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"The church was my window to the West. But, what flows in my veins is Chinese culture," he says. "It's a perfect combination."

 

Cartoonist Tsai Chih-chung's unorthodox journey

 

By Wang Kaihao (China Daily)

 

 
 
 

Cartoonist Tsai Chih-chung's decadeslong work has been inspired by ancient Chinese philosophy and history, as his biography reveals. Wang Kaihao reports.

 

During a telephone interview, Tsai Chih-chung suddenly stops to ask me: "What is your date of birth?" I tell him the date and the year and without a moment's hesitation he says: "It was a Sunday."

 

The 68-year-old artist from Taiwan is both sharp and versatile. So it is difficult to do him justice with a brief introduction.

 

An author, who has published several books since May 2015, he is also an animator who has won a Golden Horse, one of the most coveted awards in Chinese cinema, for kung fu comedy Older Master Q in 1981.

 

A bridge champion, he even spent a decade studying theoretical physics.

 

But, above all, he is a cartoonist.

 

More than 40 million copies of his books have been sold in more than 40 countries and regions.

 

Speaking of his pursuits, he says: "Many people ask me: 'If you could turn back the clock, would you have done something else instead of being a cartoonist?' Well, is there anything sweeter than realizing your dream?"

 

For Tsai, who quit school at the age of 15 to move to Taipei, his career as a cartoonist did not follow an "orthodox" path.

 

In spite of starting his career with four-panel cartoons, the man from Taiwan's Changhua County, gained fame not by creating a superhero franchise but by using ancient Chinese philosophy and history.

 

In 1985, he began doing comic books to explain the work of Chinese philosophers, including Laozi, Liezi and Zhuangzi.

 

Revealing how he ventured into being a cartoonist, Tsai says: "In 1985, I had an animation company that had been in operation for seven years and I owned three properties.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Tsai Chih-chung, a well-known cartoonist from Taiwan, has published a biography titled Genius and Master: The Cartoon Guru Tsai Chih-chung's Legendary Life. The cartoon, drawn by Tsai, shows him and figures from his popular comic works.

 

"According to my calculations then, I would have had enough money to survive till 80 on instant noodles, as long as I did not squander my money on gambling or undertaking risky ventures. But I had to do something more meaningful with my life."

 

The cartoon series, which was introduced to the Chinese mainland in 1989, has since become firmly etched in the collective memory of children on both sides of the Straits.

 

Explaining the success of the series, Tsai says: "My roots taught me how to use Western methods to promote Chinese culture."

 

Tsai recently took only 11 days to write his autobiography that includes 300 cartoons.

 

The autobiography, titled Genius and Master: The Cartoon Guru Tsai Chih-chung's Legendary Life, was published by China CITIC Press earlier this month.

 

Speaking of the title, Tsai says: "Every kid is a genius, but not every mother knows it."

 

Revealing details of his early life, Tsai, who was born in a Roman Catholic family, says his father was a renowned calligrapher while his mother was a fan of local operas, and she often took him along to watch performances.

 

As for his other cultural influences, Tsai, who grew up eating American butter and milk, says he was exposed to Hollywood movies in his childhood.

 

A confession that Tsai makes is that he was a habitual latecomer and often missed the start of the films. "So, when I entered the theater, I would imagine the bit of movie that I had missed."

 

Tsai says this habit helped him to hone his imagination. He also attributed his habit of reading the Bible to helping him understand the blending imagination, myths and history in his future work.

 

"The church was my window to the West. But, what flows in my veins is Chinese culture," he says. "It's a perfect combination."

 

Tsai, who was based in Vancouver, Canada, at one point now spends a lot of time on the mainland, where he runs an animation studio in Hangzhou, the capital of East China's Zhejiang province.

 

Among the feature-length animation films he is working on is a biographical film on Guan Yu, a third-century general and a synonym for loyalty and valor in Chinese culture. The movie is expected to be completed by October.

 

Another project is Kung Fu Shaolin Temple, which is expected to be ready for release in 2017.

 

"Zen, kung fu and the Shaolin Temple are evergreen Chinese cultural symbols," he says.

"They will always be popular themes for viewers not only in China but overseas," he adds.

 

 

 
 
 
 

[Photo provided to China Daily]

 

 

 

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