07-17-2006 09:49

In last weekend's "Spotlight", we took a stroll through the history of the Chinese mainland's animation industry from its inception in 1926 through its first golden age. Today, let's continue our journey to discover what happened next.


One of the best works of 1964 was the paper-cut animation "Hongjun Bridge. The story is set during China's civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. The film is famous for its vivid characters. To make things easy for everyone, the Kuomintang soldiers are portrayed as ugly, hunch-backed cowards. In stark comparison, the Communist soldiers are brave and upright, and their loyal followers, the peasants, are strong and tireless.

Two others hits that year were the puppet films "The Cock Crows at Midnight" and "Heroic Sisters of the Grasslands". But, as the country descended into political chaos, these were to be the last animations for almost a decade. The industry, and almost everything else in China, was in stagnation.

The ice was finally broken in 1973, when "Little Bugler" was awarded at the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films. The story is about a boy who grows up in a poor family to finally join the army and become a bugler. Directors Wang Shushen and Yan Dingxian did their best to make the film reflect reality. Ultimately, it became one of the era's most effective pieces of political education.

Sun Lijun, Director of Beijing Film Academy Cartoon Institute said: "Those were special times. Politics was all pervasive. Thus, all art forms were required to portray these types of characters. The film is quite accomplished, but it's very dated. There's no escaping the heavy imprint of the era."

Second golden age

Since 1976, China's animation industry has experienced a second golden age, with the Shanghai Animated Film Studios at its core. Development has been concentrated in three fields: puppetry, paper-cutting and folk-painting.

A landmark was the "Afanti" series of the 1980s, adapted from Xinjiang folk stories. Puppet artist Jin Xi created the clever, brave, and humorous character of "Afanti". He passed his job on to veteran Qu Jianfang in the mid-80s, and Qu went on to make Afanti a household name.

In the field of paper-cuts, the 1978 film "Foxes Attack Hunters" was loudly applauded for its dynamic use of the folk art and its gorgeous colors. Two years later, it was honored in Zagreb. Another paper-cut animation to win acclaim at the Zagreb festival was the 1981 film, "Monkeys fish the Moon". It helped bring Chinese paper-cut animations to a new level - one of international recognition.

The folk-painting animation "Nezha Conquers the Dragon King" was co-directed by A-Da, Wang Shuzhen and Yan Dingxian, all from the Shanghai Animated Film Studios. It was China's first widescreen animation film. The later adaptation from the novel "Feng-shen-bang" or "The Investiture of the Gods", became a folk-painting cartoon classic. The film boasted abundant colors, fluent lines, and the unique charms of traditional Chinese folk art.

The 1980 film "Three Monks", directed by A-Da, boldly combined the concepts of traditional Chinese art with the western spirit of adventure. Music played an especially important part in the film. A different instrument was used to signify each character, just like in "Peter and the Wolf". The animation was honored with big prizes across the world, including at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Other folk-painting cartoons from the 1980s that deserve the title of masterpiece include "Rainbow Deer", "Tales From Heaven's Book", "The Monkey King Conquers the Demon", and "Selecting Beauty".

Sun Lijun said: "The Wan Brothers' 'Princess Iron Fan' was refined for its time. But it's clear they had borrowed heavily from American cartoons. It wasn't until 'Uprise in the Palace of Heaven' and 'Nezha Conquers the Dragon King' used more traditional Chinese elements that animators integrated western influence into the art form as opposed to merely imitating it."

Besides puppetry, paper-cutting and folk-painting, the traditional art of ink-painting has also made a considerable contribution to Chinese animation.

In 1988, after a 20-year hiatus since the release of "Herd Boy's Flute", "Love of Mountains and Rivers" swept the country. Co-directed by Te Wei, Yan Shanchun, and Ma Kexuan, the ink-painting cartoon was a blockbuster. Featuring exquisite landscapes and haunting traditional music, it told the very Chinese story of a young man's love and respect for his teacher. It was warmly welcomed around the world.

Sun said: "Ink-painting has been used quite often in China's animated films. But this technique was actually very new at the time. Foreigners didn't know how to produce that kind of folksy feel. In fact, it was a development of the traditional art of Chinese painting."

By the time "Love of Mountains and Rivers" came out, China's animation industry was at the peak of a second golden age. Having survived an extended period of stagnation, it's maturity was beginning to show. But what would the future hold? Tune in for the next edition of Spotlight to find out.


Editor:Ge Ting