When we mention Chinese animation, do you have any main entries in your mind? Probably not since Japan has been overshining the Asian cartoon industry for decades. However, the situation is changing now, and we might be seeing the Chinese aminated works presenting in the international market soon.
Several main events show the ambition of China. For instance, during the FILMMART panel in March 2019, the representative of the Chinese animation industry stated that they would explore what works outside China, with their alliances in foreign countries. Furthermore, the cooperation with the Walt Disney Company has nurtured a massive amount of local talents, and the industry is expecting these people will push the Chinese cartoon into a new era. Happy Friends from Ming Xing Studio is a presentation of the great talents in the current creative industry.
While looking forward to a brighter future is great, it is also essential to understand the beginning of the Chinese animation industry and the steps it had taken to reach today’s development.
The Dream Began Here
In 1922, an industry pioneer called Wan Laiming produced the first animation in an advertisement for Shuzhendong Chinese Typewriter. Following this milestone, many other companies used the cartoon as their primary elements for their promotion, including the Shanghai tobacco company.
Four years later in 1926, Wan Laiming with his other three siblings worked under the Great Wall Company and produced the first animation short called Uproar. The 4 Wan brothers believed that the Chinese cartoon should be instructive, logical and thought-provoking, while the style had to be uniquely Chinese. It became the foundation of that period.
A Progressive Period
The American style heavily influenced the Chinese animation at that time; Popeye and Betty Boop were the first troops imported into China. By learning from the western production companies, Wans launched the first ever animation with a sound title called The Camel’s Dance in 1935. The first animation with notable length called Princess Iron Fan in 1941 which was primarily impacted by Snow White.
A Steady Development
The first studio was founded in 1946 called North East Motion Picture. It focused on producing puppetry films such as the Emperor’s Dream and Go After An Easy Prey. The studio changed its name to Shanghai Picture Studio Group later in 1948, and gradually formed the core of the Chinese animation industry.
The industry thrived for almost three decades, with many new entries in production as well as exhibitions in different provinces, including Hongkong and Macau which were still under other countries’ control at that time.
The Dark Age
The Chinese animation industry was considered to be a technological marvel until the Cultural Revolution kicked in full gear. Most artists and animators were humiliated and forced to become farmers because of the conflicting values, or they would be sent into prison. Some would rather commit suicide than surrender under the revolution.
However, the industry did not stop there. During this catastrophic period, multiple animations regarding fighting enemies back were produced miraculously. Little Trumpeter, Little 8 Route Army and Little Sentinel of East China Sea were the representative at that time.
The industry reformed after the end of the revolution in 1978. At that time, China’s ability to produce high-quality animation dropped significantly, where Japan has already emerged as the dominant player in the cartoon market. The Chinese studios had to take another direction with entries like Nezha (1979), Three Monks (1980) and Lao Mountain Taoist (1981), where Three Monk was managed to earn awards.
The Modern Era
The technology and the Internet have considerably pushed the Chinese animation market to catch up with Japan and the US. China started to adopt their styles as well as hiring foreign animators to assist the production.
Besides learning from others, some producers also strive to create the ‘uniquely Chinese’ cartoon series, following what the pioneers said. A leading example is Huang Weiming, where he produced two of the most famous modern animated series in China called Happy Friends as well as Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf. Although his works have also adapted some of the foreign elements, their art styles, characters creation and storytelling are specifically designed for Chinese audiences.
For example, Happy Friends has a background that is mostly the same as any other superhero series. However, it tells stories based on educational information and positive social values that fit into the Chinese circumstance. Instead of simply being entertaining to a child, the series also tries to be ‘instructive, logical and thought-provoking’. The influences from a century ago are reflected in the current production.
Though the progression in the Chinese animated industry is remarkable in recent years, there are plenty of works to do until it could fully catch up with Japan. However, the future is worth the wait, and I am looking forward to seeing what other creative productions can come from Chinese animators’ hands.