An Etymological Study of the Terms Dongman, Donghua, and Manhua

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By Yan Chen

Since 2004, the Chinese government has been gradually implementing various policies to support the development of a domestic dongman industry. The year 2016 marked the 90th anniversary of Chinese animation, and numerous commemorative celebrations and exhibitions were launched, using phrases like “the 90th anniversary of dongman.” The use of the word dongman is intriguing, because it is a term often associated with Japan. Oddly enough, when the year 2017 witnessed the centennial of Japanese animation, the word “animation” rather than dongman was used for the celebrations in Japan. The term dongman is now widely used in China, but it has often been used in different ways.         

What exactly is dongman? There is an ongoing online debate among fans of this art form about the meaning of the word. One common definition regards dongman as the combination of animation and comics. Other people believe that the word refers to animated comics, Japanese animation in particular, and the major difference between dongman and donghua is that the target audience of the former tends to be older. They further use age of the audience to differentiate the three words katong (cartoon in English), donghua, and dongman, with katong targeting the youngest and dongman the oldest audience. In addition, a considerable number of people hold the view that the word dongman is originally from Japan and describes an industry chain with anime and manga at its core, but extending to video games, light novels, and other media. In academia in mainland China, there is no consensus regarding the definitions of dongman, donghua, and katong. To bridge this gap, this essay will provide an etymological study of the word dongman and clarify other related terms such as manhua, donghua, and katong.    

First of all, the word dongman did not originate in Japan. In fact, the word dongman never existed in Japan. One widely accepted opinion is that it was first officially used in Taiwan instead, marked by the establishment of the Chinese Animation & Comic Publishers Association (Zhonghua dongman chuban tongye xiejinhui) in 1998.[1] Preparation for the organization began in 1993, and it was officially established in 1998. During that time, the animation industry in Taiwan was undermined by widespread piracy, and comics were generally regarded as harmful materials. The original motivation of the organization was to develop the animation industry by implementing local government policy, protecting copyright, and improving the image of the animation and comic industry in Taiwan. The word dongmanhua was frequently used in the association’s articles and other materials. The members of the association were mainly companies that produced animation and comics, and other related professionals. The majority of the members came from the comics industry and there were no video game companies involved yet. It is clear that at that time, the words donghua and manhua were put together to produce the word dongman. The term dongmanhua started to be used frequently in the 1990s, and then was gradually abbreviated to dongman. Given the fact that at that time, video games and anime music had not yet gained footholds in Taiwan, we can speculate that the original meaning of dongman is the combination of animation (donghua) and comics (manhua). As the term became more widely used, its meanings were expanded. It was later introduced to mainland China. 

Another important term, “ACG,” also appeared around this time. It made its debut on the BBS (Bulletin Board System) of the National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan in 1995.[2] ACG is the acronym for Anime, Comics, and Games, three related industries with a close kinship with Japanese popular culture. Since then, the term has been promoted by Taiwan’s famous comic commentary group SHUFFLE ALLIANCE (Shahulu tongmeng) and was later introduced to mainland China. ACG was later expanded to ACGN as a result of the increasing popularity of light novels. However, ACG is still the most popular form. In Taiwan, the terms dongman(hua) and ACG have equal popularity, and their meanings are almost exactly the same, except that ACG emphasizes video games as an important part of the industry chain. The term dongman is more popular than ACG in mainland China, probably because it is a Chinese word and is therefore more easily accepted by mainlanders.     

Why do so many people mistakenly believe that dongman is a loan word from Japanese? Their misconception is not completely groundless, given the Japanese connection of related words like donghua and manhua. Let’s start with the term manhua, which originated in China. The word manhua has the same written form in Chinese and Japanese (manga) but has had different pronunciations throughout history. The word manhua first appeared in literature during the Song Dynasty (960–1279).[3] It was originally the name of a species of aquatic bird, pronounced as mankaku in Japanese at that time. The word manhua describes its hunting behavior – waving its beak on the surface of water tirelessly. In the preface of Pick-up Essays (Mankaku zuibitsu roukai ittoku), written in 1771, Japanese author Suzuki Kankei explains that the reason for naming his book Mankaku is because he was drowned in the tireless pursuit of knowledge just like the bird mankaku.[4] This is a milestone for the etymological evolution of the word mankaku (now pronounced as manga) in Japan. However, there were no paintings at all in that book. The word mankaku was just associated with the concept of “tireless hunting” at that time, and later it gradually became a term for the graphic arts. An alternative view in Japan holds that the word manga in the Japanese writing system is the simplification of manpitsuga, an art form similar to illustrated essays in the Edo era. The word manpitsuga was borrowed from the Chinese word manbi, which was pronounced as manpitsu in Japanese and which means casually written essays.

Both of these two possible etymologies in Japan agree that the first documented usage of the word manga to refer to the art form of writings combined with paintings can be traced back to the preface of The Pageant of Seasons (Shi ji no yuki kai), published in 1798. The painting author, Kitao Shigemasa (pen name Kōsuisai Kitao), was a famous Ukiyoe artist and the founder of the Kitao school. Its literature author Santō Kyōden uses the written word manga, pronounced as mangha (closer to the Chinese pronunciation of manhua) at that time, to express the idea of “painting casually.”[5] This book is a graphic narrative delineating daily life in a year of the Edo era. In 1814, another famous Ukiyoe artist, Katsushika Hokusai, used manga for the title of his collection Hokusai Manga (Hokusai manga), an anthology of funny and satirical sketches similar to caricature (giga). Katsushika’s painting style was influenced by Kitao Shigemasa, and because of Katsushika’s reputation and the success of Hokusai manga, the naming method of “XX manga” became common. This art form, which developed and matured through the wood engraving technology in the middle Edo period (18th century), became a popular form of mass entertainment. Usage of the term manga was not uncommon at that time, but it was very different from the modern use of manga. In both the water bird theory and the manpitsu theory of the term’s etymology, the definitions of manga have evolved from a form of written article to a combination of writings and paintings, and finally to a form of painting alone.

What is the modern definition of the word manga? To answer this question, we have to first discuss several related terms such as “caricature,” “cartoon,” and “comics,” which went through a complicated process of translation from English into Japanese, Japanese into Chinese, and English into Chinese.[6] The westernization and modernization of Japan started in the late Tokugawa period (1800-1868) and blossomed in the Meiji period (1868-1912). English words like “caricature” (sketches that exaggerate one specific feature of a character), “cartoon” (satirical single paintings of current affairs), and “comics” (derived from the adjective comic, which expressed funny things) were introduced to Japan. In 1891, Imaizumi Ippyō became the first person to use the term manga as the Japanese translation for the English words “caricature” and “cartoon.” Imaizumi was in charge of satirical comics in the Current Affairs Newspaper (Jiji shinpō) and had studied in the United States. He later published Ippyō’s Manga, First Chapter (Ippyō manga shushopen) in 1895. His work had no division of frames and the narrative text was listed on the side, so it can be said that his manga were not quite comics, which takes the form of juxtaposed sequences of panels of images and text. Following him, Kitazawa Rakuten, often referred to as “the earliest Japanese professional manga artist,” joined the Current Affairs Newspaper. Kitazawa had once worked with Australian cartoonist Frank Arthur Nankivell for the English newspaper Box of Curios in Yokohama, and had studied the techniques of European and American comics under Nankivell. Kitazawa was greatly influenced by comic strips (multiple-panel funny comics) and comics (similar to the comic strip for displaying brief humor or forming a narrative), which were popular in Europe and the United States at the time. During his stay at Current Affairs Newspaper in 1902 (after Imaizumi Ippyō left Current Affairs), Kitazawa established a column called “Manga of Current Affairs (Jiji manga)” in the newspaper, and started publishing multiple-frame satirical comics with a style close to that of Europe and the United States. At this point, the meaning of manga overlapped with the concept of comics, which had the closest definition to today’s manga. Due to his contributions, Kitazawa Rakuten is recognized as “the originator of modern Japanese manga.” After him, Misei Kosugi and other manga artists used the word manga, which gradually became popular in modern Japan. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), the English words “comics” and “cartoon” were translated into manga in Japanese.

Now let us examine the term manhua in China.[7] It is widely accepted that Feng Zikai, the author of Zikai Manhua published in the 1920s, was the first to use the Chinese word manhua in China. However, this assertion has always been under debate. In the newspaper Alarming Bell Daily (Jing zhong ri bao), published in 1904, there was already a column named “Shishi manhua,” as discovered by Huang Dade.[8] So far, no researchers have connected this Chinese “Shishi manhua” with the Japanese “Jiji manga” column of Kitazawa Rakuten. The four written characters are the same in Chinese and Japanese, and they were used in both countries during the same period with the same meaning. The connection to Japan is clear.

During the Taisho period in Japan (1912-1926), manga artist Okamoto Ippei was introduced to the Asahi Newspaper Company by Natsume Sōseki and became the newspaper’s cartoonist. Okamoto created the form of “Manga and Essay” (Manga manbun), a unique art form combining writing and painting, and started publishing it in famous newspapers and magazines such as Asahi Newspaper (Asahi shimbun). Okamoto’s works, influenced by Natsume Sōseki and other authors of the time, were high in literary value, and won the favor of a large number of readers. Later he created The Whole Life of One Person (Hito no issyō) and other works, and became a pioneer of employing the narrative techniques of motion pictures in the storytelling of manga. The father of modern Japanese manga— Tezuka Osamu also claimed that he was influenced by The Complete Works of Ippei (Ippei zan syū). Okamoto’s work has influenced many other artists of the same period, including Feng Zikai, who studied in Japan in 1921 and later became the father of Chinese manhua. Feng Zikai was also influenced by another Japanese artist named Takehisa Yumeji, as pointed out by many researchers, such as Geremie R. Barmé.[9]  

After the start of the Taisho democracy movement (1910s-1920s), the Japanese manga industry gained new vitality under the stimulus of political events. Comics for proletariats and specifically for children emerged, and comic publishing developed by leaps and bounds. In the Showa era (1926-1989), the term manga took hold in Japan. At the same time, under the widespread influence of Zi Kai Manhua, the word manhua expanded its meaning to include art forms that were previously called caricature and comic strip in China. The Chinese term manhua finally emerged to cover art forms that had been in existence for years in China.

Now let us discuss the words dōga in Japanese and donghua in Chinese, which also have the same characters.[10] In the late Meiji period (1905-1912), foreign animated shorts were shown in Japan under the name of dekobō shingachō, which was the earliest name for the art form of animation in Japan. As Japan developed its animation technology, the name senga appeared in the 1930s and was used to collectively describe all animation effects in films realized through moving drawings, including maps, charts, and subtitles etc. At the same time, Masaoka Kenzō, “Father of Japanese animation,” started advocating for the use of dōga as the Japanese translation for “animated cartoon.” In the 1940s, senga and dōga were both used to refer to animated shorts. When Princess Iron Fan (Tieshan gongzhu, Wan Brothers, Shanghai, 1941), the first animated feature film in Asia, was released in Japan in 1942, it was called chōhen manga and chōhen manga eiga, which literally means long animated film. Princess Iron Fan was the first animated feature film to be released in Japan, because at that time Disney features were banned in wartime Japan. It could be inferred that the word manga eiga was coined with the debut of Princess Iron Fan in Japan. After the end of World War II, it became the norm for animated shorts to be called dōga, and animated feature films manga eiga.     

In the 1950s, the term “cel animation,” which was used in the US to classify animation made with celluloid film, became popular, and the katakana term animēshon started to be used in Japan. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, manga and TV manga (terebi manga) were still the main terms used by mainstream television stations and producers to refer to animations. From the usage of the term we can see that as the Japanese animation and manga industry chains were forming, there was no clear-cut separation between animation and manga. There was a one-way relationship between manga and animation, with manga at the core and animations were often based on manga. In 1967, the comic critic Ishiko Junzō published the book On the Art of Cartoon (Manga geijyutsu ron). Since then, the katakana term manga was widely used to refer to the broader industry related to manga, including animation.   

Now let us turn to China. Through browsing the Shenbao newspaper published from the 1870s to the 1940s, I found that animated shorts and commercials started to appear in Shanghai in the 1920s. They were called a variety of names, such as huodong yingxi, huo dong hua ji ying pian, hua ji hua pian, huo dong mo shui hua, and huo dong gang bi hua ying pian. All of these names focus on the visual effects of moving pictures (dong), the general comical themes (huaji), and the medium of film (pian). In the second half of the 1920s, the terms katong and katong pian appeared, both of which were the transliteration of the phrase “animated cartoon” in English. The word katong took hold with the success of Princess Iron Fan, which at the time was referred to as China’s first feature length sound katong. In English, “cartoon” refers to both animated cartoons and printed cartoons (printed comics). Printed cartoons were referred to as manhua in Chinese, and the word katong was used exclusively to refer to animated films.     

However, later in the 1930s, drawings of cartoon characters and drawings of that similar style also began to be called katong hua (cartoon drawings), and so the confusion emerged. I speculate that the Japanese word dōga, pronounced donghua in Chinese, was introduced to wartime China in the 1940s, most likely by the Japanese occupation force. Prior to the establishment of the PRC in 1949, Chinese animation experts were called upon to discuss new names for animation that could fit in well with the spirit of the new socialist China. According to the memoir of Fang Ming (Mochinaga Tadahito), the head of the Cartoon Group of the Northeast Film Studio, he and Te Wei, who worked at the Northeast Film Studio at that time and who later became the president of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio between the 1950s and 1980s, shared the opinion that animation should be considered as a fine art (meishu). They proposed using the term fine arts film (meishu dianying) to replace the English loan word katong.[11] At the Northeast Film Studio, the name of the division in charge of animated filmmaking was changed from Cartoon Group of the Art Division (meigong ke katong gu) to Fine Arts Filmmaking Group (meishupian zu). In contrast, according to Fang Ming and Jin Xi’s memoir, in order to further classify the different kinds of animated films, they decided to use donghua, the equivalent of the term already in use in Japan, to refer to cel animation in order to differentiate it from stop-motion puppetoon made with action figures or dolls.[12] This proposal was adopted by Chinese animators.       

Today, the official name of animation in Japan is still dōga, the formal translation of the word “animation.” However, the meaning of the word is now expanded to cover various types of dynamic images, as opposed to still images. The English word “anime” was in fact transmitted from Japan back to English-speaking countries. In 1965, the magazine Small Gauge Film (Kogata ēiga) first proposed to shorten the katakana form of animēshon into anime, which then became popular in Japan. When Japanese animation gradually became popular in North America in the 1970s, the word anime was first known among the fans and then quickly spread among English speakers in the 1990s through “Anime Expo,” an American anime convention held in Los Angeles, California, organized by the non-profit Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA).    

In the 1970s, because of the ambiguity of the word manga and a higher acceptance of loan words in Japan, printed comics were more commonly called komi kku (transliteration of the English word comic). In the 1990s, the katakana form manga became popular in Japan, and it was also introduced to English-speaking countries just like the word anime, and became a term specifically for Japanese comics. 

Now let us look at the question raised at the beginning of this article. Although the two words donghua and manhua both originated from Japan, the word dongman was first used in Taiwan. In the 1990s, when the words dongman and ACG were proposed, dong (anime) was placed before man (comic) and assumed more importance than man (comic). Obviously, these words did not originate in Japan where comics are the core of the industry and assume more importance. In the same period (the 1990s), Japan referred to the comic and animation industry as the manga industry (manga sangyō). There was also a less popular word MAG (acronym of Manga, Anime, Game), similar to ACG, which was regarded as the core of the industry. The belief in Japan was that, no matter how the industrial chain developed, the original manga still came first, and from it animations, games, light novels and other art forms could be developed.

However, since 2000, with the rise of original TV animations, animations based on light novels, and manga based on video games, as well as the downturn of manga publishing, manga’s position as the core of the industry has fallen in Japan. The phrase media mix (mediamikkusu) started to become popular. This phrase originated in the advertising industry and referred to cross-media communication.

In the 21st century, media mix is a conglomerate of media covering comics, animation, video games, light novels, radio dramas, live-action performances, picture books, models, toys, character designs and other content. Any of these forms of media can serve as the source or starting point that leads to the development of a series of cultural products, which in turn drives peripheral areas such as cosplay, original music, idols, theme parks, or even tours to real life locations depicted in these works.   

If we try to find a Japanese phrase that is close to China’s “dongman industry,” it would be “otaku industry.” Otaku industry is defined as a multi-media industry that generates content in the areas we discussed above and targets “otakus” (people with obsessive interests, particularly in ACG) as its main consumers. In contrast, live action movies and live TV dramas are also popular in Japan, but the audience is not limited to “the otakus.”

In 2009, China’s annual animation output surpassed that of Japan to become first in the world. China has become a large animation producer, but still cannot be called an animation power. In China, an industry chain similar to that of Japan has not yet fully formed. The basic model in China is that the “animation,” especially cinema animation, drives everything. The make-up and definition of the “otaku” group in China is different from its original form in Japan due to the influence of multiple cultural forces. The most important influence is that the kanji “taku” in “otaku” is the same character as the Chinese word “dwelling” (zhai). As a result, the word in Chinese has become strongly associated with not wanting to leave one’s home. For example, some among the Chinese otaku community are not fans of anime, comics, or video games. They call themselves otakus because they prefer to stay in their own homes and dislike social activities. Therefore, in China’s communication context, dongman and dongman industry are the most well-defined concepts for the Chinese comics and animation industry. With the development of the industry, the word “dongman industry” is likely to be redefined or replaced by new words in the future. 

Right now, in addition to dongman, many other new words exist. In cross-cultural communication, the underlying cultural clashes and fusions behind these words can only be fully understood after clarifying the connotations behind these words and concepts. When the concept of fine arts film (meishu dianying) was proposed in early socialist China, there were only cel and stop-motion puppet animations at that time. The definition of fine arts film (meishu dianying) inspired Chinese animators to incorporate other forms of art into the family of animation, such as papercutting, paperfolding, and ink-painting animation. In this way, emphasizing the issues of names and naming in the animation industry is not pure semantics. With a serious etymological study of the terms, this article aims to provide a perspective for animators and industry practitioners from which to start new ways of thinking about the comic and animation industry in China and Japan.

[1] Please see, accessed December 17, 2018.  This essay was translated and significantly adapted from Chen Yan, “On the Misunderstood Term Dongman (Wudu de dongman),” Fine Arts Observations (Meishu guancha) 2 (2015), 29.           

[2] Ccsx, “Taiwan Otaku Memorabilia,” 30.     

[3] Shimizu, History of Manga, 17.      

[4] This information on the history of Japanese manga is mainly based on the following books: Shimizu, History of Manga; Natsume and Takeuchi, Introduction to Manga Studies.

[5] Kitao Shigemasa, The Pageant of Seasons, 3. 

[6] My analysis of the term manhua in Chinese is inspired by Long, “Feng Zikai and the Concept of Manhua.”

[7] Information about manhua between the 1920s and 1950s is mainly based on Huang, Shanghai Art Notes.    

[8] Huang, “Study on the Origin of Chinese ‘Manhua.’”

[9] Geremie R. Barmé, An Artistic Exile.  

[10] Information on the history of dōga in Japan mainly draws on Nakano, Theory of Manga Industry; Tsuji, Our Anime History; Yamaguchi, The History of Japanese Animation, 2004. Information on the term donghua in China is mainly based on my research of Shenbao.  

[11] Mochinaga, “Animation is My Lifetime Career,” 136.    

[12] Mochinaga, “Animation is My Lifetime Career,” 136; Jin, “Puppet Animation and I;” Ono, The History of Chinese Animation Film, 82-83. These three references all made it clear that Chinese animators at that time knew well that the word donghua was from Japan, but only Ono pointed out that it was Mochinaga who brought the term to China.   


Barmé, Geremie R. An Artistic Exile: A Life of Feng Zikai 1898-1975. Berkeley:   University of California Press, 2002.

Ccsx. “Taiwan Otaku Memorabilia (Taiwan azhai dashiji).” Dead or AliveOtaku in Taiwan (Dead or alive, Taiwan azhai qi shi lu). Taiwan: Shibaochubangongsi, 2009, 30-35.

Huang Dade. “Study on the Origin of Chinese ‘Manhua.’” Art Observation (Meishu guancha) 04 (1999): 60−62.

Huang Ke. Shanghai Art Notes (Shanghai meishu shi zhaji). Shanghai: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 2000.

Jin Xi. “Puppet Animation and I (Wo yu muou dianying).” Shanghai Film History (Shanghai dianying shiliao), vol.6. Shanghai: Shanghai film records office, 1995, 82-118. 

Kitao Shigemasa. The Pageant of Seasons (Shi ji no yuki kai). Tsuruya kiemon: 1798. <;, accessed December 17, 2018.

Long Yucheng. “Feng Zikai and the Concept of Manhua” (Feng Zikai yu manhua gainian). Journal of Tsinghua University (Qinghua daxue xuebao) 27 (2002): 115-125.

Mochinaga Tadahito. “Animation is My Lifetime Career” (Meishu dianying chengwei wo bisheng de shiye), trans., Chen Zubei. Shanghai Film History (Shanghai dianying shiliao), vol.6. Shanghai: Shanghai film records office, 1995, 119-146.

Nakano Haruyuki. Theory of Manga Industry (Manga Shangyō ron). Tokyo: Chikuma shobo, 2004.

Natsume Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu ed. Introduction to Manga Studies (Manga gaku nyūmon). Kyoto: Minerva shobo, 2009.

Ono Kōsei. The History of Chinese Animation (Chōgoku no animēshon). Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1987.   

Shenjiang Newspaper (Shenbao). 1912-1949.       

Shimizu Isao. History of Manga (Manga no rekishi). Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2009.

Tsuji Masaki. Our Anime History (Boku tachi no anime shi). Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2008. 

Yamaguchi Yasuo. The History of Japanese Animation (Nihong no anime zenshi). Tokyo: Ten-books, 2004. 


Chen Yan is currently a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo, Japan. She also holds a M.A. degree in the same discipline from the University of Tokyo, and a B.A. degree from the School of Journalism and Communications at Peking University, PRC. Her research focuses on Chinese animation history. She is a member of the Japan Society for Animation Studies and research fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2014-2016). In addition to research, Chen Yan works on creative writing and arts. She was a columnist for “Nijigen,” Fresh Japan by the Asahi Shimbun. She also published several graphic novels, including Yanner’s Days in PKU (2008) and Hilarious Times in PKU (2010). Since 2018, Chen Yan has been working as an advisor for multiple corporations in the comic and animation industry in China, including Tencent and Dream Castle. She is a fan, creator, researcher, and practitioner in the field of comics and anime.

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One thought on “An Etymological Study of the Terms Dongman, Donghua, and Manhua

  1. An interesting essay; however, some of the comments about the Japanese terms for animation are not quite correct: “senga” was already used in 1917, and “anime” in December 1961 at the latest, although it is true that it took quite some time to become established in Japanese discourse. Please refer to my book “Animated Film in Japan until 1919” (Norderstedt: 2017).

    F. S. Litten

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