The Shanghai Animation Studio (Shanghai meishu dianying) is probably the best-known animation studio in China. Founded in the northeast in 1947, the studio was renamed and moved to Shanghai in 1950. It has excelled in both puppet animation (mu’ou pian) and drawn animation, with a particular expertise in adapting popular visual styles (paper cuts, soft ink-wash brush painting, New Year style wood-cuts or nianhua and so on) for animated film. The soft ink-wash style (shuimo donghua) is exemplified in Little Tadpoles Look for Mummy (Xiao kedou zhao mama, 1960/1). This story of little creatures unable to recognize their mother (a frog, of course!) is an entirely familiar narrative to children the world over, and marks a moment of classic storytelling in the Chinese animation tradition.
Puppet animation was famously exploited by the Little Wooden Head or Little Ding Dong series (Xiao Ling Dang, Beijing Film Studio, 1964). This film, directed by Xie Tian, the revered actor and director of ‘small children’s films’, takes two children into the streets of Beijing for an adventure with a living boy-puppet. They end up in the Children’s Palace (Shaoniangong) in the centre of the city, before finally going home. The significance of the film may lie in its portrait of a safe, publicly oriented and child-friendly city, bringing together the romance of the puppet character with the naïveté of childhood. Recently, animation has undergone a crisis in the face of imports from Disney and Japan (including the Pokémon phenomenon), the pressure of more sophisticated audiences, and the need to digitize production. The crisis has led the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television, beginning in 2000, to reserve a ten-minute time-slot on televisions across China for domestic animation. The huge cost of this requirement has encouraged co-productions with foreign content providers, but also some excellent work, including an all-new Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 2000), and an increasingly strong profile for animation-based storytelling on television and in film. The Lotus Lantern (Bao lian deng, 1999), a feature-length animation and recent hit, marked a watershed in the commercial expression of this national art. It continues the narrative of child heroism explored earlier in such films as Nezha Calms the Sea (Wang Shuchen, Shanghai, 1979) and Hailibu (Huang Wei, Shanghai, 1985), but there is also a distinct sense of Disneyfication. Some of the characters display an anachronistic, self-deprecating irony, which smacks of the Eddie Murphy funny-guy gags in Mulan and Shrek. At one point a Qin tomb soldier falls back into place in Xi’an and—almost—raises an eyebrow at his own bad luck. Furthermore, the depiction of ‘indigeneity’ and ‘primitivism’ has become sleek and somewhat removed from the more clearly naïve romanticism of earlier films.
The heroine strongly resembles the faux innocence of Disney’s Pocahontas.
Donald, Stephanie (2000). Public Secrets, Public Spaces: Cinema and Civility in China. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
——(2001). ‘History, Entertainment, Education and Jiaoyu: A Western Australian Perspective on Australian Children’s Media, and Some Chinese Alternatives’. International Journal of Cultural Studies 4.3: 279–99.
Gao, Fang (1999–2000). ‘Minzu fengge de tansuo—zhongguo donghua dianying’ [The Pursuit of a National Style in Chinese Animation Film]. In Gao Fang, ‘Xuni de shijie: donghua dianying lilun tansuo’ [A Fictitious World: Looking for Theory in Animation] (unpubl. ms).
Internal documents (2000). Handbook of Directors (1900–1999), Shanghai Animation Studio.
——(nd, 2000–1?). Handbook of Films. Shanghai Animation Studio.
Lent, John (2000). ‘Animation in Asia: Appropriation, Reinterpretation, and Adoption or Adaption’. Screening the Past 11. Online journal, available at http://www.screen\
Lent, John and Xu, Ying (2001). ‘Animation in China Yesterday and Today—The Pioneers Speak Out’. Asian Cinema 12.2 (Fall/Winter): 34–49.
Xu, Ying (2000). ‘Animation Film Production in Beijing’. Asian Cinema 11.2 (Fall/Winter) : 60–6.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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