Toon trouble: Problems of China’s Animation Industry

Successful Chinese animation "Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf "

According to Xinhua News Agency, the Japanese animation industry pulls in $25 billion a year. But China, the world’s largest producer of animation, made 47.08 billion yuan ($7.75 billion) in 2010.

“We are a big country with a rich culture, but not yet a strong cultural influence. One important reason for this is the lack of innovation on culture. Therefore, our cultural industry is weak in its radiation power and attraction,” said Li Wuwei, vice-chairman of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, at a forum on creative industries on February 9.

A government policy to develop the animation industry was first put forth in 2000, and it succeeded in increasing the number of animated works significantly: In 2010, about 220,000 minutes of animation were produced, up from 4,000 minutes in 2003. Also, 2010 saw the number of domestic animated movies reach 16, with several animation-geared companies, institutions, and international exchanges developing at a rapid pace.

Quantity, not quality

However, the increased output did not compete with the animation boom that was occurring worldwide. According to a report from Workers’ Daily on February 15, Disney’s animation profits in 2007 reached $36.5 billion. With numbers like that coming from just one international competitor, China’s national industry has a long way to go before it becomes a heavy hitter worldwide.

At a forum that took place at a 2008 international animation festival in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, a French guest commented: “There are only 10,000 minutes of original animation made in France each year, and the works are influential worldwide. The volume of Chinese animation is about 100,000 minutes each year, but while it is more productive, its influence is much smaller.”

Wang Ying, general manager of CCTV Animation, has also noticed this problem, and she listed three reasons for the current situation: the industry’s vague direction of development, lack of talent, and incomplete support from the government.

“Many of our animators and producers do not have a solid knowledge of Chinese culture, lack confidence in our own culture, and blindly follow foreign models. This leads to a loss of self-value, and the works are neither accessible to foreign audiences nor appreciated by domestic audiences.

“On the other hand, some conservative animation producers constrain themselves within more traditional cultural tropes, lack innovation and reject cultural integration. Therefore, in their works, there is a very narrow nationalism, which doesn’t appeal to a mass audience,” said Wang, noting that both reasons contribute to the current state of animation.

Complex system

In addition, Wang believes that the animation industry is a compound industry, consisting of production, promotion, and marketing.

“But at the moment,” she pointed out, “the majority of animation industry employees are artists and producers, while experts in the other necessary branches of the industry have a talent shortage.”

In addition, she believes that the government needs to focus on administrative elements. “Previous policies increased output, provided platforms and centers for animation, reduced taxes for the industry, and so on,” said Wang, explaining that a focus on management is needed.

She believes that for the government’s money to be well spent, managers are sorely needed. “Some animation festivals draw little attention but cost a lot, wasting government spending.”

Class issues

Li Jianping, vice dean of the Animation School of the Beijing Film Academy, pointed out another aspect of the current state of Chinese animation: It has become an industry that is exclusively interested in the market of the “upper class.”

According to Li, many current animation productions are motivated by economic profits, and often have to promote their works within the limitations set up by regional protectionism. The result is that animation companies cater to the tastes of audiences in developed areas.

However, as Li pointed out, 80 percent of the nearly 400 million Chinese children live in underdeveloped regions of the country, with many in the remote countryside.

“Animation that everyone can enjoy is the truest form of the genre. If the industry were to follow this philosophy, animated works would see their audience grow rapidly,” Li commented, adding that the government should speed up its development efforts in second- and third-tier cities, and even undeveloped regions.

He suggested that by adding and updating local cinemas, reducing ticket prices, and promoting truly talented production groups, the industry could reach more people and receive more recognition at home and abroad.


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