'Our Story'.

Rao Pingru was a Chinese veteran of the Chinese-Japanese War (1932-1945). After the war he was forced to work in a labour camp for 22 years, until he was freed and rehabilitated. He lived a long, happily married life until his beloved wife passed away in 2008. Heartbroken, Rao created a graphic novel about their life and relationship: 'Our Story' (2013). The heartwarming, romantic work was a success and has been translated in several languages. Incidentally Rao is also the oldest known man en second-oldest known person in history to debut as a comic artist: he was 91 or 92 when his book came out!

Early life and military service
Rao Pingru was born in 1922 in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, China. In 1940 he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the National Revolutionary Army. During the Second World War he fought against Japanese military invaders and was promoted to lieutenant by 1945. Three years later he became captain. After Japan was defeated Rau married his wife Mao Meitang in 1948, who he had known since childhood. Unfortunately China became Communist in 1949 and suddenly people who had fought for the Nationalist Army were no longer considered war heroes, but "suspicious people who needed to be re-educated." Rao took his precautions and burned all photos of him in army uniform. During the 1950s he worked several odd jobs in Shanghai, including noodle shop owner, surveyor, accountant and editor in a hospital.

Life in labour camp
In 1958 Mao launched his "Great Leap Forward", which pushed for more drastic political reforms. Rao's war record was discovered and the 35-year old father was separated from his wife and children to be re-educated for a year. Afterwards he was forced to work in a manual labour camp in Anhui. Staying behind at home his wife earned income by carrying 10-kilogram bags of cement. Rao attributed her lifelong hip pain problems to these practices. Only once a year, during Chinese New Year, he was allowed to visit his family. In 'Our Story' he recalls the time when he woke up early at home to leave again. He noticed his youngest daughter had tied a rope with bells to her ankle and his luggage, so the sound would wake her up when he left. Yet he untied the rope without her waking up, and left again.

Liberation
Rao spent 21 years in this camp. Only after Mao's death in 1976 the government started to undo his policies, free many prisoners and rehabilitate them. Rao was 58 when he was finally allowed to return to his family for good. He spent the next two decades together with her and his children, working as an editor for a medical journal.


'Our Story'.

Our Story
On 19 March 2008 Rao's beloved wife, Mao Meitang, passed away from diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. During her final years in ill health he'd taken care of her. They had been happily married for 60 years, 21 of which he was only allowed to see her once a year, because of his camp labour. But even during those two decades they had remained in contact through long love letters. Heartbroken, Rao decided to write a memoir about his late wife. Inspired by Sempé he decided to turn it into a graphic novel, "because it would be more pleasant to read." Interviewed by Stéphane Jarno for Télérama, published on 24 February 2017, Rao said that he originally didn't want to publish his book. However, one day one of his granddaughters uploaded some of his illustrations on the Internet. Media attention rose and eventually his memoir was published as: 'Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China' (Guangxi Normal University Press Group, 2013).

'Our Story' chronicles both Rao and his wife's life from the 1930s until her death in 2008. The work can be described as a text comic. The illustrations, done in pen and paint brush, are always separate from the text, safe for a few speech balloons. Rao adds photographs, fragments from their letter correspondence and philosophical prose to his story. Overall, it's a moving tribute from a loving husband to his departed wife. Apart from a love story it's also a melancholic reflection at a turbulent life and a changed society. The original text was 18 volumes long, but the publisher compiled them into one, 350-page long book. Certain scenes were left out because Rao considered them too private and/or because they addressed the blackest pages of Mao's regime.

Success
'Our Story' was a huge success in Rao's home country and was translated in English, French, Spanish and South Korean. In 2017 he was even honorary guest at the International Comics Festival of Angoulême, France.

Age record
By releasing his comics debut at age 90-91, Rao is the oldest known man in history to do so. Dutch illustrator Cor Blok was 82 when he debuted with 'The Iron Parachute' (2015), making him second. German artist Klaus Voormann, with 'Revolver 50. Birth Of An Icon' (2016) was third in place at age 79. The fourth oldest known man to debut with a graphic novel is the Dutchman Martin Ruijters, who brought out 'Toestanden in Suriname' (2011) at age 75. The record for oldest known cartoonist to debut as comic artist period goes to a woman: Geneviève Gautier, who made her first comic book in 2017 at age 95.

Death
In March 2020 Rao Pingru was hospitalized because of a gallbladder disease which worsened into multiple organ failure. He died in early April that year at age 97 or 98. Before his death he had asked his family members to put his ashes into his late wife's urn after he passed away. That way the couple who had survived so many hardships together could be reunited in death. 'Our Time' remains a testament of human love and a milestone in comic history because of Rao's age record...

Series and books by Rao Pingru in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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