Attitudes to China

If someone was to ask me about where the clothes I bought were from I would most likely start off by naming a local high-street store and like most people if I was asked where the clothing I bought was made, I would naturally assume it wasn’t made in the U.K. be it due to cheaper labour elsewhere in the world, more specifically “Made in China” perhaps.  Wouldn’t you say the same?

I found this interesting clip which basically highlights the amount of things that we are wearing are made abroad, it is not about Britain, it is about America, but I feel it is a similar situation anyway and states that China is well ahead in the manufacturing of clothing than anywhere else in the world.

Popular high-street stores may  include Topshop, Burton, USC, New look, River Island,primary  and H&M and prove to be favourites among students (I asked this target market),some being  more expensive than others, but all concerned with the latest fashion trends. Though the question is, are such high street  stores as conscious about the production of their clothes as they are with their image / the image of their customers and ultimately do the customers know and even care about the manufacturing of the products they are buying. In the image based society  that we live in today how much thought is actually put into anything other than the way the clothing looks and makes us feel? Do shoppers consider the wider issues regarding the manufacturing of the products they are buying at all?

With a few questions in mind I interviewed people gather some responses. I asked them to write their answers on a piece of paper shaped like a t-shirt to keep them engaged with the questions I was asking and somewhat preempting discussion of clothing and retail shops. I asked them the following questions:

  1. What is you favourite shop?
  2. What was the last item you bought from there?
  3. Do you know anything about where the product was made?
  4. If not, where would you guess it was made?
  5. Do you care where the product is made?
  6. What do you think of the quality of the product?
  7. What do you think about the quality of the product made in the U.K as opposed to those made elsewhere int he world.

From the responses I received I came to the assumption that the majority of people do not actually care about where the products they buy are made.  The majority did say that the clothes were probably made in “poorer countries” and/or Asia.To an extent people didn’t mind where their clothes came from however when given a moment to think about their response a few did bring up the issue of child labour, and how that did  concern them, but because they do not usually think twice about their purchase  at the time they don’t feel guilty about it. I can’t judge them on the topic discussed, otherwise I’d be a hypocrite. When I go into a shop to buy, a dress for example, I see it for what it is, a dress, a dress I can wear on my next night out with friends and look fashionable, then I would probably check the price label to see if I could afford it…Never in the process of purchasing this said dress do I think to myself, where is it made and who made it. It is said “ignorance is bliss” after all, would our favourite shops be our favourite shops if we knew all the ins and outs of the manufacturing side to them.

When I discussed with people what did they think about the quality of the clothes, they said that they could be better but for what they are paying for it suited them just fine and they didn’t mind that the clothes were made abroad rather here in the U.K . I am beginning to wonder if I should be more concerned for the lack of manufacturing  actually happening close to home,in Britain, considering I am a Textile Design student. What does the future hold for me and my designs (hypothetically speaking if… I were to become a Textile designer with such important decisions to make), must they be “shipped off” to other countries simply to make ends meet and make a possible profit and how would I feel about the wages of the people making the products, the labourers, the hours they work and the wage they are paid.

I feel that most of the shops I go into to not particularly advertise an “eco/ethical friendly” environment. There is usually no information about where the clothes are manufactured other than the labels on the individual garments. As I do study textile design I feel that this is a topic that I should research greater and could be a consideration to be incorporated into my own work.

Chinese Animation

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.

Still from "Princess Iron Fan"

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.

A-Kuei

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.

History of Chinese Animation

China played a fundamental role in early forms of animation. The most distinctive Chinese features in animation would have to be the zoetrope, shadow puppets and the Wan brothers.

The zoetrope was invented by Ting Huran around 180 AD. As the zoetrope moves the viewer looks through the holes to see the static images on the inside move and see one of the earliest forms of animation.

Today the zoetrope is still in use but has changed form. In America the subways now have a series of images outside on the tunnel walls and as the train moves past the viewer sees a moving advertisement. The zoetrope was the birth of animation and if it was not invented animation may not be as advanced as it is today.

Another early form of silhouette animation originated from the Han Dynasty, which was called shadow puppets. It is one of the most ancient forms of storytelling in china. The art of puppetry became a profession and the puppeteers travelled all over china spreading the news of the land and stories from afar. Shadow puppets were created after one of Emperor Wu’s wives died. The emperor Wu got his court officials to invent a way so he could feel like she was still there. Shadow puppets were then invented; light would cast the shadow of the puppet and would move when the puppet moved. The Mongols conquered and shadow puppets spread to other countries and to Europe.

Shadow puppets today are on the decline in china but there are still some institutes in china that teach shadow play. In animation it has now been modernised to silhouette animation which is just the outline of an object moving but is very difficult to capture expressions. The Expressions of a character in animation is key to its success. Silhouette animation can be 2d or 3d and tends to be black and white.

The Wan brothers; Wan Laiming, Wan Guchan, Wan chaochen and Wan Dihuan were the pioneers of Chinese animation. The wan brothers were what Walt Disney was for American animation but for China. The wan brothers operated in the 20th century from Nanjing China. They started creating animations after seeing some of the American animations like “out of the inkwell”. Together they created many first in the field of animation for their country. They made the first animated advertisement, film shorts, cartoon shorts, animation with sound and animated film. Their most known works are “Havoc in heaven” and “Princess Iron Fan”

The wan brothers lived through many recent turbulent times in china. One of which is the second Sino-Japanese war where Japan captured Nanjing. Then the Second World War shortly followed.

Furthermore the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966. The Cultural Revolution proved to be a difficult time for the arts. Many pieces of work were destroyed and many artists were no longer allowed to produce work.  This was because the government did not approve of the messages being sent out through art. Any art produced at this time had to be acceptable by the government. Living through these era’s would have impacted the wan brothers work finically, what they were allowed to produce and being able to progress in their field.

Chinese animation today is starting to flourish. The most recent and known Chinese animation would be the Beijing 2008 Olympics, which was shown all over the world. However it is often overshadowed by Japanese animation today.

Overall china has played an important role in animation. They created some of the earliest forms of animation shadow puppets and the Zoetrope. The animation world may not be what it is today if it was not for these inventions. The Wan brothers lead the way into animation for their country but were hindered in what they were able to do and achieve due to the times they lived in. It is only now that Chinese animation is on the rise.

Silk

China were the innovators in the production of silk many centuries ago and  managed to withhold the secrets of  how the material was made. Silk  therefore only traveled to the western world through the many trade posts stretching from China  all the way to Europe, known as “The silk road”(although not actually just one road).  Silk was grown, harvested and weaved in China and in the early years were only to be worn by Royalty as it was an extremely rare material, but as China developed their techniques it soon become available to people of “social status” /”aristocrats” then to the masses. Asia is still to this day the largest producers of silk, China being the largest then followed by India and imports  travel worldwide to reach popular demands. When Europe finally  did find out how to make silk  the production increased in Italy for a long time, but as mentioned, today Asia are the largest producers, this could possibly be due to the combination of skilled a workforce and cheaper labour in the countries compared to other countries.

Silk is a natural(protein) fibre that is obtained from the cocoon of the  silkworm which is native to China (hence their innovation in this material).  The silkworm’s main food source comes from Mulberry leaves , but it is possible for different species to feed on different types of leaves and therefore produce different variations of silk raging from fine to coarser silks. Non-mulberry silks, as they are known, include Tasar, Eri and Muga silks and they have distinctive colours and properties.

Once silkworms eat the mulberry leaves and reach their full growth they then begin to spin a cocoon around themselves. After they hatch into moths the cocoons that are left behind are collected to produce silk.  The cocoons are boiled in water then spun into threads and/or weaved into silk. Silkworms have been completely domesticated and do not exist in the wild, so essentially they are only bred for the production of silk.

Silk is the strongest natural fiber that there is, it is extremely versatile and strong which makes a practical material to use in many products. It is also luxurious, delicate, smooth, shiny and simply a beautiful material  that can also be easily dyed and these properties make it extremely attractive to different industries.Having so many   incredible qualities allows  silk  to be such a popular material. In both the fashion industry and interior markets silk is used in their products from clothing to fine furnishings. Silk is a popular material for clothing (for both womanswear i.e dresses and menswear i.e ties) as it can keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer and it is extremely light and flexible, so is therefore comfortable to wear. To add to the attractiveness of silk, it can be dyed different colours to fit changing fashion trends and beads or embroidery can be easily added to the fabric.

Alongside the “boom” of silk production the Chinese artwork and crafty embroidery styles also developed. Working into the silk with fine embroidery threads produced incredibly beautiful and detailed designs whither it be of people, animals/mystical creatures, flowers or objects. As an ancient form of artwork there are four major styles that developed in China which were “Su embroidery”, “Xiang embroidery”, “Yue embroidery” and “Shu embroidery” and all had slightly different techniques. “Su embroidery” was known to be very intricate, “Xiang embroidery” used many colours emphasising tonal changes,” Yue embroidery”  was complicated and used very bright colours and “Shu Embroidery” was very neat. As well embroidery another popular art form developed  in China and applied to silk was “silk painting” as silk was “invented” before paper so it was a popular material to paint on to.

China was fortunate enough to innovate the production of silk all thanks to the silkworm native to the country and are innovators in techniques that can be applied to silk. As a textile student I enjoy using silk as I am aware of course it’s great properties and  of course it’s  popularity. I can easily add my printed design onto the fabric and work on top of them to add more texture(embroidery), all things that the Chinese developed centuries ago are still being applied today.

How China Is Perceived In The Media.

The way that China is depicted in mainstream British media is fairly mixed, such as stories of big events to ancient culture. These stories are often negative, hypocritical and contradictory.

The way the China controls and monitors its residents, is an increasingly negative factor that is a certainly in the forefront in the medias agenda.  It’s often concentrated on how China limits freedom of speech, the websites it allows people to see, news, security and even its own history. The uprising in Tiananmen Square 1989 is a prime example of the control of the Chinese people. The protests in Tiananmen Square are virtually unheard of in China because the Government denies it and almost banned people speaking about it.  The fact that Chinese people know so little about the massive protests due to the Governments control of their own media outlets proves that there is a strong grip on the way that information is controlled.

However, China is not the only country to control its people. In recent years both America and Britain have also been heavily criticised in the way they treat people. In the recent war in Afghanistan and Iraq, both countries were criticized for depriving prisoners of freedom of speech. To pick on China, and say they are the only ones that are doing wrong is very hypocritical.

One of the main reasons that this is the case is that the growth of China is intimidating and worrying other power nations such as, Britain, USA and Germany. The rate that China is expanding at is always perceived to be negative in the eyes of the media, it often concentrates on poor working conditions, worker exploitation and the fact that China is trying to –and succeeding- in its attempts to become a major player in the production of a range of products from high end electricals to cheap children’s toys.  All throughout history, countries that have developed into super powers have always exploited their workers, in this view it’s very hypocritical to judge Chinas progress. China is a country on the rise and it is something that the media and other counties should realise.

Again, the polar opposite view of China, is one of beauty and vibrance. The media, especially televised media are good at showing the bright, happy, celebratory side of China. During Chinese New Year the stories are focused on the festivals in all their glory, the family togetherness and hope for the fore coming year.  At this time of year it is rare to hear about anything except the wonder that is Chinese culture.  The focus on these celebrations on again a different bias side (one of beauty and perfection) is not consistent with how the media usually depict China.

The Olympic Games that were held in Beijing in 2008, were a huge talking point for the British media although it was surrounded in controversy.  The media went into a frenzy showing China in all its glory to the whole world, forgetting about the human rights issues and poverty. During the Games there was no mention of the negative aspects of the Chinese way of life. The opening ceremony alone cost China a reported £50 million and featured 15,000 performers, which send a strong statement in the ‘selling’ of China to the rest of the world.  They sent a strong message that China was aiming to be a big player in the world of super powers.  However, before and after the Games the media was full of questions of how China could through people out of their home to make way for stadiums and arenas and how they could make people work for little money to complete the venues on time. The Olympic Games weren’t without there questions but in similar circumstances, isn’t the same thing being done in London for there Olympics? All be it on a much smaller scale.

China is not a country that does not have it problems, just like every country. The way that it is depicted to everyone else in the media is bias and contradictory depending on the story.  The media has the power to show us China in many different ways, weather it be the good side (the Olympics and Chinese New Year) or the bad side (control and becoming a super power). China had the potential to become a truly great country, if it continues to change its ways it will ‘win’ over the media.