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Top 5 of Popular Children’s Books in China after Crackdown on Foreign Storybooks

The topic of children’s books in China recently made international headlines following a crackdown on foreign storybooks in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explores the status quo after the ban: has Peppa Pig really left the building? What is the current top 5 of popular children’s books in China?

Manya Koetse

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The topic of children’s books in China recently made international headlines following a reported crackdown on foreign storybooks in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explores the status quo after the ‘Taobao ban’: has Peppa Pig really left the building? What is the current top 5 of popular children’s books in China?

Recently the children’s books market in China made international headlines when the South China Morning Post reported that an order from Beijing will drastically limit the number of foreign children’s picture books published in mainland China this year.

According to The Guardian and other sources, Chinese publishers received orders that foreign children book titles must be lowered or even halted to prevent an “ideology inflow” and to protect and promote children’s books written by Chinese authors. In the New York Times, Hannah Beech also called the crackdown an “ideological crusade.”

On March 3rd, days before the South China Morning Post reported the news, China’s largest e-commerce platform Taobao issued an official statement that, as of March 10th, it was halting resales of all books published overseas to “create a safe and secure online shopping environment.”

 

STATE MEDIA: ALL ABOUT CULTURE

“The Ministry of Culture hopes that Chinese children will be more in touch with cultural products that reflect Chinese values.”

 

Chinese media responded to the international news reports in mid-March, saying that they were “fabrications” by foreign media to make China look bad. On Wednesday, state tabloid Global Times published an article written by a Global Times commentator Shan Renping, writing:

“Recently a number of Western mainstream media have started a hype about China controlling the import of foreign children’s books, suggesting this is China’s way of reducing the influence of the outside world on China, and ridiculing that our “boycott of foreign forces starts with small children.”

According to the column, the imposed limit on foreign children’s books is not necessarily related to “ideology” or other political matters – as children’s books are allegedly “not much of an ideological field” – but that the reason is cultural.

In the past, the author writes, the ratio of imported children’s books versus Chinese ones was 9:1 in 2000. While this gap between foreign and Chinese children’s books has already decreased from 6:4 (2011), officials hope to further develop the local children’s books market.

Children’s book section at Beijing bookstore in 2015. Many of the books featured are translations of foreign publications.

As the article says: “The Ministry of Culture (..) [also] hopes that Chinese children, throughout the course of growing up, will be more in touch with cultural products that reflect Chinese values.”

Children’s books on sale in Beijing (2015) by a Dutch author.

But besides the cultural motives for limiting foreign publications in China, the Global Times column also hints that there might be economic motives involved, as it mentions the growing market of children’s books in China, and that storybooks play a leading role in the publishing industry.

Chinese edition of The Hungry Caterpillar.

In the Chinese Book Market 2016 report by the German Book Office Beijing, 21.9% of China’s online book trade is listed in the category of children’s books: a booming and growing market.

 

WEIBO RESPONSES

“When I think about the garbage we had to read when we were little, I really cannot even imagine that books like these will be banned.”

 

On Weibo, some netizens responded to the crackdown on foreign children’s books with great disappointment. Before March 10, some people also said they would quickly buy foreign books for their kids before the Taobao ban would be implemented.

It is probable that some comments about the ban have been censored; one Weibo user also indicates that a previous post about the limitations “has been deleted.”

Microblogger (@大耳朵猫妹) writes:

“When you look at how kids read children’s books, what I find most surprising is how these foreign children’s books do not seem to have any meaning but just really fit in with children’s minds. I used to read a book to my children about a crocodile family; a daddy, mommy and little crocodile that eat bananas every day. One day, the little crocodile stopped and said he did not want to eat any more bananas, so his parents asked him what he wanted to eat. When he said he wanted to eat humans, his parents laughed. He then angrily left the house and on the street, he met a small child, and said: “I want to eat you.””

Chinese edition of “I’d Really Like to Eat a Child” by Sylviane Donnio (originally a French children’s book).

“The child just laughed out loud and together with his little friends took out some bananas and threw them at the small crocodile, and then laughingly ran away. Later, the little crocodile took the pile of bananas home, and ate them with his parents while wiping away his tears. What does this story explain and teach us? Nothing. But it corresponds with children’s desire to explore the outside world and try new things. My kids really liked it. (..) I really love these cute and fresh children’s books, and when I think about the garbage we had to read when we were little, I really cannot even imagine that books like these will be banned.”

The question is: will these books really be banned? Let’s first take a look at the current top-ranked lists of children’s picture books.

 

MOST POPULAR CHARTS

“The reported restrictions seem to be more symbolical than substantive.”

 

What children’s books rank highest in the popular book charts on Weibo after news of the PRC crackdown has come out?

#1. ‘Chinese Year’ Original Picture Book Series (中国年原创图画书系列)

The top ranking children’s book at the time of writing is a book series called Chinese Year, which is written by author Cao Cong (alias Wuke Lili), a Renmin University graduate specialized in children’s psychology.

The books contents and illustrations are focused on Chinese family life and traditions. This particular story is about Chinese New Year and how it is celebrated.

2. Guess Who I Am? (猜猜我是谁)

This book is aimed at the youngest children (2-4 years old) as a little ‘hide and seek’ game with holes in it, allowing children to look through them and see different things. The book is published by the Chinese People’s Publishing House.

3. Fantastic Book (奇妙的书)

This is another made-in-China children’s book, published by Guangxi Normal University.

It is themed around many different animals. From alligators to penguins, they all look at life in a different way.

4. Paw Patrol (汪汪队立大功)

Who has not heard of Paw Patrol? This children’s book about a boy named Ryder who leads a pack of rescue dogs known as the PAW Patrol is derived from a Canadian animated television series, and is thus a foreign children’s book with no Chinese themes. The book is popular on Weibo, where it is rated 9.1 out of 10 stars.

5. The Princess Kite (公主的风筝)

Although the authors of this book are not all Chinese, the story does focus on ancient China and has a Chinese kite as its central subject – making it a truly Chinese story, published by the Chinese Yellow River Publishing & Media Group.

The top 5 of Weibo’s most popular children’s book of this moment seems representative of the ‘popular’ or ‘recommended’ lists of China’s biggest online bookstores such as Taobao or Dangdang, where there are still many foreign children’s books for sale, but where the originally Chinese children’s books seem to dominate the main lists of book suggestions.

Searching for ‘foreign children’s books’ was possible on all sites – including on Dangdang, Kongfz, JD.com, and also on Taobao – after March 10. There is a wide selection of foreign books available from these sites, from Little Rabbit Couldn’t Sleep to Peppa Pig.

Foreign children’s books still sold on Taobao.

Also in the category for older children (8-12), translations of books like Pippi Longstocking (长袜子皮皮) or Harry Potter (哈利·波特) are still freely available on Taobao.

Seeing that the announced Taobao ban has not really gone into effect, there is a probability that the ‘ban’ on foreign children’s books and the reported restrictions for publishing firms to publish any foreign picture books for children this year are more symbolical than substantive.

 

TONING DOWN THE HYPE

“Chinese children can enjoy Paw Patrol or Pippi Longstocking, along with those books themed around Chinese New Year or Chinese folklore.”

 

On Thursday, Global Times published another article that seemed to want to tone down the hype, quoting the deputy dean of Cultural Studies at Peking University Chen Shaofeng: “Unless the foreign media can name particular children’s books that are banned from being imported, their accusations should be seen as groundless.”

The Beijing Bookstore online: the shop features a Frozen Disney book in its header on the children’s book page.

The article also mentioned a Beijing-based publisher nicknamed ‘Coco’, who reassured worried parents that books that have already received approval to be published would continue to be available, regardless of whether or not import limits (not bans) are introduced in future.

The way things stand now, it seems that it is business as usual for children’s books in China. It is likely that foreign children’s books will not be completely banned from China in the near future. Instead, we can expect a heightened focus on Chinese books for children (especially those themed around Chinese stories and traditions), making it easier for publishers to get approval for those titles.

To make final conclusions about the eventual effects of the announced regulations, however, we will have to wait another year. In the meantime, Chinese children can enjoy Paw Patrol or Pippi Longstocking, along with those books themed around Chinese New Year or Chinese folklore. Perhaps to the disappointment of some parents, Peppa Pig has not left the building (yet).

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar

    Bruce Humes

    March 20, 2017 at 8:56 am

    If foreign analysts are waiting for written proof that there is a ban or specific limits on the import and sale of foreign books for children, they are likely waiting in vain.

    The authorities in China long ago learned that issuing such specific regulations in black and white makes for bad press. To avoid criticism from abroad, and at home as well, such orders are normally given orally at state-sponsored meetings limited to Chinese-owned publishers, or even by phone to specific publishers/importers. In addition, such orders are permitted to be circulated only among management, and — like so many things such as the amount of pm 2.5 particles in the air in a given city, or gag orders re: what events are to be covered and how they are to be covered in the media — these orders are a state secret. Posting them online is grounds for prosecution and imprisonment.

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Chinese TV Dramas

No ‘Novoland’: This Really Is a Tough Year for Chinese Costume Dramas

After the sudden cancellation of the much-anticipated ‘Novoland’ premiere, Chinese fantasy costume dramas are facing grim prospects.

Manya Koetse

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With 1,4 billion views on its Weibo page, the Chinese fantasy drama Novoland: Eagle Flag was one of the most-anticipated series of the year. This week, the show was suddenly canceled twenty minutes ahead of its premiere. The incident is indicative of recent tensions within China’s TV drama industry, where some costume dramas have apparently failed to win the support of official regulators.

Just a week ago, What’s on Weibo reported about the Chinese fantasy drama Novoland: Eagle Flag (九州缥缈录, Jiǔzhōu piāomiǎo lù) being one of the most anticipated TV dramas in China this summer. On June 3rd at 21:40 CST, however, just twenty minutes before the drama’s much-awaited premiere on Tencent, Youku, and Zhejiang TV, the show was suddenly canceled.

Novoland: Eagle Flag, which has been called China’s answer to Game of Thrones, is a costume drama that tells a story of war, conspiracy, love, and corruption in a fantasy universe called Novoland. It is based on a popular web fantasy novel series by Jiang Nan (江南), and produced by Linmon Pictures. Production costs reportedly were as high as RMB 500 million ($72 million).

Why was the show’s premiere suddenly canceled? The only reason given for it on June 3rd was that there was a ‘medium problem’ (“介质原因”).

China’s English-language state tabloid Global Times reported on June 4th that their official sources also did not know the reason for the withdrawal, although they did admit to having received an order from “higher level,” which would come from China’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA,国家广播电视总局).

In March of 2018, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), the former top regulatory body overseeing television productions, was officially abolished and replaced by three different state administrations in the ideological sector.

The NRTA is responsible for media control on radio and TV, and falls directly under the State Council. It is led by Nie Chenxi (聂辰席), who is also the deputy director of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. This appears indicative that the Party now has more direct influence over this industry, as also recently suggested by Global Policy Watch, SupChina, and Variety. Under the NRTA, the regulation and censorship of Chinese TV dramas are as strict, and arguably stricter, than under the SAPPRFT.

 

Costume dramas: not enough “spiritual guidance”?

 

The strict control of the NRTA over China’s TV industry is especially visible this year. As reported by CCTV News, China’s regulatory body started to severely crack down on the rising popularity of Chinese costume dramas (古装剧) in March of 2019.

Regulatory rules were supposedly issued for costume dramas with ‘themes’ (题材) such as martial arts, fantasy, history, mythology, or palace, stating that they should not air or were to be taken down from online video homepages. The strictest crackdown would allegedly last until July.

From early on in 2019, it was already rumored that Chinese costume dramas would face a tough year.

On January 28 of 2019, Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee, published a critical post on its social media account listing negative influences of court-themed TV dramas (宫廷剧).

The critique included arguments such as that the imperial lifestyle was being hyped in these dramas, that the social situation of the dynastic era was being negatively dramatized, and that these productions are just aimed at commercial interests while weakening China’s “positive spiritual guidance.”

In February of this year, two weeks after the Beijing News post, Eduardo Baptista at CNN.com reported on the abrupt cancelation of the planned rebroadcasting of two costume dramas that were also targeted by Beijing News, namely the super TV drama hit Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略) and period drama Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (如懿传).

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace

Other costume dramas such as iQiyi’s The Legend of White Snake (新白娘子传奇) or The Longest Day in Chang’an (长安十二时辰) were also withdrawn (or postponed) in March. Investiture of the Gods (封神) was replaced by another drama on Hunan TV this month.

“Historical dramas in many cases twisted the narrative of the country’s past and the image of historical figures,” TV critic Shi Wenxue was quoted by Global Times recently: “[they are] having an adverse effect on teenagers who may regard such fictional stories as real history.”

 

A state and marketplace collusion

 

With China being the world’s largest consumer of TV dramas in the world, the drama industry is a powerful channel for spreading Party ideology.

The political and cultural agenda is especially apparent in those TV dramas that are official propaganda productions. But since the TV drama industry has become increasingly commercialized and TV dramas became more market-oriented in the 1990s, their programming is no longer a mirror reflection of ‘Party narratives.’

The number of profit-driven productions has grown over the past 25 years and has skyrocketed with the arrival of video streaming sites such as iQiyi or Tencent Video.

Although non-official productions are ultimately still regulated and overseen by the relevant state departments, they also have to compete for viewer ratings in a highly competitive (online) media environment.

There are many visible trends in China’s TV drama industry. There have been peaks of popularity in those TV dramas depicting rural struggles or urban family life, for example, but historical costume dramas (especially dynasty dramas) have consistently been popular and rising since the mid-90s.

One reason for the growing popularity of these historical or fantasy costume dramas is that official censors initially had different standards for them than for more contemporary storylines, resulting in more creative freedom for scriptwriters (see Zhu et al 2008, 7).

Yongzheng’s Dynasty (1999)

There also have been many popular Chinese dynasty dramas that were commercial successes while also serving as propaganda tools.

As pointed out by Shenshen Cai in her work Television Drama in Contemporary China (2017), for example, TV drama serials such as Yongzheng Dynasty (雍正王朝) or The Great Han Emperor Wu (汉武大帝) promoted the ideal of strong central government, harmonious relations between the fatherly ruler and his devoted people, or the exemplary ruler cracking down on corruption – these narratives contributed to the leadership agenda in “stabilizing and re-energizing the dominant moral order” (Cai 3-4; also see Schneider 2012).

But more recent historical dramas have taken a fantasy route that, apparently, resonates with viewers but does not successfully appropriate the official propaganda apparatus.

The sudden withdrawal of new costume dramas is actually not about costume dramas at all. It just shows that although China’s TV drama industry is no longer the propaganda machine it once used to be, it still needs to adhere to those narratives that are in line with Party ideology.

‘Novoland: Eagle Flag’ (2019)

Even if their scripts and productions were apparently given the green light in earlier stages, the official supervision bodies still have the power to intervene until the last moment before airing – even if that, apparently, means that moment is twenty minutes ahead of the grand premiere.

 

“Things don’t look too optimistic”

 

For Chinese drama fans, the recent cancellations have been a real slap in the face. The Novoland: Eagle Flag TV serial was super popular before it even aired: its hashtag page has a staggering 1.4 billion views on Weibo.

“I cried,” one ‘Novoland’ fan comments: “Why such a sudden and abrupt withdrawal?”

“When can we finally see this show?” others wonder.

For now, the show’s premiere has officially been “postponed” and is “waiting for specific broadcasting time.” Whether or not the 55-episode series will be allowed to broadcast after June is still to be seen.

On Twitter, the fan account of Liu Haoran (刘昊然), one of the show’s main stars, writes: “You’re going to see rumors of tentative dates flying around this week, but note that it’s more of a deadline to get things sorted, not an air date. As of right now, things don’t look too optimistic. We’ll just have to be patient!

More: For an overview of all of our articles on Chinese TV Dramas, please check this list.

By Manya Koetse

References

Cai, Shenshen. 2017. Television Drama in Contemporary China: Political, social and cultural phenomena. London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Schneider, Florian. 2012. Visual Political Communication in Popular Chinese Television Series. Leiden and Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Zhu, Ying, Michael Keane, Ruoyun Bai (eds). 2008. TV Drama in China. Hong Kong University Press.

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Shoppers Are Going Absolutely Crazy over UNIQLO x KAWS Collection

Everybody wants KAWS – Chinese shoppers were even spotted fighting in front of a UNIQLO store today.

Manya Koetse

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The Chinese sales of the UNIQLO KAWS collection are so crazy that the craze itself has become an online hit. “I don’t even like UNIQLO, I just like to compete,” some shoppers say.

Chinese shoppers are going completely crazy over the latest collection sold by Japanese fashion company UNIQLO (优衣库) today. The summer collection is a cooperation between UNIQLO and the renowned American artist and designer KAWS (Brian Donnelly).

It is not the first time for the American street artist to partner with the Japanese chain: they previously also collaborated on a Sesame Street-themed collection.

The current collection first started selling in mainland China stores in the early morning of Monday, June 3, and soon became a top trending topic on social media.

The online sales reportedly were sold out in seconds.

Photos and videos circulating on Weibo show people fighting to get into UNIQLO stores, pulling clothes off the shop mannequins, and buying piles of clothes from the stores (see embedded tweet below):

The hashtag “Everybody KAWS” (#全员kaws#) had received 140 million views on Weibo by Monday evening, China time.

Many netizens on Weibo are confused about the big hype surrounding the latest UNIQLO selection, with some wondering who KAWS is, and why people are so eager to wear his design.

Some commenters joke that it actually is not really about the KAWS collection at all, but more about the competition between shoppers on who can score the most clothes from the special product line.

The topic has set off various memes and online jokes, with some people saying: “I don’t think there is any need to learn self-defense skills. I only need to wear UNIQLO KAWS clothes, and no one will dare to touch me. They will all know that I can not only fight very well but also run very fast!”

Some memes suggest that KAWS sales have been so successful that everybody on the street or at work will walk around in the same t-shirts this week.

A meme that’s going viral saying: “Entering the office on Monday and seeing my colleagues…”

“I finally understand now,” one Weibo user writes: “What I love is not UNIQLO, nor KAWS – what I love is to rush and clash with all these people!”

The online sales of the UNIQLO x KAWS collection will start on June 6 in Europe. Its American sales started on Monday 10 AM ET.

Meanwhile, in China, the T-shirts that were bought for RMB 99 ($14) today are being resold online for four-five times their original price.

This is not the first time the Japanese UNIQLO brand becomes a viral hit on Chinese social media, albeit for different reasons. In 2015, the brand became the talk of the week when a naked girl and a man recorded an adult video in the fitting room of their Beijing flag store.

Also read:
* Chinese Kid Destroys Lego Sculpture Within Hour After It Is Displayed
* Kidnappers? Crazy Fans? No, It’s Chinese Parents on Their Kids’ First Day at School

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

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