After the success of China’s “Swordsmen” tv series, the new “Good Wife” television drama has turned out to be China’s next big tv hit, scoring record-breaking ratings. This drama of 35 episode, produced by Hunan Satellite TV, tells the story of mother and housewife Han Dayun (played by actress Liu Tao), who struggles with the challenges of family-life and her role as a mother, wife and daughter-in-law.
After marrying the rich and aristocratic Zhao Boxuan, Han Dayun becomes a stay-at-home mother for her daughter and takes care of the household consisting of a dominant mother-in-law, a shrewd sister-in-law and her somewhat foolish husband. Whilst her mother-in-law continuously plagues Dayun for not conceiving a son (the male heir), her husband is having an affair behind her back. Despite her tribulations, Han Dayun maintains her role as the “good wife”- a virtuous, honest, warm and kind woman who will do whatever it takes to save her marriage and keep the family together.
As the ratings for ‘Good Wife’ went sky-high when the final episode was aired in March 2013, discussions on the show dominated Sina Weibo. Topic of discussion: housewife Dayun. Despite being bullied by her family-in-law and badgered by her husband’s mistress, she remains calm, respectful and patient- thereby “setting the example of a good wife” (Sina Weibo 2013). Why are tv dramas such as these so popular in Mainland China? And how can their seemingly old-fashioned topics be explained in the context of a rapidly modernizing China?
TV Drama in China
Over fifty-five years have passed since China aired its very first television drama titled ‘A Mouthful of Pancake’ (Yikou Caibingzi, 1958), a tv show themed around frugality and class struggle that was mainly used as a tool for political education (Zhu et al 2008, 4-5). Much has changed since those days – not only in China’s television system that now holds a mix of national, provincial and local stations, but also in the topics that are discussed in television dramas. Since the 1990s, TV dramas telling the stories of everyday family life have become increasingly popular. They depict the domestic lives of Chinese families and the concerns they face in issues such as marriage, courtship, and show the existing frictions between traditional values and modern developments (Zhu 2008, 3-11). Despite new genres of television shows emerging over the decades, the television drama has remained the most popular item on Chinese television. According to research, “the ‘Chinese viewer’ watches an average of fifty-two minutes of television drama per day”, turning China into the world’s largest consumer of television dramas (Zhu et al 2008, 1; Zhu 2008, 9).
With a myriad of television channels around, does the Chinese government still take note of the content of television shows? The answer is yes. Although Hunan Satellite TV (that airs ‘Good Wife’) is owned by a mixed group of investors, and could therefore said to be “genuinely commercialized”, it is still directly connected to the Provincial Radio TV Bureau that implements the guidelines of the Party (Yong 2010, 660). Producers of a television show have to both take the wishes of the audience (the commercial profits) and the requirements of the government (the guidelines) in account when making a television drama. China arguably still is among “the most controlled media environments in the world” (Schneider 2012, 4).
Commerce and government go hand in hand: “(..) letting commerce into China does not mean taking the state out; the financial base has changed without substantially reducing the state’s regulatory power or its inclination to exercise ideological and moral oversight of the media” (Zhu 2008, 11).
The propagation within TV dramas of married life as the number one priority and as the “ultimate achievement in contemporary Chinese society” is no coincidence (Scheider 2012, 2); policy makers who aim at reviving Confucian traditions can operate through the content of television programs. Especially in times of rapid modernization where traditional views and values are continually under debate, the restoration and confirmation of these values are of great political concern (Li 2011, 335). Chinese TV dramas such as ‘Good Wife’ clearly represent Confucian values, and portray the family as the primary social institution and the key to happiness (Schneider 2012, 2; Zhu 2008, 3).
Confucian Values in ‘Good Wife’
Maintaining hierarchical relations and preserving harmony are key points to Confucianism that that are underlined in the ‘Good Wife’ tv show.
Zhao Boxuan (Dayun's husband) standing behind a picture of his mother, who can be considered the head of the household since his father passed away.
The whole idea of the ‘good wife’ actually is an integral part of Chinese tradition, where a clear distinction is made between men and women. While the men are occupied with all things that are “outside” (wai) the family (such as business or official matters), the women assign themselves to all the tasks that count as being “inside” (nei) the family home, such as taking care of the household, children and parents (Wang 2012).
In the scene pictured above, Boxuan (Dayun's husband) sees his wife in the streets while he is on his way to a meeting. He is displeased when he hears she is helping her sister Cui Ping with some business. He says: "Why do you keep yourself busy with Cui Ping- aren't you busy enough with matters inside the house?"
For a married woman it is the family of her husband that counts as her own. The relationship with her mother-in-law is especially vital for her role in the family – some even say that being a ‘good wife’ actually means being a “good daughter-in-law” (2012, 65). This holds true for the narrative of ‘Good Wife’. The protagonist Han Dayun is bullied by her own mother-in-law (whom she refers to as ‘mother’) for not giving her the grandson she desired. Instead, Han Dayun and her husband have a daughter, who also happens to be weak due to a heart condition. Although gender should not matter in present-day Chinese society, Han Dayun understands her mother’s preference for a son.
In the scene above, Dayun is at the hospital with her sister-in-law to convince the nurse to tell their mother that her youngest daughter is pregnant with a son (although this is not the case). The nurse says: "What era are we living in?! Why do you still value the gender difference between boys and girls?" Dayun answers: "I know it is difficult, but for older people it takes time to grasp this whole concept [of gender equality]; it does not change overnight."
Dayun talks to her mother-in-law, saying: "From the moment I married into your family (the Zhao family), I have considered you as my own mother."
While Dayun’s husband makes long hours at work, she takes care of the household. Despite the daily nagging of her ‘mother’ she remains calm, virtuous and obedient. Nothing seems to infuriate the ‘good wife’; even when her family-in-law and her husband’s secret girlfriend make her life into a misery, Dayun maintains balanced and does everything in her power to defend her marriage and preserve the harmony within the family.
By making the ‘good one’ suffer and let her be persecuted by evil, the show highlights traditional Confucian values about good versus evil and right versus wrong (Yan 1999, 269; Li 2011, 337). In the end the ‘evil ones’, who employ dishonesty and corruption to gain profit, end up empty-handed. The evil mistress goes to prison, and her little son is raised by Dayun and the family. The ‘good wife’ conquers all; she wins back her husband, succeeds in getting a son and achieves the ultimate goal: harmonious family life.
Confucius goes Commercial
Despite the great success of ‘Good Wife’, the series did have its fair share of criticism and satire. Many netizens thought the script to be flat, too melodramatic and overdone- the Zhao family did not seem like a ‘real family’ to them (Xuan 2013). Nevertheless, most viewers did appreciate the positive message the drama gave to society- “that family itself is a community, and that family members should help each other out when facing a crisis” (Zhuocai 2013).
TV shows such as ‘Good Wife’ are an embodiment of China’s commercialization, cultural values and the state’s conception of a “harmonious society”; they are a way for Chinese viewers to make sense of the changing cultural environment and new types of societal relations (Li 2011, 327-339). The ‘Good Wife’ TV drama fulfilled all the goals it was produced for: it moved an audience of millions, satisfied government’s requirements and generated commercial revenues – a true happy end.
One Guangzhou commenter says on Sina Weibo: “This mother-in-law in #GoodWife#- what a rigid-minded woman. How can people value the male gender and belittle female so much? I’m happy my mother is not like that. Where does one still find a daughter-in-law like that? (..) People like that are hard to find nowadays. Now that I have seen how their divorce went about [between Han Dayu and Zhao Boxuan], I am afraid to get married. After watching ‘Good Wife’ I am definitely not becoming a housewife.. Television dramas nowadays…”
Weibo user Zou Chun Yan says: “When we finished watching this video, my godfather had tears in his eyes.” Another user, Xiao Juan Juan, comments: “I am somewhat disappointed after watching #GoodWife#. Liu Tao [Han Dayun, the protagonist] doesn’t really go through a transformation throughout the serie. I expected her to show a bit more personality. So being a ‘good wife’ means being maltreated? People like the sister-in-law [of Han Dayun] really do exist, but does forgiveness make them any better? Hong Xiao Ling [who plays the secret girlfriend] is also shameful- why didn’t the production team show a bit more taste? They ruined it all. (..)”
Want to Watch?
Are you curious about China’s popular television programmes and want to take a peek? You can find scenes of practically all top-TV shows online. Check out my overview of the China’s 2013 top 15 TV drama’s here: Overview of China’s 2013 Popular TV Drama’s.
– by Manya Koetse
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Li Li. 2011. “The Television Play, Melodramatic Imagination and Envisioning the ‘Harmonious Society’ in Post-1989 China.” Journal of Contemporary China 20(69): 327-341.
Schneider, Florian. 2012. Visual Political Communication in Popular Chinese Television Series. Leiden/Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV.
Sina Weibo 2013. ‘#贤妻#’ [#GoodWife#]. Sina Weibo, March 25. Accessed March 25, 2013. http://huati.weibo.com/28839?from=501&order=time.
Wang Fengxian. 2012. “The “Good Wife and Wise Mother” as a Social Discourse of Gender.” Chinese Studies in History 45(4): 58-69.
Xuan Shao Qiang. 2013. “‘‘贤妻’引频繁吐槽 [‘Good Wife’ receives frequent mockery]” China News, March 7. Accessed March 25, 2013. http://www.chinanews.com/yl/2013/03-07/4624073.shtml.
Yan Haiping. 1999. “Urbanizing Woman and her Sisters: the Ethics of Gender in Chinese Television Dramas.” Theatre Research International 24(3): 268-275.
Yong Zhong. 2010.”Relations between Chinese Television and the Capital Market: Three Case Studies.” Media Culture Society 32(4): 649-668.
Zhang, Yan Bing and Jake Harwood. 2002. “Television Viewing and Perceptions of Traditional Chinese Values Among Chinese College Students.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 46(2): 245-264.
Zhuocai. 2013. “电视剧《贤妻》收官刘涛诠释完美女性 [The final part of TV Drama ‘Good Wife’- Liu Tao performs the perfect woman]. ” Qianlong, March 25. Accessed March 25, 2013. http://email@example.com.
Zhu Ying. 2008. Television in Post-Reform China: Serial Dramas, Confucian Leadership and the Global Television Market. New York: Routledge.
Zhu Ying, Michael Kane & Ruoyun Bai. 2008. “Introduction”. In TV Drama in China, Ying Zhu, Michael Keane & Ruoyun Bai (eds), 1-19. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
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Why Trump Has Two Different Names in Chinese
Why does ‘Trump’ have multiple names in Chinese?
First published , updated version published March 7, 2019
Donald Trump has two most commonly used different names in Chinese. In Mandarin*, they are Tèlǎngpǔ (特朗普) and Chuānpǔ (川普). Both names have been used by Chinese mainstream media and netizens for years.
*(Due to the scope of this article, we’ll just use the Mandarin pinyin here.)
In the Chinese translation of Donald Trump’s autobiography The Art of the Deal (1987), the ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ transliteration is used, whereas the translation of the George Ross book Trump-Style Negotiations (2008) uses ‘Chuānpǔ’ as the Chinese name for Trump.
Considering that Trump is making headlines every day, more people are wondering why Trump has two Chinese names, and which one is the correct name to use. There are even discussions about the topic on Chinese social media.
Why are foreign names translated?
Why are non-Chinese names actually translated into Chinese at all? With English and Chinese being such vastly different languages with entirely different phonetics and script, the majority of Chinese people will find it hard to pronounce a foreign name that is written in English.
Writing foreign names or terms in Chinese script has a long history and practical reasons which won’t be further elaborated on here. At present, aside from being standardized, it does not just help Chinese speakers to pronounce these words, it also makes it easier to remember them. Most Chinese names usually consist of two or three characters; the first character is the surname, and the last character(s) is the given name.
Translating a name to better adapt to the culture in which it is used does not only happen with English names in China; you often see the same happening with Chinese names in foreign countries.
In that case, the first character (surname) is moved to the back, and the given name changed into an English one. Alibaba’s Ma Yun, for example, has become globally known as ‘Jack Ma.’ Film star Zhao Wei is called ‘Vicky Zhao’, Tencent’s Ma Huateng is known as ‘Pony Ma,’ and the popular actress Lin Yun is called ‘Jelly Lin.’
The right way to translate a foreign name in Chinese
There are multiple ways to translate a foreign name to Chinese. Most commonly, a name is translated into Chinese characters that are phonetically similar to the original name, without necessarily being very meaningful. The transliteration of ‘Hillary’ (Clinton), for example, is ‘Xīlālǐ’ (希拉里). ‘Bush’ is translated as ‘Bùshí’ (布什).
Another option is to choose a name purely based on meaning rather than phonetics. One example is Elvis Presley, who is called ‘Cat King’ (Māo Wáng 猫王) in Chinese, which stays close to his nickname “The Hillbilly Cat.”
The best option when translating a foreign name into Chinese, however, is to make sure it stays close to its original pronunciation while also using elegant characters. In other words; it is nice when a name’s translation makes sense both phonetically and semantically. Marilyn Monroe’s last name in Chinese is Mènglù (梦露), for example, which sounds like ‘Monroe’ and has the characters for ‘Dream Dew’ – a perfect transliteration for such a dreamy actress.
Even when the characters used for a foreign name in Chinese are not necessarily intended to convey a certain meaning, it is important that they do not have any negative connotations. Nobody wants a character in their name associated with divorce, disease or death – it is believed to bring bad luck.
Another thing is that it is considered helpful for foreign names in Chinese is to maintain a ‘foreign flavor’ to it, to make it clear that the name is actually a transliteration. To give an example raised in this Nikkei article: President Reagan’s name is generally translated as Lǐgēn 里根 in Chinese – the characters being somewhat uncommon for a Chinese name.
The same name could also be written with the characters 李根, very common for a Chinese name, but then it would be difficult to know whether a media report is talking about Reagan the President or just a local Chinese person by the same name. Transliterations of foreign names, therefore, are often easily recognizable as foreign names on purpose.
Trump, Tèlǎngpǔ, and Chuānpǔ
In the case of Trump, his Chinese names are mainly chosen for phonetic reasons, with different sources using different characters. Part of the challenge in deciding the right Chinese translation for his name, is the fact that Chinese does not have consonant cluster ‘tr’ as one sound.
The Chinese-language Nikkei newspaper dedicated an op-ed written by Chinese scholar Ke Long (柯隆) to the matter, who argues that although it may all seem trivial, it is actually quite confusing and unpractical for president Trump to have more than one name in Chinese.
The Chinese media in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most overseas Chinese-language media, refer to Trump as ‘Chuānpǔ’ (川普).* According to the World Journal, the biggest Chinese-language newspaper in the US, it is the only proper way to translate this name, yet most Chinese state media and Chinese-language UK media (such as BBC) all use ‘Tèlǎngpǔ.’
* (The Chinese version of The New York Times 纽约时报中文版 is an exception, as ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ 特朗普 is generally also used in this publication.)
Author Ke Long explains that Chinese translations of foreign names try to stay as close as possible to the pronunciation of a name in its original language. This is why the name of the city ‘Paris’ is pronounced ‘Bālí’ (巴黎) in Mandarin Chinese, staying close to the French pronunciation, and ‘Amsterdam’ being ‘Āmǔsītèdān’ (阿姆斯特丹), which follows the city’s Dutch pronunciation.
If the British would pronounce ‘Trump’ as ‘te-lan-pu,’ then it would thus perhaps be more understandable why media such as the BBC would write Tèlǎngpǔ. But they don’t pronounce it like that, Ke Long argues, saying that the use of ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ thus does not make sense, and is actually closer to the Japanese way of writing Trump’s name (‘トランプ’: to-ra-n-pu).
More so, the author writes, it does not make sense for Chinese media to take over the British transliteration of the Trump name. Considering Trump is American, Chinese media should follow the translations made by American media. He also notes that if it would be about the Prime Minister of Britain, the Chinese transliteration should follow the one used by the media in the UK.
Although the Nikkei author seems to advocate for a singular use of ‘Chuānpǔ’ by all media, no Chinese media are necessarily ‘wrong’ in their transliteration of the name Trump. The ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ 特朗普 translation follows the example of outlets such as the BBC, while Chuānpǔ 川普 follows that of other media.
Some Chinese bloggers argue that Chuānpǔ 川普 is the best way to write Trump’s name, because the first character, that actually means ‘river,’ is commonly used in Chinese, making the name sound more ‘natural’ and easy to pronounce than ‘Tèlǎngpǔ.’ Moreover, they argue that the Mandarin ‘chuan’ sound is more appropriate to convey the pronunciation of ‘tr’ than the ‘te-lang’ way.
In the end, the reason why Trump has two names most commonly used in Chinese is just a matter of media, with various mainstream outlets adopting different names since Trump first made headlines, and without there being any clear consensus on which Chinese name to use across all these different Chinese-language media platforms around the world.
Chuángpù and Chuángpò?
On Chinese social media, President Trump even has more than two names. There are also netizens referring to him as 床鋪, 闯破 or 床破 (Chuángpù/Chuángpò); these are all transliterations that contain strange or negative characters, making the name unrefined and harsh-sounding on purpose to make the name ‘Trump’ look and sound bad.
Although there have been online discussions on the right transliteration for the name Trump, it is unlikely that there will be one official Chinese name for the US President in the near future. Xinhua News, China’s official state-run press agency, has consistently been using Tèlǎngpǔ 特朗普 for years, and will probably continue to use it.
Many netizens simply use both versions of his name in one post to avoid confusion, and some news reports have even started using both names in its headlines (image below).
Despite the somewhat confusing situation at hand, there are also those who do not seem to mind at all. “Who cares if it is Tèlǎngpǔ or Chuānpǔ anyway?” one netizen says: “In this day and age, we all know who it is we are talking about.”
This article first appeared in 2017 and has been republished with various corrections:
– The first version did not properly convey the argument made by author Ke Long in his Nikkei piece, which is more clearly laid out in this version.
– This version has added some extra information coming from sources after 2017.
Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.
©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at email@example.com
The Chinese Animation Dream: Making Made-in-China ‘Donghua’ Great Again
The Chinese animation industry is a much-discussed topic in the media and on Weibo. Will China’s ‘donghua’ make a comeback?
The Chinese animated movie White Snake (白蛇:缘起), produced by Light Chaser Animation and Warner Bros, has been under the spotlight since its release on January 11. The fantasy animation, that has raked in 300 million yuan (±$44 million) at the box office, has triggered discussions in the media on the status quo and future of China’s animation industry.
Although China is seeing a steady release of domestic animated films and series, there is still much room for improvement. Not only are many ‘donghua’ (动画) still lacking when it comes to quality and script, but the Chinese animation market is also facing fierce competition from the American and Japanese markets.
‘JAPANESE CULTURAL INVASION’
“Making China’s own animated heroes become examples for the Chinese youth”
A recent Foreign Policy article by Tanner Greer discusses the great popularity of Japanese manga (comics) and anime (cartoons) in the People’s Republic of China. The influence of Japanese popular culture in China is not necessarily appreciated by the Chinese government, which is concerned with maintaining a certain control over matters of cultural dissemination.
Since Japanese comics and films began to gain popularity in China in the early 1990s, there have been various developments that have shown the government’s dislike of the ‘Japanese cultural invasion’ in the country. To counter the impact of foreign animation/cartoon products, the authorities not only attempted to curb the inflow of these products but also to promote the production of its own China-made animations, that should reflect the ideals of the Party.
As early as 1995, President Jiang Zemin wrote a letter to the Shanghai Animation Film Studio (上海美术电影制片厂), writing that “inspiring people through excellent work is an important task of the cultural front,”1 and expressing his wishes that, “under the guidance of the Party’s literary and artistic principles, animation art workers will continue to release ideological, artistic and enjoyable art products, providing more and better spiritual sustenance for the youth and for children, making China’s own animated heroes become friends and examples for the [Chinese] youth” (1995; Saito 2017, 141).
Twenty-four year later, China’s animation industry has seen enormous growth but is still not as well-received by the Chinese public as Jiang had probably hoped for. Meanwhile, the demand for Japanese and other foreign products is still going strong: the animated movies that are in the top 3 of highest box office successes in mainland China are all foreign productions.
The 2018 Chinese animation The King of Football (足球王者) took approximately 60 million yuan ($8.8 million) to make, but became a commercial flop, raking in less than 1.8 million yuan ($267,000) at the box office (Yau 2018).
The new animation White Snake is doing much better than the 2018 Football flop, and has made some Chinese state media note that the overall quality of domestically produced animation is steadily getting better, especially over the past few years. Yet, critics also note that despite several successes since 2015, the Chinese animation has yet to come out of its “low point” (China Daily Culture 2019).
GOLDEN AGE OF CHINESE ANIMATION
“Chinese films should be based on real Chinese traditions and stories”
If the current era marks a certain ‘low point’ in Chinese animation, then when was its ‘high’ performing time? The first so-called “golden age” of Chinese animation actually occurred in the 1957-1965 era. Long before that, in the 1920s, China’s renowned Wan brothers produced their first animated short, inspired by the success of Disney and the Fleischer brothers (Chen 2017, 175; Lent & Ying 2013, 20-22). It led to the production of China’s first fully-animated film Blood Money (血钱) in 1932.
The Nanjing-born Wan brothers (萬氏兄弟) are the twins Wan Laiming and Guchan (1900), Wan Chaochen (1906), and Wan Dihuan (1907), who are generally credited with starting Chinese animation. The first three names are the brothers who later joined the renowned Shanghai Animation Film Studio that was led by cartoonist Te Wei (特伟, 1915).
Te Wei is one of the major names in the Chinese School of Animation; he previously headed the Northeast Film Studio, that was founded in 1949.
Although the Wan brothers were initially inspired by American animation, along with German and Russian styles, they soon focused on finding a more Chinese-oriented style in their work. In a 1936 interview, the brothers stated that Chinese films should be based on “real Chinese traditions and stories,” and should also be “educational” besides entertaining (Lent & Ying 2013, 22-23). Focusing more on Chinese artistic traditions was also something that was encouraged by Te Wei.
The Shanghai Animation Film studio started doing just that, and creators began committing themselves to learn from classical Chinese literature, paintings, and art, to build on truly Chinese animation canon that would incorporate a certain ‘national identity.’ For their 1956 24-minute animation The Conceited General (骄傲的将军), they even invited opera teachers to their work studio to learn from their Peking Opera movements and apply it to their animated characters (Chen 2017, 185; Lent & Ying 2013, 25-26).
The first color animation Why Crows Are Black (乌鸦为什么是黑的, 1956) became the first Chinese animation to be recognized internationally at the 1956 Venice Film Festival. The 1960 success of Where is Momma (小蝌蚪找妈妈) was followed by others, with the 1961/1964 Havoc in Heaven (大闹天宫) winning multiple awards, becoming one of China’s most-praised animation classics.
During the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), China’s animation industry suffered a huge blow and its first boom was halted. Starting from 1977 to the mid-1980s, a “second wave” of success followed, with new films that also carried that distinct style of Chinese animation; works such as the 1980s Three Monks (三个和尚) and the 1988 Feeling from Mountain and Water (山水情) are some example success stories within this second ‘golden age’ (Chen 2017).
In a 2001 interview, Te Wei stated that there were multiple factors at play that contributed to the success of Chinese animation over the 1960-1980 period. The animation creators at the time, for example, were not pressured for deadlines and had unlimited creative time. There were enough financial resources to fund the studio (state support), little government control, a prosperous production system, and there were multiple generations of animators working together at the studio (Lent & Ying 2013, 27).
LOSING THE MAGIC TOUCH
“You can see Disney in it. But at least they tried”
So what happened to the golden days of Chinese animation? After the Mao era, in 1978, Deng Xiaoping famously initiated China’s Reform and Opening, starting the process which transformed the country and also had drastic consequences for China’s creative industries.
Following the emergence of the market economy, creators of Chinese animation had to focus more on the commercial value of their works. But while concentrating on consumer-based commerce, they also still had to make sure their productions were politically correct and in line with the (censorship) guidelines.
Starting from the 1990s, Chinese animation was officially defined as an “industry” and became a focus in the development of the national economy, with the government paying close attention (Chen 2017, 158; Wu 2017).
As described by John Lent and Xu Ying, animation studios started to struggle to support themselves and sped up productions to satisfy the rising domestic TV market, while also becoming “workstations” for overseas clients (2013, 27).
Although the number of productions went up, the high production pressure affected creativity and the artistic quality of Chinese animation.
Meanwhile, the market came to be dominated by imported, sometimes pirated, foreign animations. Astro Boy, Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan and other Japanese popular culture became more influential among Chinese youth in the 1990s. This also changed viewers’ preferences and aesthetic standards, and many Chinese animations adopted more Japanese or American styles in their creations (Ho 2018, 167; Liu 2007, 29).
With the rise of the internet in China, the inflow of (pirated) animations and cartoons from outside of China, and their major impact, began to become much harder to combat.
Some films, such as the 1999 Lotus Lantern (宝莲灯) by Shanghai Animation Film Studio still succeeded in becoming a high-quality commercial success, although Chinese cartoonist Te Wei did note: “You can see Disney in it. But at least they tried” (Lent & Ying 2017).
THE RISE OF CHINA’S ANIMATION?
“Chinese animations keep on getting better and better, and it makes me feel proud”
For the past few years, especially since the propagated concept of the ‘Chinese Dream’ has popularized within Chinese society, an idea that focuses on ‘national rejuvenation,’ the ‘comeback’ of Chinese animation has become a much-discussed topic in state media and on social media.
The main idea disseminated by state media and government, is that Chinese donghua (动画, animation) should be developed with specific Chinese characteristics, should not blindly follow its (foreign) competitors, and should propagate Chinese culture and socialist values. The slogan “Revive the Country’s Creativity” (振兴国创) is repeated in dozens of these articles.
Some media claim that Chinese animation is no longer at its low point now, but has reached a stage of “adolescence” (Xinhua 2019). This resonates with earlier government articles proposing that China should become “an internationally strong animation country” by 2023 (GWP 2008).
There are many ways in which a ‘healthy development’ of China’s animation market is now promoted. Since 2010, animation companies in China enjoy certain tax benefits, there have been national award for the best animations since 2011, and since long there have been measures stipulating that a certain percentage of broadcasted animations must be China-made (Saito 2017).
A noteworthy animation that was released in 2018 is The Leader (领风者), a web series that focuses on the live and work of Karl Marx, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth.
The idea that was promoted with the release of The Leader was that promoting Chinese ‘mainstream values’ could also have a broad audience appeal, “as it can also be thrilling and attractive” (Global Times 2018).
The ‘rejuvenation’ of Chinese animation is not just a cultural and ideological project, there are economic motives at stake too; China’s animation industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Some media predict that 2019 might be a pivotal year for China’s animation. The successes of the 2015 Monkey King: Hero is Back (西游记之大圣归来), the 2016 Big Fish and Begonia (大鱼海棠) and the current White Snake film, might been strong indications that Chinese audiences are ready for more high-quality domestically produced animations that are based on classic literary works or historical themes, and incorporate Chinese traditional culture or socialist values.
The Legend of Nezha (哪吒之魔童降世), Jiang Ziya (姜子牙), and Phoenix (凤凰) are some of the much anticipated made-in-China animated movies to come out this year.
On Weibo, Chinese animations are a daily hot topic, and so is their overall development. The phrase “I support made-in-China animations” frequently pops up, but so do the questions (“when will our animations rise?”) and the criticism.
“They are in the stage of imitating and exaggerating to keep up with international standards,” some say: “But their scripts are still unclear and somewhat embarrassing.”
“The dialogues are still their main problem,” others say. Many people on social media express this idea of ‘China-made animations’ being of a certain low quality, although there are also many who say their views have changed after seeing White Snake in the cinema.
Some commenters write that “Chinese animations keep on getting better and better, and it makes me feel proud.” This idea of a strong Chinese animation market also triggers patriotic reactions elsewhere on Weibo.
Many netizens, however, still allege that the animations made during the “golden years” of China’s 1960s to 1980s were simply the best. “In those years, the animations they produced were just all classics. Nowadays, I can’t even bear to watch anymore.”
Others agree, writing: “They were just so Chinese.”
By Manya Koetse
CGW Central Government Web Portal. 2008. “文化部发布关于扶持我国动漫产业发展的若干意见.” Gov.cn http://www.gov.cn/gzdt/2008-08/19/content_1075077.htm [2.10.19].
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