The extensive reporting notes I wrote on Hunan Province
Notes on Hunan
The Sights and Sounds of Urbanization
The transformation of modern societies world wide is no where more obvious than in China, which has experienced a tumultuous and breakneck wave of change over the last decades, and is still changing at a speedy pace. China’s government has a policy for the urbanization of the population, headed by the development and reform commission, to create mini-urban centers and ‘hubs’ around the country as the rural population becomes urbanized. This has to a dramatic growth of ‘new towns’ and secondary hub cities- this huge build out of logistics/roads, ports and related infrastructure such as subway lines, roads to every village, and even ‘bridges to nowhere’ was accelerated by a $600 billion stimulus package during the economic crisis.
But what effect is this having on the people living within this shocking change?
Away from the main centers of Beijing and Shanghai I thought it would be interesting to look at the lesser explored provinces, to see how they are dealing with this process of change. Hunan province, where a government official proudly told me they have more pigs than people, was chosen as the start point for this exploration of urbanization- as it has a large rural population and large growing cities.
Rural v city dreams
Self control or lack of
Internal and external contradictions
Artists are better at exploring the inner changes in the psychological makeup of people- the ‘software’ that inhabits these new cities. With this exhibition we hope to represent ‘the vast engine of illusions’ that is modern day life in China, with visual, performance and sound art.
International collaboration and inter-local collaboration will be important.
Performance- stop smoking -W acupuncture
Chen Kens old lady painter
Dancers- body contortionists
- The East is getting rich -Mao’s legacy to his hometown is a booming nostalgia. 5
- Hunan Media- inside the magic roundabout- with one of China’s leading media. 7
I spent some time in Hunan province, in the capital Changsha
As one of the centers of Han culture Hunan province has big plans for the future. It has come a long way since its son Chairman Mao ruled China.
Local officials explained how this inland province is becoming increasingly important in the plans of foreign firms, as well as with Chinese and overseas Chinese business’.
As China’s foremost agrarian province- the number one province for rice production- Hunan has been sidelined for some time in developments in the high-tech and other sectors.
In current times it has developed a large steel base, and other heavy industries which are at the forefront of the thinking of local officials planning agenda. But as with all current Chinese official thinking Hunan has become much more sophisticated than superficial observations would assume, and officials grandiose claims are more rooted in reality than you would think.
“I had a fax today from Russia to twin Hunan with a Russian province, and Ken Livingstone faxed me today inviting me to make a speech in London,” Mr He vice governor of Hunan told me (Livingstone has since lost his post).
The province is focused on three areas- developing agricultural products, industrialization and urbanization. For one of China’s most populous provinces the fact that they can double the rice yield following the discoveries of a Hunan professor has been very significant in the lives of millions.
Hunan Province – as the center of China’s ‘central southern region,’ – is a predominately agrarian landlocked province, but conversely is also at the forefront of change and development of China’s cultural industries. In order to better the lives of the provinces rural population, officials explained their current goals involve industrialization, urbanization and intensifying agricultural production. The head of the provincial office of rural work, Li Zhenke, explained that urbanization must take place on a regional level, with many regional urban centers developing rather than emphasis being placed solely on the provincial capital of Changsha. For improving the lot of the provincial peasants, Li stressed communication, culture and increasing peasants incomes as vital. Following recent tax reforms and other rulings, peasant income is expected to rise at least 5% this year in the province.
The two key points made by Li – that in order to urbanize the rural peasant farmers there needs to be a stress on communication and culture – leads us to the provinces strength in developing its media industry. Hunan has for some years been the home of popular format TV shows, which have entertained the masses across China. In addition to the most recent hit with the “Super Girls” show, Hunan has also made a large number of very popular soap operas and variety shows.
As its most recent success, the “Super Girls” TV series appealed to a wide-ranging audience across the country and has been described as one of the most significant cultural developments in China for some time.
China’s biggest online game company Shanda recently announced that it will be releasing games on 100 Chinese heroes – including Chinese communist icon Lei Feng.
Lei Feng was an orphan who was adopted by the communist party of China as a paragon of socialist virtue. After his death at the age of 22 Lei Feng’s diaries were made public after Chairman Mao praised his revolutionary spirit.
In modern China the Lei Feng story is still present in middle school and high school text books, and children learn to sing the Lei Feng song, and the whole country is expected to celebrate on Lei Feng day, every March 5.
Study from Comrade Lei Feng, a large character sign in front of the large square in Lei Feng Zhan, his home town. A dedicated museum has been set up in his memory. The small town outside Changsha in Hunan Province was renamed after Lei Feng was feted by the communist party.
As a boy Lei Feng had a hard life. By the age of 7 his father was beaten to death by Japanese, and his mother had committed suicide. His younger brother had also starved to death and his elder brother died of pneumonia. Lei Feng was brought up by a relative.
As a child Lei Feng’s school reports show he was a good student.
He even hand stitched his own school bag.
The house where he grew up, the residence was servants quarters for a nearby landlord.
The neighborhood where he grew up is now a leafy lane full of ‘English style villas.’
by Chris Gill
Chairman Mao’s legacy lives on in China, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his hometown of Shaoshan, in the inland province of Hunan, a fertile green province that peaked in power and influence in the Han dynasty. In China’s recent economic boom Hunan has been something of a backwater, but with China’s current emphasis on development of the inland regions it is catching up fast, quickly shedding the ideological dogma that was Mao’s legacy in his later years.
According to a local official, Mr Ge, who grew up in Shaoshan, formerly the city had a TV factory, but the city of 100,000 now looks to tourism as its main industry, with millions of visitors a year. Mao’s ancestral home is now a popular destination for tour groups, especially during the 3 ‘golden week’ public holidays.
A dusty town in the valleys close to the Xiangjiang river, Shaoshan looks similar to the thousands of other small towns in China, Mao’s legacy has not visibly made much difference. Motorbike riders in straw hats dominate the roads, carting pigs in side panniers, and local vendors sell the same collection of metal bars, noodles and cigarettes that predominate across the country, besides the ubiquitous Mao memorabilia. A local official said that the average monthly income of the predominantly agrarian residents was ‘above average,’ earning around USD 100 per month.
Pic:Tang Rui Ren
A local lady, Tang Rui Ren, the 76 year old proprietor of “Mao Jia Fandian” (Mao’s home restaurant) has done better than most. She used to live next door to the Mao family home, and Mao referred to her as ‘young nainai,’ a photo of herself with Mao dominates her restaurant. “There were 8 generations of my family lived next door to Mao’s house,” she said. After 1979 she moved her restaurant to away from next door to Mao’s house, and business boomed. “There weren’t so many clients before we moved, now we are very busy, we can’t find enough waiters,” Tang said. After the original move Tang said business boomed, and she now has 109 restaurants across China, she employs 1900 staff, mostly laid off workers, and paid more than RMB 5 mln tax last year, she said. Some of her family have emigrated to Australia and Tang is proud of her association with Mao. “Hong Shao Rou is our most popular dish, it was Mao’s favorite food,” she said. “It makes you good looking and is good for the skin, “ Tang added.
Recent celebrity visitors to her restaurant have included the Chinese astronaut who recently went into space on the Shenzhou 5.
Mao’s statue that stands at the foot of the hill where he grew up is now the center of a local tourist industry that sees millions of visitors a year. The statue was cast in Shanghai, and local officials said that on its journey to Shaoshan the spirit of Mao caused the convoy to stop at night so he could rest, the truck carrying the statue mysteriously breaking down in the evening then restarting again in the morning without any maintenance. It is also a shrine visited by cadres from around China, and local businessmen also visit the statue to pray for success of new business ventures.
A cornucopia of Mao memorabilia is on sale throughout the town of Shaoshan. Pens, tie pins, key rings, statuettes, plaques, musical lighters, DVDs, pins, badges, car ornaments, lucky pigs and other items are churned out of local factories at a greater rate locally than during the heyday of Mao’s power.
Mao’s favorite photo of himself, taken by US journalist Edgar Snow in 1936, and the first photo when he wore a hat, appears everywhere, on plates, 3D keyrings and hand tinted gold framed wall hangings.
A large museum has been built near to Mao’s ancestral home, where he grew up in a large mud brick building, alongside pigs and cows. The museum offers a selective reading of Mao’s legacy, skipping over his ‘mistakes,’ and focusing more on his private life and features a selection of more than 2000 personal items shipped to the museum from the Zhongnanhai leaders compound in Beijing. Alongside Mao’s swimming trunks, dressing gown and jacket is the chair he sat in when he met Richard Nixon, his record player which he used to listen to Hunan opera takes pride of place, and even his car – a Soviet gift, is in the display.
The tragic history of Mao’s relatives dominates a wing of the museum, his family had six members who were ‘revolutionary martyrs,’ not including the small children he lost. Both his brothers died young in revolutionary activities and his son was killed in the Korean war. Wives were lost to civil war adversaries and other family members were killed by his ideological foes. One of his small sons was lost on the street in Shanghai. The museum guide was not able to add any more details. “He was lost, he was very young,” the guide said.
Having spent lavishly on the museum local officials have made an interactive display of the battles with the KMT, 3D renderings of the first meeting of the Communist Party in Shanghai and Mao’s revolutionary activities in Shaoshan, where the official line is that the town is where he first came upon his theory that peasants should lead the revolution.
Despite a painstaking step-by-step introduction to Mao’s life, there is a jump from 1962 to his death on the 9th of September 1976, at ten past midnight. “In 1962 he began making mistakes,” the guide said. The only events in these years depicted in the museum are China’s first nuclear bomb and China’s first satellite. No mention is made of the Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution.
Mao’s death is presented via a collection of sad relics, such as his last comb, his slippers, his patched dressing gown and the jacket he was wearing that had to be cut off his body.
“Mao used to work from 3pm, until 10 am the next morning. At 10 am he would have his dinner and then sleep,” the museum guide said. “He only drank in the winter when it was cold, and he wasn’t a good drinker,” the guide said, pointing to a display of Mao’s personal bottle of Maotai, a Chinese liquor.
One of the most poignant photos in the display is a picture of Mao when he returned to his hometown in 1959, after more than thirty years. “He thought he wasn’t a good son,” the guide said. The photo shows a somber Mao bowing to his parent’s tombs, with a bare wooden wreath. “ There were no flowers at that time,” the guide said. Mao’s mother died in 1919 and his father in 1920.
On Mao’s second visit to his hometown in the 1960s a large complex was built for his ten day stay, that included a large ‘anti-aircraft cave,’ which pointed to his growing paranoia of an attack by his enemies.
The displays of Mao’s life are all dominated by a sign ‘China only had one Chairman Mao.’ But now his legacy is represented in a growing list of Maos – branded products coming out of his former home. Mao gongjiu – a liquor, and Mao gongcha, a tea, Maoti- a special Mao font for Chinese characters, as well as Tang Rui Ren’s chain of Mao restaurants, all pointing to a inheritance unlike the one he could never have imagined during his long stay in power.
Tourism is fuelled by the endless procession of officials and dignitaries bowing to his statue in Shaoshan and presenting him with all the trappings of ancestor worship, flower displays cost around RMB 200, for an extra fee two guards can be paid to ceremoniously march the flowers to the statue.
As the son of a well-to-do peasant Mao left his one story home to liberate his country in the cause of communism. “The peasants now have two story homes,” one local official said.
Changsha. China’s economic reform means the country is leading the world in areas such as manufacturing and steel production. But lagging behind in the industry reform process is what is often referred to as the country’s ‘software’ – essentially what the Chinese government classifies as ‘cultural industries,’ which are a mixture of creative industries such as media, film and cartoons mixed in with other business areas such as tourism.
Hunan is now regarded by many observers as leading the way in developing China’s cultural industries, most especially TV program production, but is also making inroads in publishing and cartoons. A recent highlight was the success of the ‘Super Girls’ TV show, which had an estimated 300 mln viewers in China and has received international attention.
“I am happy to tell you that Hunan is the best place to develop cultural businesses in China. Hunan’s cultural products, especially TV station programs, are very good,” Wei Wenbing, director of Hunan Provincial Broadcasting and Television Bureau, said.
Jiang Jianguo, the province’s minister of propaganda, explained to me that he did allow cultural industries more room. “But not enough room that I cannot eat my dinner at night,” Jiang said.
“When somebody comes home after a long day of work, they should be able to turn on the television and there is something good and entertaining for them to watch,” Jiang said.
Live performance in Hunan Province,
Commenting on the provinces burgeoning cartoon industry Jiang said: “when we begin to do something in Hunan, we do it. We do not stop halfway, or it means we in Hunan do not want to do that business.” Jiang also said his province likes to monitor developments in other provinces as it gives his people ‘yali’ – pressure to overcome challenges.
Culture has come to the forefront recently in government ideologues talking about China’s new political emphasis on creating a ‘harmonious society.’
This new ideological guideline has not yet been fleshed out, but the impact of this new political accent obviously falls heavily on ‘cultural industries,’ as well as areas such as reform of rural areas and balancing economic growth across the country.
He Tongxin, the vice governor of Hunan told me that: “we have made lots of successful TV programs, they have even been broadcast in Japan and Europe. Media is developed for the people by the government – all countries have this and those kinds of rules to govern media. Modern Chinese development is a part of globalization. We are Marxist Leninist – so the order we present media development is different- first we must serve the people.” According to He the development of Hunan media meets the requirements of China’s national laws. “The ‘Super Girls’ program was a great way to show (Jiang Zemin’s) three represents theory- ‘Super Girls’ represented the goals of advanced cultural development and advanced technology,” He said.
For greater foreign media participation in Hunan’s media market He was more succinct: “China will follow the WTO timetable,” he said.
Entertaining the masses
As its most recent success, the “Super Girls” TV series appealed to a wide-ranging audience across the country and has been described as one of the most significant cultural developments in China for some time.
Most of Hunan’s output looks dated and parochial to the western eye, but their style of program production has hit a vein of gold in China ?they have exactly found what the majority of Chinese viewers want to watch. “It’s all about entertainment. We are not interested in politics,” Ms. Long, a Hunan TV producer, told me.
Ouyang Changlin, general manager of Hunan Broadcasting and Film Group, and president of Hunan TV Station echoed her view: “we could broadcast nationally from the 1990s. We all wanted to make a successful channel, so we concentrated on entertainment, and on the media market we did a very good job. We also did good client services. We have created very important cultural products for China. We are satisfied.”
The station is also branching out in cooperation with internet firms, in advertising sponsorship and in developing subsidiary products from its TV brands, such as clothes, books and performances. Ouyang also told me that his company hopes to independently run its mobile phone text messaging services, without a third party service provider.
Long is a big fan of British TV shows such as “Saturday Night Takeaway with Ant and Dec,” “Graham Norton,” and other similar shows. She and her associate, Yang Liu – whose business card introduces her as a ‘famous TV producer’ – and a gaggle of other twenty something young ladies, are planning China’s next big television hit.
Yang runs a collaborative website www.i5land.com and Long gets regular updates on foreign TV shows from her friends living abroad. “We really like English television, American formats don’t really work in China,” Long said. According to Long she is hoping to track down some personalities to launch her new shows- “it is all about the personalities. They must be good fun. I have found one personality and I am looking for another.”
According to Long, China is not ready for gritty real-time reality TV that is popular in the west. “It would be too risky,” said Long, “something like Top of the Pops (a popular UK music show) would be better.” Long then talked at length about setting up a complicated pop song voting system using the advertising TV screens now omnipresent in Chinese office and residential buildings. “We need to build the pop charts from the ground up,” said Long.
A backlash underway?
Recent articles in the Chinese state run press have begun to make complaining noises about the success of the “Super Girls” TV show. A 19-year-old student has written a book saying that “Super Girls” has led to many social problems – as he found his mother had become obsessed with the show. The student also thinks “Super Girls” gives “a bad impression to Chinese youth” – encouraging them to want to become famous.
“They’re always complaining about us,” one Hunan TV executive told me.
TV program rehearsal at Hunan TV station with former “Super Girls” contestant
Another point made in the foreign press- that the mobile phone voting system was encouraging a new generation of Chinese youth to become interested in democracy – met with surprise amongst senior executives at Hunan Satellite TV. “The youth, they are small children, they don’t have such complicated thinking?the voting via mobile phone) is very healthy. China has its own civilization – we cannot do things the western way. We have our own way,” said Wei.
Another backlash seems to be gathering among the “Super Girls” themselves. Hunan TV executives told me that the show’s recent winner would not sign her contract with the station. “Probably because she has 100 people in her family telling her not to sign, and her university is also saying she can’t sign a contract without their consent. She is wrong, if the TV station doesn’t support her, she will be finished. Next year there will be another star anyway, then she won’t be so ‘hong’ (famous).”
All the industry officials I met stressed a similar viewpoint that it was local government leadership that had allowed Hunan to develop its cultural industry to such an extent that it has become the most successful regional TV base in China. It is unlikely that critical sour grapes from other media will bring about their downfall, and petulant pop stars even less so.
“I hope later we can make a naughty star like Robbie Williams, ” Long told me. “Next year we will have better preparation.”
Some quotes from a Hunan resident:
Hunan is never short of big names. People usually blurt out those famous names when you tell them that you are from Hunan. In the middle of last century, typical conversation of meeting a Hunanese was like this:
“I’m from Hunan.” “Oh, Chairman Mao’s hometown.”
In the late 1990’s, a different name was heard: “Uh, that’s where Premier Zhu Rongji’s from.”
Today, the reaction has a different version: “Hunan? I like your TV program, it’s fantastic.”
You begin to wonder how this Hunan TV so popular that it beats all the celebrities to be the symbol of Hunan, as well as beating the other local TV producers to take the leading role in China’s media revolution.
In this revolution, it is popularly known as “Hunan TV Army”.(which is taken from the name of Hunan Army, which is the most powerful regional army in late 1860s)
Founded in 1970 and then broadcasting black and white TV with the coverage within the city, Hunan TV Station overhauled its operations in 2001 to provide seven professional channels for Chinese viewers: satellite, news, economy, culture and sports, entertainment, living and city.
With the ambitions of becoming “China’s Hollywood” producer, Hunan TV’s specialty and brand programming is indeed extremely popular with viewers throughout the country. Survey from CVSC-Sofres Media illustrates that Hunan TV now has an audience of over 4.7 billion, ranks top one in audience rating, audience size, audience satisfaction, program acceptation, expectation, competitive capacity, and popularity among all local satellite TV Stations.
Moreover, Hunna TV challenged China Central Television (CCTV), the dominant TV station in China, in the competition for viewers and advertising. During last year’s auction of advertisement time, the Evening News time slot on Hunan TV was sold for 40.88 million yuan, the highest price ever paid in China for a news program slot.
Golden Eagle Awards
In December 2000, Hunan Radio, Film and Television Group, China’s first provincial-level radio and television heavyweight, was founded. Assets of the group have exceeded 3 billion yuan(US$362 million). It owns the only listed company specializing in TV media in China — the Hunan TV&Broadcast Intermediary Co., Ltd. Soon after, it won the title of “No.1 media stock in China,” not only for being the first listed media business but also one of the best in China. It is “one of China’s most innovative and dynamic broadcast groups.” so said James Murdoch, Star Group Limited chairman and chief executive.
To honor its outstanding contribution to China’s media development, Hunan TV became the permanent host of China Golden Eagle TV Art Festival which presents the China Golden Eagle Awards commencing 2000. As China’s “Emmy Awards”, the “Golden Eagle Awards” ceremony is the only national TV award show determined by audience vote. It was initiated in the year 1983. Seventeen years later, the award finds its home at Hunan TV, attracting a huge audience, as well as TV stars and singers both from home and abroad. “We invest over 30 million on the Awards each time, and the profit is high in terms of the intangible influence on hunan TV industry. Total revenue of Hunan TV last years was 3 billion, and we doubled this figure this year.” said Wei Wenbing, Director of Hunan TV & Broadcast Bureau.
Hunan TV tasted the first sip of success in the Happy Camp. A variety show with Chinese celebrity hosts and guests competing in various creative and humorous games, Happy Camp took its debut in 1997 and soon received incredible popularity. Bid for the right of program title reached 10 million, up from 5.68 million in 2000. The high rating of Happy Camp has prompted other TV stations to create new entertainment variety shows. Entertainment shows named Fun, Fun, Fun, Very Happy, Happy Sunday, Express of Joy produced by major TV stations in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou soon filled the screen in peak hours.
In a time when news programs were occupied by political committee meetings with familiar faces of the governors and mayors, Hunan TV news found another way out. They choose the oddly enough news with the host and hostess spoke in a way different from any other hosts on TV. Unlike the traditional news broadcaster, they talk in relaxation, with humor. Like a neighbor telling you something new, the news presentation soon won people’s recognition. Additionally, real-time news is what they believe the soul of news presentation. Reporters spare no effort to live up with their slogan: “News not older than one hour”.
Talk show is another feature. On Hunan TV, the talk show hosts is more intelligent than handsome. They address the most sensitive topics like adultery, divorce, dealing with rebellious teenagers. From Talk it Easy to Stories, the program goes deeper into the bottom of human hearts, exploring society and celebrity. They set audience thinking after the program, drown in aftertaste rather than just laughing it away.
They even went too far when the “Star Weather Forecast” hit the screens. Pretty girl who won the home-made beauty competition replaced the serious weather forecaster at 7pm. She is not serious in any sense of the word. Foiled in a dim and flickering background, the sexy forecaster talked in an alluring tone, turning the weather forecast into a somewhat obscure fashion show. It caused controversy nation-wide and was later cancelled under pressure for the concerns of parents worrying about their children watching this program. The Controversy made the headline in many newspaper and website with both positive and negative feedback.
Home-made TV Series Princess Huan Zhu
Hunan TV makes all these possible in China, and most importantly, acceptable.
We can’t go through Hunan TV’s success without mentioning their home-made TV series. When “Princess Huan Zhu” took its virgin show in 2000, audience rating reached record high in China TV series history. A light comedy telling a story of emperor and his daughter in China’s Qing Dynasty, the Princess Huan Zhu brought huge laughter to Chinese families. Following the big success, Hunan TV produced another two sequences and enjoys a wide popularity till today. The second sequence of the Princess was sold RMB 550,000 yuan per season to Beijing, Shanghai TV Station and National Cable TV Association. Totaling 48 seasons, the return had made the princess a queen in TV series.
Flickering the remote controller in hand, you will find variety shows, real-time news and talk shows quite common nowadays. What really sets Hunan TV apart is that it takes the initiative to shock the screen, like a first kindle of light that blown into bigger flame.
Before 2000, when the tale of Hunan TV miracle was first heard, people from different TV stations in China paid visit to learn “successful experiences”. They were shocked by what they saw. It was a 5-storey old building. Stepping inside, the Hunan Evening News office is not more than 50 m² with 6 old-fashioned wooden desks occupying most of the space, on which scratches showed their age. A double sofa at the corner piled with books and newspapers. Impressed by the simplicity of the office building, their counterparts in TV industry soon learnt what is behind the success: people.
The old Hunan TV Office Building
In the name of spicy food and hot temper, Hunan people is best know for their spirit of pioneer. Hunan is an inland province and by no means is rich in economy. But here it is the cradle of those famous revolutions in contemporary Chinese history.
A wise leader with vision is always a key in a revolution. Wei Wenbing, now a legendary figure in China TV industry, was the first one to light up the torch. Then the director of Hunan TV Station, Mr. Wei found the best way to bring Hunan TV to success. First step is to set “rival” in the own camp. Hunan Economic TV Station was then established. Born with energy and brevity, Hunan Economic TV is a tiger challenging the Lion King.
The team was led by Ouyang Changlin, another visionary leader in this revolution. He beat the other competitors in the election and took the role of director of Hunan Economic TV Station. Not like any of the other directors, he is not appointed by his senior, nor is his term permanent. Flashed with new ideas, Ouyang and his team produced innovative programs one after another. They invaded people’s eyes with joyous variety shows and up-to-date news. Hunan people began know that TV could be so near to life, down to earth, and various in form.
The old Hunan TV felt the pain from the impact of their derived little brother. Competition leads to improvement. Audiences are ultimately entertained. In the following years, more competitors were created. They are TV station of satellite, news, economy, culture and sports, entertainment, living and city, each specialized in their own area. In 2001, strategy was again adjusted. All seven stations turned from competitor to alliance, forming a heavyweight TV empire.
In the 7th anniversary of Hunan TV going satellite, the general secretary of Hunan TV concluded that the form of Hunan Economic TV Station is a setting up of Hunan TV industry’s special economic district which is quite similar to Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of Shenzhen special economic district. “Setting up Hunan Economic TV Station is not an easy decision. I thought it over for 3 years to make up my mind. I know it is more than adding a new series of TV programs, it is rather introducing of a new mechanism which will later lead a revolution in the TV industry.” Said Wei Wenbing. He was selected by Newsweek under China News Agency as one of the global news characters of 2000 and pioneer of the industrialization of Chinese media.
The New Hunan TV Office Building
TV is an industry driven by heavy investment. You win the audience, you win money. But running a TV station is more than producing TV program. Except for the advertisement revenue, going public is key to raise capital. In December 1998, Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co., Ltd. , the holding company of Hunan TV Station, went public and, on 25 March 1999, was listed on Shenzhen Stock Exchange. In 2001, sales at TVBI totaled RMB 692.96 mln (USD 83.49 mln). This is a 33.58% increase from the RMB 518.74 mln (USD 62.50 mln) in sales in 2000. It booked sales of 460.08 mln (USD 55.43 mln), a 14.90% increase on a yearly basis. Success on the screen reflects the success on the market. During Hunan TV’s promotional campaign in Beijing, TVBI stock skyrocket from 22.31 per share to 24.24, ranked top 9 in thousands of stocks.
In the first quarter of 2003, Hunan TV audience rating remains the No. 1 among Chinese provincial TV Stations. However, Hunan TV is experiencing a “slowdown after peak” so said Li Hao, Director of Hunan TV program center. As society has become more open and the standard of living has risen, Chinese people tend to seek more light entertainment and thought-provoking programs on TV. Hunan TV is now undergoing a second round reform to satisfy the need. They have been analyzing the audience interests, rearranging resources, producing a couple of new programs, and reviewing the TV series market. For the first time they position themselves as “Featured comprehensive TV channel focused on entertainment and information”. The theme of Hunan TV 2003 is “repositioning and reform”.
Those who lead the tide have to surf even faster to keep ahead, for tide will not wait. Although success is never guaranteed, we sure have more faith in the reigning champion.
Except for domestic market, they have the ambition of advancing into the international market. During the past year, the Hunan TV has been in contact with many foreign media companies including AOL Time Warner Inc. IDG, TKK and News Corporation to discuss potential cooperation. On December 19, 2002 Hunan Radio, Film and Television Group signed an agreement to form a strategic alliance with STAR Group Limited. The agreement represents a framework for joint financing and co-production of television programs in the world’s fastest growing media market. “To team up with Star is our first strategic step to strengthen our cooperation with the outside world,” said Wei Wenbin.
Hunan Broadcast Group and Star TV signed a cooperative agreement in 2002. Present are Wei Wenbing, chairman of Hunan Broadcasting Group, Tang Zhixiang, vice governor of Hunan Province, Jamie Davis, president of News Corp. (China) and president of Star Group (China), Liu Xiangcheng, vice executive president of News Corp. (China). Picture provided by Star TV.
In the meantime, Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co., Ltd., has set up a representative office in America. The move constitutes part of the company’s development of its International business. Initially, the representative office will be responsible for market research looking to sell the company’s programming and/or broadcasts in the North American region. Following initial market investigation the office will be responsible for running any US business that comes its way.
“We have a dream. We wish to establish a modern, powerful, multi-functional media group aiming at the so-called Times Ten project, that is, net profit of 10 billion, total assets of 100 billion, annual teleplay production of 1000 series, program production of 10 thousand hours. Our target is to be the No. 1 in China media, and go international.” Said Wang Xiaofu, the GM office director of Hunan Radio, Film and Television Group.
Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co., Ltd. (TIK), formerly known as Hunan TV & Broadcast Enterprise Co., was incorporated in 1998 by 5 founders, namely Hunan Broadcast & TV Development Center, Hunan Starlight Enterprise Development Corp., Hunan Jinfan Economic Development Corp., Hunan Golden Globe Import & Export Corp., and Hunan Jinhailin Construction and Decoration Corp. The company launched IPO in December 1998, and was listed on Shenzhen Stock Exchange on March 25, 1999.
|Ticker name||TV & Broadcast Intermediary (Dian Guang Chuan Mei)|
|Address||Golden Eagle Film & TV Culture City, East to Liuyanghe Bridge, Changsha, Hunan, PRC|
|Telephone||86-731-4252333 extension 8313/8339; 86-731-4252080; 86-731-4251998|
|Auditor||Tianzhi Zixing Certified Public Accountants (for year 2002)
Hunan Kaiyuan Certified Public Accountants (for year 2003)
|Registrar||China Securities Registration & Clearing Co., Ltd., Shenzhen Branch|
|Number of Employees (December 31, 2002)||4792|
Source: Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co., Ltd.
Core business of the TIK includes 4 sectors, covering (1) program design, production, publication and distribution; (2) agency for TV commercial advertising; (3) cable TV network maintenance and transmission; and (4) hotel, traveling and exhibition services.
The TIK currently has three major branches, focusing on advertising, TV programs and cable TV network, respectively. It also owns over 40 subsidiaries with minor or majority ownership.
Source: Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co., Ltd.
TVBI is generally called the “No.1 media stock in China,” mostly as it was the first listed media business. And the company tries to deserve its title.
In the first three quarters of 2003, the TIK achieved revenue of RMB 669.95 mln (USD 80.9 mln) with a net profit of RMB 31.74 mln (USD 3.8 mln). Compared to the same period of 2002, revenue of the company increased by 45.62%, while net profit decreased by 49.32%. The reverse growth of revenue and profits was due to a declining profit margin for the company’s advertising business. In addition, several projects invested by the TIK were still loss making, therefore, offsetting the additional profits brought by the revenue increase.
Indicators of TIK’s three major businesses
|Advertising business||RMB 511.15 mln||RMB 360.51 mln||29.47%|
|Program production & distribution||RMB 63.99 mln||RMB 43.76 mln||31.61%|
|Cable TV network transmission||RMB 40.97 mln||RMB 17.36 mln||57.63%|
Source: 2003 Q3 report of the company.
Currently, the TIK has generated a majority of its revenues from its ad business, which is mainly achieved under the ad operation agency arrangement for seven media in Hunan. The company resigned the agency agreement with these 7 medias in Hunan in December 2003. According to the agreement, if the annual advertisement revenue of these 7 medias is below RMB 300 mln (USD 36 mln), the revenue will be shared at a ratio of 60% (media) Vs 40% (TIK). The additional revenue above RMB 300 mln (USD 36 mln) will be shared by 85% (media) Vs 15% (TIK). Hunan Television Station, the head of all these 7 medias, guarantees that TIK can have advertisement revenue of no less than RMB 120 mln (USD 14.4 mln). The agreement is effective for 5 years due December 31, 2007.
The company’s cable TV network transmission business is also expanding, but the pace has been slowed down. Last October, the TIK announced that it would stop setting up cable TV network transmission companies in two Hunan cities, Xiangtan and Liuyang. It also gave up increasing investments in the cable TV network companies in these two cities. The formerly planned network investments in these two cities, RMB 108.05 mln (USD 13 mln) in total, will be used to set up Bingzhou Dianguang Broadband Information Network Co. (RMB 41 mln (USD 4.95 mln)). The remaining RMB 67.05 mln (USD 8.1 mln) will be used as working capital.
The TIK has also showed increasing interests in real estate development business. The company has decided to acquire 96.97% shares in Ronghan Investment for RMB 320 mln (USD 38.6 mln). Ronghan Investment’s 80% owned subsidiary, Hunan Golden Eagle City Real Estate Co. is now one of top 10 real estate companies in Hunan Province, and has many mature projects on hand. TIK expects that the real estate business would become the company’s another profit source.
China’s State Administration of Radio Film and television (SARFT) has ruled TV stations can only broadcast Chinese developed animation programs between 5pm and 8pm on Chinese TV. I contacted Wang Hong, a leading figure in China’s animation industry to find out how Chinese animation companies are reacting to the news.
Wang Hong is Chairman of Hunan Great Dreams Cartoon Group. Wang discussed how the Chinese government’s new regulations will help local cartoon producers and how Chinese companies can outperform foreign competitors on the domestic market. Wang is a National First-Rated Director and a pioneer of China’s cartoon industry.
CPG: What kind of influence will this policy bring to the domestic cartoon industry?
Wang: Apparently, a positive impact will be in the majority. SARFT now intends to foster the domestic cartoon industry holistically, following the lessons drawn from previous experience. There was a time when the foreign cartoon industry treated the Chinese market as a huge recycling bin. Plenty of obsolete cartoon programs were dumped into the Chinese market. Consequently, the entire domestic cartoon industry was pulled down by foreign cartoons, across-the-board. And then along with the Reform and Opening Up policy, the quantity of imported cartoon programs was increasingly high.
We do admit that there is still this big gap between the domestic cartoon industry and the foreign cartoon industry; millions of children in China grow up with imported cartoon programs from the USA or Japan. If we were not going to do something, then there would be enormous problems occurring.
I think the Chinese cartoon industry needs a seeding time, a time of development; it is almost impossible to jump to the top level at once. As we know the majority of TV stations still rely on the advertising revenue, and they are not as cooperative as the local government is.
This new policy is powerful. Obviously, SARFT is promoting this new restriction as it is capable of …. forming a suitable environment for the domestic cartoon industry. The whole domestic cartoon industry is so excited. We all want to make the effort to boost our own Chinese cartoon programs.
Director Yu from CCTV, on one occasion, disclosed the fact that from 1992 to 2004, China imported 80,000-minutes of cartoons from overseas, however, from 2004 to 2006, the figure was reduced to 3,000 minutes. The audience rating of domestic cartoon programs was actually way higher when broadcast on CCTV; simply because domestic cartoon programs were brand new.
CPG: Mr. Wang, in a previous interview you mentioned that the current situation in the Chinese cartoon market is that demand exceeds supply. In China, over 240,000-minute cartoon programs are needed while the actual contribution is below 40,000 minutes. Do these numbers indicate that the domestic cartoon companies’ competence and product quantity are not adequate for the market? Therefore, after this policy is published, will domestic companies sacrifice on the quality of programs to fill vacant time slots in TV channels?
Wang: This problem has been solved already. I should say that Chinese cartoon industry is in the progress of development. SARFT is sparing no effort in promoting this new policy.
Last year there were 40,000-minutes of cartoon programs. By the end of this year, there will be at least 60,000-minutes of cartoon programs shown on TV channels and perhaps the figure can reach 80,000 minutes. If we try hard, the amount can reach 120,000 minutes by the end of next year. The most important thing is that there is never a lack of … exquisite Chinese cartoon programs on TV screens.
Think about it, for example, a half-hour program can make broadcast time of 8,300 minutes …. per year. In China, we have 80,000-minute of cartoon programs. Within one day, a cartoon channel can guarantee that 8 or 9 programs will be broadcasted once only, without repetition. You can see that our own cartoon programs are getting better.
I will let you in on a little secret. It is said that by the end of this year, SARFT may stop broadcast of all overseas cartoon programs that have already been imported.
How can domestic cartoon industry survive unless the government fosters our companies? Therefore, importing overseas cartoon programs must be limited so that our own industry can have sufficient space to rise. Unfortunately, TV stations pay lots of attention to audience ratings. They probably have no interest in investing in domestic cartoon programs. Cartoon production firms in China are all in the red. So I still say that there needs to be a seed time; if we don’t receive appropriate conditions, the whole domestic cartoon industry will be finished.
CPG: As the new policy is established, the previous obstacles you mentioned for broadcasting local cartoons is over.. Consequently, would that be possible to increase the price per minute of those domestic cartoon programs? If yes, how much would that be? According to some surveys, at present, some TV stations are likely to pay 10 RMB per minute minimum for domestic cartoon programs while paying RMB 5000 per minute to purchase some overseas cartoon programs.
Wang: Definitely, the price will be raised closer to that of imported cartoon programs sooner or later.
After all, there comes up two major issues, one is that marketing system, and another one is the sense of national responsibility. In terms of the first issue, Chinese government puts a premium on construction and implementation of internal trade legislation. On the second issue, as we know, all the childrens’ channels around the world are losing money in business. A large audience with zero purchasing power is a conflict. How canwe resolve this conflict? We’d better view the production of children programs as a type public service. Doing work for children with out benefit is based on the sense of social responsibility. Each and every TV station is under our Party’s administration, we, of course, can make it succeed.
Looking back at the earlier conflict, domestic cartoon companies had an extremely hard time as most TV stations were introducing overseas cartoon programs. That was unreasonable, ridiculous. In the past, anytime we signed up a contract with TV station, we were so disappointed. And now, we cannot be more thankful for this new policy.
CPG: SARFT has published the second list of ‘outstanding domestically produced cartoon programs of 2006,’ where “Red Cat Blue Rabbit Qixiazhuan” is listed as most highly recommended show. As this cartoon is produced by your company, would you please something about the program? How many TV channels are broadcasting this cartoon?
Wang: We will have our cartoon broadcast by 700 to 800 TV channels after September. Moreover, all will be prime time slots. We have arranged a trial showing in advance to see how the audiences reacts to the show. The response was very exciting. The audience rating is considerably high- about 3.6%, and averagely around 1.8%. More and more viewers are willing to purchase the video of this show. Young children around the nation have left many messages online to express their [positive] feelings and ask for the official broadcasting time schedule. So you can see, this cartoon is going to be very big everywhere.
CPG: In Great Dreams Cartoon Group, do you offer services such as manufacturing or processing cartoon programs for overseas animation companies?
Wang: No, we don’t.
China has such an immense market for cartoons. Animation attaches importance to originality. I have every confidence our domestic cartoon programs will succeed. Great Dreams Cartoon Group is the biggest animation production firm in China. 3200 creative people are working for us. We expect to achieve more than 15,000-minutes of cartoon programs by this year. In fact, we are capable of providing 2 sets of programs at the same time.
We are practicing to improve quality. As long as the policy carries on for 2 or 3 years, domestic cartoon programs will be able to stack up against imported cartoon programs, and say “no” to American or Japanese animation. If ever, unfortunately, the policy is removed, then the entire Chinese cartoon industry will be finished. As I said, 2 or 3 years later, we can even up the odds.
CPG: How will the domestic cartoon industry keep the upper hand in the competition with imported cartoon programs (if the policy is removed in three years)?
Wang: First of all, with a proper environment. Once there are no imported cartoon programs, then our own cartoon programs will have a chance to be shown on TV channels. Well, this is a process as one falls, another rises.
Secondly, the marketing system is another key element for domestic cartoon industry to develop.
In addition, a sense of responsibility from the government at each level. Monetary assistance granted by a government to the domestic cartoon industry in support of an enterprise regarded as being in the public interest, since Chinese society is in dissociable with national made products. This is also can be seen as a political issue, and an issue for the next generation as well as future development.
Even our prime minister has been really supportive to our domestic cartoon industry. You do not have to mention about how SARFT has been so encouraging too. However, at present TV channels express less supports comparably.
CPG: What sort of measures for an incentive system does Hunan provide in terms of encouraging original cartoon production?
Wang: As I know, the highest price is in Changzhou (Jiangsu Province), about 3,000 RMB per minute. Hunan has adopted a similar rule as “one enterprise one system,” in order to encourage domestic cartoon production firms. As for Great Dreams Cartoon Group, we were granted an RMB 80 mln (USD 10 mln) loan with interest subsidies. It will help to strengthen the quality of our cartoon programs.
As I mentioned before, with its up-to the minute production and geographical position, Changzhou does an exceptionally good job in the cartoon industry. They have invested RMB 500 mln (USD 63 mln) to build up ‘Dinosaur Park,’ which integrates cartoon programs. I am sure that they will make their outlook even brighter.
In Hunan, the local leading group gives us vigorous support. China has a 5000-year history; we view those innumerable stories as another strongpoint [for content].
CPG: Research indicates that 63.92% of QQ users (China’s most popular messaging system) don’t believe that the “restriction” will be helpful in assisting the domestic cartoon industry winning the market back from imported cartoon programs. What’s your opinion on this question? And with domestic cartoon programs occupying prime time in lieu of foreign animation; will you be worried about the probable shrinking of the audience?
Wang: I am bound to be confident about domestic cartoon programs. Achievements speak louder than words. The trial broadcasting we held reveals our great accomplishment. Right before the Spring Festival of next year, we will see the truth. All in all, I see eye to eye with the policy makers.
CPG: There is this new regulation from SARFT also; it says that from 1 August 2006, the process of examination and approval on domestic cartoons (including jointly operated cartoons), will be simplified. Domestic cartoons now apply to regional Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV, who then take the materials on to Beijing for approval. Previously cartoon makers had to make the trip to Beijing directly by themselves. What does this new regulation mean for domestic cartoon program makers?
Wang: With the output of domestically made cartoon getting increasingly higher, SARFT is working on rendering censorship in a simpler form with more convenient procedures, to speed up censorship of domestic TV animation, to open up the door of convenience. It also helps us to reduce business costs. We do not have to carry programs to the examination center over and over again.
It was quite hard for some media organizations especially TV stations to put the new policy into effect. Unlike before, this time, I see all the media channels react intensively, which is in a good way to see there are laws and regulations to go by. Particularly those TV stations are implementing this policy. I still can recall the moment when we were negotiating with TV stations in order to persuade them to buy our cartoon programs, it was really heart rending, they underestimate the role of domestic cartoon, and it was like we were peddlers or say begging them to buy. But now, we do not have to put up with their attitudes anymore.
By Chris Gill, additional research by Faye Wang
China’s cartoon industry is one that you would have thought was the one sector of the country’s media industry that would be easiest to globalize. But until now China has really missed its chance to become a major player in the worldwide animation market. Due to over protective mandarins hampering foreign access and cooperation, and the knock on effect of inexperience among local operations, China’s cartoon industry has lingered in the doldrums for some time. Policy mavens are unsure about cartoons- they are fully aware of the cultural impact of cartoons on social development of children, and are afraid that a new generation will grow up on Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Poo and subsequently be instilled with a pre-set array of foreign values.
This has resulted in western animation studios getting the jump on China in creating traditional Chinese classic stories for international audiences. “It is shameful for us to say we didn’t create Mulan (the Disney cartoon epic),” one senior industry figure told Interfax.
This current cul-de-sac has led to something of a crisis for China’s cartoon industry and a new policy is expected that will completely reform the industry.
At the vanguard – Wang Hong founder of the “Blue Cat” brand
Wang Hong, founder of Hunan Great Dreams Cartoon Media said “from the 1980s until now the cartoon industry in China hasn’t been successful. It is partly because artists are not used to using computers, and a lack of capital. Chinese cartoons are not the same as what you see in foreign countries. But now development is quite quick – as there is government support.”
Wang has set up an Internet based cooperation platform which he says connects his 2800 artists around the country working in small studios. He hopes to increase this number of artists on the platform to 10,000 by the end of 2005. This he says will be much more powerful, as the larger studios in Hangzhou and Shanghai only have a few hundred people each. His company is also cooperating with Intel, who Wang said are: “number 1 for animation computing.” In his cooperation with Intel Wang says he hopes to “make a fresh international brand.”
In early 2005, Intel and Great Dreams formed a strategic partnership to jointly set up a global computer cartoon technology development center, which is still currently under construction. The strategic cooperation is expected to help Great Dreams improve its competitiveness among China’s cartoon market by means of the advanced technologies from Intel.
He is now also talking to several large Japanese animation houses, and is talking to several firms about purchasing and selling copyrights for animated films.
“But the cartoon industry can still do much better, ” Wang said. “We are far behind the west in cultural development. Our problem is not on technical skills but on art. It takes 11 –14 years to train good artists and directors.”
“China hasn’t thought how Chinese animation should be. Before 2004 the idea was just how to set up a successful computer company. Now we have a ‘Red Dream’ to make Chinese cartoons a bit better.”
The “Red Dream’ – a new regulatory framework is in production
In October Wang says there will be new regulations on the cartoon industry, which among other things will require TV stations to pay to broadcast cartoons. “Otherwise we lose a lot of money to make a cartoon brand,” Wang said. “All Chinese cartoon companies are waiting for this new rule,” Wang said.
“We have been paying more attention to the development of cartoon industry in China,” a Ministry of Culture MOC official surnamed Song said. “The MOC and other related departments are now working together on the construction of policies to support the cartoon industry.” However, the detailed information about the policy is unavailable now.
The MOC, as well as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Information Industry, Ministry of Commerce, General Administration on Press and Publication, State Administration on Radio, Film and TV, have all formed a working group to work on cartoon policy making. The working group is now collecting suggestions and opinions from the public on the draft plan to develop China’s national cartoon industry. The draft will be submitted to the State Council at the end of September 2005.
Jiang Jianguo, Hunan’s minister of propaganda, told Interfax his province plans to become a center for animation, in the model of Hangzhou, and to some extent Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing. He suggested that the province TV will dedicate its cartoon channel to “make Hunan a center for cartoons.” “We have sent out the signal,” Jiang said.
“The training of cartoonists is very important, ” Jian said. Hunan has 18 companies training cartoonists and around 30 cartoon workshops. “We need to develop a cartoon industry that has stories that can have a world brand,” Jiang said.
“We think we like this industry,” Jiang said.
In short supply
According to the statistics from China’s Ministry of Culture (MOC), China’s cartoon industry is currently in short supply of cartoon products, with a total of 250,000 minutes available per year. China is in need of 262,800 minutes of cartoons per year, says the MOC, but can only produce just over 20,000 minutes, and therefore, 90% of the cartoons broadcast in China depend on imports from overseas markets, predominately Japan. China is also in short of 150,000 people for digital cartoon production.
There are 367 mln people under 18 in China at present, which means the target audience for cartoon programs should totaled at least 100 mln. China will have 47 provincial TV channels for children and 3 cartoon satellite TV channels by the end of 2005, which increases the demand for cartoon programs to 1 mln minutes each year.
At present, most of the cartoon producers in China are running at a loss because domestic TV stations only pay RMB 50- RMB 500 (USD 6.20 – USD 61.96) per minute for cartoon products while the production cost is as much as RMB 10,000 (USD 1234) per minute. Some are even offered free. China’s TV stations are also notorious for defaulting on payments.
Despite its hard times the popularity of domestic cartoons has steadily increased. For decades, Chinese produced cartoon programs were seldom well received by Chinese audiences. However, in 2003 this situation began to show signs of change, as several domestic cartoons were comparatively well received. Sui & Tang Heroes was broadcast in Beijing and scored strong ratings. Data from CVSC-SOFRES Media, a leading media and marketing research firm in China, indicated that Sui & Tang Heroes accounted for 5.9% of all viewers in its time slot, a record high for a domestic cartoon TV program. Other domestically produced cartoons, including Legend of Nezha and Blue Cat, have also been quite popular.
Chinese animators have also begun applying new techniques in cartoon production. French and Japanese animation studios have been using 3D technology in their productions since 2001, but the high cost of this technology had limited its use in China. The costs associated with 3D animation have, however, since dropped and Chinese cartoon producers are now less worried about using 3D technology in cartoon production. In 2003, Chinese producers began making attempts at 3D animation. CCTV produced “Thousands and Thousands of Questions”, while ‘Shanghai Beauty Culture Communication’ made “Outlaws of the Marsh.” However, neither of these cartoons were rated ‘very satisfying,’ and critics said they were ‘a bit crude.’
In China Flash, a multimedia application, has also begun emerging as a medium for animation. Flash is no longer a tool used by amateurs for fun on the Internet, it has also become a tool used by professionals for the production of TV animation. By using Flash, producers are able to greatly lower costs and explore new techniques and styles.
Several years ago, China’s State Administration of Film, Radio and Television (SARFT) issued regulations that required all Chinese TV stations to broadcast at least 10 minutes of animation programming per day. Provincial stations were required to air at least 30 minutes of animation programming a day. An estimate by the Cartoon Art Committee of the China Television Artist Association (CTAA), China’s total cartoon program TV market should exceed 430,000 minutes per year, almost double the amount stipulated as needed by the MOC.
SARFT has also requested that Chinese produced cartoons account for a minimum of 60% of animation programming aired. According to this request, the TV market for Chinese cartoons should exceed 260,000 minutes a year.
Chinese animators can currently only produce a fraction of that amount. Not only in short supply, local animation is also usually not very good, meaning more often than not, TV stations in China prefer to air foreign made cartoons. The substantial shortage of domestic cartoons has become a good excuse in explaining why broadcasters do not meet the requests of the regulators. It has been reported that domestic Chinese animation holds a market share of just 10%.
This situation, however, cannot be blamed on TV stations disliking Chinese produced animation alone. Chinese audiences prefers foreign animation to Chinese animation. Guo Hong, an animation industry researcher at Fudan University, completed a survey in Beijing and Shanghai regarding the taste for foreign cartoons that many Chinese TV viewers have developed. The survey focused on a sample population with ages ranging from 10 to 30 years. The results indicated that nine out of ten respondents preferred Japanese and western animation to domestic Chinese cartoons. The most popular animation was Japanese, while China’s Monkey King character was also widely liked.
Source: JNJ Info
The main problem with Chinese cartoons simply seems to be that audiences do not like them. Guo’s survey uncovered that this problem was due to a tendency among Chinese animators to inject often simple, weak, and hackneyed sermons into their cartoons. Audiences also cited rigid action and bland dialogue as other aspects that turned them off Chinese cartoons. However, of all the problems viewers identified, poorly developed and unattractive story lines were the problem cited as the most damaging. Even elementary school students complained that the plots of many Chinese cartoons were too childish. For decades, Chinese animators have stuck to the principle that cartoons should be designed and produced to educate children while also entertaining them. The result, however, have been cartoons that do not entertain, let alone educate.
In addition to its content troubles, Chinese cartoons have also faced problems in presentation and technique. The rigid movements that often plague Chinese animation has not only disappointed Chinese audiences, but also turned them off Chinese cartoons altogether. After watching foreign made cartoons for decades, the Chinese audiences are now accustomed to the “flowing style” offered by major animation corporations. And viewers not only watch these foreign cartoons on TV- animated films and TV series are widely available as bootlegs on most street corners.
Problems also exist in China’s economic environment. State-owned companies have dominated the production of cartoons for decades. Animation was not produced according to the likes and dislikes of audiences. Production of cartoons was too heavily reliant on financial support from the government. Furthermore, the government did not budget a great deal of resources for the animation industry, and the majority of what was budgeted was split between the main state broadcasters. Limited resources subsequently have limited production volume. Meanwhile, stable government support also, to some extent, meant state animators such as at CCTV are less sensitive to what Chinese audiences want. The end result is that Chinese produced cartoons became propaganda or educational endeavors.
What has been more damaging, however, is the broken industrial value chain for cartoons in China. A good industrial value chain would help entice investment from both private and overseas sources, especially as the sector undergoes reform and gradual opening up.
A well-performing cartoon industrial value chain would run smoothly at every link. However, in the China, once a cartoon has been completed, producers must then labor to promote their products to TV stations for broadcast. Despite the SARFT’s rule that 60% of animated programs broadcast ought to be domestic ones, broadcasters continue to favor overseas cartoons, especially Japanese ones. Even if the producers of a cartoon succeed in convincing a station to air their program; they are unlikely to receive a satisfying price. On average, Sunchime earned RMB 100 (USD 12.09) for every 10 minutes of Blue Cat animation broadcast by a TV station, or RMB 10 (USD 1.20) for each minute. Meanwhile, the production cost for one minute of Blue Cat animation ranged from RMB 10,000-20,000 (USD 1,209-2,419).
Several years ago, Afanti Animation invested RMB 10 mln (USD 1.20 mln) to produce the Mouse on the Prairie cartoon. The program was broadcast on nearly 100 TV stations in China, but managed to recoup only 15.6% of the production cost. Another example is the cartoon Haier Brothers, which was jointly produced by Haier Group and Beijing Oriental Hongye. It cost approximately RMB 60 mln (USD 7.23 mln) to produce 106 episodes of Haier Brothers. The cartoon was broadcast by more than 100 TV stations, but took in revenues of just RMB 0.6 mln (USD 72,000).
Many observers, including Guo Hong, blame overseas cartoons for the low price Chinese TV stations pay for animated programming. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, western and Japanese animation flooded the Chinese market. Distributors of these foreign animated programs also often quoted relatively lower prices. The Transformers cartoon series, for instance, was even provided to TV stations free of charge. Overseas animators, for the large part, are able to recover their costs in their home markets. Subsequently, when they enter China, their main objective is not to profit from broadcasting fees, but from the sales of derived products. It has consequently, been very difficult for Chinese animators to cover costs in China through broadcasting fees.
However, if companies could recover costs and earn profits at other links in the industrial chain, they would be motivated to continue investing in the production of animation. But China’s industrial chain is underdeveloped. In a good cartoon value chain, sales of video and print publication would constitute a considerable portion of an animator’s revenues and profits. However, in China, the situation is different.
First, publishing and distribution, especially the publication of video and print media is strictly regulated. Only a limited number of publishing and distribution licensees are available. Subsequently, it is relatively harder for cartoon producers to distribute products effectively in the market. In Japan, cartoon books and comics sell in huge numbers, bring in handsome revenues and profits and help building up and consolidating attachments to a cartoon brand among readers. Cartoon books are actually a very rich source of material for animators. When a character or stories from a comic becomes popular among readers, animation is often shot. Video products are then produced and distributed, along with other derived products, such as toys and clothing. In China, however, there are only a limited number of comic magazines, such as Beijing Cartoon, Cartoon King, Humor Master and Comic King. Moreover, this limited number of comic magazines also has a very small circulation.
Second, widespread piracy has always been a serious hurdle for animators in China. When a cartoon program grows popular, pirated products appear and multiply. Cartoon books and comics face a similar threat. As estimated by the China Audio & Video Association (CAVA), pirate VCDs constituted approximately 90% of Blue Cat video sales in China. Thus, companies cannot depend on the sales of videos to be a source of revenues. However, widespread piracy has actually boosted the popularity of Blue Cat. But that is not to say that companies can make money selling derived products.
If derived products appear on the market, pirated products will also not be far behind. The sales of Chinese Transformer toys generated huge sales on the Chinese market. However, cheaper pirated versions of these toys soon appeared on the market and significantly cut into Hasbro’s profits. Thus, creators also cannot count on the sales of derived products to be a source of revenue.
Without clear prospects for profit, animators will remain reluctant to produce cartoons and investors will continue to stay away. Realizing cartoon production could not bring in satisfying returns, Haier eventually stop investing in Haier Brothers, even though the program was an excellent source of advertising. Many talented cartoonists have also turned to outsourcing, working to produce cartoons and comics for overseas producers, as a way of making a living. The majority of China’s top 100 animation firms work for overseas companies.
In addition to these problems in China’s animation industrial value chain, the domestic cartoon industry is also seriously short of talent. Experts estimated that the domestic cartoon industry needs approximately 150,000 artists in order to fully operate, but the sector currently employs just around 10,000.
In the mid-1990’s, Chinese president Jiang Zemin issued a directive to produce elaborate animation with a high level of content, art and entertainment. As a consequence, the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China and the State Administration of News & Publishing started a China Children Animation Publishing Project, nicknamed the “5155 project.” The project aimed to construct five production bases to publish 15 large cartoon books per year and additional setup 5 comic magazines. The SARFT also started industrial promotional efforts. It promulgated a tenth “Five-year Plan” for the development of China’s cartoon industry. However, no effective policy incentives are yet available, even though SARFT has been striving to persuade relevant ministries to grant preferential taxation treatment to domestic cartoon vendors. The China Animation Association (CAA) secretary-general Zhang Songling has said that he believes investment in animation would greatly increase if taxation incentives were instituted.
To narrow the gap between Chinese animation and foreign animation, many animators have begun cooperating with overseas companies. Afanti Animation, Today Animation and SAFS have all produced animation series jointly with overseas studios. Chinese animators have already begun using techniques popular with overseas companies. For instance, the recent A Butterfly Dream: Leon & Jo used the voices of popular Chinese actors. Music Up was integrated with songs sung by the trendiest Chinese pop stars.
Training for animators has also developed rapidly. As of late 2003, there were 93 colleges providing cartoon training across China, while a year earlier, there had been only 75 such programs. Approximately 7,000 students are currently being trained at these programs.
Sunchime and Blue Cat might be the most successful case in China’s cartoon industry. Blue Cat has already become one of the world’s longest cartoon series. By the end 2003, Sunchime had turned out more than 1,200 episodes Naughty Blue Cat 3000 Questions, covering a variety of topics such as humor, dinosaurs, the ocean, and learning English. There are another 1,600 educational programs featuring the Blue Cat character. Sunchime is also planning to make another 1,000 new episodes.
Sunchime believes Blue Cat’s success is built on its content. “We have won over the parents, and freed them from worrying about their children watching our cartoon programs,” according to a company statement. The Blue Cat programs have been aired on more than 1000 TV stations across China. In addition, after repackaging and remixing the programs for localization, the Blue Cat programs are now being broadcast in several overseas markets.
Sunchime has also done well in the development of derived products. It now runs dozens of specialized companies and produces over 6,000 varieties of derived products. The majority of the company’s revenues now come from the sale of these derived products. Broadcasting brings little in way of revenues. In 2002, Sunchime booked derived product sales of approximately RMB 400 mln (USD 48.19 mln).
Sunchime’s success has also been based on its nation-wide distribution network for video and print publications, and derived products. This network is made up of regional sales companies, which are jointly owned by Sunchime and are authorized manufacturers and authorized brand retailers. Some observers estimate that this network might be worth more than the Blue Cat character. Others, however, are worried. Blue Cat may have expanded into too many derived products, making it increasingly difficult to control and ensure the quality of each product. The failure of one Blue Cat-branded product might undermine the entire brand.
Emerging Company Profile: Hunan Great Dreams Cartoon Communication Co., Ltd.
Hunan Greatdreams Cartoon Communication Co., Ltd., is a large-scale private enterprise specialized in research and development of computer animation software, production of cartoon films and TV programs, and development of cartoon derivative products.
The company was jointly founded in June 2004 by Wang Hong and He Mengfan. Wang, Great Dreams’ Chairman, is an authorized national chief director and playwright of the large-scale popular animation series- Blue Cat, and is reputed as the “Father of Blue Cat” because of his successful creation of the cartoon brand “Blue Cat”. Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit Ventures into Outer Space have all been newly produced by Great Dreams Corporation. He Mengfan, also an authorized national chief director, is currently the company’s President.
Headquartered in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province, the company was initially founded in a registered capital of RMB 60 mln (USD 7.44 mln), which will be increased to RMB 100 mln (USD 12.4 mln) by the end of 2005. Great Dreams expects to introduce a total investment of RMB 200 mln (USD 24.7 mln) in two years for the company’s business development.
After one years’ expansion, Great Dreams is now one of the largest and most advanced cartoon manufacturing centers in China. The company currently is preparing to build up a large-scale cartoon production base in the Xingsha Economic and Technical Development Area.
In order to improve cartoon production, Great Dreams has invested RMB 20 mln (USD 2.47 mln) on the procurement of advanced production equipment and technologies, which raised its production volume to reach 30 minutes per day up to March 2005. The company currently is staffed with a cartoon production team of 700 people and a cartoon manufacturing team of 2,800 people working in its 6 cartoon studios throughout China.
The company says its online platform has a capacity for 10,000 people. The second stage is scheduled to be completed in two years, which could allow 100,000 people to produce cartoon products on the Internet at the same time. By that time, the annual total animation will reach at least 20,000 minutes, and the theoretical production capacity will exceed 200,000 minutes.
|Address||No.19 Xiao Xiang Road,Changsha Economic and Technical Development District, Hunan Province, PRC.|
|Telephone||86 (0) 731-4036590|
|Facsimile||86 (0) 731-4036567|
|Registered capital||RMB 60 mln (USD 7.44 mln)|
|Date of establishment||June 2004|
Source: GreatDreams Cartoon
Cartoon related software development, animation programs production, image authorization, strategic investment in its “online cooperative platform for artists” project.
Great Dreams built up a joint cooperative platform in 2004 for artists to communicate and cooperate with each other so as to develop the cartoon industry. The platform not only provides online distant training on production of cartoons but also enables artists to produce cartoons on the Internet. Meanwhile, the platform can also handle the balancing and management of the whole company through its database. It is also a cooperative organization consisting of 60 studios, which will be increased to 10,000 artists by the end of 2005.
In early 2005, Intel and Great Dreams formed strategic partnership to jointly set up global computer cartoon technology development center, which is currently under construction. The strategic cooperation is expected to help Greatdreams improve its competitiveness among China’s cartoon market by means of advanced technologies from Intel.
Meanwhile, the company also launched China’s first self-developed TV cartoon program “Hongmao and Lantu (Rainbow Cat and Blue Cat) Cartoon World” together with three virtual anchors. The program has been delivered into over 30 provinces since July 2005.
During the Chinese Lunar Year in January 2005, the company launched a cartoon TV ceremony and also cooperated with NASDAQ listed mobile value-added services provider KongZhong Corporation to provide mobile value-added services for the ceremony.
Wang also told Interfax that his company, which also has a school training several hundreds of new cartoon technicians and artists, may go into the online game industry. “We are talking to a lot of people,” Wang said.
In order to form a completed cartoon industrial chain, Greatdreams have set up several subsidiaries through the cooperation with partners both domestic and international. The company founded Hunan Great Dreams Milky Way Media Co., Ltd. in February 2005 together with Milky Way Culture Enterprise (Britain) Holdings Co. Ltd., Taiwan Jindian Press Co., LTd., and Hong Kong Keshi Publication Co, Ltd., Hong Kong Xiaoshumiao Education Publishing House Co., Ltd., Milky Way Digital Media (Hong Kong) Co., Ltd. and Milky Way Publishing House (Hong Kong) Co., Ltd.. The company with an initial investment of RMB 20 mln (USD 2.47 mln), is engaged in sales of products with Rainbow Cat and Blue Rabbit as its main cartoon characters, which were created by Great Dreams.. These products will be published in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.
Great Dream has also formed a subsidiary Hunan Rainbow Cat Blue Rabbit Pharmacy Co., Ltd., to develop and manufacture medicine specially for children under the brand name of “Rainbow Cat Blue Rabbit”.
Great Dreams Information Technology Co., Ltd., was founded to promote the “online cooperative platform for artists” as well as develop those special effects for TV and movie based on Intel technologies. Another subsidiary Rainbow Cat Blue Rabbit Industrial Development Co., Ltd was set up with the focus on the brand management, product development and marketing maintenance for all of the cartoon products of Great Dreams.
The company plans develop and launch more cartoon accessory products for children including costumes, shoes, toys, stationeries, books, audiovisual products, drinks, food and daily chemical products. Great Dreams will open more than 1000 chain stores under the name of “Rainbow Cat Blue Rabbit” selling these developed cartoon related products throughout China, which is expected to generate sales revenues of RMB 20 bln (USD 2.47 mln) by the end of 2006.