Asian Punches: A Transcultural Affair



Covering an area from Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in the West via British India up to China and Japan in the East, this book deals with Punches and other Punch-like satirical magazines as they emerged in the 19th and early 20th century. By tracing its transcultural trajectory, the book offers a largely unknown and unacknowledged history around the Punch, one of the most popular British periodicals at the time. Scrutinizing the spread of both textual and visual satire, it casts a wide-reaching comparative glance on the genesis of satirical journalism in Asia and Europe.

Chapters (17)

The Punch magazine is in itself quite a landmark in the history of newspaper and magazine publishing. In terms of the duration of its publication, it is certainly one of the top 100 newspapers and magazines worldwide. Apart from some interruptions during its last years, Punch was published over a period of more than 160 years (1841–2002). When limiting this list to satirical magazines, Punch easily qualifies as the longest-published journal to date. More importantly for the present context, the history of Punch is intrinsically connected with that of the British Empire; the Empire, in a way, provided for its distribution beyond Great Britain. In many parts of the world Punch was, and probably still is, the most popular ‘brand name’ for a satirical magazine—its conscious, skilful branding being a major key to Punch’s success, as Brian Maidment shows. It was first and foremost the combination of textual and graphic satire that was the characteristic trait of Punch, and the visual attraction of its cartoons made Punch’s name famous.
The central project of this book is to consider the ways in which the London based weekly journal Punch (1842–2002) served the nineteenth century world as a model for, an influence on, or a legitimating force for satirical magazines published outside Britain, often in societies both geographically and culturally remote from British Victorian metropolitan culture. In this context, it is important to begin by reconsidering those characteristics of Punch that established and maintained its transcultural public presence throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. Defining such characteristics clearly requires discussion both of the wide range of genres and humorous modes through which Punch’s ‘content’ was constructed and of the variety of self-conscious business practices through which the magazine sustained its early celebrity. Many cultural historians, most notably R. D. Altick, have mined Punch for its views, expressed both verbally and visually, on contemporary events, and the magazine remains, along with the Illustrated London News, a frequently cited illustrative resource for thinking about Victorian politics, manners and public events. The pure and uninterrupted fecundity of Punch has made it irresistible to historians, who have quarried its thousands of pages and images in pursuit of its expressed attitudes towards even the most trivial of subjects. Such fecundity clearly makes the task of writing a general overview of the magazine here an impossible task. Altick took over 500 pages to discuss merely what Punch thought about the world between 1841 and 1851, the first 10 years and 20 half yearly volumes of its existence. There were, to cite one unexpected minor Punch obsession, over 50 images of dustmen in the first 20 volumes. But given the particular focus of this book, it seems necessary to approach Punch via a slightly different route, beginning with a brief overview of its history, then moving on to consider the generic complexity of its content, with complex shifts between satire, invective, travesty, burlesque and whimsy, before concentrating on its physical manifestations, or perhaps its ‘aura’ (to use a term borrowed from Walter Benjamin). The aim is to suggest how Punch constructed itself, or was constructed as, a hugely powerful and widespread ‘presence’ in Victorian culture.
As the title makes clear, the thrust of my argument relates to colonial India, which is my own particular field of study. I take up the story of Punch’s progress and spread throughout the subcontinent. Punch was turned into an effective weapon of political resistance and social criticism by the Indian followers of the English magazine in a way not envisaged by its creators. Yet this is not the entire story. Punch exemplifies the wider question of how a concept or technology originating in one culture undergoes transformations of meaning and inflection subsequent to its introduction in a culturally different society. This perennial question assumes special urgency during the high tide of imperialism, which represents the first great phase of globalisation. Therefore, in order to pose general questions about the nature and mechanism of transfers of ideas and technologies across cultures, and their impact on those who receive them, one needs to shift the discussion over to the debate on globalisation. The urgency of this debate is underscored by the concern of this publication to discuss Punch as a transcultural phenomenon. Within this remit, my own analysis is informed by the fact that while post-colonial studies have led the field in uncovering the Western agenda in its analysis of the world colonial order, recent critics have recognised the need for greater nuances in studies of the period of high imperialism. As a new publication puts it in its study of the period 1880s–1940s, a period that includes the career of Punch:
Issues of community, audience and address are crucial to the possibility and performance of satire. They both depend upon a delicate and fluctuating relationship between the objects of satire—the targets, so to speak—and the intended audiences. Too close an identification between the two and the performance veers towards sermonising or ranting. On the other hand, too little identification, too great a perceived distance, so that the audience of satire does not feel at all implicated in the critique, produces relatively crude satire, a mere mockery. James Sutherland described this kind of satire, a propos Ben Jonson and Samuel Butler, thus:
Punch, or the London Charivari was a popular nineteenth-century English satirical periodical not only in Britain but also outside its national territory. While much has been written about the history of the periodical in Britain, Punch’s transcultural lives as a literary format beyond Britain is yet to be documented. This chapter attempts to map its transcultural journey in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Hindi literary sphere. I will begin by delineating the characteristic features of Punch. At the risk of simplification it can be summarised as follows:
The English satirical magazine Punch, or the London Charivari (1841–1992) was the source of inspiration and imitation for many vernacular magazines and periodicals in colonial India. Late nineteenth century Bengal experienced a particularly intense flourishing in the production of satirical magazines, two of which will be the focus of this paper’s investigation: Basantak (1874–1875) and Pañcā-nanda (1878–1883).
The brand name Punch or The London Charivari from imperial Britain marked its presence not only in the British literary sphere, but its legacy also travelled to other cultures and blended in with their respective literary traditions. This chapter focuses on the Hindu pañca, the first journal in the Marathi language resembling Punch, and also the first to mark the advent of Marathi satirical journalism, even if it was not entirely satirical. The chapter acknowledges the remarkable efforts made by the creator of the Hindu pañca in the late nineteenth century, which have been neglected by literary critics and historians. It also looks at the similarities between Punch and Hindu pañca and delves into the issue of trans-cultural flows between the different literary cultures. The following presentation is based upon the available issues of Hindu pañca from 1880 to 1887 and 1897, and on the only available critique by Marathi writer Sarojini Vaidya.
These two initial statements, one with its condescending tenor, the other its silence, conveniently outline the neglect the numerous Indian Punch versions have suffered at the hand of critics and posterity. This denial runs counter to the attention generally paid to the press in accounts of colonial history.
This plaintive line appears in a colloquial Arabic poem in the Cairo-based journal Al-Arghūl (the reed-pipe) soon after its founding in September 1894. Entitled ‘A Load of Poetry: The Reed-Pipe’s Zajal on Fashion’, the three-page poem attacks Egypt’s fin de siècle youth as a ‘good-for-nothing generation’ (gīl khāyib). It is a generation that drinks alcohol, sucks up Egypt’s resources, gets pregnant before marriage, fears no father or mother, never suckled on the milk of good upbringing, and rides around Cairo, especially to the Rawda pleasure-garden area, in European-style phaetons, sporting tarbushes and zikittas (jackets) and no beards. It is a generation of mōda, fashion; the label, a European loanword, verbally enacts the invasive presence that penetrates this satirical poem.
Among the Egyptian periodicals published at the end of the nineteenth century, there was no such thing as an Arabic Punch. It was only in 1907, decades after the period at stake in this chapter, that a ‘Punch proper’, the al-Siyâsa al-Musawwara or The Cairo Punch, made its appearance and was eventually followed, in the 1920s, by a massive flow of satirical magazines. The absence of an Egyptian Punch version before the onset of the twentieth century, however, does not mean that there was no satirical press in Egypt, nor does it preclude an awareness of Punch and other European satirical periodicals in this country. The present chapter focuses on the late nineteenth century and reconstructs the somewhat complex and multi-layered story of how the Egyptian satirical press came into being. It deals, more specifically, with the first satirical journal in Egypt, Yaʿqūb Sannūʿ alias James Sanua’s Abū Nazzāra Zarqā (1878–1911). Sanua was essentially a dramatist, and tracing this history requires indeed close attention to the nineteenth century Egyptian theatre in order to capture, as this chapter will, the accommodation of drama in satirical journalism. The question of the British Punch’s (in this case mostly tacit) presence shall also be heeded and will be taken up summarily in the conclusion.
This chapter focuses on the satirical journal Hayal, published by the Ottoman journalist and publisher Teodor Kassab who grew up in a Greek-speaking environment. I particularly emphasise Kassab’s adaption of the so-called Karagöz, the traditional Ottoman shadow theatre, which has been a vehicle for oral social and political satire since the sixteenth century. Kassab made extensive use of this literary form in his satirical journal Hayal. He introduced the main protagonists of the shadow theatre, Hacivat and Karagöz, in the guise of ‘journalists’ into his satirical journal.
In February 1908, a double-page colour cartoon appeared in the new Cairo-based journal al-Siyāsa al-musawwara (politics illustrated, founded December 1907). Reflecting on the ‘press wars’ in Cairo at the time, the cartoon features men in fezzes and coats (and one in a turban and abāya) representing editors of leading nationalist and anti-London newspapers—al-Liwāʾ (founded 1890, Mustafa Kamil), al-Muʾayyad (founded 1889, ʿAli Yusuf), and al-Minbār (founded 1906, Hafiz ʿAwad). Marching in procession, each bears a banner on which the title of his newspaper is stamped in Arabic and English. They head in the direction indicated by a sign saying ‘To the Way of Independence [sic] and Lyberty [sic]’ (in both English and Arabic). To the right, a beast with cloven hooves and three human heads (ears pointed) carries three flags with small Union Jacks on them. The heads face in three directions, straining against each other. One faces a sign saying ‘To the way of protection’—in Arabic, himāya, meaning also the ‘Protectorate’. This was the fiction by which London named its occupation of Egypt, which had lasted for a quarter century. One of the triple Union Jack flags bears the name AL MOKATTAM (al-Muqattam)—a newspaper slammed in the nationalist press as funded by and supportive of the British occupation.
The earliest Japanese term for political cartoon—‘Punch picture’ (Ponchi-e ポンチ絵)—was invented in 1868 by a Japanese language news journal, the Kōko shinbun 江湖新聞 (the public news) published in the treaty port of Yokohama. The word endured until the early 1900s when it was slowly supplanted by the more familiar manga (cartoon), a broader term that came to mean not only single panel political cartoons but also four panel cartoons, comic strips, comic magazines and eventually animated cartoons.
Roy A. Roberts (1887–1967), president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors during WWII and editor of the Kansas City Star once stated: ‘Keeping the home front unbroken (…) is the newspapers’ first function in war’. For this veteran journalist ‘to keep the home front unbroken’ meant to mobilise and strengthen the civil community spirit during wartime. The newspaper as a mass medium bundles the thoughts of individuals, skilfully channelling them in the desired way. In times of military conflict it can create strong bonds among the population behind the lines of the battlefronts and solidarity with the soldiers by underlining the legitimacy of waging a war. Here, the cultivation of images, particularly satirical images, is crucial. Rune Ottosen has pointed out that journalism in ‘times of high tension’ seems almost impossible without the presentation of images of the enemy. Similarly, Heikki Luostarinen has identified propagandistic mockery of the enemy as ‘a reflection of the actual tension and conflict between states and as a way of creating unity in a state and legitimizing its rulers’.
To situate Punch and the Asian versions of Punch in relation to each other serves to illustrate not only the multidirectional movement of images between Europe and Asia but also the asymmetrical realities and imaginaries of international politics reflected in these images and even, as Ritu Khanduri has put it, the ‘affective registers […] generated by seeing the images’. A detailed study of these images thus opens new ways of seeing and understanding international interactions at the times of the colonies. In previous chapters we have observed how both in Europe and in Asia, satirical journals followed a model of, in the words of Brian Maidment, outspoken ‘denunciation of social evils or political chicanery’, as was considered typical of Punch’s satire which, ‘both recognised and cathartically laughed away the fears and anxieties of its readers, reducing perceived dangers and threats to manageable proportions through the construction of a comic world turned upside down’. The aim of this chapter is to examine the adaptation of ‘Punch-like’ publications in early twentieth century China and to discuss how the Western genre satirical cartoon magazine in fact participated in the Chinese public sphere, wielding power over public issues, which derived largely from China’s peculiar ‘semi-colonised’ status. This chapter concentrates principally on ‘Shanghai Puck’, a cartoon monthly first published in 1918, which, as will be demonstrated below, is a typical product of multidirectional transcultural exchange. In exploring the visual world of ‘Shanghai Puck’ and its ‘models’, the chapter will deliberate the following questions: How did ‘Shanghai Puck’ relate to foreign satirical cartoon magazines? Here, the focus will not only be on the London Punch but the American Puck as a possible template as well. This chapter also investigates ‘Shanghai Puck’s’ global agency: What does the intervisuality observed on the pages of Chinese, Japanese and foreign satire magazines and pictorials tell us about the anxieties of the respective journals’ readers and the emotions triggered by such images? How were China and the Chinese, as well as foreigners, portrayed and transformed pictorially on the pages of the ‘Shanghai Puck’? What strategies did ‘Shanghai Puck’ apply when it came to raising China’s global position?
This chapter examines two Punch-inspired English-language periodicals published in colonial enclaves in nineteenth-century China: The China Punch (1867–1868, 1872–1876) and Puck, or the Shanghai Charivari (April 1871-November 1872). The former was a subsidiary publication of the newspaper The China Mail, which since its inception in 1845 had been the ‘Official Organ of all Government Notifications’ in the British colony of Hong Kong; the latter was issued quarterly by a printing and stationary company in treaty-port Shanghai. Both periodicals featured staples akin to London’s Punch (1841–1992) such as whole-page caricatures, comedic verses, wry commentaries on local society and politics, filler jokes, and editorials written in the voice of their namesake trickster. Each struggled to solicit contributions from its small Anglophone community and ultimately ceased publication upon the abrupt departure of a proprietor.
China’s illustrated magazines, which came into being in the mid-1880s, quickly became part of a community of illustrated papers from all over the world. These publications knew of each other, they would reprint each other’s illustrations and they would quote each other’s articles as a way to improve and authenticate their global coverage.
Combining archival and ethnographic fieldwork, this piece reflects on the scope of film publicity through the author’s conversations with the proprietor-editor of the oldest film magazine in Pakistan, The Nigar Weekly. Offering a larger view from post-colonial Karachi of political and national transitions, Nigar’s brand of film commentary in the 1950s and 60s, reveled in connecting and cohabiting the multiple film centers in South Asia: Karachi, Lahore, Dhaka and Bombay. Foregrounding the muhajir background of its founders and its self-styled relationship with the film industry, the piece draws attention to a distinctive characteristic of the publication: its satirical visual content. The magazine while borrowing select content from a Bombay film magazine in its early years, vividly commented on issues such as film trade with India, censorship and public morality in Pakistan, cross-border film intimacies, film exhibition practices, and local production strategies. The cartoons, while directly connected to the written content, could also exaggerate and provoke as can be expected of visual satire. And it is in this less restrained feature of Nigar that a cautionary critique and a calculated celebration of the Pakistani cinema emerges.
Hailed as the “father of modern Hindi” language and literature and one of the most brilliant and creative writers of colonial India, Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850–1885) cuts a more complex worldly figure. A modernizer who spent the last 15 years of his life tirelessly experimenting with print media, new literary genres, and modes of association, he was at the same time also a connoisseur of traditional poetry and music. An advocate and standardizer of modern Hindi, he nonetheless composed all his poetry in the earlier language of Brajbhasha and experimented with Urdu verse and macaronic English–Hindi satirical poems as well.
This article explores the representation of Britain and the British by cartoonists in the Melbourne Punch. Just as in the London Punch, representative figures, together with caricatures of politicians and notables, were deployed in constant dialogue with the events of the day. Where Melbourne-based cartoonists used such characters critically, they did not position themselves as distinct or separate from a British identity, but integrated readers into a British world dependent upon networks of print culture and a shared sense of humour. The very form and function of the magazine (as well as its contents) therefore illuminate a proud sense of Britishness.
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