Fierce Browed, Head Bowed? Excavating Authentic Lu Xuns in Chinese lianhuanhua Comics

Ever since the late 1930s, the Chinese Communist Party called upon its citizens to emulate the “revolutionary spirit of Lu Xun”. It propagated Lu Xun’s works as revolutionary literature and the author as a model to be emulated by later literary workers. Lu Xun’s works were (re)published, and he became an icon of Communist propaganda. His works and his life also were adapted multiple times into lianhuanhua. In this presentation, I will track the visual and textual depictions of Lu Xun in these comics: At first glance, the modernist author is depicted much in the “revolutionary spirit of Lu Xun” with fierce eye-brows and his head bowed for the sake of the revolution, as outlined by Mao Zedong in his 1942 Yan’an Talks. A fierce browed Lu Xun, it seems, is constructed as the real and authentic version of the author. Situating this fierce browed Lu Xun in visual and textual discourses of the 20th century, I will point to the nuances of Lu Xun’s fierceness and then show how residues of his modernism and the ambivalence of his literature continue to resurface. These different faces invite inquiries into the nature of authenticity: What (or who?), after all, is perceived as an authentic Lu Xun? What is the basis for a judgment of authenticity? Material, textual, visual or a political authenticity? I argue that standard depictions bordering on the propagandistic notwithstanding, lianhuanhua strive to bring to the fore the ambivalence in Lu Xun and his writings, if only to underline their own claims to artistic authenticity.


Lena Henningsen is the PI of the Freiburg based ERC funded project “The Politics of Reading in the People’s Republic of China” and currently a visiting researcher at the China Center, Oxford. She has worked on Chinese popular literature and culture and published widely, including her most recent book Cultural Revolution Manuscripts: Unofficial Entertainment Fiction from 1970s China (2021) and translations of a number of Chinese lianhuanhua comics ( From 2024-2029, she will lead another ERC project delving into Comics Culture from the People’s Republic of China.

Black and white comic of Lu Xun standing