Intellectual Property

Sanmao goes overseas

Sanmao, the wandering orphan created by cartoonist Zhang Leping in the 1930s, has been adapted for the screen many times over the years.

The latest adaptation, a live-action movie, is a Sino-Belgian co-production; some fans are worried about the prospect of Sanmao being "updated" and deprived of his Chineseness. Here's a recent article by Zhang's son Zhang Rongrong that explains how and why the family decided to grant a Belgian director the rights to the project:

Why we agreed to a co-production of Sanmao

by Zhang Rongrong / XEN

Sanmao has not "gone to live abroad"

Sanmao was created by my father, Zhang Leping. We siblings are the inheritors of the Sanmao intellectual property. More than a year ago, we signed a contract with a Belgian film company granting them the rights to film a Sanmao movie; in addition to stipulating that the movie must use live actors (i.e. not a cartoon) and must be adapted from the original Sanmao's Wanderings comic book, there were a few other special rules to guarantee that Sanmao's image would not suffer. For example, the contract stipulated that the movie "must respect relevant Chinese laws and regulations and must not produce any negative influence on the work (i.e. the original Sanmao's Wanderings comic book) or Sanmao," and "the licensee (i.e. the foreign side) shall not register Sanmao or the Sanmao image as a trademark."

The contract with the foreign side also stipulated that "the licensee may freely select its own partners, but one must be a Chinese partner," in order to guarantee that the movie would be a joint production. The movie, which is currently in pre-production, is set in old Shanghai, so no matter which way you look at it, Sanmao has definitely not "gone to live abroad."

The contract clearly stipulates that "the intellectual property rights to Sanmao and the Sanmao image are the sole property of the licensor." There have been some rumors that Sanmao would "go Korean" or become a Mr. Bean-type character to amuse adults. But Sanmao is simply Sanmao. His unique personality traits will not change. If Sanmao's image were truly going to be injured, not only would we (the licensor) definitely not consent, the Chinese joint production partner would not consent either. For example, there is one passage in the script that goes like this: Sanmao rescues a foreign child from the river. The child lives in Shanghai, and to repay Sanmao, the child's parents provide Sanmao with room and board at their home. But in just a few days, Sanmao becomes leaves angrily after the foreign family's unfair treatment of him. This story was taken from my father's Sanmao's Wanderings; the rescued child was changed into a foreigner, but Sanmao's personality was not changed.

Wang Longji, who played Sanmao in the classic film Sanmao's Wanderings, is a consultant for the Sino-foreign joint venture. Wang Longji and his family worked with the foreign side for several months. We are comforted by the fact that the foreign writer-director is on the side of the Chinese people and is preparing to shoot this movie with the feelings of the Chinese people in mind.

Agreement to grant rights to a co-production

For more than ten years, film people in US, Japan, Korea, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Hong Kong have expressed interest in shooting a Sanmao cartoon or live-action picture. This includes several major "international-weight" directors.

More than ten years ago, we had already decided to above all consider mainland China's strengths for a Sanmao cartoon or live-action show. We gave the first Sanmao cartoon rights to CCTV's China International Television Corporation. We also gave the rights to a live-action Sanmao adaptation first to Shanghai Film Studio, and then to Anhui Film Studio. In granting the rights, our first concern was nationality.

In 2005, at the 70th anniversary of the birth of Sanmao, our Belgian friends came to us. They had seen Wang Longji's Sanmao's Wanderings at an international film festival and they recalled the wonderful scene in the early 1980s when that movie had caught people's attention at Cannes and later screened for 60 days at six theaters in Paris, with two theaters extending the run another month. Later, they consulted Chinese people in France and Belgium, the majority of whom knew that China had an animated character called Sanmao and knew about his influence in China.

When Belgian writer-director Marc [-Henry Wajnberg] and the Chinese producer Liu Ying, who was living in Belgium at the time, came to us, we did not express much enthusiasm at first. "Is it OK for foreigners to film a Sanmao movie?" "Will it be misunderstood by our countrymen?" For a long time we were unsure what to do, and we were afraid of being misunderstood; we rejected most foreigners' overtures to film Sanmao shows for this reason.

What moved us was Marc and Liu Ying's conscientious work ethic, their understanding of Sanmao, and their enthusiasm for China. They believed that Sanmao's heart is filled with sunshine; he is kind and honest, constantly trying to improve himself; he is clever and resourceful, brimming with a child's curiosities, and he is educational for both children and adults all around the world.
During discussions, we requested that the foreign side's first domestic partner be the Shanghai Film Studio. At the time there were others in the domestic film sector preparing to shoot a Sanmao film, so to avoid a collision, we requested that the foreign side take care of things - only if the above-mentioned individuals clearly stated that they would drop their plans would we consider signing a contract with the foreign side. The foreign side readily agreed to these requests and carried them out.

Sanmao belongs to the Chinese people

Although the image of Sanmao was created by my father Zhang Leping, and we siblings are the inheritors of Sanmao's intellectual property rights, in a larger sense, Sanmao is not the private property of the Zhang family. Sanmao is the cultural heritage of the Chinese people. It belongs to China, so we have an even greater responsibility to protect the intellectual property rights of Sanmao.

Like a commentator on Eastday said, "Regardless of who you are, even if you hold the rights to licence Sanmao's image, you still should not forget that Sanmao is a classic in the treasury of Chinese cartoons. Sanmao belongs to all Chinese people."

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There are currently 2 Comments for Sanmao goes overseas.

Comments on Sanmao goes overseas

Protecting the intellectual property rights associated with Sanmao? Very funny, coming from a Chinese who just sold them off.

And always, as ever--"the foreign side" and such. Is it simply not possible for China and Chinese to be, say, a bit more global in outlook--as in, we are all part of the international community?

Interesting article!

SinaSource said: "Protecting the intellectual property rights associated with Sanmao? Very funny, coming from a Chinese who just sold them off."

However, this is not the case. The right holder has still the right over his copyright. As far as I can tell from reading the article he did not assign his copyright, so he has still the right over the cartoon Sanmao.

Anyways, I elaborate on the article on IP Dragon, because it illustrates some aspects of copyright law:

See: link

IP Dragon

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