MIT Visualizing Cultures

Throwing Off Asia – Lesson 06

Kiyochika’s Satirical Cartoons: An Analytical Approach

This lesson applies the framework for analyzing visual texts, “The Five C’s,” introduced in lesson one. Students are introduced to the framework and apply its methodology to the satirical cartoons on China produced by one of the leading woodblock print artists of the Sino-Japanese War, Kobayashi Kiyochika, known as Kiyochika.

National History Standards (Word doc)

At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be better able to:
1. Apply a framework for extracting meaning from a visual document.
2. Complete a systematic and in-depth “interrogation” of a historical source document.
3. Consider the impact of a cartoon campaign on public attitudes and perceptions of China in Japan during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895.
4. Apply their knowledge to construct a cartoon image that uses symbols to convey point of view.

Time Required
One class period

Materials and preparation
Students should be introduced to Japan’s Meiji period and the Sino-Japanese War through their textbook or teacher lecture prior to this lesson.

Students should have completed the introduction to “The Five C’s” analysis of visual materials (Handout 01-C) in lesson one of this unit. If lesson one has been completed previously, teachers should omit step #4 (below) of this lesson.

Internet access

Handouts 01-A and 01-B (PowerPoint) to be copied and distributed, or projected via overhead or LCD projector

1. Review what students already know about the Sino-Japanese War from previous lessons in this unit and/or previous class work and text readings. What do students understand about the changing relationship between Japan and China that was symbolized by this war? What do students know about Japanese attitudes about China, embodied in the wartime woodblock prints and in the title Throwing Off Asia?
2. Introduce students to the satirical cartoons of Meiji period artist Kiyochika. This can be accomplished by assigning an online homework reading: John Dower’s discussion in the Throwing Off Asia Essay. Teachers may also show the Kiyochika cartoons in class via LCD projector.
Following this introduction, ask students to convey in a sentence or two the general message of Kiyochika’s cartoons. How does he present the Chinese people and country to Japanese people?
3. Explain that students are going to work in small groups to analyze one of Kiyochika’s cartoons in depth.
4. Depending on student familiarity with visuals as primary historical documents, teachers may want to spend time introducing the concept of visual literacy. If students are already comfortable working with visual materials, this step may be omitted.

Write on the board the following sentence:

“The Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895 proved to the world that Japan had become a modern power.

Ask students to consider how they actually “decode” or understand the meaning of this sentence. In other words, what steps does a reader take (mostly unconsciously) to understand this or any written text? Students should understand that words are, in effect, symbols that have common meaning. At the same time, within written text, both facts and opinions can be embedded. Is the statement above factual? Which parts are factual? Which parts are open to interpretation? Explain to students that visual texts are interpreted and understood through the same process of analyzing images that convey both fact and opinion or interpretation.

 Show students the visual text on Handout 01-B (below). This may be displayed via LCD monitor, color overhead, or distributed in paper copy to students.

 Kobayashi Kiyochika   In the Battle of the Yellow Sea, a Sailor onboard Our Japanese Warship Matsushima, on the Verge of Dying, Asked Whether or Not the Enemy Ship had been Destroyed (Kôkai no tatakai ni waga Matsushima no suihei shi ni nozonde tekikan no sonpi o tou) Ukiyo-e print  1894 (Meiji 27), October  Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper  Vertical ôban triptych; 37.8 x 71 cm (14 7/8 x 27 15/16 in.)   Museum of Fine Arts, Boston  2000.109a-c

Ask students to consider how to read this visual for information and opinions on the Sino-Japanese War. Discuss what steps they need to take to understand what the author (artist) of this visual text wanted to convey to others. Discuss how “reading” a visual text differs from reading a written text.

Explain that in this lesson, students will work with a specific framework developed especially for reading visual materials and will apply this framework to an analysis of the woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895.

Distribute Handout 01-C, “The Five C’s: An Approach to Visual Texts,” or display it for the entire class. Introduce and discuss the framework (reproduced below) with the class. Then, as a class, use “The Five C’s” to analyze the woodblock print in Handout 01-B.
The Five C’s:
Context. When was this made? What is the subject matter? What clues are given for a time frame? Consider material objects such as clothing, tools, machines, weapons, architecture, etc.
Characters. Who or what is portrayed here? A person or people? Specific groups? Symbol? What clues are given about who/what they are?
Color. What colors, if any, are used? What role do the colors play in conveying a message about the scene? Do you think they were used just for visual appeal? What is the mood or tone established by these colors?
Composition. Look at the use of space and the layout of figures and activity in the visual. Where is your eye drawn? Is this the main subject? Why do you think so? Is one image bigger than another? Is that to suggest a relationship? What kind of relationship? Is the entire space used? Why or why not? What is in the foreground? The background? Does either suggest importance?
Construction. Someone consciously constructed this image for a purpose. Who do you think made this? Why? For what audience? Who would connect with this image? Who would not?
5. When the class is familiar with “The Five C’s” analysis, return their attention to the Kiyochika cartoons.  Using an LCD projector and Internet link, show students how to locate the Kiyochika cartoons within the Throwing Off Asia unit.
Divide the class into groups or pairs. Each group should select one of the Kiyochika cartoons to analyze in-depth using “The Five C’s.”
Distribute Handout 01-C, “The Five C’s,” to all students if this has not been done previously. Explain that each group should complete the questions on this sheet to analyze the cartoon it has been assigned.
Allow class Internet time to complete the task.
6. When students have finished their analysis, provide time to share student analyses.
7. Debrief the activity through a class-wide discussion. Ask students to consider the mechanisms that the artist used to convey his opinion and to influence the viewer’s attitudes about the Chinese and the Japanese in these cartoons. How do these mechanisms compare to political cartoons from the United States of about the same period? Have students consider the work of Thomas Nast and other political cartoonists of the late-19th century who focused on political corruption, immigration, and so on. Note that American cartoons of the Spanish-American War stirred similar hostilities and contempt for the enemy. How do the strategies compare to those used by political cartoonists in our newspapers today? 
8. Students can apply their learning through a synthesis activity in which they create their own editorial cartoons. Working in the small groups they formed earlier, assign students the task of constructing a cartoon that presents a position on a current domestic or international political or social issue, using symbolic images that they think will be understood by others. Teachers may choose one current event for the entire class or each group can choose its own current event. Written text can be used as a short caption, but should be kept to a minimum. 

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