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100 Years of Chinese Animation: Role of traditional culture in development of the industry

CGTN| Updated: November 28, 2022 L M S

This year marks the centenary of Chinese animation. From traditional ink animations to the blockbusters of recent years, Chinese animation has come a long way over the past one hundred years. Wu Bin reports. 

This is a statue of Wan Laiming, one of the pioneers of Chinese animation, known as the Wans brothers. In 1922, they created a one-minute animated commercial, starting the 100-year journey of the Chinese animation. But that was also a time of imitation, many of their works were inspired by early Disney characters.

WU BIN, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province "The founding of the People's Republic of China started a new chapter for Chinese animation. In 1957, the country established its first animation studio - Shanghai Animation Film Studio. The whole country's animators and artists gathered there, starting the 'golden era' of Chinese animation."

"Never imitate others, and never repeat yourself." That's the motto of the studio. Under the leadership of its first president, Te Wei, the studio produced countless works inspired by traditional Chinese culture.

SU DA, President, Shanghai Animation Film Studio "In the 1950s, the first president of our studio said that we need to explore our national style. All our creations in the following decades were inspired by our brilliant traditional culture."

That path led to many internationally-recognized films in the following decades. And the characters became more original too. For example, the Monkey King in the 1961 "Havoc in Heaven" was inspired by Chinese Operas.

HU WEIPING, Curator, China Cartoon & Animation Museum "This is a replica of the working desk that artists used at Shanghai Animation Film Studio. To create a more vivid Monkey King, the artist looked at the mirror and did all the expressions, and then painted them on the face mask."

However, technology soon changed the entire industry. With the introduction of computer-animated films, the industry faced huge challenges.

WU BIN, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province "In 2004, China decided to promote the development of its animation industry with preferential policies and huge subsidies. But growth is never easy. China has the highest animation production output in the world, but the industry has long been criticized for a lack of presentable works."

Experts say that period was inevitable if China wanted to quickly catch on.

LI BAOCHUAN, School of Cultural Creativity and Media, Hangzhou Normal University "We wanted more people to be engaged in the animation industry. So, we used a rather extensive-development approach. But finally, a group of excellent enterprises explored the industry and survived the difficulties. It's just like finding gold in sand."

In 2015, a movie inspired the entire industry. Monkey King: Hero is Back received almost one billion yuan in box office sales, ranking first that year. The success of the movie made many to look back at the industry's motto 70 years ago  "explore the national style".

Li says it will take some time for Chinese animation to realize its full potential, but recent productions are a good start, and that day will soon arrive. Wu Bin, CGTN, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

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