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Cartoon Nostalgia Sweeps China

Nemo, a cute orange-and-white clownfish; Shrek, a giant green monster; Mashimaro, a fat, dumpy rabbit; and Detective Conan, a diminutive 10-year-old who cracks criminal cases like Sherlock Holmes have won the hearts of the young in China and all over the world.

The heroes of popular anime and cartoons are omnipresent, on office desks, handbags, computer desktops and in dreams.

But their dominance has been challenged recently by an older generation of cartoon sweethearts who range from 40 to 75 years old.

Generation-crossing fans of the Monkey King, hero of a 1964 Chinese anime of the same name, are currently celebrating his "40th birthday."

Titled Havoc in Heaven (Danao Tiangong), the anime directed by pioneering animator/cartoonist Wan Laiming (1899-1997) and produced by the Shanghai Film Factory of Fine Arts is widely recognized as one of the best Chinese animes ever produced.

The beautiful production tells the story of a monkey who wears a skirt made of tiger fur and wields a magic club, who leads a group of monkeys in rebellion against the rule of the Jade Emperor in heaven.

Besides his courage, leadership and will, it is the practical jokes played by the monkey that have been long remembered.

"He made such a mess in each room in heaven. He flew into a peach garden and ate as many peaches as he liked... the scenes were regulars in my childhood dreams," said Li Zhen, 26, a reporter from Guizhou Television Station in southwest China.

The anime is so influential that its title Havoc in Heaven has become a regular phrase in oral Chinese. A parent or a boss makes the remark when they return to the house/office and see a mess made while they were out.

It has also become a symbol of identity for a generation of Chinese.

"We are the last to have watched the Monkey King dozens of times in our childhood," said an article titled, We Were Born in the 1970s, which made waves on the Internet and found the soft spots of many who were born in the decade.

But those who were born in the 1960s do not agree with the upstart children of the 70s.

"They don't have the privilege of the Monkey King. We grew up with him," said Gong Liang, 40, a government official in Beijing.

Though anime production techniques have made great progress in the past four decades, there have been no other Chinese anime/cartoons that can compete with the Monkey King in its influence, said scholars at the China Cartoon Forum held this August in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning Province.

Major websites in China, including Sina.com, 163.com and Sohu.com all have forums dedicated to the 40th birthday of the Monkey King.

The Shanghai Film Studio of Fine Arts published a digital video disk (DVD) of the anime this July, which is a hit on the Internet, at book stores and video stands.

As people re-live their youthful memories of the Monkey King, its success has led to a number of other classic animes being released on DVD.

They include such masterpieces as Nezha Stirs Up the Sea (Nezha Naohai), Child of the Snow (Xue Haizi), Deer of Nine Colours (Jiuse Lu) and Little Tadpole Looks for Mum (Xiao Kedou Zhao Mama).

"They were so fascinating in my memories, and they still are even though my son has neared my age of the time," said Gong.

(China Daily December 29, 2004)

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