Modern Communist Packaging for Kids

“Our products are a labour of love. Sought-out from lesser-known parts of China, we strive to personalize and re-create the sweet sentiment and attention to detail found in vintage Asian packaging design,” says Fiona Hewitt. “It is our hope that these products will make your life a little sweeter every time you use them.”

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Pritzker Prize for Wang Shu

For the first time the Pritzker Prize has been awarded to a Chinese Archeitect, 48 year old Wang Shu, for his New Academy of Art in Hangzhou. The Pritzker Prize is the most prestigious award in the field of architeture. The selection of Mr. Wang, is an acknowledgment of “the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals,” said Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize and announced the winner on Monday.

In designing the Xingshan Campus of the China Academy of Art in his native Hangzhou, Wang Shu used recycled materials, covering the campus buildings with more than two million tiles from demolished traditional houses.

“Everywhere you can see, they don’t care about the materials,” Mr. Wang said in an interview. “They just want new buildings, they just want new things. I think the material is not just about materials. Inside it has the people’s experience, memory — many things inside. So I think it’s for an architect to do something about it.”

Assignment 2: China and Animation

China is believed to be one of the biggest animation markets on the planet. It has a population of 1.3 Billion, with 370 million of them being children. A survey carried out by the ‘Quatech Market Research Company’ concluded that citizens from the age of 14 to that of around 30 in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing spent over RMB 1.3 billion Yuan on cartoons every year. However, 80% of this was spent on animation from other countries. It has been said that only 11% of China’s youth prefer animation made locally. The other 89% prefer works predominantly from Japan and also a good deal from America. It is in the opinion of many that Chinese cartoons focus too much on education and not enough of on entertainment. 60% of China’s youngsters prefer Japanese animation which is probably due to the fact that Japanese plots introduce more true to life problems that children have to face, making their characters more relatable to the viewers than compared to characters found in Chinese animations. According to Japanese cartoonist Chiba Tetsuya, “Chinese cartoonists are as good as Japanese ones, if not better…But a good cartoon requires not only good drawings, but also an interesting plot. Chinese cartoonists need to spend more time on creating adventure story lines and on upgrading their story skills.”

Chinese animation has been said to be influenced by other forms of art and historical and cultural events and also obtaining a lot of influence from ancient folklore and Chinese manhua. Manhua are Chinese comic books sharing similarities to Japanese Manga and Korean manhwa. However, unlike manga, modern day manhua usually comes in full colour with some panels created completely in paint for single issue format. Chinese manhua originated in the late 19th century to the early 20th century. It is said that manhua was developed in some way from small picture books called Lianhuanhua and these became popular in Shanghai in the 1920s.

It is undeniable that China, as it presently stands, isn’t exactly renowned for its outstanding animation. However, one cannot say that they didn’t play role in the innovation of the art form at all. Around 180 AD Ting Huan, an inventor created the earliest version of the Zoetrope. This device, made of semi-transparent paper of mica panels, was hung over a lamp. The Zoetrope would spin with the rising air creating the impression that the images that were painted on the zoetrope were moving. Although, China may have lagged behind in the progression of the animation industry over time, it can still be seen that the country was already ahead of its time in regards to the very concept behind animation itself.

The earliest examples of animation to hit China, was the series ‘Out of the Inkwell’ which was released in 1918. That and many other examples from Europe and America influenced the trend in China greatly. The first Chinese animation was created by Wan Laiming in 1922 for the shuzendong Chinese Typewriter. Shortly after, Wan Laiming and his brothers Wan Dihuan, Wan Guchan and Wan Chaochen formed together and worked for the Great Wall Film Company. There, they made many advances in animation. The Wan Brothers, as they became known, wanted to create a style that was distinctly Chinese. It was common place during this period to use the combination of live action footage and traditional 2D animation. The first animation they made was a 10-12 minute long piece called ‘Uproar in the Studio’. In 1935, they went on to create China’s first animation with sound ‘The Camel’s Dance’ and in 1941, created one of the most well renowned Chinese animated feature films, ‘Princess Iron Fan’. The story of this animation was apparently influenced in some way from the Chinese folk tale ‘Journey to the West’. It was the first animated feature film to be presented in Asia. The film was produced by a team of 237 artists under the supervision of the Wan Brothers and it was done using rotoscoping during the Second World War. It cost over 350, 000 Yuan and was over 20,000 frames in total.

The movie was said to have had a great impact on animation in Asia, and in particular, inspired Japan to also develop a feature-length animation ‘Momataro’s Divine Sea Warrior’. In 1956 the Wan Brothers went on to develop ‘Why is the Crow Black-Coated’ which was one of the first coloured Chinese animations and is recognised world-wide. A mere two years later, the brothers went on to create animations using cut paper based on folk art. Examples of this style can be seen in ‘Pigsy Eats Watermelon’. In addition to this, the animator Yu Zheguang established another new method of animating using origami in the film ‘A Clever Duckling’. However, the progress of Chinese animation didn’t stop there. The Wan Brothers were yet to create their most recognised film ‘Havoc in Heaven’. The film broke boundaries in technique, colour and skill and was 2 hours long. The Film took almost 4 years to complete.

After the Cultural Revolution however, it is said that animation took an almost stand-still. Over the 20 years from 1960 to 1989, predominantly American shows were imported to Hong Kong. In regards to Asian animation, Japan had taken the forefront with popular anime shows that were exported to Hong Kong, Europe and the U.S. China had, and still to this day, has strong competition for interest,  not only word-wide, but also at home. Nevertheless, The Shanghai Animation Studio, which the Wang Brothers and many other popular artists became part of in the1940s launched a further 219 animated movies in the 1980s. Some of these animations such as ‘Three Monks’ and ‘Feeling from Mountain and Water’ went on to become award winners.

Despite this from the 1990s onwards, Chinese animation was ousted from the public eye with the global commercialisation of American and Japanese works. It can be seen today that China are still improving their skills, however it’s almost as though they are losing the feeling of an animation that was distinctly Chinese. It has been claimed that China is adopting western and Japanese styles, even in modern works of manhua, and in turn losing the sense of culture and individuality that they had endeavoured to preserve all those years. Yet, in spite of all this negative opinion, near the end of the millennium, China was introduced to the internet. This has provided China with a new means of getting their animation out to the world, and allowed for more freedom instead of everything being, in the words of Jin Guoping (shanghai Studio Director) ‘ decided by …the government’. China appears to have had its ups and downs in this area, and although it’s never quite held a place at the forefront in the progression of the animation industry globally, after all this time, the country’s still improving to this day. In this time, amidst the remarkable growth of China, one can only wonder if it will ever become a recognised figure in the industry as it has been threatening to do for all these years.

The Influences Behind the 2008 Beijing Monkey Animation

In preparation for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, the BBC Sport team commissioned Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn (the men behind Gorrilaz) to create an animated short which would promote the BBC’s coverage of the games. They were challenged with capturing the image of the games, and China itself, in a two minute sequence.

It would be fair to assume that China has never been well known for its own production of animated works, traditionally or otherwise. This accolade would fall to its neighbour Japan, leaving a shroud over China’s contribution to this medium. As a result, Hewlett and Albarn had little to go on in terms of style in accordance with contemporary Chinese animation. They had to resolve to other aspects of Chinoiserie in order to create a piece that looked typically ‘Chinese’.

The animation they produced is closely based on a famous Chinese novel named ‘Journey to the West’. It was written in the 1590’s during the period of the Ming Dynasty and is considered to be ‘one of the four most important works of fiction in China’s history’. The tale follows a Buddhist monk named Xuanzang on his quest to collect sacred texts, on instruction from Buddha. In addition, this particular monk had disciples which aided him in his journey, fighting and defeating demons as they went.

There is no doubt that Hewlett and Albarn have incorporated this folk religion and mythology into their final outcome. However, the original names of the monk’s disciples – Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha wujing have been changed drastically to Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy in order to appeal to a more western audience. Through portraying areas of this tale as they have, Hewlett and Albarn have not only managed to create an animation that is influenced by Chinese Folklore in itself, but have aided in bringing the latter to a larger audience.

It can be seen that the storyline has been impacted upon significantly by Chinese tradition. Another such area affected by this is the music, which has been used in order to help convey the intentions of the creators. Jonathan Bramley, the BBC Sport Executive Producer, stated ‘we needed something with a good classical Chinese element to it…’ In contrast with its animation background, China has a vast musical history which is steeped in the nation’s rich cultural past. Therefore, a wealth of material was instantly accessible to Hewlett and Albarn. Moreover, Bramley states that the music should also have a ‘…modern feel and be quite energetic.’ There is a large gap between traditional and contemporary Chinese music and this benefitted the pair greatly. Vast arrays of different and typically Chinese musical styles were available to provide inspiration. It is for this reason; Aided by their successful careers in the music business, that Hewlett and Albarn had no trouble in creating a musical score that achieved this goal. Ultimately, the music not only compliments the animation beautifully, but has traditional Chinese elements and a modern edge.

The final aspect of the film to be influenced by chinoiserie is the environment in which the action takes place. Traditional Chinese pieces of art have long been sought after since they first arrived in Europe, courtesy of the Silk Road. Complex and simple artworks depicted everything from landscapes to daily life in China. Although now commercially produced, these examples of ‘traditional’ Chinese art have played an influential part in the creation of the landscapes for the animation. When used in conjunction with photographs of rural china today, Hewlett and Albarn have successfully captured the beauty of the country. This can be plainly seen within the animation.


A scene from the animation showing the environment in which the action takes place.






A photograph of a similar Chinese landscape as we would see it today.





Through looking at both contemporary and traditional pieces of Chinese art and music a style has been produced which represents the Far East spectacularly. I believe this piece of animation is a valuable insight into how the western nations perceive their eastern counterparts through chinoiserie. The animation itself is an example of which.

Yixing Clay Teapots

As a product designer and avid tea drinker I am interested in China’s long history of tea drinking and the paraphernalia that goes along with it. One particular item that interests me is the Yixing teapot, which is made from special zisha clay.

(The eastern province of Jiangsu, where the City of Yixing is located.)

The earliest Yixing teapots date back to around the 14th century but no one is entirely sure when the practice of making teapots from the zisha, or purple, clay found only in the Yixing area of China first originated (there is some evidence of the clay being used from as early as the 900s). At first glance a Yixing teapot may appear to be a pretty standard teapot, usually comprising of rounded body; looped handle on one side and a small spout on the other. But Yixing teapots are unique in that they are made using fired but unglazed zisha clay which has; a very fine texture, is excellent at keeping heat in and has a naturally beautiful colour.

(An antique Yixing clay teapot.)

The other interesting thing about the Yixing teapot is that the longer you use it, the better the tea it makes. This is because the zisha clay is very porous (has lots of microscopic holes in it) and therefore every time tea is brewed in it, it absorbs some of the flavour and oil of that tea. This means that the more tea you make in it, the more flavoursome it becomes – it is said that a Yixing teapot which has been used for many years can brew tasty tea with hot water alone. It is for this reason that the teapot should only be used to brew one kind of tea, so that the flavours absorbed into it do not mix to create an unpleasant tasting tea. It is also said that a Yixing teapot should never be washed with anything other than warm water as using soap would almost certainly ruin the taste of the tea brewed in it. Traditionally Yixing teapots were made not much bigger than fist sized and would be used to brew oolong and pu’er teas.

(Some oolong and purer tea, the sort traditionally brewed in zisha clay pots.)

Zisha clay has a red-purplish colour, which darkens, and becomes more beautiful over time and with use. Each pot would be made by hand on a potter’s wheel by a traditional Chinese craftsman and marked under the lid or on the bottom of the pot.

(An example of a more modern Yixing teapot done in a traditional style.)

For centuries the Chinese have practised the art of tea ceremonies as a way of relaxing, focusing the mind and bonding socially. The ‘rules’ for these ceremonies vary depending on teas, areas in China and the equipment used (amongst other things). However, the ethos of the ceremonies rarely differs from one of respect, peacefulness, humility and equality. To begin the tea filled pot is filled with water until over-flowing, this first brewing is used to wash the tea leaves, the teapot and the cups which will be used. The teapot is then filled again with boiling water, brewed for around 10 seconds (depending on the tea) and poured into each of the participants’ cups. The cups used, much like the Yixing teapot, are miniature in size and are designed to be drunk in 2 or 3 sips whilst also allowing the drinker to smell the tea to enrich the experience. Sometimes an aroma cup is also used, the tea first being poured into the aroma cup, then into the drinking cup – leaving the odour of the tea in the aroma cup for the participant to smell. This process will be repeated many times (usually around 10 or 15) still using the original tea leaves. As the ceremony continues, each pot of tea produced will gain a subtly different flavour to the last, getting stronger towards the middle and weaker towards the end when the brewing time is increased to get the most out of the leaves. Yixing teapots are ideal for this kind of ceremony as each steeping of the leaves produces the perfect amount of tea for a small group. Yixing teapots are also ideal as the equipment used in the ceremony is also very important and zisha clay pots are considered to be amongst the best in China (and the longer you’ve had it, the better!).

(The equipment needed for a Chinese tea ceremony.)

As Yixing pots are considered to be some of the best, their value in todays China has escalated rapidly (owing mainly to the booming Chinese economy). Like so many Chinese antiques in recent years the older and more ornate ones have become especially valuable. Recently a single Yixing teapot, made by master craftsman Gu Jingzhou, fetched more than 12 million Yuan at a Chinese auction (around £1.2 million). But does this escalation in price undermine the whole philosophy behind tea in China? Tea in China is associated with equality and a sense of humbleness so this modern extravagance kind of goes against what tea drinking is really all about. However, there are of course still reasonably priced good Yixing teapots in China that most families can afford and enjoy.

(The Gu Jingzhou zisha teapot that sold for more than 12 million yuan last year in China.)

I feel that the Yixing clay teapot is great example of an ancient Chinese production process that is still used to this day. Yixing teapots are incredibly functional and aesthetically pleasing but they are also a symbol for a simpler more humble way of life, which is something that I think is should be cherished in today’s rapidly growing China.