Friday, 20 June 2014

no gentleman

Some of you will know that I sometimes use the pseudonym ‘lofuji’ in internet forums, and this post is about the origin of the name.

Lo Fu-ji (pinyin: Lao Fuzi) is the star of a comic strip that first appeared in Hong Kong in the 1960s, Lo/Lao being his surname and Fu-ji/Fuzi an archaic honorific roughly equivalent to Lo Esq. (Mr Lo would be Lo Sin Sang), which reflects his old-fashioned outlook on life. In fact, it would not be unfair to label him a reactionary. He has been marketed in the West as Old Master Q, a meaningless sobriquet.

The cover of each comic book is a comment on a typical aspect of life in Hong Kong. The cover pictured below is a particularly apposite example: it is impossible to play Chinese chess in public here without first attracting a few spectators, followed by at least one of those spectators telling the players which move they should make next. I gave up playing in public decades ago for precisely this reason, even though I’ve never been beaten by a Chinese opponent. I originally attributed this to disbelief that a gweilo would know how to play, but I regularly see games being played in parks and gardens in Hong Kong, and they always draw a small crowd, and there will always be at least one kibbitzer in that crowd. Incidentally, I also used to play wei ch’i in public, but I never received any advice from the sidelines, mainly because although most locals are aware that it is an ancient Chinese board game, few know how to play it.

Lo Fu-ji (red characters; back to the viewer on the above cover) has two friends: Chun Sin Sang (Mr Chun; yellow characters; Lo’s opponent), who wears what can almost be described as a modern uniform in Hong Kong, short-sleeved cotton shirt with slacks; and Tai Ban Siu (‘Big Sweet Potato’; light brown characters), who wears clothes that are similar to those worn by Lo. This is their standard attire, but all three regularly appear in costume in the strips.

Lo also has an enemy, Mr Chiu, who appears regularly in the actual strips but never on the cover. The pair frequently play vicious practical jokes on one another, and when they’re not doing this, they’re usually fighting. Lo comes out on top in some exchanges, but in others he is discomfited:

Be sure to start in the top right-hand corner and work downwards when reading each strip.

In fact, fighting and physical violence play a large part in the strips, from casual fisticuffs following a heated argument to being confronted in the street by a knife-wielding robber and Lo’s reaction. Lo is a kung fu expert, although this doesn’t always work in his favour:

There is also a strong element of the supernatural in many of the strips, and ghosts often make appearances. The following strip, another featuring the rivalry between Lo and Mr Chiu, invokes voodoo, and Mr Chiu gets his comeuppance in a most bizarre fashion.

Another common theme is the ridiculing of locals who have embraced Western fashions: long hair, flared trousers, floral shirts, etc. The prejudices of the artist are clear in such cases, because when such figures do appear, their faces are always ugly, one might say almost simian. The following strip, featuring just such a figure, also illustrates the undue deference shown by many locals towards gweilos in the 1960s and 1970s, which has still not disappeared completely seventeen years after the handover of sovereignty.

While many strips highlight longstanding concerns in Hong Kong, others have become dated. The following strip, for example, reflects the prevailing atmosphere in a typical Chinese restaurant thirty years ago, when dim sum were usually wheeled around in large steaming trolleys, and the person pushing the trolley shouted out its contents. And securing a table was a difficult task in which the restaurant chose not to get involved.

Most of the strips have no writing, so they can be appreciated without any knowledge of Chinese. I must confess that I don’t find these cartoons particularly funny, but Lo Fu-ji, who is certainly no gentleman, provides a good insight into a uniquely Chinese sense of humour, which I still don’t understand fully after more than forty years.


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