Farting Japanese 'He-gassen' paintings have political meaning 200 years ago

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What's on Tianjin

Take that: The He-gassen scroll - which roughly translates to 'fart competition' or 'fart battle' - depicts various characters engaged in windy combat

Repelling the attack: In this frame, a line of attackers are having their efforts sent back in their faces by a pair of quick-thinking men with fans. The image, while amusing, hides a more sinister racial message

Close shave: In this image, a combatant has his hat blown from his head in a narrow escape. The poor man in red, however, is being hit by the full gale-force brunt

Social comment: Like a modern-day cartoonist's view of current events, the He-gassen scroll was a pointed depiction of Japan's mistrust and displeasure at European influence in the country

What have they been eating? One of the more elaborate artworks in the scroll shows the ill-effects of the battle... a woman (left) has a scarf tied around her nose and a man (right) is holding his nose in discomfort

Most people would look on this Japanese art - depicting various men and women engaged in flatulent combat - as 200-year-old toilet humour.

But the artwork, known as 'He-gassen' (or 'fart battle'), is in fact a pointed comment on political and social changes in Japan.

Made by an unknown artist or artists, the scroll depicts a number of different scenes - all linked by the fact that at least one character is directing a debilitating blast of flatulence towards another character.

They may be riding on horseback, or directing a foul wind through a gap in a wall, but the meaning is the same.

This scroll and similar drawings were created in response to increasing intrusion of Europeans in Japan during the Edo period - between 1603 and 1868.

Just like renaissance painters left hidden meaning in their work, or modern-day cartoonists provide humorous takes on serious political events, the He-gassen scroll has specific meaning that would have been instantly interpreted at the time.

This was the era of the Tokugawa shogunate, which is characterised by a suspicion of foreigners and a ruthless persecution of Christians.

By the middle of the 17th century, only China, the Dutch East India Company and a group of English traders were allowed in restricted sections of Japan.

Any other Europeans who landed in Japan were arrested and executed without trial.

While the He-gassen scroll looks ludicrous now, it was a comical depiction of Japan's serious xenophobia toward the end of this Edo period.

The country enjoyed relative isolation until Europeans and Americans - specifically Commodore Matthew Perry and his armada of 'Black Ships' ferom the U.S. NAvy - forced Japan's opening to the world in the 19th century.

SOURCE: Daily Mail