Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949, lain huan hua became an extremely popular art form and was used to popularize new government policies and regulations. From 1951 to 1956, more than 10,000 titles, and approximately 26 billion copies were published in China.
The popularity of lian huan hua diminished in 1966 at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976); however, the publication was revived by Premier Zhou Enlai in the early 1970s with heroic stories of the time that were used as a propaganda tool. From the late 1970s to mid-1980s, lian huan hua became an important source of education and entertainment for children and adults alike. With a wide range of other reading materials appearing in China during the 1990s, lian huan hua lost its glamour. Since 2000, lian huan hua started appearing in shops and has become hot collectible items in China today.
Xin Zhongguo lian hua hua 50-60 nian dai 新中国连环画50-60年代. Shanghai: Shanghai hua bao chu ban she, 2004.
Xin Zhongguo lian hua hua 70 nian dai 新中国连环画70年代. Shanghai: Shanghai hua bao chu ban she, 2003.
Hwang, John C. "Lien Huan Hua: Revolutionary Serial Pictures." In Popular Media in China: Shaping New Cultural Patterns. Honolulu: Published for the East-West Center by the University Press of Hawaii, 1978. Pp: 51-72.
Li, Shen. The Revival of Chinese Picture Storybooks. Last viewed on 10/10/09: http://www.china.org.cn/english/2006/Feb/159181.htm
Modern China Studies: East Asian Library: University of Pittsburgh