Sapajou, cartoonist

The decadent life of the Shanghailanders in the 1930s was illustrated by two great European cartoonists, Schiff and Sapajou. Sapajou, in our opinion, was the best of the two.

Sapajou was a White Russian who came to Shanghai in the early 1920s to escape the Bolshevik Revolution back home. He and thousands of other Russians made their homes in Shanghai which as an open city accepted just about anybody.

Sapajou's granddaughter, Larissa Taboryski, wrote with the following information:

"He died in Manilla on Oct 11th 1949, of lung cancer. The family along with many other Russians was in a refugee camp on Tibabo. They were waiting for passage to the USA where he was to work for the Hearst newspapers but after his death they went to Australia where Christina and I were born. We finally moved to SF in 1968.

As you can imagine Australia was quite provincial after Shanghai and we heard many many tales of those days as we were growing up, I think it probably helped my family overcome their culture shock. Life in Shanghai was very real to me but I didn't really understand the circumstances they endured until much later. Somehow my mother made it all sound like an adventure!

Grandfather was in the Czar's army and served as aide de camp to General Horvath who was overseeing completion of the trans Siberian railway in the Far East. He married my grandmother a daughter of General Koloboff after the revolution when they were all living in Peking. In talking to friends of their's from that time I understand he just started doodling and somehow managed to forge a new life for himself and family, certainly a very different one to the one he was trained for."

An excerpt from Sin City, by Ralph Shaw:

"Star of the (North-China Daily News) office was 'Sapajou', the cartoonist. He was a White Russian ex-officer named Sapoinikoff, a brilliant artist with a wonderful sense of humour. Tall, thin, bespectacled he limped badly as the result of a wound received in an engagement with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. In Shanghai he had quickly earned fame through his brilliant political cartoons and, for a stateless exile, his membership of the Shanghai Club classified him as a rare specimen....

(In 1942), Sapajou became the cartoonist of the German newspaper. It was either that or starvation as a stateless Russian. More than a thousand White Russians had lost jobs in British, 
American and Netherlands firms closed down by the Japanese and their plight was pitiful - worse than that of the Jewish refugees, most of whom were still in the Wayside camps supported by donations from international Jewish charities.

After the war there was no job on the North-China Daily News for the Russian cartoonist and, after a poverty-stricken existence in a Hongkew hovel, kept alive on the hand-outs of friends, he ended up in a transit camp for stateless refugees in the Philippines. A sick man, he died shortly afterwards.



See also Sapajou's wonderful drawings in China Coast Ballads, in the Library.