just dropped in stores this month, all 700 pages of it. Originally published in 3 volumes from 2009 to last year, this hybrid of personal and national memoir chronicles what is perhaps one of the most recent and massive dramatic upheavals in global history that most of us in the West still know very little about. And yet the last half-century of China’s development is something that surely affects us all already. As publisher Self Made Hero puts it:
“Li Kunwu spent more than 30 years as a state artist for the Communist Party. He saw firsthand what was happening to his family, his neighbors, and his homeland during this extraordinary time. Working with French diplomat Philippe Ôtié, the artist has created a memoir of self and state, a rich, very human account of a major historical moment with contemporary consequences.”
In this graphic novel, the modern Middle Kingdom, closed for so long, opens at last to provide a very personal glimpse. Li’s supple technique ranges from echoes of traditional art, flawless propaganda reproductions, and an original, often tortured expressionist style where distortions in face and figure reflect inner turmoil. One of many stunning achievements in art and story is the way he makes palpably credible just how it is so many people thought and acted as one. When the first volume ends with an announcement of Mao’s death, the grief and terror of the populace is one of the book’s most harrowing moments. This trauma is echoed in the second book with the death of Li’s father, a Party official. Despite being interned in a re-education camp for ten years, his last words to his son are, heartbreakingly, no personal message but a political exhortation toward the Party. The personal and political are intertwined in a way we in the West have too long had the perilous luxury of ignoring.