Chinese animation began in 1918 when a piece from the United States names “Out of the Inkwell” came to Shanghai. The cartoon clips were used in advertisements for domestic products, however, the animation industry did not begin until the introduction of the WanSi Brothers in 1926. Until the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Chinese animation was relatively on pace with the rest of the world, a sort of golden age of Chinese animation. I was during this time that films such as “The Camel’s Dance”,the first Chinese film with sound, and the first film of notable length, “Princess Iron Fan” were created. During the Cultural Revolution, many animators were forced to quit either because of the harsh economic conditions or because of the general mistreatment given by the Red Guards. Any surviving animators started to lean closer to propaganda and by the 1980’s, China had been left behind and Japan had emerged as the dominating force in animation in the far east. However, two major changes took place in the 1990’s that brought about some of the biggest changes since the exploration period. The first of these was a political change, the application of a socialist market. This pushed out the traditional planned economy systems meaning that it would no longer be a single entity that was in control of the industries output and income. The second change was a technological change brought about by the arrival of the internet, this bringing new opportunities in the form of Flash animations. Today China is drastically reinventing itself within the animation industry with its influences coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
In the 1920’s, the WanSi brothers believed that their animations should focus on a style that was distinctly Chinese. This feeling stayed with the company for decades, as such the animations were an extension on other aspects of Chinese art and culture and as such drew most of its content from ancient folklore and manhua. A good example of traditional Chinese animation would be the character Monkey King who was derived from classic Chinese literature “Journey to the West.”.
The first Flash animation community in China was FlashEmpire. It made it’s first appearance in September of 1999. Although it’s content was generally quite amateurish, it was one of the first to offer any form of user created content in mainland China. By 2000 it averaged around 10,000 views daily and with more that 5000 individual pieces of work published, today it has over one million members. Sometime in 2001 Xiao Xiao was created. This is a series of animations about kung fu stick figures. These animations became popular gaining more that fifty million hits, most of these gained in mainland China.
The concept of Chinese animation has begun to loosen up in more recent years, however, it does not lock onto any particular style. The largest change was in 1995 with the release of “Cyber Weapon Z.” Whilst the style is barely indistinguishable from any other anime it has still be categorized as Chinese animation.
In 2001, Time Magazine Asian Edition rated Taiwanese webtoon character A-Kuei as one of the top 100 new figures in Asia. The characters appearance with it’s large head seems to lean more towards a children’s cartoon. These changes signify a welcoming change in Chinese character design as the traditional characters of the folklore like characters have had a hard time gaining international appeal.
It was published in the first weekly Chinese animation magazine, GoGo Top Magazine, that only one out of twenty favourite characters among children was actually created in China. The Chinese Mainland Marketing Research Company asked 540 kids in four of the mainland cities what their favourite cartoons were, six were Japanese, two were Us made and two were produced in China. It is reported that only around eleven percent of Chinese young people claim to prefer Chinese made cartoons.