Views Contemporary Culture Going Global
“Anime” and “Manga” Take Root in China
Beijing Event Attracts Fans of Japan’s Pop Culture

Kobayashi Sayuri [Profile]

[2012.11.30] Read in: 日本語 | 简体字 | 繁體字 | FRANÇAIS | ESPAÑOL |

Japanese subculture is surprisingly popular in China these days, particularly anime and manga. This article sheds some light on what’s driving this popularity.

An Event For the Fans, By the Fans

A fair is held every year at Beijing’s prestigious Renmin University that brings together fans of anime (animated film) and manga (comics), offering them a chance to meet and buy each other’s original creations. The event is hosted by the university’s club for anime and manga—or dong man as the two are collectively referred to in Chinese. In 2012, the ninth fair so far was held on May 13.

The event is apparently the largest of its kind in China for buying and selling fan publications. For the latest fair, more than 100 exhibitors participated, including some from as far away as Hong Kong and Taiwan, and around 10,000 people attended.

Customers at one of the stalls.

Visitors come to the fair to find items unobtainable elsewhere, created with fans in mind. These items include many derivative works based on Japanese anime, manga, and video-game characters. The quality of the artwork is so good that they could be mistaken for originals. The beautiful posters, calendars, and illustration collections on sale are eagerly snatched up by the attendees. With derivative works copyright issues remains but, like the similar Comic Market event held biannually in Tokyo, rights holders tend to turn a blind eye because such events tend to act as a stimulus for their own sales.  

Separating Culture from History

We asked some attendees how they got hooked on manga and anime, and heard the following sorts of responses:

“Japan’s anime and manga are way ahead of anything else. The artistic skill, the storytelling, and the voice actors are all at a high level, so it’s easy to get caught up in it.”

“In Japan a successful manga can spawn television series, movies, publications, and lots of different merchandise. The industrial chain is amazing. China has a long way to go to match it.”

“The content gave me a feel for some of the good qualities of Japanese people, like their earnestness, their consideration for others, and their solidarity when part of a group.”

“Animations here tend to be targeted at the very young. The leading characters are usually small children and the stories are simplistic, so older viewers aren’t really interested.”

“If a Chinese animation isn’t educational, or if it raises any question marks on moral grounds, it won’t be given a pass by the authorities and there have been many cases where a television broadcast is impossible. This is why filmmakers tend to stick to safe themes, based on old classics. This hinders creativity and restricts everything to the traditional.”

Although it is true that many of the attendees were well-established fans, almost everyone had nothing but praise for the fair. Many of the young attendees spend their time at school learning about patriotism and the history of Japanese aggression in China. Yet, in their free time, they are fans of these Japanese creations. When we asked questions on this topic, many said that they draw a line between history and culture, as one person noted: “Of course I feel very patriotic, but my hobbies are separate.”

“One-Child Generation” Grows Up With Anime

The first Japanese anime to create a stir in China was Tezuka Osamu’s Astro Boy, which aired on television in the 1980s after the end of the Cultural Revolution. From that point until the beginning of the new millennium, other anime series followed, particularly those that charmed children such as Doraemon, Ikkyū san, Detective Conan, Crayon Shinchan, and Chibi Maruko-chan.

Children born in the 1980s or 1990s in China are commonly referred to as the “post-80s” or the “post-90s.” These generations were the first to be part of the one-child policy, and have been criticized for being spoiled and brought up in an over-protective environment. Without any siblings, they receive more of their parents’ wealth and command considerable buying power. Members of these generations are said to account for around 300 million–400 million, or 20–30%, of China’s overall population of 1.3 billion. They tend to be demanding, self-assertive young adults, and a not-insignificant portion of them are diehard dong man enthusiasts.

In 2006, however, the Chinese authorities began to ban some foreign animated series from prime-time television out of concern for the “bad influence” they were having on children, and to give a boost to home-grown creations.

As they say in China, though, if there is a policy from above, there is a way around it down below. Pirate copies of Japanese dong man and illegal Internet sites spread rapidly. Many terms from Japanese anime are often used in China today, like otaku (geek), cosplay, and moe (a phrase used to describe semi-romantic/lustful feelings toward female anime characters).

  • [2012.11.30]

Writer and translator based in Beijing. Turned freelance after a five-year stint at a Chinese state-run magazine. Frequent contributor to Japanese publications on Chinese society, culture, and lifestyles. Translations into Japanese include Kore ga nihonjin da! (This Is What a Japanese Is!). Author Monogatari pekin (The Tale of Beijing), which has been translated into Chinese and English. Her Japanese website can be found at: http://pekin-media.jugem.jp/

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