Chinese animation

Chinese animation (simplified Chinese: 中国动画; traditional Chinese: 中國動畫; pinyin: Zhōngguó dònghuà) or Donghua, in a narrow sense, refers to animation made in China.

Lan Mao in the Dinosaur Times
Blue cat, a character from Hunan, China


In the first century BC, the Chinese craftsman Ding Huan (丁緩) invented a device "on which many strange birds and mysterious animals were attached" that were said to have "moved quite naturally", but it is unclear if this and the other devices historian Joseph Needham calls "a variety of zoetrope" involved any true illusion of animation or simply featured static or mechanized figures actually moving through space.[1][2]

Modern animation in China began in 1918 when an animation piece from the United States titled Out of the Inkwell landed in Shanghai. Cartoon clips were first used in advertisements for domestic products. Though the animation industry did not begin until the arrival of the Wan brothers in 1926. The Wan brothers produced the first Chinese animated film with sound, The Camel's Dance, in 1935. The first animated film of notable length was Princess Iron Fan in 1941. Princess Iron Fan was the first animated feature film in Asia and it had great impact on wartime Japanese Momotaro animated feature films and later on Osamu Tezuka.[3] China was relatively on pace with the rest of the world up to the mid-1960s, with the Wan's brothers Havoc in Heaven earning numerous international awards.

China's golden age of animation would come to an end following the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.[4] Many animators were forced to quit. If not for harsh economic conditions, the mistreatment of the Red Guards would threaten their work. The surviving animations would lean closer to propaganda. By the 1980s, Japan would emerge as the animation powerhouse of the Far East, leaving China's industry far behind in reputation and productivity. Though two major changes would occur in the 1990s, igniting some of the biggest changes since the exploration periods. The first is a political change. The implementation of a socialist market economy would push out traditional planned economy systems.[5] No longer would a single entity limit the industry's output and income. The second is a technological change with the arrival of the Internet. New opportunities would emerge from flash animations and the contents became more open. Today China is drastically reinventing itself in the animation industry with greater influences from Hong Kong and Taiwan.


Monkey King, from the 1964 animation Havoc in Heaven

Chinese animations today can best be described in two categories. The first type are "Conventional Animations" produced by corporations of well-financed entities. These content falls along the lines of traditional 2D cartoons or modern 3D CG animated films distributed via cinemas, DVD or broadcast on TV. This format can be summarized as a reviving industry coming together with advanced computer technology and low cost labor.[6]

The second type are "Webtoons" produced by corporations or sometimes just individuals. These contents are generally flash animations ranging anywhere from amateurish to high quality, hosted publicly on various websites. While the global community has always gauged industry success by box office sales. This format cannot be denied when measured in hits among a population of 1.3 billion in just mainland China alone. Most importantly it provides greater freedom of expression on top of potential advertising.


In the 1920s, the pioneering Wan brothers believed that animations should emphasize on a development style that was uniquely Chinese. This rigid philosophy stayed with the industry for decades. Animations were essentially an extension of other facets of Chinese arts and culture, drawing more contents from ancient folklores and manhua. An example of a traditional Chinese animation character would be Monkey King, a character transitioned from the classic literature Journey to the West to the 1964 animation Havoc in Heaven. Also drawing on tradition was the ink-wash animation developed by animators Te Wei and Qian Jiajun in the 1960s. Based on Chinese ink-wash painting, several films were produced in this style, starting with Where is Mama (1960).[7] However, the technique was time-consuming and was gradually abandoned by animation studios.[8]

The concept of Chinese animations have begun loosening up in recent years without locking into any particular one style. One of the first revolutionary change was in the 1995 manhua animation adaptation Cyber Weapon Z. The style consist of characters that are practically indistinguishable from any typical anime, yet it is categorized as Chinese animation. It can be said that productions are not necessarily limited to any one technique; that water ink, puppetry, computer CG are all demonstrated in the art.

Newer waves of animations since the 1990s, especially flash animations, are trying to break away from the tradition. In 2001 Time Magazine Asia Edition would rate the Taiwanese webtoon character A-kuei as one of the top 100 new figures in Asia.[9] The appearance of A-kuei with the large head, would probably lean much closer to children's material like Doraemon. So changes like this signify a welcoming transition, since folklore-like characters have always had a hard time gaining international appeal. GoGo Top magazine, the first weekly Chinese animation magazine, conducted a survey and proved that only 1 out of 20 favorite characters among children was actually created domestically in China.[10]

In 1998, Wang Xiaodi directed the full-length animated feature Grandma and Her Ghosts.

Conventional animation market

Animation from mainland China Thru the Moebius Strip
Hong Kong Chinese Animation, Cyber Weapon Z

From the demographics perspective, the Chinese consumer market has identified 11% of the audience are under the age of 13 with 59% between 14 and 17 and 30% over 18 years of age. Potentially 500 million people could be identified as cartoon consumers.[11] China has 370 million children, one of the world’s largest animation audiences.[12]

From the financial perspective, Quatech Market Research surveyed ages between 14 and 30 in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and found that over 1.3 billion RMB (about US $163 million) was spent on cartoons every year, but more than 80% of the revenue flows straight out of the country. Further studies show that 60% still prefer Japanese anime, 29% prefer Americans, and just 11 percent favor those made by Chinese mainland, Taiwan or Hong Kong animators.

From 2006 to present, the Chinese government has considered animation as a key sector for the birth of a new national identity and for the cultural development in China. The government has started to promote the development of cinema and TV series with the aim of reaching 1% of GDP in the next five years against an investment of around RMB250-350 million (€29-41 million). It supported the birth of about 6000 animation studios and 1300 universities which provide animation studies. In 2010, 220,000 minutes of animations were produced, making China the world's biggest producer of cartoons on TV.[13]

In 1999 Shanghai Animation Film Studio spent 21 million RMB (about US $2.6 million) producing the animation Lotus Lantern. The film earned a box office income of more than RMB 20 million (about US $2.5 million), but failed to capitalize on any related products. The same company shot a cartoon series Music Up in 2001, and although 66% of its profits came from selling related merchandise, it lagged far behind foreign animations.[10]

2007 saw the debut of the popular Chinese Series, The Legend of Qin. It boasted impressive 3d graphics and an immersive storyline. Its third season was released on 23 June 2010. Its fourth season is under production.

One of the most popular manhua in Hong Kong was Old Master Q. The characters were converted into cartoon forms as early as 1981, followed by numerous animation adaptations including a widescreen DVD release in 2003. While the publications remained legendary for decades, the animations have always been considered more of a fan tribute. And this is another sign that newer generations are further disconnected with older styled characters. Newer animations like My Life as McDull has also been introduced to expand on the modern trend.

In 2005 the first 3D CG-animated movie from Shenzhen China, Thru the Moebius Strip was debuted. Running for 80 minutes, it is the first 3D movie fully rendered in mainland China to premiere in the Cannes Film Festival.[14] It was a critical first step for the industry.

In November 2006 an animation summit forum was held to announce China's top 10 most popular domestic cartoons as Century Sonny, Tortoise Hanba's Stories, Black Cat Detective, SkyEye, Lao Mountain Taoist, Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, Wanderings of Sanmao, Zhang Ga the Soldier Boy, The Blue Mouse and the Big-Faced Cat and 3000 Whys of Blue Cat.[15] Century Sonny is a 3D CG-animated TV series with 104 episodes fully rendered.

In 2011 Vasoon Animation released Kuiba. The film tells the story of how a boy attempts to save a fantasy world from an evil monster who, unknowingly, is inside of him. The film borrows from a Japanese "hot-blooded" style, refreshing the audience's views on Chinese animation. Kuiba was critically acclaimed, however it commercially fell below expectations.[16] It was reported that the CEO Wu Hanqing received minority help from a venture capital fund at Tsinghua University to complete "Kuiba."[17] This film also holds the distinction of being the first big Chinese animation series to enter the Japanese market.[18] From July 2012 to July 2013, YouYaoQi released One hundred thousand bad jokes.

The most important award for Chinese animation is the Golden Monkey Award.[19]

Flash animation market

On 15 September 1999 FlashEmpire became the first flash community in China to come online. While it began with amateurish contents, it was one of the first time any form of user-generated contents was offered in the mainland. By the beginning of 2000, it averaged 10,000 hits daily with more than 5,000 individual work published. Today it has more than 1 million members.[20]

In 2001, Xiao Xiao, a series of flash animations about kung fu stick figures became an Internet phenomenon totaling more than 50 million hits, most of which in mainland China. It also became popular overseas with numerous international artists borrowing the Xiao Xiao character for their own flash work in sites like Newgrounds.

On 24 April 2006 was launched, hosting a variety of high quality flash animations from mainland China. The site is designed to be one of the first cross-cultural site allowing English speakers easy access to domestic productions. Though the success of the site has yet to be determined.

In October 2006, 3G.NET.CN paid 3 million RMB (about US$380,000) to produce A Chinese odyssey, the flash version of Stephen Chow's A Chinese Odyssey in flash format.[21]

Government's role in the industry

For every quarter, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television announces the Outstanding Domestic Animated Television Productions, which is given to the works that "persist with correct value guidance" (坚持正确价值导向) and "possess relatively high artistic quality and production standards" (具有较高艺术水准和制作水平), and recommends the television broadcasters in Mainland China to give priority when broadcasting such series.[22]


Statistics from China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) indicate domestic cartoons aired 1hr 30 minutes each day from 1993 to 2002, and that by the end of 2004, it increased the airing time of domestic cartoons to 2hrs per day.[23] The division requested a total of 2,000 provinces to devote a show time of 60,000 minutes to domestically-produced animations and comic works. But statistics show that domestic animators can only provide enough work for 20,000 minutes, leaving a gap of 40,000 minutes that can only be filled by foreign programs. Though insiders are allegedly criticizing domestic cartoons for its emphasis on education over entertainment.[12]

SARFT also have a history of taking protectionism actions such as banning foreign shows like Babe: Pig in the City. While statistics are proving there are not enough domestic materials available, the administration continues to ban foreign materials. On 15 February 2006 another notice is issued to ban cartoons that incorporated live actors. As reported by Xinhua News Agency, the commission did not want CGI and 2D characters alongside human actors. Doing so would jeopardize the broadcast order of homemade animation and mislead their development. Neither ban makes logical sense to the general public, according to foreign sources.[24][25]


There is little discussion of Chinese animation in English. Daisy Yan Du's PhD dissertation, On the Move: The Trans/national Animated Film in 1940s-1970s China (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012), is by far the most systematic analysis of early Chinese animation before 1980.[26] Weihua Wu’s PhD dissertation, Animation in Postsocialist China: Visual Narrative, Modernity, and Digital Culture (City University of Hong Kong, 2006), discusses contemporary Chinese animation in the digital age after 1980.[27] Besides the two major works, there are other articles and book chapters written by John Lent, Paola Voci, Mary Farquhar, and others about Chinese animation.

See also


  1. ^ Needham, Joseph (1962). Science and Civilization in China, vol. IV, part 1: Physics and Physical Technology. Cambridge University Press. p. 123-124.
  2. ^ Rojas, Carlos (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-19-998844-0.
  3. ^ Du, Daisy Yan (May 2012). "A Wartime Romance: Princess Iron Fan and the Chinese Connection in Early Japanese Animation," in On the Move: The Trans/national Animated Film in 1940s-1970s China. University of Wisconsin-Madison. pp. 15–60.
  4. ^ Qing Yun. "Qing Yun Archived 21 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine." Qing Retrieved on 19 December 2006.
  5. ^ Socialist Marketing Economy. "Socialist Marketing Economy." "Socialist Marketing Economy." Retrieved on 20 December 2006.
  6. ^ French, Howard W. (1 December 2004). "China Hurries to Animate Its Film Industry". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  7. ^ Wang, Nan (4 June 2008). "Water-and-Ink animation". China Daily. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  8. ^ Fang, Liu (20 March 2012). "Is there a future for water-ink animation?". CNTV. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  9. ^ A-Kuei from Time magazine. "Time Magazine." Akuei in Time Magazine. Retrieved on 19 December 2006.
  10. ^ a b China Today. "China Today." "Chinese Animation Market: Monkey King vs Mickey Mouse." Retrieved on 20 December 2006.
  11. ^ Homepage of author Jonathan Clement. "Homepage of author Jonathan Clement Archived 6 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine. " "Chinese Animation." Retrieved on 21 December 2006.
  12. ^ a b People's Daily Online. "People's Daily Online." "China Opens Cartoon Industry to Private Investors." Retrieved on 20 December 2006.
  13. ^ De Masi, Vincenzo (2013). "Discovering Miss Puff: a new method of communication in China" (PDF). KOME − An International Journal of Pure Communication Inquiry. Hungarian Communication Studies Association. 1 (2): 44, 46. ISSN 2063-7330. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  14. ^ Broadcast Buyers Guide. "Broadcast Buyers Guide Archived 26 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine." "GDC Technology and Arts Alliance Media Partner for a Digital Screening Premiere at Cannes." Retrieved on 21 December 2006.
  15. ^ China's CityLife. "China's City Life." "Top 10 Domestic Cartoons." Retrieved on 21 December 2006.
  16. ^ "Chinese Animation At A Crossroads". CNTV English. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  17. ^ Kemp, Stuart (24 June 2011). "Beijing Calls the Toons". The Independent. London. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  18. ^ "China Animation To Be Screened in Japan Before Its Mainland Theater Release". China Screen News. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  19. ^ China Daily (13 January 2017). "Animated 3-D film 'Bicycle Boy' to hit screens on Jan 13". EntGroup Inc. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  20. ^ FlashEmpire. "FlashEmpire Archived 22 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine. " "FlashEmpire info." Retrieved on 19 December 2006.
  21. ^ Embedded Flash Advertising. "Virtual China Org." "Embedded Flash Advertising." Retrieved on 21 December 2006. Archived 18 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ 国家新闻出版广电总局关于推荐2016年第三季度优秀国产电视动画片的通知 (in Chinese). State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  23. ^ People's Daily Online. "People's Daily Online." "Cartoon Festival Launches Monkey King Award." Retrieved on 20 December 2006.
  24. ^ USA Today. "Usatoday." "Animation Ban." Retrieved on 20 December 2006.
  25. ^ BackStageCasting. "BackStageCasting Archived 12 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine." "China bans TV toons that include live actors." Retrieved on 20 December 2006.
  26. ^ Du, Daisy Yan (May 2012). On the Move: The Trans/national Animated Film in 1940s-1970s China. University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  27. ^ Wu, Weihua (2006). Animation in Postsocialist China: Visual Narrative, Modernity, and Digital Culture. City University of Hong Kong.

External links

Alpha Group Co., Ltd.

Alpha Animation (Simplified Chinese: 广东奥飞动漫文化股份有限公司, Traditional: 廣東奧飛動漫文化股份有限公司, Pinyin: Guǎngdōng Aòfēi Dòngmàn Wénhuà Gǔfèng Yǒuxiàngōngsī, in short 奥飞动漫/奧飛動漫 Aòfēi Dòngmàn, English: Guangdong Alpha Animation and Culture Company) is a Chinese animation and toy company created by Cai Dongqing in 1993. In 2016, it changed name to Alpha Group Co., Ltd. (simplified Chinese: 奥飞娱乐股份有限公司; traditional Chinese: 奧飛娛樂股份有限公司; pinyin: Aòfēi Yúlè Gǔfèng Yǒuxiàngōngsī). The company has a Chinese webcomics site, U17, and also an American film company, Alpha Pictures, and has announced the creation of an animation division also based in the United States.

Base FX

Base FX is a visual effects and animation company with production studios in Beijing, Wuxi and Xiamen, China, and an office in Los Angeles. The company was founded in 2006 and has completed more than 150 films.Base FX specializes in high-end creature and character animation, fluid and dynamic effects, and photo-real 3D matte painting and set extensions, providing services to Hollywood film companies, producers and top directors in China.

China Film Animation

China Film Animation is the animation division of China Film Group.

Creative Power Entertaining

Creative Power Entertaining Co., Ltd. (CPE) (Simplified Chinese: 广东原创动力文化传播有限公司, Traditional: 廣東原創動力文化傳播有限公司, Pinyin: Guǎngdōng Yuánchuàng Dònglì Wénhuà Chuánbō Yǒuxiàngōngsī, in short 原创动力/原創動力 Yuánchuàng Dònglì) is a Chinese animation company. It has its headquarters in the Wuzi Block 物资大厦; 物資大廈; Wùzī Dàshà in Yuexiu District, Guangzhou.In 2004 CPE released its first cartoon series. It has produced over 2,000 episodes of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, a popular Chinese animated series. CPE's main agent is the Walt Disney Company, and in 2010 it had over 300 agents to sell its products. The company's profit margins "broke even" when Pleasant Goat became a success. In October 2010 the CPE entered in a licensing agreement with Buena Vista to air CPE cartoons in 52 countries and territories in the Asia Pacific region.

Ding Huan

Ding Huan (丁緩) was a Chinese engineer, inventor, and craftsman who lived in the first century BC during the Han dynasty. Among the inventions attributed to him is an air conditioning system based on evaporative cooling.

Haoliners Animation League

Haoliners Animation League is a Chinese animation company based in Shanghai and established in 2013. Its subsidiary Animation Company Emon operates in Japan and South Korea.

History of Chinese animation

The history of Chinese animation began in the 20th century in the Republic of China when the people became fascinated with the idea of animation. A lengthy history interlocks between the art, politics and the ever-changing economy. Chinese animation has long been under the shadow of Disney and Japanese animations, but it once played a very important role in world animation.

Hong Ying Animation

Hong Ying Animation (simplified Chinese: 鸿鹰动画; traditional Chinese: 鴻鷹動畫; pinyin: Hóng Yīng Dònghuà) is an animation studio located in Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China and Shanghai, China.

Light Chaser Animation Studios

Light Chaser Animation Studios is a Chinese CG animation film studio based in Beijing, China. The studio was founded in early 2013 by Gary Wang, the founder and ex-CEO of the popular Chinese video sharing website

Mili Pictures Worldwide

Mili Pictures Worldwide (Chinese: 米粒影业) is a feature film animation company based in Shanghai, China. The company's first film, Dragon Nest: Warriors' Dawn, based on the online game Dragon Nest, was released in China in July 2014. The company opened an office in Los Angeles, California in spring 2014, headed by producer Bill Borden (producer of High School Musical and other films). The company's next feature project, Ping Pong Rabbit, is currently in pre-production in Los Angeles. Ping Pong Rabbit is being directed by Mike Johnson, who was nominated for the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature as co-director (with Tim Burton) of Corpse Bride.


Nezha (哪吒) is a protection deity in Chinese folk religion. His official Taoist name is "Marshal of the Central Altar" (中壇元帥). He was then given the title "Third Lotus Prince" (蓮花三太子) after he became a deity.

Old Master Q

Old Master Q (Chinese: 老夫子; Jyutping: lou5 fu1 zi2) is a popular Hong Kong manhua created by Alfonso Wong. The cartoon first appeared in the newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong in 1962, and later serialised in 1964. The comic is still in publication today.

The comic is copyrighted by WangZ Inc, a company established by Joseph Wong Chak (Alfonso Wong's eldest son) in Taipei, Taiwan.

Pearl Studio

Pearl Studio (formerly known as Oriental DreamWorks) is a Chinese film production company owned by CMC Capital Partners. The company was founded as a Chinese-American joint venture in 2012 by DreamWorks Animation and Chinese investment companies. The company will mainly produce Chinese-themed animated and live action films and their derivatives for distribution within China and worldwide. In 2018, CMC (China Media Capital) acquired all the NBCUniversal stake in the studio.

Shanghai Animation Film Studio

Shanghai Animation Film Studio (simplified Chinese: 上海美术电影制片厂; traditional Chinese: 上海美術電影製片廠; pinyin: Shànghǎi Měishù Diànyǐng Zhìpiānchǎng) also known as SAFS (simplified Chinese: 美影厂; traditional Chinese: 美影廠; pinyin: Měi Yǐng Chǎng) is a Chinese animation studio based in Shanghai, China, as part of the Shanghai Film Group Corporation. Shanghai Animation Film Studio was officially established in April, 1957, led by pioneering animators and artists including Te Wei, and Wan Brothers. It has produced around 500 films with over 40,000 minutes of original animation data source, covering 80% of China's domestic animation production.

SAFS produces a number of animated films in various art forms with Chinese artistic characteristics, including Jianzhi, Shuimohua, Puppetoon, Zhezhi (also known as origami), Shadow puppetry, etc. It also has international collaborations with various studios around the world.

Tortoise Hanba's Stories

Tortoise Hanba's Stories (Chinese: 憨八龟的故事) is a large scale 3D-CG Chinese animation TV series in China. It is also referred to as The Story of Hanbagui or Hanbagui.

Vasoon Animation

Vasoon Animation is a privately owned Chinese animation studio established in Beijing, 1992.

Wan brothers

The Wan Brothers (Chinese: 萬氏兄弟) were born in the early 20th century in Nanjing, China. They became the founders and pioneers of the Chinese animation industry and made the first Asian animation feature-length film, Princess Iron Fan in 1941.

Wanderings of Sanmao

Wanderings of San Mao (Chinese: 三毛流浪记) is a Chinese animation TV series in China based on the famous manhua character Sanmao. The series was invested, produced and broadcast by CCTV. It is also known as Story of San Mao's Vagrant Life or New Adventures of San Mao.

A 1-minute English clip of the series can be found in YouTube.

China Animation industry in China
Active companies/studios (Mainland)
Defunct companies/studios (Hong Kong)
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