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Dept. of English
Feb 1998
Edited: Oct 2000



Synopsis: Children's literature has long been considered educative. It used to give children moral lessons and present universal truth. In recent years, the new generation of local children's literature have experimented a new form of children literature. This new form aims not to give doctrines but inspiration. It encourages children to think instead of to adopt. The McMug series is one representative of this new age. This research paper reports and discusses the results of a survey that has looked into McMug's popularity among both children and adults. By studying the findings of the survey and the creators' account of McMug's success, the current study analyzes the ideology underlying McMug and the way the ideology contributes to McMug series' success. The findings verify the argument that McMug fulfills people's nostalgia and provides them hope to deal with the harsh reality. This paper argues that the McMug series is accepted by different age groups thanks to its multi-layered meaning by practicing intertextuality.

As Meimei Chan (1992) indicates in her account of the development of local children's literature, children's literature is a relatively "late" genre of the literary system in both the western and Chinese context. It is late in the sense that the public's recognition and appreciation to it have come much later than it deserves. It has long been regarded to be subordinate and inferior to adult's literature. Its pedagogic purpose seems to have undermined its literary valves.

Hong Kong children's literature has suffered from this common misunderstanding. It was not until the eighties that Hong Kong children's literature opened up its local market. The early eighties were a time of relative stability and prosperity. The education standard of the new generation was also improved. This promising social context enabled the development of a "full-fledge" children literature system.

Older generations of local children's literature were characterized by its educational nature. They showed "the perfect aspects of the world and emphasized the moral side of life" (Stella Wong, 1995). Butt Wah Liu, a local writer, pointed out that traditional children's periodicals featured culturally assumed universal truth and absolute moral values. They showed "a clear cut between right and wrong," (Stella Wong, 1995).

Children's literature of the past was criticized for being over didactic. Ms. Alice Mak, the illustrator of McMug, complained that traditional children's periodicals were too rigid and they impose moral values on children (Stella Wong, 1995). Mr. Brian Tse, the writer of McMug, also complained that traditional children periodicals contained so many severe doctrines and even "threats" that they appeared to be "verbal violence" [1] (Zhi-Heng Wong, 1996).

Traditional children's periodicals featured culturally assumed universal truth and absolute moral values. They showed "a clear cut between right and wrong."

Traditional children periodicals have also been criticized for being too childish or too complex to children (Zhi-Heng Wong, 1996). Ms Mak agreed that the text should be simplified and more cartoons and illustrations be introduced to make children's periodicals more attractive (Stella Wong, 1995). Moreover, Brian indicated that the content was monotonous and disconnected from children's daily urban life (Zhi-Heng Wong,1996).

A revolution therefore took place in recent years. Literary works for children nowadays are more intriguing and innovative. There is also increasing popularity of the kind of children's literature writen for both children and adults. The McMug series is beyond doubt a remarkable representative of this new generation. The Yellow Bus monthly, which went out of business in 1995, managed to resume publication in 1996 thanks to McMug's popularity.

The McMug series, a mix of cartoons, illustrated novellas, and a wide range of cute products like stuffed dolls and greeting cards, is written by Mr Brian Tse and illustrated by Ms Alice Mak. Talking about their relationship, Ms Mak regarded Mr Tse's as the composer and the director, while considering herself the singer (Stella Wong, 1995).

McMug portrays the daily experience of a peculiar pig named McMug and its friends. McMug the pig is adopted by a family and is brought to the urban city from the countryside. It is treated not as a pet but a member of the family. Its ignorance constantly provokes laughter.

Being at the forefront of the new generation of local children's literature, Mr Tse consciously eliminates those educational elements and endings that are traditionally considered necessary. He refuses to give children absolute moral values, as he intends to widen young people's horizon (Zhi-Heng Wong, 1996). Instead of spooning children with "slogan-ized" ethic lessons, good children's literature, he believes, should have "vitality" that inspires and evokes aspiration and perseverance (Guan, 1993)

Another characteristic of new children's literature is its appeal to both children and adults. McMug is presumably written for children, but its actual target readership is vague. There seems to be no boundary of its readership in terms of age. Its sub-series "Adults' Fable," originally published in Economy Daily, though written for adults, have attracted a large number of young readers. Another sub-series, originally published in Xiao Ming Zhou, though written for children, have attracted innumerable mature readers (Zhi-Heng Wong, 1996). McMug is in fact widely accepted by people in different age groups, including kids in kindergartens, young people from schools and colleges, and adults in the workforce. The McMug fans club has about twenty thousand members aged from 6 to 40 plus (Ng, 1998).

Tse explained that the gap between adults' mentality and children's has been reduced and blurred a lot (Guan, 1993). What being interesting to children could intrigue adults as well. Alice confirmed that adults' world could be shared with children. For we are all exposed to the same environment. She said for instance that all of us like McDonald's and like going to karaokes (Stella Wong, 1995).

Due to this special characteristic: being read by both adults and children, McMug is "sometimes childish and yet sometimes profound (more often both childish and profound)" (Tse, 1995, McMug Comics Sampler). Sometimes the messages conveyed are so profound that even well educated adults find it difficult to understand. Ms Zhi-Heng Wong (1996), a journalist of a student magazine named U-Beat from the Chinese University (CUHK), expressed her doubt in an article titled "McMug: To Share with Whom?." Mr Tse's insights into our daily life incorporated in the apparently simple stories are, Ms Wong argued, hardly shared with the reader. A lecturer from the Department of Sociology of CUHK also remarked that "readers think they understand" but very likely they don't (Zhi-Heng Wong, 1996).

McMug's unusual nature is obvious. It is simple in form but rich in content. It is written for children (presumably) but is widely read by readers in different age groups. Asked about the ideology of the McMug series that contributes to its success, Mr Tse nonetheless evaded the question and gave an indirect answer: "If you were asked about what your life's for, could you answer?" (Zhi-Heng Wong, 1996).

Instead of spooning children with "slogan-ized" ethic lessons, good children's literature, Brian Tse believes, should have "vitality" that inspires and evokes aspiration and perseverance

The unusual popularity of McMug has already triggered many discussions about its nature and many attempts have been made to explain its success among both children and adults. Ms Po-Ling Chu (1998) ascribed McMug's achievement to the domination of violence and sex in the local comic books industry. She argued that while violent and pornographic comics being the mainstream, McMug serves as an alternative. McMug is "as pure as a clean river," fulfilling urban citizens' yearning for simplicity and sincerity [2].

Ms Shin-Kwan Chan (1996), a then postgraduate student, expressed similar opinion in her thesis titled "A Genre of Longing and Hope." She argued that children's literature is "a unique genre that reflects and mediates our society's deepest longings and empowers us with hope." She referred to McMug in particular to illustrate how children's literature, through a utopian vision of a better world, helps us reflect our relationship with the alienating reality and frees us from earthly constraints.

Ms Chan explained McMug's success further in terms of intertextuality. McMug features a number of allusions to old fables, proverbs, classic poems, historical events, current social issues, scientific studies, and so on. These intertextual connections, Ms Chan suggested, become various forces that affect the process of constructing the meanings of the original stories. This intertextuality accordingly generates layers of meaning that, in turn, satisfy readers in different age groups. McMug thus earns compliment from people aged as young as 6 and as mature as 40.

Mr Fa Yu (1992) also realized that McMug is rich in meaning. He praised Mr Tse's stories for being lasting as readers could recognize different levels of profundity by appreciating the stories from different perspectives. McMug, Mr Yu remarked, constructs an imaginative world for children on the one hand, and reminds adults the complexity of the realistic society on the other.

Mr Wai-Kei Ma, a lecturer in the Department of Journalism & Communication of the Chinese University, specified that it is the use of a special language that situates in between adults' and children's that offers the stories multi-layer meanings and attracts both adults and children (Zhi-Heng Wong, 1996).

Though attempts have been made to account for McMug's popularity among both children and adults, these studies have been done mainly independent of the general public's opinion about McMug. Readers' opinions have seldom been collected and taken into consideration in previous discussions. A better understanding of the way the public perceives McMug is thus needed. The present study aims to analyze McMug's popularity from two perspectives: the public's and the creators'. This study attempts to draw relationship between these two perspectives, analyzing how the public understands the ideology of McMug, and how this ideology contributes to McMug's success.

Unlike previous discussions that have mainly focused on McMug's accomplishment in popularity, the present study addresses people's misconception about McMug's literary status. This study aims to inspire more serious and critical studies to be conducted on McMug, and to draw more attention to this new form of children literature.


1. The original text: "傳統故事太多教訓和恐嚇, 仿如「口講暴力」" [Back]

2. The original text: "「麥嘜」仿如一股清流, 正符合都市人渴望返璞歸真, 嚮往真情的口味 [Back]

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