China Thinks Cartoons Need Ratings

Chinese television is pretty bad, being mostly propaganda mixed with some weird socially obnoxious reality shows, revisionist historical dramas and terribly butchered movies. But what seems to have drawn the ire of the Chinese State media this time around is the state of animation in China.

Recently, China Central Television, AKA CCTV (poor abbreviation choice or genius decision?), began running commentary on the faults of China's TV animation. In their commentary, CCTV said that about two thirds of the animated shows on Chinese television were unsuited for broadcast and were teaching children the wrong things — whatever those wrong things may be. The only major animated series that (kind of) avoided scorn was Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, which gets a free pass due to it being a popular Chinese-made cartoon series.

In one instance, CTTV's channel 2 (there are 15 CCTV channels) news anchor goes on a long tirade about how bad cartoons are for children and how the animators should be ashamed of themselves. She then posits her parenting theories onto her audience saying that children might emulate what they see on TV.

China has long been on a quest to create its own animation industry. Japanese animation and Western animation (mostly from the US) have been the mainstay of Chinese television. Many young Chinese people grew up watching Doraemon, Slam Dunk, Ninja Turtles, Smurfs and the like. When KungFu Panda was released in China it sparked criticism against the Chinese animation industry. Many people were upset that China couldn't create a good cartoon about China (not that KungFu Panda was about China per se).

So what is it that has the State media so riled up? According to CCTV, there are seven major "crimes" that animation is acting upon society. The following is the seven "crimes" and the corresponding animated series that CCTV used to depict the issue.

  • China Thinks Cartoons Need Ratings Teaching violent behavior
    According to CCTV, cartoons are too violent and have led to more children injuring themselves emulating what they saw on TV. As an example, CCTV brings up Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (even though it was mentioned as one of the good examples of TV cartoons), where titular character Big Big Wolf is usually being beaten on the head with a frying pan whenever he fails to catch Pleasant Goat.

  • China Thinks Cartoons Need Ratings Over simplifying bodily harm
    CCTV says that cartoons provide children with an unrealistic view on pain. Using Tom and Jerry as an example, they argue that children will risk hurting themselves because there are no consequences in the cartoon world.
  • China Thinks Cartoons Need Ratings Improper use of fire
    Cartoons don't impart any form of fire safety. It's very interesting that CCTV would use Tom and Jerry instead of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf considering that two children almost burned to death from emulating that show.
  • China Thinks Cartoons Need RatingsUncivilized language
    Supposedly cartoons in China are teaching children to swear or talk like sailors.
  • Using the Chinese word for "smelly/stinky" as a derogatory term
    The Chinese word for smelly/stinky, 臭, also means bad. In common vernacular people use it to say someone is bad or something is terrible. CCTV says that cartoons are teaching children to use the term in the wrong way.
  • China Thinks Cartoons Need RatingsMischievous scenarios
    CCTV says that shows like Crayon Shin-Chan promote pranks.
  • China Thinks Cartoons Need RatingsDressing and looking too much like adults
    This message is a bit unclear; it almost feels like CCTV is trying to say something about sexualization in animation. They end this scene with the line "they're better off dressing like children."
  • China Thinks Cartoons Need RatingsSexual Innuendos
    CCTV doesn't really explain this one.

It's actually quite interesting that right after making a point to say that Pleasant Goat and Big Big Sheep was a good show for children, the first slide for cartoon violence used the show as an example. In my opinion Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf is a terrible show, it's not even fun to watch when heavily medicated. On top of the blatant flipflop on what constitutes a good show, CCTV only lists two Chinese-created animation programs, Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf and Xiong Chu Mei. The bulk of the shows CCTV used as examples were from Japan and America.

CCTV's absurd crusade to clean up Chinese animation has led some non-State media to point out that China doesn't exactly have a TV ratings system. One can argue that China doesn't exactly need one since everything is run before the State censors before broadcast but that doesn't really explain how Crayon Shin-Chan is shown to children.

Chinese video game and entertainment news website 173173.com reports that China's lack of a ratings system is hurting the development of China's own animation industry, and that it's silly to denounce animation as just a medium for children. 173173 correctly points out that shows like Crayon Shin-Chan were originally meant for adults.

Whatever the result of this crusade against animation may be, there is one thing I know will happen — Chinese animation and animation lovers will lose. A few months back I met a professor at the Chinese Central Academy of Fine Arts and we talked about the state of Chinese animation. He said that after decades of aiming to create something that is Chinese, China created Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf. He said he found it very pathetic; almost as pathetic as saying Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf was morally good before using it as an example of animated violence.

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Eric is Beijing based writer and all around FAT man. You can contact him @FatAsianTechie@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @FatAsianTechie.