In the battle for the hearts and minds of China’s children, the government is playing a new ‘toon. Donald and Mickey are out; home-grown cartoons with communist values are in.
A new campaign promotes cartoons with Chinese characters and themes. Among them: tales of Confucius, the life of a revered poet, and the fable of a sports hero who soars through obedience and teamwork.
In today’s market-driven China, it also makes business sense to go after what a state-run newspaper called “the unchecked spread of foreign comics.”
Parents enriched by economic reforms are lavishing more money on their children, often indulging the every whim of “little emperors” born of the government’s one-child family policy.
Up to 180,000 copies of Mickey Mouse - or “Mi Laoshu” - magazine sell in China each month. Hundreds of thousands of kids also have cajoled their parents into buying Disney’s “The Lion King” and “Toy Story” comics after seeing the films.
“Parents want books which will raise their child’s educational level,” said Zhao Ertao, manager of a musty-smelling children’s bookstore in western Beijing. “But children just want the famous characters, things they see on television.”
Chinese officials and newspaper commentators worry that some foreign comics, particularly violent, sexy Japanese cartoons, are a bad influence. And they complain they don’t teach kids about China or things Chinese.
“One problem with some imported cartoons is their contents are unhealthy. Also, the life and family values they promote do not meet the country’s requirements regarding children’s development,” said Kou Xiaowei, a senior publishing official.
The administration, the government’s overseer of books, including comics, has teamed up with the Propaganda Ministry to promote 15 Chinese-style cartoons.
Among the four already written is “Young Chinese Genius,” which tells the stories of historical figures including Confucius, the godfather of Chinese philosophy, anti-opium campaigner Lin Zexu, and Li Bai, one of China’s most revered poets.
It seems to matter little to officials - or parents - that Li was also a drunkard who reportedly drowned, inebriated, in a stream. More than 200,000 copies have sold, netting the publishers $120,500 in profits.
“Soccer Boy” is another government favorite. It follows its young protagonist, Xindi, as he rises to the national team under a coach who preaches obedience and teamwork - qualities the Communist Party is promoting in a morality campaign begun this month.
“It reflects the life of young Chinese today,” Kou said of “Soccer Boy,” which is supposed to be on shelves before the year’s end.