Chinese cartoonists are responding to the coronavirus with light humor and quiet protest

Feb 19, 2020

Some artists make light of the absurdities of life under quarantine, while others silently protest the government’s response to the epidemic.

With many cities in China on lockdown and advising residents to stay inside in an effort to contain the coronavirus, artists confined to their homes have been responding to the crisis the only way they know how—through their work.

Some pieces make light of the absurdities of life under quarantine, while others silently protest the government’s response to the epidemic.

Tango Gao, a Shanghai illustrator known for his cheeky minimalist cartoons, summed up the routine of many housebound Chinese people with this drawing of a masked finger swiping through a phone, their only connection with the outside world:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tango Gao (@tangosleepless) on

With most people wearing masks to prevent human-to-human transmission, there’s also a subtle jab at the fact that facial recognition doesn’t work to unlock their phones.

Another light-hearted take on the crisis pokes fun at the paranoia surrounding the virus by riffing off the iconic landlady character from the 2014 movie Kung Fu Hustle.

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Still, other artists have used their work to quietly criticize the government’s response to the outbreak, especially early efforts to hide the severity of the virus from the public.

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An illustration posted by artist Fangkuai Ashou 方块阿兽 on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, shows text messages peeling away from a phone like bandages, a reference to Chinese authorities’ censure of doctors who sounded early alarm bells of the coronavirus.

One doctor in particular, Li Wenliang, has been memorialized in cartoons all over Chinese social media. Li was one of the first doctors who tried to share information about the coronavirus only to be reprimanded by police.

He later died after contracting the virus from a patient.

The whistle-blower’s death triggered an outpour of emotional tributes, including subtle artwork calling for freedom of speech.

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This webcomic by Beijing-based artist Golo shows the last two months of his life, from discovering cases of the virus in his Wuhan hospital to getting reprimanded by authorities, infected, and then passing away in silence.

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In an especially searing cartoon in the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, artist Zunzi does not mince words, imagining a tombstone for Li with the epitaph “here lies the one who told the truth” above a blood-stained grace in the shape of China.

Siyu Cao, whose webcomics compare Chinese and Western culture, highlighted the discrimination within China against people from Wuhan who are in the thick of the epidemic:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Siyu Cao (@tinyeyescomics) on

The panel shows that even within China, there is prejudice against the city seen as the originator of the outbreak.

Another series of comics by Cao focuses on the delivery workers who have played an outsize role in China as people depend on deliveries for everything from meals to groceries:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Siyu Cao (@tinyeyescomics) on

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