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Ding Cong 丁聪 (1916-2009)


Ding Cong 丁聪; pen name: Xiao Ding 小丁 (1916-2009) Born in Shanghai. Cartoonist and book illustrator. Contributor of cover art to Leftist magazines. Produced handscrolls satirizing corruption under Nationalist regime.  Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Renmin Huabao (People’s Pictorial), until targeted as a Rightist in 1957.  After 1979, frequent contributor to the journal, Dushu (Reading), and other publications.



Ding Cong pursued his dream of becoming a cartoonist despite the disapproval of his father, Ding Song, a prominent Shanghai cartoonist, who warned his son that the profession was too dangerous and not lucrative enough. Small Ding (his adopted penname) began publishing cartoons in the 1930s and became known for his biting satire of corruption and censorship under the Nationalist regime. In 1940, he moved to Chongqing to flee the Japanese bombing of Shanghai. Among the projects he completed there were woodcut illustrations for Lu Xun’s famous short story, “The True Story of Ah Q,” and several hand scrolls satirizing official corruption in the manner of the Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. Once in Chongqing, Ding and his friends, playwright Wu Zuguang and fellow cartoonist Huang Miaozi, set up makeshift living quarters in a courtyard pavilion. In jest, Ding Cong christened the place where they congregated for meals and conversation, “The House of Loafers,” since most residents were creative people with no regular job. This slang term was meant humorously, but it was revived years later to discredit Ding and his friends during the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957. 


Ding Cong 丁聪 (1916-2009)



Affiliated with Leftist causes all his life, Ding welcomed the establishment of Communist rule.  He served as founding editor of the People’s Pictorial. During the brief thaw accompanying the Hundred Flowers Movement in 1956, he proposed the establishment of a new kind of art publication, expansively titled Wan Xiang (10,000 Phenomena) to be placed under the creative control of editors rather than bureaucrats. His views did not find favor. Condemned as a Rightist and a “loafer,” Ding was sentenced to hard labor in the Great Northern Wilderness of Heilongjiang province, where he spent three harrowing years under famine conditions. Ding survived, barely, but soon fell victim to the Cultural Revolution. He was separated from his wife and son, almost continuously, for two decades. During those years, he found ways to continue making art.  He sketched the labor camp where he lived, sculpted sponge sculptures with scissors, and drew the occasional self-portrait. 


Once rehabilitated in 1979, he painted prolifically to make up for lost time. He still did not stick to safe topics.  His cartoons fearlessly tackled thorny subjects such as corruption and censorship. During this second peak of his career, he excelled in making portraits. For over twenty-five years, he drew almost every author featured in the leading journal, Du Shu (Reading), capturing the spirit of each subject’s personality.