Liu Jing and his comic book history of China

Liu Jing (刘京) is a Beijing-born entrepreneur, designer and cartoonist. He recently published Understanding China Through Comics, a book for iPad and Kindle about Chinese history.

Below is a brief Q&A with Liu, followed by an excerpt from his new book. You can buy the book on Amazon and iTunes.

JG: Can you explain how you came up with the idea for this book?
LJ: I have two inspirations to write the book. One is my new born son, the other one is actually a Chinese saying.

Living in China, watching my son growing so fast, I’m just as anxious as a lot of people to know where China is going. I believe, to better guess where China is going, I have to know where it came from. The other inspiration is a Chinese saying, “At 40, one should be no longer confused.” This was said by Confucius, an ancient Chinese philosopher, over 2500 years ago to review his own life.

Today, most Chinese still measure their lives with these Confucius’ benchmarks. A few years before my 40th birthday, I was still confused about many things, the history of my own country was one of them. So I decided to write this book.

I first looked into Chinese history for self-education, and realized how much of an information overload it can be to most people. With this condensed comic book, I hope that it has made it easier for readers to connect the dots of China’s past and to see its compelling relevance today.

Why you decided to publish it for iPad and Kindle?
So far, they are the only major platforms that allow me to reach a global audience instantly.

Is it easy to publish in this way? What are the advantages compared to traditional publishing?
Both Apple and Amazon have clear terms and steps for digital publishing. It takes some time and effort, but manageable. For comic books like mine, it’s a bit more complicated, since it involves lots of images and specific layout. There are many benefits of digital book publishing:

For readers:
Instant delivery
Easy to carry around
Cheaper than print copies

For me:
Instant worldwide distribution
No need for warehouse and inventory management

Are you expecting to make money from this book, or is it mostly for fun?
It’s my long term hobby, and to me, it’s more of a meaningful thing.

How long have you been drawing comics and what first inspired you to do it?
I started to draw for fun when I was a kid. When I went to primary school, I signed up for an after-school program, where I spent 2 years just learning how to draw goldfish tails, using a Chinese paint brush.

In my first job at Beijing Scene, an independent English newspaper, I did some cartoons and illustrations. Since 1997, I’ve running a design firm, where I’m lucky to keep my hobby by drawing for some projects.

The reason I chose comic format for this book is that comic is entertaining, personal and emotional. It can make a very complicated topic easy to understand.

What is your day job?
My full time job is to run a creative agency to help help our clients to tell their brand stories, and I’ve been doing that for 14 years.

Now I need something more challenging and I decide to tell the story of my country, China, in comic format, in my spare time. One way to put it: I did what I had to do, so now I can do what I like to do.

You have been interacting with foreigners in China since the mid 1990s. Do you think knowledge of China amongst foreigners has improved over this time?
Actually I met my first foreign friend in China in late 80s. I believe the interest in China is growing over the decades, giving the chance to improve the knowledge of China among westerners.

There are a lot more English books about China, mostly written by westerners, reflecting western logic and rationale. In many of these books, China will either save the world by driving global economic growth, or rule the world so everyone has to live in its shadow. When I read these books, I find both sides’ arguments convincing, based on the facts they gathered.

But there is a strong feeling that something were left unsaid, at least for a Chinese person like me, who grew up with Chinese legends, tales, arts, crafts, symbols, propaganda and tragedies.

I hope my book can contribute to improving the perception of one aspect of China, which is that, China has always been very busy with its own problems. It doesn’t have extra energy to either save the world, or rule the world.

Anything else you’d like to add?
The book is a visual guide to understanding China and its long history. The value of the book is that, the readers can get a solid grip on China’s history in 3 days. It’s for people who do not have time to go through tons of history books, especially for business people who really want to understand China, Chinese culture and Chinese people.

I hope, after reading the book, the readers will understand China’s historical context, understand what China is, and be informed.

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