About Robbie Sivewright

I am currently in my third year at Duncan of Jordanstone where I am studying animation.

Made In China?

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Many Western nations import goods from China. From kitchen appliances to clothing, children’s toys to computer parts, chances are we all have many things in our homes branded with the familiar ‘Made in China’ label. Yet, do we as a consumer nation really understand the sheer enormity of all the products that are imported from China, or even how the product was manufactured? Furthermore, do we even care?  

During an investigation to discover whether or not typical Dundee residents knew where or how their electronic products and clothes were manufactured, the general consensus of the individuals, with regards to the question, was inconclusive. While some guessed China, others suggested Korea, India and Bangladesh, as well as a few people who couldn’t provide an answer. From the wide array of answers it is clear that the vast majority of people do not know for definite where their products originate from. 

In addition, the individuals interviewed were unable to differentiate between the quality of standards between locally made products and products imported from abroad. The few people that did provide an answer claimed that products from China are sometimes not always made to the best standards, whereas products that are specifically manufactured locally have connotations of a higher standard of quality. Is this a fair outlook to have?

In recent years, there has been some publicised instances in the media highlighting the issue of suspect Chinese imports being recalled for lack of quality or for failing to meet standard requirements. Children’s toys coated with lead-laced paint, car tires lacking an essential safety component and medicines and pet foods full of toxins are just some of the noted aberrations in a spate of poorly manufactured goods. 

However, not all of these instances are a true reflection on the standards of products manufactured in China. Of course there will be some products poorly made in China, just like anywhere else. There are some great products and services available, it’s just a shame that these highly publicised incidents can have a detrimental effect on people’s opinions, Western and Eastern alike.  

When asking individuals whether or not it mattered to them if the goods purchased were manufactured in good working conditions, the responses were mixed. Some people said that they simply didn’t care or think about it. Others said that while they do care, it is not always made clear to British and Western consumers the details of the source and conditions of their products and how their products are made. 

It’s evident that there is a lack of understanding from Western consumers with regards to the origins of their products, despite a familiarity with the ‘Made in China’ brand. Perhaps low prices plays a factor in this lack of caring or understanding, especially during this current global economic and financial crisis. After all, we are always looking for a way to save pennies. However, should our relentless pursuit of a bargain be more important than the poor working conditions of the people who make our goods?  

Has Chinese animation been influential on a global scale?

Since the advent of traditional animation over a century ago many notable figures and companies within the field have left their mark on the world. Disney, Warner Bros., Pixar, and DreamWorks, to name a few, have all made enormous contributions throughout the years to the field of animation and have gone on to achieve massive international success. This success is not limited to Hollywood or even the Western world. Japan’s Studio Ghibli has also gone on to captivate viewers across the globe, proving that animation is something that can be enjoyed universally and that the Eastern world is also more than capable of creating animated masterpieces.

Since the 1920’s China’s animation companies have produced and released many animated films domestically, all to varying degrees of success. However, China’s animation industry is practically unknown overseas. Perhaps this is due to the stories translating badly when released internationally. Or perhaps this is due to Chinese heritage taking over the focus of the film rather than the story itself. Whatever the reason, China’s animation history is still noteworthy and fascinating.

The earliest innovators in Chinese animation were the Wan family, twins Laiming and Guchan with their brothers Chaochen and Dihuan. Drawing inspiration from American and Western cartoons, The Wan family produced The Camel’s Dance in 1935, the first Chinese cartoon with sound. The Wan brothers later went on to create China’s very first animated feature length film, Princess Iron Fan.

Princess Iron Fan; a film about a princess whose fan is urgently needed to extinguish the flames surrounding a mountain village, was released on January 1, 1941 and took three years, 237 artists and 350,000 yuan to make. Historically significant, yet somewhat flawed, Princess Iron Fan never achieved the same global impact or success as say Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Over the years there have been many animated films released in China, including Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979), Monkeys Fish For the Moon (1981), or Feeling From Mountains and Water (1988).

And while these films were all fairly successful within China and some other parts of Asia, they did not go on to receive the same success internationally. I feel the reason for this is because of the sheer scale and dominance of Japan and America’s global animation success which has sadly overshadowed traditional Chinese animations.

The work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in particular is worth mentioning as these films are quintessentially Japanese in their style and feel, yet these cultural influences never overpower the story, but rather compliment it, thus allowing Western audiences to enjoy the film while experiencing Asian culture. Spirited Away was the first foreign language animated film to win an Academy Award, proving Japan’s talent with regards to creating a harmonious balance between national heritage and the art of story-telling.

Happy Lamb and Grey Wolf or Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf is a Chinese animated television series created by Huang Weiming, Lin Yuting and Luo Yinggeng, The show revolves around the story of a group of joyful goats and an inept wolf who wishes to devour them. The show is not only aired across China, but is also aired in Taiwan, India and Singapore. The show has also gone on to spawn a fairly successful movie franchise too, however neither the Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf television show or the movie franchise have seen an international release outside of Asia. The reasons for this are unclear.

After all, it’s not as if there isn’t a thirst for Eastern flavoured cartoons in the West. Foreign animations such as Pokemon have already seen worldwide success, generating enormous financial figures.

The worldwide animation industry is dominated by American and Japanese films and cartoons, meaning that China faces more competition now than ever. It is a shame that Chinese animation has been considerably overshadowed as there are some truly beautiful pieces of animation that not only highlights the dedication and hard work that goes into making these cartoons, but it also highlights China’s grand yet mysterious heritage that I feel would fascinate and entertain Western audiences of all ages.

How the Western world perceives China through the medium of cinema.

Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, released in 2000, was a financially and critically successful film that reinvigorated the Chinese action movie genre for Western audiences. It’s success was not only due to it’s thrilling and wonderfully choreographed action scenes, but rather because Ang Lee effectively managed to integrate traditional Chinese culture and values into the storyline. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s success has influenced many other successful Chinese movies such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The popularity of these films illustrates the desire from audiences to see vast and varying cultures in film. Unfortunately, however, China has not always been depicted in such a positive way on screen.

For decades, Western cinema goers were exposed to Hollywood’s representation of what East Asia and Asians were apparently like, and in many cases it was not always an accurate representation. Filmmakers built up imaginary Chinese figures; caricatures with washed out skin speaking in an impenetrable language. These caricatures often failed to be treated as fully developed human beings, but instead as a mere catalyst to advance the main protagonist’s own narrative. If a film actually featured an Eastern Asian central character, they were predominantly portrayed by white actors, often while artificially changing their looks with the use of make-up or prosthetics. Katherine Hepburn in MGM’s Dragon Seed, Marlon Brando in The Teahouse of the August Moon and Christopher Lee in a series of Fu Manchu films are just a few actors who have used make-up in order to approximate East Asian facial qualities while playing Asian characters.

From 1929, Hollywood produced many films featuring the aforementioned figure of the dastardly Dr. Fu Manchu. Menacing, dangerous and evil, the infamous Dr. Fu Manchu character is perhaps a reflection of Hollywood and America’s xenophobic fear projected into cinematic propaganda, thus potentially influencing American audiences’ perceptions during a time when the ‘yellow peril’ was still prevalent.

Fast forward to the 1960’s where even the classic Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany’s features the inclusion of racial stereotyping in the guise of American actor Mickey Rooney portraying Mr. Yunioshi. The bucktoothed, squint-eyed caricatured approximation of Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi is nothing more than ‘comedic’ filler that does not advance the storyline in any shape or form. He essentially only exists within the film to provide laughs.

China’s depiction in cinema did improve greatly by the 1970’s with the arrival of The Big Boss, an action movie staring Chinese American actor Bruce Lee in his first major theatrical role. Bruce Lee has since become a cinematic icon for his role in redefining the Chinese action genre, and for helping to coin the ‘Kung Fu’ genre. Not only were his films thrilling, but they also portrayed China in a positive light that helped educate Western audiences about Chinese cultures and traditions without the unnecessary inclusion of racial stereotypes and prejudice.   

Since Bruce Lee redefined Western perceptions of China and Eastern Asia, more and more films started to respect Chinese culture. The animated Disney film Mulan, based on the story of a famous female warrior in ancient China, is a successful example of a Hollywood production appreciating and respecting Chinese heritage.

 “Chinese content is one way to attract this colossal audience. The addition of Chinese flourishes is a decorative marketing tactic – a way of getting through the front door…”

- Gao Jun, Vice General Manager of Beijing New Film Association Co., Ltd.

Mulan’s story is one of growth, strength and courage. A story full of Chinese culture that is both educational and recreational. It is a story that is inspirational to both Eastern and Western audiences alike, much like the stories of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and House of Flying Daggers.  Even Hollywood has begun adopting and emulating Chinese cinematic conventions and styles such as the Wachowski brother’s Matrix trilogy and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2, to name a few.

When audiences flock to such films, it proves that Western perceptions of East Asia are finally becoming healthier and that the image of Fu Manchu, along with other racial stereotypes is hopefully now a thing of the past.