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Cartoonist skewers society on sharp pen
By Wang Jie

TAIWANESE comics satirist Ron Chu (Chu Te-Yong) is famous for his sharp pen and irreverent wit, skewering all manner of social silliness, materialism, the drive to marry rich, make money, and the battle between the sexes.

Topics also include relationships between parents and children, office politics and relations between boss and employees, as well as social issues such as reckless pursuit of money and status, and a poisoned environment.

"The lure of dazzling things turn people into rich psychos," Chu told Shanghai Daily in an interview during a recent personal trip to Shanghai. A recovering workaholic, he knows a lot about the drive to succeed and the need to slow down. He and his wife took a leisurely, half-day stroll down old "longtang" (lanes).

Chu, who was born in Taiwan in 1960, is one of the best-selling comics artists in China and renowned for his unflinching portraits of people and a nation undergoing warp-speed economic development and social changes.

His fame comes from his wit and insight, not his artistic skill. His drawings are simple, perfectly framed, their messages pithy.

Some of his most memorable lines: "Most people want to become a rich person rather than a person;" "The ripe age for a woman is 18, but for a man it's 80;" "All the things around us are appreciating in value, except for our life, which is depreciating;" "There are two reasons to become a rich person. First, you like money. Second, you don't like to see others who are richer than you;" "The problem between men and women is that they both think the other has the problem."

His 2003 book "Se Nulang" ( titled "Pink Ladies" in English) is called a Chinese version of "Sex and the City," featuring four single women who date different types of men and spout bon mots about relationships.

These include: "The perfect wife is the one who doesn't speak;" "The more the man knows about a woman, the more he likes the other woman around him;" "Love is like a pleasant cup of coffee, yet marriage is like the coffee grounds."

The witticisms of these young women, one of whom is a drop-dead beauty, are regarded by some as a bible containing pearls of wisdom about dating, love and marriage.

"Pink Ladies" was made into a 2003 TV series on the Chinese mainland.

His many titles include "Everyone Is Sick" (2011) and "Absolute Child" (2007).

Chu knows a lot about the pressure of modern life since for years he was consumed by work, often laboring 12 hours a day, seven days a week. His wife Feng Manlun, a former editor at the United Daily News of Taiwan, threatened to divorce him, forcing him to step back and re-evaluate his life and what was important.

As child he loved to draw and paint, but he did not study art. He studied film directing in Taiwan, which helps explain his ability to tell stories.

Unlike many cartoonists, he works alone, without assistants, saying, "I enjoy using my pen to conjuring up the life I see before me."

After learning to take it easy, he said he now enjoys wandering around the streets in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei.

He said of his Shanghai strolls, "We love to see a family's laundry hanging out to dry and imagine their life. Sometimes we can smell their cooking. We feel connected with the city."

He told Shanghai Daily: "We live in an era in which we are taught how to 'succeed' but not how to protect our inner world." And this idea plays out in his work.

Q: Why do you draw?

A: I pursued lots of things. Some think I'm after money and fame, but actually I am not. One thing sets me apart - I never had a chance to realize my value when I was a child. I was an ugly, stammering kid and always got poor grades. Later, I drew comics and many people wanted to cooperate with me. Only through comics have I realized by personal value.

Q: Describe your career.

A: I started when I was 26 and over several decades, I aimed for only one thing - to draw the best comics in China. The status of comics in the Chinese world is fairly low. Frankly, comics have been ignored by the mainstream and most people think they are just for children. I want to change stereotypes. In my comics there are laughter, tears, anger and pain in my comic books. Humor doesn't not only evoke laughter, but tears as well.

Q: You once said Asians were beaten first by poverty and then by affluence. Please explain.

A: We happen to encounter an era that's rich in material life but poor in spiritual life. Everyone bears the burden of a great future on his shoulders as he grows up, struggling for unforeseeable happiness. But this happiness is diluted through commercialism. The expanding market and mass production of commodities are contrary to the simple requirements and rhythms of mankind. What inspires us is not the bright, great future, but greedy desire.

Q: Then how do you live in this kind of society?

A: Around 10 years ago, I was so busy, I was the most prolific comics painter in Taiwan. Some newspaper series ran for 13 or 14 years. I published books and cooperated with banks and advertising companies. I had no weekends and worked 12 hours a day. Friends joked I was a "cash printer." I didn't know there was anything wrong, but my wife did ... She told me to choose between taking a break and getting a divorce. I was forced to stop but I felt total emptiness, unable to do anything that wasn't work. At that moment I realized the cost and sacrifice of not following natural rhythms. It took a long time to adjust. Economic development in Asia is so daunting that no one can withstand it ... There's no time to correct and adjust as in the West. In Asian countries everything comes suddenly and we don't have time to think. The lure of dazzling things turn people into rich psychos.

Q: You devote a lot of comics to the relations between men and women.

A: I'm a professional in drawing comics, not a professional in relationships. I only dated one girl, who is now my wife ... I lack rich experience but I'm a keen observer of people and relationships. I don't need a second marriage to understand the situation.

Q: Your works seem to encourage readers to stay single. True?

A: Not everyone is as lucky as I am in having a happy marriage.

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