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Sanmao, China's favorite son turns 70
(Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2005-07-28 11:10

Using Sanmao's resilient innocence, the author dramatized the confusion brought about by the war and expressed his concern for its young victims.

After the war ended, the lost boy came back to Shanghai, then an economically depressed industrial city, and continued his "new" roaming life on the streets.

This led to the stories for "Sanmao's Orphan Tramp," the best-known and most successful of the Sanmao series.

Featuring a total of 261 cartoon strips, the Sanmao series tells of the miserable life led by the homeless boy. Through Sanmao's eyes, people see the joys and hardships of life in old Shanghai.

"My father created the orphan Sanmao in tears especially when he saw the young orphans frozen to death on the streets," Zhang recalls. "With his pen, he wanted to help those real life Sanmaos.

"Many of the incidents that happened to Sanmao were actually my father's own personal experiences," he says. "For example, through Sanmao, he told about the experience of being an apprentice when he was a little child."

As soon as the cartoon serial appeared in the paper, it evoked such reverberations that Zhang Leping often received letters, money, or even packages of clothes from the readers who asked him to give them to Sanmao.

In 1948, Kunlun Film Studio firstly brought the stories onto the silver screen. The movie "An Orphan on the Streets" is considered as one of the best Chinese children's movies even till today and has won major awards at some foreign film festivals.

Sanmao's stories entered a new stage after the Liberation in 1949. The great changes of the country have provided Zhang Leping with infinite inspirations. In the following years, he had created various significant Sanmao works in succession, such as "Sanmao Greets Liberation," "Sanmao's Past and Present," "Sanmao Loves Sports" and "Sanmao Loves Science."

The master cartoonist had never stopped drawing Sanmao until his last days. After he passed away, his family set up a company to collect his previous works as well as to popularize the image of Sanmao all over the world.

"For many people, Sanmao is still the poor orphan wandering on the streets, whose image reminds them of the tribulations of the old society," Zhang Rongrong says. "Although always staying the same small physical size, Sanmao is growing up with the times. He is no longer a hungry, homeless boy but a healthy, smart student in the 21st century.

"Sanmao has similar dreams to those of today's children. For example, he is looking forward to exploring outer space so we helped him realize the dream in a play," he smiles. "There are many, many more plans for Sanmao - people will have to wait and see."

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