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The Sprouting Chinese Cartoon Industry

The animation industry has been nicknamed the sunrise industry of the 21st century, with its cartoons, online games, mobile phone games and multimedia products. At the beginning of this June, China held its First International Cartoon Festival in Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang Province, one of China's major bases for cartoon production. During the festival, the future of the Chinese cartoon industry has become a focal point.

One of the few gems of the Chinese cartoon industry is the Monkey King. Adapted from Journey to the West, one of ancient China's four classic novels, this two part animation was created forty years ago and has since won several international film awards.

The Monkey King's success may provide a source of pride for the Chinese cartoon industry, but such past glories also highlight the rarity of quality works in the last two decades. In this sense, the Monkey King reminds people of not only the pride but also the pitfalls of the Chinese cartoon industry.

In China, there is a saying that one can get up early but still be too late for the country fair. This might also be a good expression to describe the country's animation industry, with early beginnings seemingly not enough to guarantee lasting success.

The world's first long animation, Snow White, was born in 1937. This was followed only four years later by China's first animated film, Princess Iron Fan. Subsequently, in the 1950s and 60s, many Chinese animations won awards at international film festivals, with pictures of note including Three Monks, Nine-colored Deer, Nezha Stirs up the Sea, and of course the Monkey King.

At the same time, picture-books and comics had also influenced millions of Chinese children in the old days and became a trademark of 1970s. However, all of these works were manually produced, a technique which has now been almost scrubbed out due to low efficiency in comparison to digital techniques. Moreover, since the 1980s, a large number of animations from the US, Japan and South Korea have come into the Chinese market, leaving domestic works struggling to stand up for themselves.

Yet for the optimistic, this situation finally appears to be changing for the better, and they now have a major festival to back them up. The First China International Cartoon Festival held in Hangzhou is so far the largest of its kind in China.

One of the most important components of this festival was the Original Cartoon and Animation Exposition, which attracted more than 100 cartoon producers from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as Japan, South Korea, America, Britain and Germany. Although the exhibits were mainly audio and video products, people still detected health prospects for the Chinese cartoon industry.

In recent years, China has established many enterprises engaged in cartoon production. In Hangzhou alone, there are more than 50 such enterprises, most of which deal with film and TV products, as well as online gaming development.

Zhongnan Cartoon Company is one of them, with its animated TV series Divine Eyes having received a good response from both domestic and overseas markets. Vice General Manager of the company, Zhu Yeguang, has reasonable confidence in the future of the Chinese cartoon industry:

"Currently we've produced 500 episodes for Divine Eyes, and will produce 500 more in the future. We've seen a very good response in the international market and have signed contracts with Japan and Thailand. We believe that an industrial chain has been established for this product and we hope to introduce the world to Chinese culture through this chain."

With the sudden increase of original cartoon compositions, the "Chinese characteristics" of these works have become a hot topic among insiders. After all, it seems that Chinese readers and audiences have already become accustomed to the animation styles of Japan and the US Therefore, the domestic concerns are two-fold; firstly, to attract the attention of the domestic audience back to original Chinese works, and secondly to successfully export these new Chinese cartoons to foreign markets. Jin Guoping is President of the China Cartoon Association, as well as Director of Shanghai Cartoon Film Factory presented his view on this point:

"How do we understand these 'Chinese characteristics'? Well, they won't necessarily be Chinese stories or Chinese images, but it's of the foremost importance to include a kind of value or concept within the work. The work could use a foreign story or even foreign images, but the philosophy and values that it reflects must be Chinese."

(CRI.com June 27, 2005)

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