French-Language Liánhuánhuà

Beautiful boxed set of French-language Xī Yóu Jì

For some reason, Chinese comics have become quite popular in France. There is one publishing house, whose products I really enjoy, that has specialised in Chinese comics or in China-themed French comics. They're called Les Éditions Fei, and I have already mentioned them in an older blog entry.

Les Éditions Fei have been publishing Chinese-inspired but European-like comics for quite some time now, but now they are bringing a real novelty to the French comics market by collecting and translating liánhuánhuà (連環畫).

Liánhuánhuà are small, oblong comic books printed on cheap paper. The drawings are not hidden by speech bubbles because all the text is collected below the drawing, similarly to what happens in Dutch comics. I believe the heyday of liánhuánhuà was in the 70s and 80s.

The first liánhuánhuà translated and adapted by Les Éditions Fei was Au Bord de l'Eau (the Water Margin), which is not a surprise, as the picaresque adventures of the Mount Liáng outlaws are quite universal and don't need any particular exposition to Chinese culture to be enjoyed. At the time, I remember how impressed I had been by the choice of a prestigious edition. Each booklet (30 of them) had been printed on sturdy paper, and the booklets collected in a very tough cloth box with a magnetic fastener. The boxed set cost something like €80.

The second liánhuánhuà that has been brought to the French public was Les Trois Royaumes (Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Again 30 booklets within a cloth box. I didn't purchase this one , so I cannot comment further.

The third boxed set has just been released and, wow!, is it gorgeous. This time we have been granted access to le Voyage vers l'Ouest (the Journey to the West) in French. It's again 30 booklets within a cloth box; the boxed set also contains a booklet with the major gods and characters of the novel, and an absolutely fantastic full-colour map of all the (mostly imaginary) countries and locations that the monk Xuánzàng and his fellow travellers have to go through to reach India and retrieve the Buddhist Scripture. I suspect this boxed set will probably be the most successful one, owing to the popularity of Sūn Wùkōng aka the Monkey King. The boxed set is almost €90 but I just couldn't resist — just look at the picture above.

Look at the map!

Yesterday, by the most incredible chance, I serendipitously met the two translators of these liánhuánhuà in a Paris bookshop where they were presenting their latest opus. We spent like 30 minutes chatting and exchanging ideas and impressions about Chinese classical literature. They told me there were other liánhuánhuà in the pipe... The next one to be published is certainly going to be the Dream of the Red Chamber, maybe followed by the Plum in the Golden Vase (which should appeal to the Gallic appetite for risqué literature).


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  2. Back in 2012, Archaia press tried to introduce a Judge Bao comic by Patrick Marty and Chongrui Nie to the US from France. The physical appearance of the book was in a liánhuánhuà format, but the contents were in a modern comic style.

    It didn't seem to go beyond the first volume. I don't think the typical comic book reader in the US is particularly interested in period pieces, particularly if it is regarding another culture.

    It's nice that they are being translated in French though. I have some collections of the above mentioned titles in regular book format, but it is all in Chinese.

  3. I love the Judge Bao comics you mention. Volume 6 has just been published, also by Les Éditions Fei. Fantastic reading.