The name in Chinese essentially translates to "Linked Pictures" or "Serial Pictures". The books were called "Lianhuanhua" or "Lianhuan tuhua". People omitted the "tu", and simply coined the term "Lianhuanhua" as the standard. The official term Lianhuanhua was not used until 1927. Prior to this, Lianhuanhua were separated into different name categories depending on the region.
In the 1880s, Chinese magazines such as Dianshizhai Pictorial experimented with the potential of this art technique. In 1884, ten illustrations to accompany a Korean rebellion narrative may be the earliest example of Lianhuanhua. In 1899, Wenyi Book Company in Shanghai published the illustrated lithograph"The Story of the Three Kingdoms" drawn by Zhu Zhixuan. The format then was called "huihui tu" or chapter pictures.
In 1916 Caobao newspapers bound the pictures to attract a larger audience base of middle and lower class readers. The rise of Lianhuanhua's popularity was proportional to the rise of lithographic printing introduced to Shanghai from the West. Shanghai comics journals in the 1920s featured more artwork, typically depicting traditional stories along the lines of Chinese mythology or Chinese folklore. Small publishers in the 20s and 30s were mostly located on a street called Beigongyili in the Zhabei district. In 1935 street book stall owners and publishers established the "Shanghai Lianhuan Tuhua Promotion Society" at Taoyuanli. The illustrated stories were originally targeted to children and marginally literate readers.
The books could be rented for a small fee in street kiosks. By the 1920s, Lianhuanhuas were also found in Hong Kong. These rental stores were common even during the Japanese occupation periods in the 1940s.
In Hong Kong during the 1970s, the format had essentially disappeared as they had become materials associated with the uneducated and unsophisticated.
In China, the popularity of the format would end with the arrival of the Cultural Revolution. An attempt was made in the 1980s to revive the artform to its former heights, but a population deprived of literature and art for a decade made this impossible.
Not long ago, Renmin Meishu Chubanshe (人民美术出版社), Shanghai ren min shu chu ban she (上海人民美术出版社) and Tianjin People's Fine Arts Publishing House (天津人民美术出版社) have republished some of their popular Lianhuanhua books.